We came across an old booklet on Community Supported Agriculture produced by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association probably in 1990 and found it inspiring to see the original concept of CSA as it was brought to this country in 1986 in comparison to how the concept has exploded to where it is now with probably thousands of CSAs of varying models across the nation.
Below is a summary
and excerpts from the original booklet
COMMUNITY RELATED AGRICULTURE
Community farms Community Supported Agriculture Subscription Farms
“The earth is a living Being and the actions of every individual have an effect on the whole. The soil is the basis of all human life and the quality of its care and health affect not only the people who eat the food today, but also those who will depend on it in the future. Because of this the proper tending of the soil should be the concern and responsibility of every individual, even though only 1% of our population is engaged in farming. It is in everyone’s interest that farmers are supported so that they can grow the highest quality most nutritious food while preserving and building soil life for the future.“
“When a farmer is tending the Earth on behalf of others, it is essential that w share the costs of supporting the farms as well as share the risks of variable harvests.”
“Food produced on these farms is consumed locally. The produce is the freshest possible, and almost none is wasted.”
“Since no herbicides, pesticides, or artificial fertilizers are used, ground water pollution and toxic residues on food are avoided.“
“Most people have been alienated from the land through our modern food production and distributions systems. People who join projects like these (CSA) find a meaningful way to reunite with the Earth and find a kind of spiritual nourishment they have been missing.”
Two individuals are responsible for independently bringing these ideas to North America. Trauger Groh (to New Hampshire) and Jan Vandertuin (to Berkshires, MA) in 1986. Four years later there were 37 identified projects in many parts of the U.S. and Canada.
There are typically 3 groups of people involved in the farm:
1) The farmers – do the actual farming work however they best see fit; no interference from non-farmers about how the work is done.
2) The consumers – locally interested people from all walks of life and income levels, who
a) Financially support the farm
b) See that all the food is consumed
c) No farm work is expected from them. (They have their own vocations and it seems people don’t have as much time as they would like anyway.)
3) The core group – normally of 5-12 people that includes the farmers are people with some organizing skills who
a) Sometimes are the ones who start the project
b) Makes sure food is being distributed
c) May be responsible for handling money and any festivals, legal issues, etc. and finding more consumers as required
A Garden/Farm plan is made and an Expense Budget, and it is determined how the farm income will be structured, such as:
a) Divide expenses evenly among numbers of shares
b) Pledge system – everyone pledges what they will pay for the year until the needed income level is met. May offer a range or it can be open-ended.
c) Subscription Farm – people buy a share at a fixed price. Level of consumer involvement is not as high and often shares sold are only a portion of the farm income. Can be used to transition farmers from normal market sales to direct consumer support.
d) Some CSA projects have added options to veges such as egg shares or milk shares. Separate mini-budgets are made for those who want to support it, however, there is danger of a “buy and sell” mentality creeping in. People must remember that the money is needed to support the farm; it is not just a new way to buy food. If the farm is properly supported then vegetables, eggs and milk, etc. are a natural result.
Payment plans, Distribution day, deliveries if needed, legal forms, U-pick options, work-exchange and volunteering, visits, etc. are arranged.
Land requires special consideration. If the farmer does not already have land, the consumer group may offer land and a long-term lease should be sought, such as 50 years. Some groups may gift or purchase land and put it into a land trust, which is recommended as the best long-term solution.
This is a social experiment. Newsletters, recipe sharing, festivals, potlucks, volunteer work are often big attractions to this kind of project. Consumers can also be organized for emergency situations such as saving a crop from an early frost.
If you take a look at the crop charts showing the farm’s plans for the season there are usually many crops, maybe 40 or so, and it is natural given climate and weather changes, that some will fail while others out-produce expectations. These things tend to balance out. However, if there are extreme adverse circumstances reducing all crops, this is part of sharing the risk with the farmers. Better to have a lean year with a committed farmer than to watch the farm go out of business, and even in the worse year, you still get something.
This is the bottom-line question and the answer varies from one program to the next depending mainly on the local growing season, soil fertility, farmers’ skill, cost of living, etc. No one should join a CSA as a way to get cheap vegetables. Most CSA and similar farm projects are aimed at providing for low and middle income families and efficiencies are gained by having direct farm consumption with no crops wasted.
A detailed 3 year study was made comparing cost of conventional (chemically produced) supermarket produce vs. a community supported farm and the results were that the same amount of produce from the supermarket would have cost consumers 37% more than what was needed to support the farm. [Note: This would have been done before 1990 – prices and availability of organic food has changed dramatically since then but it is highly likely the results remain the same.]
RESOURCES mentioned in the original pamphlet, that still exist today including
lists of community farms in the USA and Canada:
Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Today, see www.biodynamics.com > Resources and Community
Robyn van En Center.
Today, see csacenter.com or www.wilson.edu
There is a book by Trauger Groh and Steve McFadden with an in-depth treatment of the underlying principles plus studies of 5 farms.
Published in 2000, their book is named Farms of Tomorrow Revisited: Community Supported Farms - Farm Supported Communities.