CSAs: Good for Growers, Good for Eaters

If you want to actively participate in our local food system, consider engaging with Community Supported Agriculture.
by Megan Kenney, North Coast Growers’ Association

The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement, which began in the 1960s, has gained momentum recently as we recognize its potential for remedying the problems inherent in our national and global food systems. The concept of a CSA is simple: pay now for food later.

According to the USDA, “Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”

In the mid-1960s a Black horticulturist and professor at Tuskegee University, Booker T. Whatley, first introduced the concept of a CSA model to America. His “Clientele Membership Club” asked members to pay a fee during the winter to support the farm throughout the lean months in exchange for the privilege to pick their own food throughout the growing season. This transition away from a capitalistic approach to agriculture was simultaneously being explored by Teruo Ichiraku in Japan and in Germany by a group who formed the Gemeinnützige Landbau-Forschungsgesellschaft land trust. This land trust collected loans from community members for farmers, who would in turn repay that loan in food. Swiss biodynamic farmer, Jan Vander Tuin coined the phrase Community Supported Agriculture for this type of loan, which is the most common form of CSA offered today.

There are many benefits to joining a CSA:

  • Getting to know the farmers who grow your food,
  • Empowerment to eat more seasonally,
  • Opportunities to try new foods,
  • Spending less time shopping, and
  • Meaningfully engaging in a more sustainable local food system.

While it may be easy to head to the grocery store to buy tomatoes in the winter or Brussels sprouts in the summer, this shopping habit is not sustainable for our planet; besides the long journey that non-local food takes from farm to processor to distributor to store to you, many GMOs are employed to allow produce to withstand the long storage time needed to provide certain crops (like tomatoes and strawberries) year-round.

There are several models of CSA practiced locally:

  • Traditional CSA – pay in advance for weekly boxes throughout the summer (some farms also offer a limited selection during other seasons),
  • Free-choice CSA, – shop at a farmstand and choose what you need,
  • Multi-farm CSA – produce is aggregated from a variety of farmers,
  • There are even CSAs for meat, grains, flowers, and herbal products.

Some CSAs require payment in full at the start of the season, while others allow you to make payments over time. Some farms offer ‘half shares’ to provide an option for single folks and couples who may not use as much produce as a large family. Talk to your farmer about their EBT payment options.

For a complete list of local CSA options, including which programs accept EBT benefits, please see page 75.

Posted in 2022 Community Food Guide.