what is csa

What is a CSA & How Does Community Support Help the Environment?

The visibility of locally-grown food received a significant boost in recent years with the growth in popularity of what has become known as the “farm-to-table” movement. Restaurants – especially trendy ones – began embracing locally-grown foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, and poultry as a way to create uniqueness and be more environmentally aware and responsible. Ingredients and dishes were proudly labeled with the local grower’s name and other information about the food we were eating, so we would know exactly what we were putting in our mouths – hence the term, “farm-to-table.”

While it’s always healthy to be suspicious of any trend, this one is actually healthy in its own right. Conventionally-grown produce from industrial farms is often pesticide-laden, genetically modified to enhance stability and longevity, and picked before maturity to travel long distances to market. The result is produce that is dull, often flavorless, and of little nutritional value.

So what’s the alternative? What’s a better solution?

Grow your own, or support someone else who is.

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“Eatin’ good in the neighborhood”

While that might be the tagline for a popular restaurant chain, it’s actually better suited for a truly healthy solution: locally-grown food. While growing your own produce is ideal, it’s also impossible for most of us to grow everything we need, so it’s helpful to identify local sources you can trust to supply you with the raw ingredients you need to put healthy food on the table. Hello, community supported agriculture!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a shared community resource concept that is rapidly growing in popularity across the country. Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.

In a traditional CSA model:

  • Members share the risks and benefits of food production with the farmer
  • Members buy a share of the farm’s production before each growing season
  • In return, they receive regular distributions of the farm’s bounty throughout the season
  • The farmer receives advance working capital, gains financial security, earns better crop prices, and benefits from the direct marketing plan

The CSA seed was first sown by Booker T. Whatley, a black horticulturist and agriculture professor at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Whatley was an advocate for regenerative farming in the 1960s and ’70s who was deeply engaged in the civil rights movement and support for black farmers. As part of this support, Whatley came up with the idea of a “Clientele Membership Club” that would support farms through a promise of purchase with an upfront payment and even active participation in crop picking and pick-up. The CSA concept has been growing ever since.

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