What is Community Supported Agriculture?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a new approach to growing, selling, buying, and consuming food. While new in name, in many ways CSA harkens back to an earlier time, when people knew where their food came from, ate in harmony with their local seasons, and enjoyed a balanced and nutritional diet of basic, natural foods.
CSA is about community. It is about relationships – between farmers and consumer, between consumers and the land. Bridging the urban and the rural, the present and the future, CSA simplifies the relationship between people and the source of their food.
Through CSA, a consumer buys directly from the farmer for a full growing season. The produce harvested goes directly to the CSA members each week. Besides great produce, CSA farms provide the focal point for education and community building. Field days, work days, harvest festivals and celebrations provide the opportunity for urban families to share and learn together in a rural setting.
Children have a very special place on the CSA farm. Many farms offer activities organized especially for their young members. It’s never too early to begin a connection to land, food and farming, teaching our children how and where our food is grown.
The Midwest, and the Madison area in particular, have proven to be fertile ground for CSA farms and communities. The first Madison area farms began in 1992 and by 1996 more than 4,000 area residents were CSA participants. A CSA member purchases a “share” of each season’s produce. One share is generally enough to feed a household of four or more. Half or partial shares are often available as well. The food is distributed weekly through centrally located drop-off points or farm pick-up. The price of a share is simply the farm’s operating budget divided among the shareholders. For this reason the costs of subscriptions very somewhat from farm to farm.
In general, food received is more economical or comparable in cost to local organic produce found at farmers’ markets and retail stores. The shares are paid for in advance, providing the farm capital to help with spring startup costs, such as seeds, greenhouse supplies, tools and equipment, labor, etc. Many farms, however, do utilize payment plans offering several installments. To enable people of all financial means to participate, many farms offer full or partially subsidized shares or are prepared to accept food stamps.
Some farms also welcome “working members,” who exchange labor for all or part of the cost of their share. Working members assist with field work and harvest on the farm, or exchange a professional skill or services for the CSA’s other operating needs.
(Reprinted with permission from MACSAC)