Why Join a CSA?

Why Join a CSA?

I’ll be posting here regularly about community supported agriculture (CSA) and my own personal experiences with the tasty, organic produce from my local CSA.

What is a CSA?

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Community supported agriculture (CSA), also sometimes known as community shared agriculture, is a community-based alternative to unhealthy and environmentally damaging agricultural practices. Since the 1960s, CSA organizations worldwide have been battling the rapid industrialization of agriculture by strengthening small farms and giving people access to organic, locally-grown farm products. Instead of having to work within the giant, impersonal world of industrial agriculture, farmers and consumers are brought together to support local farms.

CSA works basically like a farm share: shareholders pay an upfront price for a season, and in return they receive a weekly allotment of produce, meat, and dairy products. This system guarantees that farmers are able to operate and also creates a system where all the shareholders of a CSA share in the risk and the reward of organic farming.

What are the benefits of CSA?

For Shareholders

For a shareholder, the main benefit of CSA is a steady supply of seasonal, organic produce and other farm products. Another advantage of joining a CSA, and a big reason I joined one, is that shareholders get a surprising mix of fruits and vegetables. It’s easy to get in a rut when you go to the grocery store and just grab the same few items every week, but with a CSA share you can suddenly find yourself with foods you don’t usually buy—or sometimes can’t even find—in a typical grocery store.

For Farmers

CSA helps farmers by removing a lot of the risk that comes with running a farm, particularly one that uses organic farming methods. Because shareholders pay upfront, farmers are guaranteed the funds they need to run their farm for the season. It’s a great way to finance a small farm and to help it fight against big, industrial competitors. The format of CSA also helps farmers use their time efficiently, since they can market and sell shares during the off-season instead of having to worry about selling during harvest season.

For the Environment

The environmental hazards of industrial farming are well-documented. Pesticide and fertilizer run-off destroys the surrounding environment while giant, monolithic fields deplete soil nutrients and reduce diversity. Industrial farms are particularly damaging to animals, who are kept in over-crowded, disease-ridden pens and fed a diet of growth hormones and antibiotics. When you join CSA, you’re supporting a farm that fights back against this destructive system.

A Shared Community

It’s hard to deny that most of us don’t have a strong connection to the food we eat. We pick up bagged greens, frozen vegetables, and plastic-wrapped meat at the store without having to think about where they come from. With CSA, you get to build a relationship with the people who grow the things you eat every day. When you pick up your share, you can meet the farmer who picked those veggies and learn firsthand how the farm runs. Many farms even let shareholders visit the farm or work for their shares in place of cash payments. At pick-ups, you also get to be part of a shared community where everyone can enjoy the bounty of a good year and the heartbreak of a rough season together.

How do I join CSA?

Before you jump in, there are a few decisions you need to make about what you want from your CSA farm:

  • Organic or not? While most CSA farms use natural farming practices, it’s not a requirement, so double-check that the place you choose is certified and meets your standards.
  • When’s the pick-up? Pick a farm that fits your schedule. If you’re busy, choose a CSA farm with multiple pick-up times or a flexible pick-up schedule.
  • Do you want anything besides produce? For an extra fee many farms provide shareholders with products like meat, cheese, eggs, and honey. If you’re interested in branching out, choose a CSA farm that offers a wide variety of products.

There are thousands of CSA farms across the U.S. Check out these websites to find one near you:

  • Local Harvest has a database of over 4,000 CSA farms.
  • The website for the Rodale Institute, a non-profit that promotes organic farming, has a searchable database for CSA farms, farmers markets, and food co-ops.

Previous posts:

Adventures in Community Supported Agriculture

Time to Try Something New?

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