Community Supported Agriculture – A Win-Win for Farmer and Shareholder

As a CSA shareholder, you get a variety of local produce throughout the growing season. Photo: Fotolia

As a CSA shareholder, you get a variety of local produce throughout the growing season. Photo: ©Barbara Helgeson _Fotolia.com

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, as we are here in Iowa, you’re coasting through spring on the way to summer. Either you’ve planted a garden, you’re getting ready to plant — or you aren’t intending to plant at all. This post is for the third group, those of you who either don’t want to, or don’t have the space to, plant a garden of your own.

There’s another option: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA is a mutually beneficial arrangement between a farmer (or farm collective) and members. Members become shareholders in the CSA farm by pledging a certain amount of money for regular deliveries of a season’s worth of vegetables, fruits, and/or meat. The farmer sets the price and the amount of produce/meat to be delivered, how often, and how long in the season.

The advantage to the farmer is a guaranteed income and working capital for planting, tending, and harvesting. For the shareholder, the benefit is a steady supply of fresh food from a trusted supplier. But it’s important to note that shareholders not only share the benefits, they share the risks. The downside comes if the harvest is poor because of weather conditions or pests. But that’s what happens to us as consumers, anyway, since frosts and pestilence in Florida, drought in California, or high gas prices result in elevated food prices far away. And the upside for the farmer is that a failed crop won’t mean bankruptcy. It’s a win-win, even when one side temporarily loses a little bit.

Many CSAs provide shareholders an opportunity to visit a working farm and connect with the land.

Many CSAs provide shareholders an opportunity to visit a working farm and connect with the land.

I like the way the shared risk is described on the Local Harvest website: “Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community among members, and between members and the farmers. If a hailstorm takes out all the peppers, everyone is disappointed together, and together cheer on the winter squash and broccoli.”

Another delightful advantage of the CSA program is the availability of heirloom varieties that you just can’t find in your supermarket. This depends on the farmer, of course, as each will have their favorite varieties to grow and sell. You can also contract with an organic farmer and get guaranteed pesticide/herbicide-free produce for yourself and your family.

Some CSAs invite shareholders to visit their farms and find out firsthand where their food is grown. This can result in a delightful family outing and a bonding of sorts with the land your food is grown on and, perhaps, the farmer who grows it. For those who want sustainably and humanely raised meat, a visit will give you proof that you won’t be eating animals raised in the frequently horrible conditions of a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO).

Although some CSAs have already begun delivering their harvests, many have not. And even those that have started their deliveries may have more shares to sell. To check on local CSA options, contact your county extension agent, google for a CSA in your locale, or enter your zip code into the search field on the Local Harvest website. While the latter isn’t all-encompassing, it can point you to any CSAs they know about.

If you are a CSA farmer with shares to sell, I invite you to let our readers know by posting a comment. And, if you have participated in a CSA as a farmer or a shareholder, please tell us about your experience.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

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