Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) in an approach to growing and purchasing food products in which the farmer and consumer are working cooperatively. In a CSA, the farmer grows food for a predetermined group of consumers. The consumer enters into an agreement of purchase with the grower prior to the start of the season. The farmer gains a guaranteed market; the consumer gains high quality, fresh food, as it becomes available.

The Pitney Farm in Ellington, Connecticut is a CSA. At the beginning of the season most members pay $275 for a full-share of a season's worth of vegetables. A half-share costs $175. A work-share costs $50 plus 50 hours of work in the garden. Most members are full-share participants. Planning for the season begins in the winter. Money is collected, the members decide on which vegetables and herbs to grow, and planting and harvesting schedules are worked out. from: Hartford Courant (date missing).

The Redwing Farm Subscription Program in Townshend, Vermont, harvests from June through October with winter distributions from November to February. A large share, ample for two adult vegetarians or four or more non-vegetarians is $350; a medium share is $200; the winter share is an additional $50. Benefits include fresh organic vegetables, recipes, listing of the next week's produce, Spring and Fall celebrations, reduction in packing and distribution waste, and the support of a healthy local farm economy.

CSA's can take a variety of forms but basic to all is a farmer and a consumer group willing to put front money into the cost of growing produce. Both farmer and consumer share responsibility for success and failure of the crop, cultivation practices that produce good food year after year, and decent farming conditions. The consumer has a better appreciation for the source and quality of food products and the exchange of money and services is kept in the local economy. Some CSA farms include fruit, berries, eggs, meat and root crop storage.

Permaculture in a Nutshell, Patrick Whitefield discusses links between the consumer and the farm. Many organic farmers have difficulty breaking into sales to the supermarket system which demands standardization, high cosmetic standards, excessive packaging, and waste. The local farmer has no bargaining power when up against the agricultural corporations that supply most of our food. (pg. 53) However, when an industry gets to be a giant it can no longer respond to local conditions and offer a diversity of products. It opens up market niches for specialized products. It is here that the local farmer can offer a product, much as the micro-breweries slice off regional trade from the global breweries.

Whitefield identifies variations of the CSA idea: (pg. 53-55)

•Standard ordering systems: Each consumer agrees to buy a box of produce once a week at a standard price. This provides the farmer with an assured market and the consumer with locally grown food they can trust at about the same price they would pay for non-organic food in the supermarket.

•Subscription farming: Each subscriber makes a single payment at the beginning of the season for a supply of produce. The advantage is that it assists in financing the up-front costs of farming at planting time. The consumer may also have more involvement in deciding what is grown and methods used.

•Community supported agriculture: The farm is actually owned by the community and people buy a share in the farm. It has many of the same characteristics as the subscription farm but the level of involvement of members is greater than in other forms.

With Whitefield's concept of the CSA, the urban dweller actually owns a piece of the countryside and has a direct stake in agriculture. It serves to increase mutual understanding between the farmer and the people for whom the food is produced. Having a "place in the country" where they can go to enjoy nature, and be an active participant in the growing of food is important as well. For farmlands near urban areas that are often under pressure for development, the creation of a cooperative farm trust may be the perfect answer meeting farmer and consumer needs.


Community Shared Agriculture