Joining a CSA, part 1

As I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, I have been wanting to re-join our local CSA farm.  I’ll post today about what CSAs are and what it entails.  The next post will share some of the blessings we have received from the our CSA experience.

Are you familiar with the CSA movement?  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Generally, CSA farms are small, local farms practicing sustainable  growing techniques (read: organic), though they are often too small to make the certified organic red-tae worth the investment.  Often, farms that work in local farmers’ markets have CSA options.

In a CSA, members "join" the farm; sometimes they work on the farm or help deliver produce.  Sometimes, there is no work requirement (though there is often a financial incentive to those who do give a gift of time to the farm.)  Members pay for their produce up front, enabling the farmers to buy seeds or do whatever needs to be done for the initial planting.  There is no refund if the crops fail due to a bad year (too much rain, too little rain, locusts, etc.)– but the members also receive the extra bounty during a good year.  Putting in our money up front means that the farmer(s) doesn’t shoulder the entire financial burden of the year him or herself– thus avoiding the risk of a bank loan, or losing the farm, etc.

Our first farm required members to drive once to the farm to collect the produce and deliver it to the pick-up sites.  Between 30 members, it meant that two families went up to Wisconsin each week to bring the produce down to the Chicago pick-up sites… each family went once a summer.  Our second farm was big enough to have refrigerated trucks to deliver the food.  Those who hosted the pick-up sites received a break on their membership cost.  The farm we’ve belonged to here in Colorado has working members who give 4 hours a week (3 weeks each month in the summer) to clean, sort or pack the produce and clean the barn where the food is sorted.

Our farmer once explained to us what doing all the local farmers’ markets meant to her family: each of them went to a different market each Saturday and Sunday.  It meant no weekend family time, no church… you get the idea.  And the farmers’ markets, while supported by people who care about local, organic produce, are irregular in their demand– some weeks are good, some not so good.  Having members who provided constant support of and demand for the farm’s produce means less waste, more security, and most of all– more time when they can be on the farm and together.

Kingsolver’s book quotes some startling statistics: of the average American dollar spent on food, only 19 cents makes it to the farmer.  The rest goes toward the transportation and chain store where we buy our food.  Of all developed nations, the US spends the least per capita on food… and I’d venture to say that we probably buy the most processed food with that dollar as well.  Supporting local agriculture through farmers’ markets and CSAs means that three times as much of your money is returned to your local economy.  On top of that, these local farmers care about our community– our soil, our water, our nutrition. 

It may be a little late for you to find a CSA for this summer, but think about it for next year… and keep supporting those farmer’s markets!

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