The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) enables consumers of agricultural products to reconnect with their roots. It provides consumers with fresh, quality products and reliable markets for producers. Consumers build relationships with food, the land, the seasons, and the community with the producers and other members of the CSA farm. Producers build relationships with consumers, and the money they receive in advance allows them to grow healthy food.
During the last decade, the CSA has undergone a rapid expansion and combines two strong trends in contemporary agriculture or organic foods and local products. A recent study indicates that more than 20% of organic farmers participating in the network of CSAs. In the United States, there are CSA farms in areas with high population density on both coasts.
The members of the network of CSAs offer to subscribe for the following reasons: product quality, support the local farm, environmental concerns, concerns about food safety and service to the community (e.g. donated surplus products to food banks).
The underlying concept of the CSA wants consumers literally invest in the production of their food. At the beginning of each season, members purchase a share. It can be a single lump sum payment or a commitment to a series of regular payments. This allows the producer to buy seeds and hire labor without having to pay the cost of borrowing. Some CSAs encourage members to work to fulfill their commitment. Consumers receive a share of the crop in terms of their investment. It usually consists of a basket of agricultural produce delivered during the growing season. In general, the basket includes vegetables, but some CSA farms also offer dairy products, eggs, meat and fruit.
Risk, limited variety and seasonal products are among the challenges facing the CSA. Members share the risk with the farmer. In a good harvest year, the share can be substantial. A bad year can cause loss of crops and significantly reduce the performance of other cultures. For all other years, the food is seasonal and products are limited to crops on the farm.
The availability of fruits and vegetables can be a challenge for consumers. Often, the Community Supported Agriculture farm offers its members the vegetables they do not know. Some vegetables cannot be sought by all members or their production may exceed the needs of the members. And of course, climate, temperature and season may restrict production. Some vegetables are simply not available in some CSA farms and others are only for short periods. In a study conducted on CSA farms in the U.S., members were more concerned about the potential of waste during periods of overproduction they were by the seasonal or limited choice. Products of overproduction can be sold to local markets or provided to food banks or other charities farmers.
Does CSA produce food at a good price? It is not the purpose of the CSA. A study shows that very few members of CSA farms (2%) were concerned about the value of them. Most people who participate in the CSA felt that by insisting on the production of cheap food, foods are less nutritious or production methods are harmful to the environment.
One study found that the average cost of a basket of organic CSA represents 50% to 70% of the cost of purchased fruits and vegetables from a local grocery store or public market. The same local fruits and vegetables are not always available at the local grocery store or public market, which makes it difficult to make comparisons and to provide other benefits to CSA agreements.
Although the basket of CSA farm can be a good cost-benefit ratio for most of the year, none of CSAs has experienced crop failure during the study period. The risk may not have been adequately determined in the financial comparison.
Is community-supported agriculture the new wave in the world of organic? If this is the case, it may be a good sign. Many worry about the distance between consumers and farmers, the length of the food supply chain, the gap between rural and urban contexts. In general, members of CSA farms are citizens who believe the “local agriculture support “as one of the main reasons for their inclusion. They borrow the Japanese “seikatsus” an approach to agriculture that provides “food with the farmer’s face.” This Community Supported Agriculture approach can be a step toward establishing better relationships and, thus, provide solutions to our food system.