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Community Supported Agriculture: What it is, and Why it’s Awesome

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Ever heard of CSA and wondered what people were talking about? Are you concerned about how your eating habits are affecting the earth and those people who work it? If you’ve ever considered having closer relationships with the foods you eat, then CSA just might be the answer for you. Read on to figure out just what it is.

Community supported agriculture, more commonly referred to as simply CSA, is a system is which community members actively support and engage in food production. The concept is quite simple, even if each program will have its own variants; individuals or families purchase “shares” in a farm or harvest, and in return receive food throughout the growing season. The “share” is usually a basket, box, or bucket of produce (or other farm goods, depending) weekly or monthly when available.

The premise here is that there is shared risk. The farmers have guaranteed income at the start of the growing year, and therefore can afford to continue with smaller, more organic production. While this means that a bad year might mean scant crops for the “share holders”, generally it works out in everyone’s favour; consumers get a a good amount of fresh, local produce at a fixed price, and the farmers get the support of a whole community. And, in the case of an abundant year, the consumer gets a lovely surprise every time they pick up their delicious produce.

Benefits for you

A huge benefit for the purchaser of a CSA share is knowing exactly where your food is from. This makes the challenge of avoiding pesticides and other dangers in groceries stores easier, and you know exactly where your money is going. Knowing precisely what’s in your food is powerful knowledge, as many grocery store items contain chemical additives, sweeteners, and oils.

CSA’s help with discovering new foods and recipes. Many food baskets come with recipes, especially if there’s a not-so-common item in there. As getting your food right from the farm means different foods will be available at different points in the season, an abundance of a food that you don’t usually buy will allow you to become creative and think of cooking things up that you never would have otherwise. Having new ingredients handed to you opens many windows of possibilities to discovery new recipes.

This comes down to reconnecting with nature. Eating with the seasons might mean getting a ton of one vegetable all at once, but eating in season is an experience fewer and fewer people are living these days. Remembering when earth intended for us to eat certain produce is certainly a lesson in reconnecting with the soil.

Really, CSA’s are about discovering a new way of interacting with food systems. So, even if it doesn’t turn out to be for you, the benefit of discovering new ways of participating in local economy will surely not be lost. After all, who doesn’t enjoy learning?

Benefits for the farmer

A huge advantage for farmers and gardeners in a CSA economy is that they receive the money up front. This means the ability to purchase seeds, tools, and whatever is lacking on site at the beginning of the season to ensure a good harvest. The predictable income also means being able to plan for future harvests, and not needing to worry about some years not being perfectly on par with others.

Growers are able to look for customers before the long, physical work days start, which is a huge advantage. Once the planting and harvesting start, the producer doesn’t need to worry about who will be purchasing their fruits and veggies, and can focus on the physical work. If the project is small, one organizer can manage the subscriptions.

An interesting benefit for the farmer is the community support in small business endeavours, and in its small production. Eventually, this is a benefit for everyone. When a community is in it together to decide what kind of food system they want, there is a tremendous amount of support and encouragement for small farms and gardens.

Benefits for Nature

One Green Planet has an article explaining why going through the small hassle of CSA is more than worth the effort for you and the planet. Pesticides, GMO’s, and degraded soil are not only issues that concern human health, but, in reality, the health of the whole earth. When you pick the farm where you get a regular amount of produce from, you can be sure to avoid all of these issues. Frequently, if you are a part of  a CSA, visiting the farm might be an option, and certainly doing research into the farms means that you can choose to support producers who don’t use harmful, conventional agricultural practices.

How do I find a CSA?

Unsurprisingly in this day and age, the best way to find a CSA near you is to use the internet. Of course, community centers, local natural food stores, small markets, wellness centers, they might all have postings and advertisements for programs, but if you don’t regularly come into contact with these, the internet will more than suffice.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has a wealth of information and resources on different sustainable agricultural systems and products. If you live in New York, this website has a “find a CSA” option, and outside of NY, this site has a similar search option. Many websites such as the Land Stewardship Project also have directories of local farms offering CSA. So, happy searching, and happy eating!

Image Source: Charles Smith/Flickr

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