One method that smaller scale farmers have used to not only support their farm production but to also build community and obtain operating capital is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrangements. In a nutshell, when farmers sell CSA “shares,” they are essentially selling a seasonal “share” of the production of their farms. The members who purchase that share usually receive a box of farm-fresh products weekly or every other week throughout the growing season. But the “return on investment” goes much deeper than just a box of great local food. Let’s take a closer look at those words for a moment, and explore why this relationship can be so important.
Community, meaning "a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals". It also means "a group of interdependent organisms of different species growing or living together in a specified habitat". Community is cultivated by fellowship with the people who produce our food and the other eaters in that CSA. They have common interests in eating fresh and healthy, in supporting local and ethical forms of agriculture, and in directing their dollars directly to the producers of their food.
Supported is simple: "To provide for or maintain by supplying with money or necessities." CSAs support both the farmers and the eaters. The CSA farmers know who their customers are, what they like to eat, and how much to plant and grow for them. Since CSA arrangements offer famers some up-front operating capital to grow the food, there is less financial pressure for operating loans or the need to rely on high interest credit cards. The farmers in turn support their CSA member in a variety of ways: great food, incredible freshness and variety, recipes, exclusive crops, u-pick crops, farm events, experiential education, and more.
Agriculture: "Agriculture is the cultivation of animals, plants, fungi, and other life forms for food, fiber, biofuel, medicinal, and other products used to sustain and enhance human life." Notice the emphasis on sustaining and enhancing human life in agriculture. This may be a distinction from agribusiness which often strives for enhancing profits, building market share, and eliminating competition as their main goals.
If you want to go further in your relationship and deepen your values of interdependence with your local farmers, then consider signing up for a CSA. And do it soon. Most CSAs have their sign-up period in winter and begin providing food sometime in late spring or summer. If you are hesitant about making that big of a commitment, many CSAs now offer smaller shares or trial periods so you can test out their food without taking that big of a financial plunge. If money is a consideration, an increasing number of CSAs are offering monthly payments to help with personal cash flow instead of paying for an entire share all at once before the growing season begins. Community Supported Agriculture is an essential component of a thriving, diversified localized food system that strengthens our communities. Consider the TRUE value of becoming a member of a CSA that is owned and operated by farmers who produce the food right here in our community.