Community Supported Agriculture
By Jennifer Woods
One way to find locally grown organic produce is to visit your weekly farmers market, but there is another way – your local CSA. What is a CSA? CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture, a system through which individuals and families subscribe, in advance, to receive weekly produce directly from their local farm.
Community Supported Agriculture is a direct connection between the local farmer and the people who ultimately consume the farmer’s harvest. Mutual commitment is at the core of a CSA and the CSA members commit to supporting a local farmer for a season. In return CSA participants receive fresh seasonal produce, sharing in the inherent risks (weather, insects, etc.) and the bountiful benefits of farming.
CSAs provide an alternative model to industrialized agriculture. We’ve all purchased vegetables from the piles of flawless looking produce at the grocery store. But do we know where that food comes from? Was it grown in another country or state? How was it grown? Does it contain genetically modified organisms? It is usually very difficult to answer these questions — to trace our vegetables from farm to table. But CSAs can reconnect us with our food sources by knowing the farmers and their farming methods. CSAs also promote fair wages for farm workers, environmental stewardship, economic sustainability, and strong communities.
Each week CSA members receive a share of seasonally available, freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. Each share usually provides most of the salad and vegetable needs for a couple or small family for a week. Each CSA is slightly different. Some include meat and cheese, some send newsletters and recipes with the share and some operate with the assistance of volunteer members who help with the harvest. CSAs also differ in the way they get the produce to their members. Some CSAs require members to pick-up their produce share on a specific day at the pick-up location in their community and some CSAs deliver.
Produce selection varies season to season. By joining a CSA you learn what seasons to expect certain fruits and vegetables and that locally grown produce can taste much different and more flavorful than grocery store varieties. Winter crops supply a variety of cooking and salad greens, root vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower, and citrus. As the year progresses, peas, tomatoes, corn, onions, cucumber, squash, melons, and many more fresh vegetables and fruits become available. There is often an opportunity to try a new fruit or vegetable you might not have heard of such as kohlrabi or purple carrots.
How can I find a CSA in my town? There are several websites that allow you to search for your local CSA including Local Harvest at www.localharvest.com. For more information about CSAs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, click here.