“Food producers + food consumers + annual commitment to one another = CSA and untold possibilities.” -Robyn Van En
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a valuable way for the community to become involved in where their food is coming from. At its core there is a mutual commitment: the farm feeds the people fresh and nutritious whole foods and, in turn, the people support the farm. Together, the farmer and the farm supporters share in the inherent risks and potential bounty of farm life.
CSAs have evolved to fit many different models but the basic structure works like this: during the late winter and early spring months, when the farmer needs money to purchase seeds and other supplies for the season, members of the local community purchase CSA shares. In other words, they buy their vegetables for the entire season in advance. Then every week or every other week, depending on what type of share they purchased, they receive a share of the produce from the farm.
The concept of Community Supported Agriculture was first modeled in Japan when, in 1971, a group of women concerned with the use of pesticides and with the increasing consumption of processed foods cooperated with local farmers to ensure the consistent supply of local, healthy, and fresh food. This food movement was known in Japan by the name teikei, meaning, “partnership” or “cooperation.” The more philosophical definition of teikei is translated as “food with the farmer’s face on it.” Robyn Van En, the woman known for bringing the concept of teikei to the United States and who, in collaboration with Jan Vandertuin and John Root Jr., named it Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) takes this definition a step further. As Robyn Van En sums it up: “food producers + food consumers + annual commitment to one another = CSA and untold possibilities.”
I believe that Community Supported Agriculture is one tool that we have to help make our communities whole again. Big agriculture is unsustainable. As our population continues to grow, as the demand for healthy food increases and as we face the consequences of climate change, our communities need to be strong and resilient. Growing Certified Naturally Grown, fresh vegetables for the local community is the most tangible piece of what Community Supported Agriculture is all about. But not all CSAs are just about the veggies. The best Community Supported Agriculture programs I’ve encountered embody other qualities as well. Health. Art. Community. People. Friendships. Love.
“Can you find love in a basket of veggies? You bet you can.” – Cathy Zarkovich
For more information on the history of Community Supported Agriculture and its various models, I recommend the following links:
“CSA in the Mid-Atlantic Region: Results of a Shareholder Survey and Farm interviews,” a report written by Lydia Oberholtzer through the Small Farm Success Project