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provide the weekly vegetable needs for a family of four. (although your mileage may vary) Flowers, fruit, meat, honey, eggs and dairy products are also available through some CSA.

 

Community members sign up and purchase their shares, either in one lump sum before the seeds are sown in early spring, or in several installments through-out the growing season. Production expenses are thereby guaranteed and the farmer or grower starts receiving income as soon as work begins.

 

In return for their investment, CSA members receive a bag of fresh, locally-grown, typically organic produce once a week from late spring through early fall, and occasionally throughout the winter in northern climates and year-round in milder zones. Members prefer a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, which encourages integrated cropping and companion planting. These practices help reduce risk factors and give multiple benefits to the soil. Crops are planted in succession in order to provide a continuous weekly supply of mixed vegetables. As crops rotate throughout the season, weekly shares vary by size and types of produce, reflecting local growing seasons and conditions.

 

    * CSA vary considerably as they are based on farm or garden location, agricultural practices, and specific farm and community goals and needs. Memberships are known to include a variety of community members including low-income families, homeless people, senior citizens, and differently-abled individuals. If provided, an extra fee typically is charged for home delivery. Most CSA invite members to visit the farm and welcome volunteer assistance. Working shares are an option in some cases, whereby a member commits to three or four hours a week to help the farm in exchange for a discount on membership cost.

    * Apprenticeships are growing in popularity on many CSA. For some farms they are an integral component of a successful operation. Apprenticeships offer valuable hands-on education.

    * Property arrangements tend to be quite flexible. Beyond private ownership, there is leasing of land with lease fees factored in as a regular budget item. CSA is also an excellent opportunity for holding land in some form of trust arrangement.

    * Every CSA strives over time for a truly sustainable operation, both economically and environmentally. Many try to develop to their highest potential by expanding to provide additional food items such as honey, fruit, meats, eggs, etc. Networks of CSA have been forming to develop associative economies by growing and providing a greater range of products in a cooperative fashion.

    * Some CSA provide produce for local restaurants, roadside stands or farmers' markets while building farm membership, or in many cases, in addition to it.

 

Distribution and Decision-Making

 

Distribution styles also vary. Once the day's produce is harvested, the entire amount is weighed and the number of pounds or items (e.g. heads of lettuce, ears of corn) to be received by each share is determined. Some CSA have members come to the farm and weigh out their own share, leave members behind any items they don't want at a surplus table and possibly find something there they could use. Other farms have a distribution crew to weigh items and pack shares to be picked up my members at the farm or at distribution points.

 

Several advantages to the direct marketing approach of CSA, in addition to shared risk and pre-payment of farm costs, are the minimal loss and waste of harvested farm produce, little or reduced need for long-term storage, and a willingness by members to accept produce with natural cosmetic imperfections.

 

A core group made up of the farmers or growers, distributors and other key administrators, and several CSA members are often the decision-making body for CSA that determines short and long-range goals, prepares the budget, conducts publicity and outreach, organizes events, etc. Annual meetings, a member newsletter, and occasional surveys are some basic means of communication between the farm and its members.

 

 

Why Is Community Supported Agriculture Important?

 

    * CSA's direct marketing gives farmers and growers the fairest return on their products.

    * CSA keeps food dollars in the local community and contributes to the maintenance and establishment of regional food production.

    * CSA encourages communication and cooperation among farmers.

    * With a "guaranteed market" for their produce, farmers can invest their time in doing the best job they can rather than looking for buyers.

    * CSA supports the biodiversity of a given area and the diversity of agriculture through the preservation of small farms producing a wide variety of crops.

    * CSA creates opportunity for dialogue between farmers and consumers.

    * CSA creates a sense of social responsibility and stewardship of local land.

    * CSA puts "the farmers face on food" and increases understanding of how, where, and by whom our food is grown.

 

Special thanks to the contributors to this description of CSA: Robyn Van En, CSA of North America (CSANA); Liz Manes, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension; and Cathy Roth, UMass Extension Agroecology Program.

 

Thanks to Community Supported Agriculture of North America at University of Massachusetts Extension for allowing us to post this article.

For more information on Community Supported Agriculture, please contact The Robyn Van En Center for CSA at: info@csacenter.org.