Saturday, April 10, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)

At the moment we seem to be having an early start to spring, however considering it’s only mid-March I don’t think old man winter is completely out of the picture yet.  With Town Meeting behind us, many are planting tomatoes and other plants for their summer gardens.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, it isn’t only this column that advocates eating local foods to the greatest extent possible, as more and more places are promoting themselves by advertising that they sell goods produced in our immediate area.  Restaurants pride themselves on using locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, cheeses and the like on their menus.  More and more area grocery stores are emphasizing their array of products that are either indigenous to the area, or that some enterprising farmer is growing and developing a local following for.  It’s a good, healthy trend, and it’s happening across the country.  Farmers’ markets are abounding and are more crowded then ever as those that love good, healthy food can now satisfy their cravings while seeing their friends and neighbors in the relaxed atmosphere of these weekly gatherings.

For those that want a steady stream of local agricultural products, farmers offer CSAs, an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture.  A CSA is a form of cooperative where local buyers contract with a local farmer to share in the risks and rewards of the farmer’s production.  Usually the CSA buyer receives a regular distribution of the products available from the farm on any given week.  These products may be fruits and vegetables only, but many CSAs now include the possibility of meat, eggs, flowers or started vegetable plants, and dairy products, be it cheese, butter or milk, raw or pasteurized. 

In the CSA system, the buyer prepays for a summer’s harvest, receiving their weekly distribution either at the farm or sometimes at the farmers’ market.  This new relationship that brings consumers into direct contact with the producer builds a stronger bond between them, resulting in the farmer being able to concentrate more on production of products their consumers want, and less on food waste and financial loss. 

Buyers do not purchase a set number of pounds or pieces of a specific product, but share in the farmer’s production when their products are at their peak of ripeness and flavor.  The benefit to the buyer is having a steady stream of seasonal produce, or other farm products, while knowing that their dollars are working locally.  The farmer is freed up from marketing their products and can focus on the care and production of their plants, soils, crops, animals and fellow workers.  It’s a win win for all involved.

CSAs are designed to provide as much or as little of the farmer’s production as the individual or family needs on a weekly basis, so they can be customized to your individual situation.  There is some risk to the buyer in that weather or pests may damage or limit production, but this risk is spread over a larger number of participants in the CSA approach, while otherwise falling only onto the producer.  If it helps the farmer, it helps the buyer.

So consider buying a CSA from your local farmer.  Its good for you, good for the farmer, and good for our local economy.  

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