The first two CSA farms in the U.S. were developed in western
Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire in 1984-5. Now there are well
over 500 such operations in this country, with more than 4,000
member-families. Many have been successful for 5-10 years now. I have a
request in to the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association for
current figures. The basic idea is that of a subscription. Just as I
pay up-front for my subscription to PCComputing magazine in the faith
that my 12 monthly issues will be forthcoming, CSA member-families pay at
the beginning of the season for weekly or twice-weekly distributions of
produce from the farm throughout the year. A typical arrangement may be
a share price of $500 or so which buys several hundred pounds of produce
spread over six or more months. CSA members often pay a small premium
over grocery store prices and in exchange for that premium receive
produce they *know* is fresh, local, free of pesticide residue, and grown
in an ecologically-sound way. Member-families knowingly share the risks
of the season with the farmer. If there's a failure in one crop or
another, then that item does not show up in the distribution.
CSA farms and gardens typically add value to the consumer relationship in
many ways: the opportunity to participate in a creative, new social form;
on-farm festive gatherings and educational events; the chance to bring
children to the farm to learn where their food comes from, to gather
eggs, watch the cows being milked, pull carrots from the earth.
Often, people come to the farm to pick up their share; sometimes
deliveries are made to central distribution points in nearby communities.
For the farmer, the advantages are numerous: s/he receives operating
funds at the beginning of the season rather than the end; s/he has a real
relationship with (and responsibility to) the consumer; s/he can
profitably operate a diverse farm, selling at retail prices. A CSA farm
I participated in produced scores of different vegetables, herbs, cut
flowers, milk and yogurt and butter, honey, eggs, broilers.
There are downside features as well, of course. The farmer must deal
with added administrative details (meetings and events, unpaid or
partially-paid subscriptions, deliveries) and customer-satisfaction
issues; the consumer must deal with overabundance of certain items and
undersupply of others (6 zucchini in the bag when 2 would have been
plenty, no strawberries in January).
Flexibility and the need for it is built into the system. Families under
financial stress may be able to exchange labor for food; farmers under
not-enough-hours-in-the-day stress may be able to call on volunteers to
weed the beans or pick the strawberries. Vacationing families may
designate that their share of produce go to a food bank. Affluent
families may buy two or more shares and offer the extras to less
Maybe that's enough to give an idea of what CSA is about. To see if
there's a CSA project in your neighborhood, you may call the Bio-Dynamic
Farming and Gardening Association at 1-800-516-7797.
"There is no scarcity abiding in Nature.
Any scarcity we see is our own doing."