So your friend excitedly tells you they just got their first CSA box delivered and that they’ve been having a great time learning about the endless ways to prepare chard and kale (which they’ve never even eaten before but have now discovered is their favorite vegetable). You smile and nod, you’ve heard them talk about this CSA non-stop since someone signed them up for the holidays. Then the dreaded moment arrives when they ask “why haven’t you signed up for a CSA box”? There’s no more faking at this point. It’s time to fess up and ask what exactly is a CSA box and why does everyone seem to be talking about them lately?
While CSA’s, Community Supported Agriculture, have been prevalent in Europe since the 1960’s, they’ve been gaining popularity in the states since their introduction in 1984. CSA’s offer the convenience of locally-farmed fruits, vegetables, meats, and even jams, in an affordable box delivered to your doorstep or nearby drop off location. And with over 13,000 CSA farms across the United States, there are plenty of options. CSA boxes are endlessly customizable. Hate squash? Just mark it on your list and you’ll get something else in its place.But where did the idea of CSA’s come from in the first place? Much like today, concerns over the safety of mass produced food, as well as the increasingly urbanized,corporate structure of farming, led farmers and buyers to form a cooperative relationship that paid a fair price for produce in return for quality food. CSA’s have become a widely-accepted alternative to the increasingly urbanized and industrialized structure of farming worldwide: Teikei in Japan, Reciproco in Portugal, Association pour le maintien de l’agriculture paysanne in France. Call it what you want, CSA’s are a solution in any language.
If the idea of getting a box of mystery produce intimidates you or seems risky, just embrace it as part of the fundamental nature of CSA farms. They were established in part to promote community between farmers and consumers based on the concept of shared risk. A bad season wouldn’t mean that the farmers would lose customers for the next, hopefully more fruitful, harvest, and consumers would get the freshest picks during good seasons from a reliable, organic local farm. Think of each box as an Iron Chef challenge filled with secret ingredients. It may just inspire you to try something totally new.
Who benefits from CSA’s? In a word, everyone. The process allows farmers and consumers to get to know each other and enter a mutually beneficial relationship, where the farmer can spend more time tending to his crops or herd, and the buyer is rewarded with farm fresh produce and the building blocks for a healthier way of eating.
Check out The Local Harvest to find CSA farms in your area.
This is the first in a series of articles focusing on Community Supported Agriculture in California and the Pacific Northwest by SF Bay Area writer, Lisa Santaniello.