Sep 17, 2010

Community Supported Agriculture

If you are new to the local food arena, you may have heard the term CSA tossed around and wondered exactly what that is, so I'm going to explain and then tell you about a great local CSA opportunity. Here’s the basic definition of a CSA program and a few details from Local Harvest:

a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season. This arrangement creates several rewards for both the farmer and the consumer.

Advantages for farmers:

  • Get to spend time marketing the food early in the year, before their 16 hour days in the field begin
  • Receive payment early in the season, which helps with the farm's cash flow
  • Have an opportunity to get to know the people who eat the food they grow
Advantages for consumers:

  • Eat ultra-fresh food, with all the flavor and vitamin benefits
  • Get exposed to new vegetables and new ways of cooking
  • Usually get to visit the farm at least once a season
  • Find that kids typically favor food from "their" farm – even veggies they've never been known to eat
  • Develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown
It's a simple enough idea, but its impact has been profound. Tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it.

Another important aspect of CSAs is the concept of “shared risk.” Local Harvest says: Many times, the idea of shared risk is part of what creates a sense of community among members, and between members and the farmers. If a hailstorm takes out all the peppers, everyone is disappointed together, and together cheer on the winter squash and broccoli. Most CSA farmers feel a great sense of responsibility to their members, and when certain crops are scarce, they make sure the CSA gets served first. Still, it is worth noting that very occasionally things go wrong on a farm – like they do in any kind of business...

I agree that this sense of “share bounty and shared risk” can bring the shareholders together as a community, in a way that is just not going to happen when the grocery store gets extra carrots or the shipment of chips is delayed. A small group of shareholders can visit the farm, encourage the farmer, and pray for rain. They can celebrate the bounty and mourn any loss. It is a risk, but the potential rewards, in both fresh produce and local community, seem great.

If you would like additional information about the CSA model you can view the full article on Local Harvest here.

Local CSA Opportunity:

If the idea of investing in a small farmer and being part of a small community that receives weekly food boxes appeals to you (like having your own garden without the work), I’d like to let you know about an opportunity with Kellogg Valley Farms that is currently available.
Eddie Stuckey at Kellogg Valley Farms is a chemical-free farmer who has a small farm about 30 minutes outside of Little Rock. I have purchased from his produce stand regularly this year and was excited to find out his interest in offering a CSA program to a very limited number of people for this next growing season.

My husband, Mike, and I recently visited Eddie’s farm and talked with him about his vision for the future of the farm. You can see pictures and read about our visit here. For his first year CSA program Eddie wisely decided to keep it small. His goal is to have a manageable, quality program. He would like the opportunity to make relationships with 10 individuals and families and to do his very best to provide a variety of farm products for them in weekly boxes throughout the growing season.

These are the reasons Mike and I decided to be one of Eddie’s shareholders:
  • We really want farmers like Eddie to succeed, so we are not left at the complete mercy of Big Ag.
  • We like investing in other people’s dreams, especially when we get a return in Real Food.
  • We like Eddie.
  • We like the “small community” aspect of a small CSA program. We’d like to know the other shareholders.
  • Eddie won’t be getting any government subsidies to help with the projects that need to be done for expansion on his farm, because he’s growing “specialty crops” on a few acres rather than GMO corn and soybeans on 100s of acres. (Believe it or not, 'specialty crops' is a USDA designation for any fruit, vegetable, herb or plant grown in the U.S. that is not one of the five “program crops” directly subsidized by the federal government. Running a traditional, diversified small farm make you are a specialty crop producer.)
  • We want first dibs on our limited supply of chemical-free local produce.
  • I am more motivated to prepare produce that I already have then to make a meal plan in advance and go purchase the food at the market (I like fewer decisions in my life).
  • I am especially bad at standing in front of a farmer’s stand and figuring out what I will use during the next week (and remembering if I already have some or not at home.)
  • I like “having my farmer’s ear” so I can make suggestions about what crops might be nice.
  • I like the idea of getting a good deal on chemical-free local produce without being unfair to the farmer who has worked so hard to grow it.
Last time I checked with Eddie, there were only 4 shares left. He wants to sell these this month so he can proceed with the farm plans.

If you are interested in being part of our little CSA community, please call Eddie at 501-773-3905 or e-mail him at Kelloggfarms AT yahoo DOT com to ask him to send you the CSA information.

You can read a list of actions that show you are serious about a food revolution here. Investing in small farmers is on the list (more than once).

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