Wednesday, October 10, 2007

What the heck is a CSA?

It is Wednesday and since we don't really work the 9-to-5, there is no getting over the middle of the week hump. Monday and Tuesday of this week were dedicated to picking and delivering to our CSA members. Friday and Saturday, likewise. CSA is one of the ways that we market our crops. I haven't mentioned too much about what a CSA is in this blog so far, so maybe this would be a good opportunity to do so.

"Community Supported Agriculture"

In basic terms, a CSA 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 growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Members or shareholders of the farm or garden pledge, in advance, to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and the farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as the satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land. Members also share in risks, including poor harvest due to unfavorable weather or pests. -- as defined by the USDA

This is a great way for a small farmer to market all or a portion of his/her crops. The premise of our CSA is that it is simply a farm share, or a share our harvest for the year, purchased in advance, by our CSA members. No work at the Farm is required. Our obligation to our members is a top priority. While do grow some of our crops just for the family, we also distribute some of these occasionally, if we have a bountiful harvest. Several larger crops like okra, winter squash and sweet potatoes are grown for both CSA and the general market.

Each week for a pre-designated number of weeks members receive a share of everything we harvest for the group. Each year, we have a specific number of shares and once those are filled, there are none added. This would dilute the member shares and that would not be fair. There is also a specified number of weeks in a share. This year it was 30 weeks, from April until November. This year, with the extreme drought we have experienced, we have had to suspend pick up for a couple weeks but members will still receive the specified number of weeks that they signed on for. There are 2 pick up days, at 2 locations, where members come to pick up their weekly share.

We do not count the share by dollar amount, but rather the amount harvested. Produce is picked the day before, weighed and measured and then divided equally among the number of members at that specific location. When there is bounty everybody shares. If not, they share that also. The intrinsic value to belonging to a CSA is that members have a connection to a real farmer, on a real farm and that close relationship can give real insight into just what it takes to grow food crops and therefore, a deeper appreciation and connection to what is on the dinner plate.

Belonging to a CSA is not like a buying club or co-op because participants are supporters of a specific farm. Sometimes several farms will partner in the CSA, but generally it is only one or possibly two. CSA members accept that they will be subject to both the risks and the rewards of their particular farm. The "community" in CSA is the collective group of people involved, not the location or area where the CSA operates, although being provided with local produce is another big plus to belonging to such a group.

I love the concept of CSA. Twice a week, I get to see "friends", chat about the weather, swap recipes and so on. It is kind of like a chat with the neighbor, across the backyard fence, only across a table full of organic veggies. Don't get me wrong, it is hard work and requires a lot of organization, a lot of communication and a lot of dedication. On the other hand, there is nothing I would rather be doing right now so the balance is there.

Gotta head out to feed the critters now. Later.