Hey folks! If you’ve been following our various social media, you may have heard about our CSA program once or twice. We’ve even got a nice little page for it on our website. But—and this is the big question—do you know what a CSA really is? What it stands for? Why I keep asking you questions? Gather around the metaphorical campfire and let me tell you.

Spanning several nations (in Japan, it’s called Teikei) and dating back to the 1980s, CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. CSA programs are implemented by farmers as a sort of mutual-benefit system with shareholders. Have you ever heard of Lootcrate? Do you subscribe to Dollar Shave Club, Birchbox, or BlueApron? If you know anything about those services, you’ve basically got the gist of how a CSA works. With a couple additional caveats, of course.

A typical box of CSA goods. Photo courtesy of Full Belly Farm.

If you don’t know anything about the services described above, they are basically subscription services that send subscribers a box of products, typically once a month. Based on the service, monthly deliveries can contain anything from cosmetics to full packs of meal ingredients, complete with recipes. A CSA functions in a very similar way—each month (or frequently bi-weekly), subscribers to a particular farm’s CSA will receive a box containing a share of the farm’s latest harvest. The contents, of course, will vary, but most of the time the box consists of vegetables, with the occasional meat product included (our CSA is primarily meat, of course). Sounds simple enough, right?

The big caveat with a CSA, though, is that most of the time shareholders have to pay in advance for the season. This is great for the farmer because they have a lot  more financial security to keep them going throughout the season. It’s good for the shareholders because they are guaranteed a portion of what is grown on the farm. But the up-front payment system makes it quite risky; if the season goes poorly due to any combination of uncontrollable variables—weather, etc.—subscribers may find their shares lacking. While this may be disheartening, it also puts shareholders and farmers into a very close relationship where all parties are equally invested in the success of the season. It brings consumers closer to the source of many locally-grown, quality-assured ingredients.

The moral? Only put stock in a CSA if you really think you can trust it, or if your chief interest is to support local farmers first and foremost. During a good season, you’ll find yourself with some phenomenal ingredients for your meals. In a… not-so-good season, you may find yourself disappointed, but your local farmers are right there with you, and you’ll all be able to share that “we’ll get it next time” feeling.

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