Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farms Locations Locator Map and Directory
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Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a relatively new socio-economic model of food production, sales, and distribution aimed at both increasing the quality of food and the quality of care given the land, plants and animals while substantially reducing potential food losses and financial risks for the producers. It is also a method for small-scale commercial farmers and gardeners to have a successful, small-scale closed market. CSAï¿½s focus is usually on a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables, sometimes also flowers, fruits, herbs and even milk or meat products in some cases. A variety of production and economic sub-systems are in use worldwide.
The CSA system
CSA generally is the practice of focusing on the production of high quality foods using ecological, organic or biodynamic farming methods. This kind of farming operates with a much greater-than-usual degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholdersï¿½resulting in a stronger than usual consumer-producer relationship. The core design includes developing a cohesive consumer group that is willing to fund a whole seasonï¿½s budget in order to get quality foods. The system has many variations on how the farm budget is supported by the consumers and how the producers then deliver the foods. By CSA theory, the more a farm embraces whole-farm, whole-budget support, the more it can focus on quality and reduce the risk of food waste or financial loss.
In its most formal and structured European and North American form, CSAs focus on having:
* a transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year;
* a common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget; and
* a ï¿½shared risk and rewardï¿½ agreement, i.e. that the consumers eat what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing.
Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for x pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workersï¿½and on serving the customers. There is little to no loss (i.e. waste) in this system, since the producers know in advance who they are growing for and how much to grow, etc.
Some confusion about the CSA system has arisen as some CSAs are less whole-budget, whole-farm oriented and have more the character of subscription farming. This kind of arrangement is also referred to as crop-sharing or box schemes. In such cases, farmers often simply set the weekly prices and retain a high level of risk, marketing costs and so on. Thus there is an important distinction between the producers (farmers, gardeners, etc.) selling shares in the upcoming season's harvest or selling a weekly subscription that includes x, y, z amounts of produce. In all cases, participants contribute a pre-agreed amount (sometimes an equal amount, sometimes variable) and in return receive a weekly harvest.
Some farms are dedicated entirely to CSA, while others also sell through on-farm stands, farmers' markets, and other channels. Most CSAs are owned by the farmers, while some offer shares in the farm as well as the harvest. Consumers have organized their own CSA projects, going as far as renting land and hiring farmers. Many CSAs have a core group of members that assists with CSA administration. Some require or offer the option of members providing labor as part of the share price.
Typically, CSA farms are small, independent, labor-intensive, family farms. By providing a guaranteed market through prepaid annual sales, consumers essentially help finance farming operations. This allows farmers to not only focus on quality growing, it can also somewhat level the playing field in a food market that favors usually large-scale, industrialized agriculture over local food. Vegetables and fruit are the most common CSA crops. Many CSAs practice ecological, organic or biodynamic agriculture, avoiding pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. The cost of a share is usually competitively priced when compared to the same amount of vegetables conventionally-grown, partly because the cost of distribution is lowered.
Method of distribution is a distinctive feature in CSA. In the U.S. and Canada, shares are usually provided weekly, with pick-ups on a designated day and time. CSA subscribers often live in towns and cities - local drop-off locations, convenient to a number of members, are organized, often at the homes of members. Shares are also usually available on-farm.
CSA is different from buying clubs and home delivery services, where the consumer buys a specific product at a predetermined price. CSA members are actively involved in the production process, providing a form of direct financing through advance purchase of shares, and assisting with distribution by picking up their shares.
An advantage of the close consumer-producer relationship is increased freshness of the produce, because it does not have to be shipped long distances. The close proximity of the farm to the members also helps the environment by reducing pollution caused by transporting the produce.
Share prices can vary dramatically depending on location. Variables also include length of share season, and average quantity and selection of food per share. As a rough average, in North America, a basic share may be $350-500 for a season, for 18-20 weeks (June to October), with enough of each included crop for at least two people (perhaps 8-12 common garden vegetables). Seasonal eating is implied, as shares are usually based on the outdoor growing season, which means a smaller selection at the beginning and perhaps the end of the period, as well as a changing variety as the season progresses. Some CSA programs offer different share sizes, also, a choice of share periods (eg. full-season and peak season).
A film, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, documents the resurrection of a family farm through its conversion to a CSA model and is slated to release in the 2007 summer.
The pre-history of the CSA concept is still somewhat sketchy, and not well-documented.
According to most sources, community supported agriculture began in the early 1960s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan as a response to concerns about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land. Groups of consumers and farmers in Europe formed cooperative partnerships to fund farming and pay the full costs of ecologically sound, socially equitable agriculture. In Europe many of the CSA style farms were inspired by the economic ideas of Rudolf Steiner and experiments with community agriculture took place on farms using biodynamic agriculture. In 1965, mothers in Japan concerned about the rise of imported food and the loss of arable land started the first CSA projects, called teikei in Japanese - most likely unrelated to the developments in Europe.
Community supported agriculture began in the United States in 1984, when Jan Vander Tuin brought the concept of CSA to North America from Europe. Vander Tuin had co-founded a community-supported agricultural project named Topanimbur, located near Zurich, Switzerland. Coinage of the term, community-supported agriculture, stems from Vander Tuin and the Great Barrington CSA that he co-founded with Robyn Van En,its proprietor. They started with their first season early in 1985 with apples, cider and vinegar and developed an independent supporting consumer group called Mahaiwe Harvest. The following year, they offered a large array of produce. Vander Tuin worked with John Root, Jr., Hugh Radcliffe, Charlotte Zannechia and with Robyn Van En on this farm, Indian Line Farm, which still operates a CSA today. The group was soon also joined by Andrew Lorand who later helped to organize the first three CSA conferences on the East Coast, in Kimberton, Pennsylvania with Rod Shouldice of the Biodynamic Association and the first two conferences on the West Coast at UC Davis and at Fort Mason, San Francisco.
Van En is widely credited as the founder of the CSA movement, as she spent much of her time travelling, teaching and promoting sustainable agriculture throughout North America.
Two other farms, one on the East Coast (Trauger Groh and Co. in Wilton, New Hampshire) and one on the West Coast (at the Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rosa, California), started also - almost simultaneously - around 1986. Since that time, community supported farms have been organized throughout North America, mainly in the Northeast, the Pacific coast, the Upper-Midwest, and Canada. North America now has at least 1,300 CSA farms, with estimates ranging as high as 3,000. One of the largest CSA's in the US, Angelic Organics.
Today, millions of Japanese consumers participate in teikei systems that account for a major share of fresh produce consumption. In Europe, numbers are hard to come by, but there are CSA farms and organizations in many countries. In Holland, CSA's are, for example, called "Pergola" and in France AMAP