Over the last quarter of a century, the gap between consumers and their food knowledge has grown significantly. Many people think that their food comes from a drive thru window or a takeout box. CSA’s are changing that perception. A CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The community is a group of consumers, each of which buys a share of a farmer’s crop for one season. The farmer provides freshly picked produce to them and in turn, they make a financial commitment to support the farm. CSA’s have proven especially popular in larger urban areas where fresh, local produce can be difficult to obtain.
Jim Prouhet, owner of Shared Bounty CSA in Troy, Missouri, made the decision to try a CSA after reading about them in a magazine. Jim grew up on a farm just north of O’Fallon, Missouri, where his father farmed 1600 acres of field crops and a few acres of vegetables. His mother ran a greenhouse business and sold flowers and bedding plants. In 1999 he moved to Troy with his wife Ramona, and they planted a large garden. The garden grew larger every year and eventually they started selling vegetables in their front yard. A wagon full of produce, a scale and a money box were a precursor of things to come.
Early in the year, long before planting time, the CSA farmer opens up membership into his farm. Every CSA is its own entity with different products and procedures, but the general premise is that the customer pays up front for the entire season. Once the crops are ready for picking the farmer begins dolling out portions to his “share holders”. This is one of the huge benefits for the farmer. The time of year when cash reserves are at their lowest is the time of year that CSA registration is occurring, helping to alleviate cash flow issues for the farmer. The down time of winter is actually being used to market and expand the customer base.
When Jim Prouhet first decided to start a CSA, he intended on staying very small. Customers started signing up on his website so quickly, that by the time he could get the membership form page shut down, they already had twice as many members as they had originally intended. They also ended up with a waiting list for the next two seasons.
CSA farmers usually provide a list of items available so the consumer knows what to expect. Jim likes to grow what he likes to eat and on occasion takes requests. Once the crops are ready for picking, the consumer gets an allotment of what is available that week on the farm. Depending on the CSA, the weekly share may be delivered, picked up at the farm, or delivered to a central location for pick up. Some CSA’s are vegetables only, some also incorporate meats, herbs, flowers, cheeses, eggs and bread. Organic farming methods are often used by CSA’s. Shared Bounty, along with most CSA’s, provides a newsletter with information and recipes on how to prepare the wide variety of produce they grow.
It is not always easy for the farmer or the consumer. The farmer still has many problems to deal with; the unpredictability of weather, pests, disease and all the usual issues that come along with being a farmer. These issues then affect the consumer as well. They are at the mercy of what crops are doing well and what ones aren’t. They might get tired of an endless supply of Kale and be disappointed when there are problems with sweet corn and they don’t receive as much as they would like. Customers are usually aware of the risk and are willing to take it in order to reap the benefits.
The advantages must outweigh the disadvantages, because the popularity of CSA’s is on the rise. This trend is helping to strengthen local economies because of the increased dollars spent on crops grown closer to home. The circle is tightly knit, the farmer knows the family he is growing the food for, and the family actually knows the person that is responsible for growing the food that is on their table. It creates a closer bond between the land, the crop, the farmer and the consumer. The consumer receives an entire season’s worth of produce that is of the freshest quality, and comes from a local source. A source that isn’t merely a trademark or a label, it actually has a face and a name.
Shared Bounty CSA <www.sharedbounty.com>
Local Harvest <www.localharvest.org>