Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a system of local food production and distribution that connects farmers directly to consumers, and has become popular over the last 25 years. A person buys "shares" of a farmer's harvest at the beginning of the growing season and receives a portion of the crop as it’s harvested. This allows farmers capital to produce the crops as well as guaranteed buyers for their crops.
Another good thing for farmers is that it lets them do their marketing before they must begin the long days in the fields, which can be as many as 16 hours daily. Consumers enjoy access to fresh produce and most likely lower prices (barring a disastrous growing season).
Some common CSAs include vegetables, honey, meats, flowers, and dairy products. In a CSA, farmers and consumers share the risk of crop production. The consumer will receive boxes of produce from one farmer or even a group of farmers. One advantage is that the food is fresh, however, you have made a commitment to the CSA, so you must be ready to use your portion.
You can learn about available CSAs online by going to the USDA website or LocalHarvest and typing in your zip code to see which ones are available close by. There will probably be a short summary of the offerings of each, and you can click on one to get more information including membership fees and details of shares.
This food consumption model may not be a good match for everyone. If you prefer to eat take-out rather than cook fresh, whether because of convenience or lack of time, you would not like the commitment. If someone in your family has food allergies, you should consider how much of the product you could actually use. Also, you must also be able to pick up the "groceries" from the farmer. All of this should be considered before you lay out the cash to join a CSA.
However, if fresh food is important to you, you have time to prepare or preserve it, and you are willing to assume the risk, this could be an opportunity for you to look into. You’ll be able to get to know the farmer and can determine whether they use pesticides or organic measures for their crops ... which is very important to some people (including us!).
Of course, each CSA has its own particular products. Some deliver; with others, you may have to pick them up. With some, you get products weekly, with others it’ll be monthly. Some provide products year-round, including cold-weather produce and jams, etc, when the summer crops are exhausted. Some allow pre-ordering to get the summer produce you desire. Also, some CSAs offer a discount if you come and work in their fields. This gives you more savings, an appreciation of the work involved, and it gives the farmer a little help with labor.
All in all, it's worth investigating. You should consider whether a CSA is a good fit for you, and you could always try it for a year to see if, indeed, you find it worth the effort and commitment.
Kane Miller from YardYum
Kane has a background in engineering, but now focuses on environmental sustainability. He grew up on a 12-acre hobby farm and was fortunate to have been introduced to organic gardening at a young age.