July 12, 2021

Community support through agriculture

As the summertime of 2021 shines a light out of the coronavirus crisis, many American homeowners are looking for new ways to support local farmers and food cooperatives.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a popular way to buy local, seasonal food in exchange for a weekly, monthly or one-time fee. In return, customers receive regular allotments (usually bi-weekly) of produce throughout the various harvesting seasons.

Tens of thousands of families have joined more than 4,000 CSAs nationwide. Variations include the "mix and match," or "market-style," where members visit the farm or retail location to load their own boxes. Typically, this provides a higher level of personal choice.

Other farmers may provide options to buy eggs, homemade bread, meat, cheese, fruit, flowers or other farm products. CSAs often have booths at local farmers markets, both to sell excess produce and recruit new subscribers.

In some parts of the country, non-farming third parties have CSA-like standalone businesses, acting as a go-between for their member farmers and producers to sell locally grown food, meat, flowers, eggs, and preserved farm products.

Typically, a CSA farm offers a more personal relationship with its subscribers, often publishing newsletter or regular social media updates and hosting open events. Some CSAs provide for contributions of labor in lieu of subscription.

Beyond selling the produce, the CSA model depends on a consumer’s willingness to pay extra for more intangible rewards such as transparency, environmental stewardship and a connection to the food they consume.

Members usually pay up front for the whole season and the farmers do their best to provide an abundant box of produce each week. If pickings are slim, members are not typically reimbursed.

The idea of shared risk is part of what creates the sense of community among the members, and between members and the farmers. Most CSA farmers feel a great sense of responsibility, and when certain crops are scarce, they make sure the CSA gets served first.

Most members take the long view, and any shortfalls are usually rewarded with an equal share of abundance. If the potential for "not getting your money's worth" makes you feel anxious, then a CSA may not be for you.