Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offers city dwellers a way to enjoy fresh, local produce throughout the growing season. It’s an idea that has been gaining traction among individuals who want to support local food production and sustainable farming practices. Typically, CSA subscribers pay a farmer in early spring and then receive a weekly share of organic produce throughout the growing season. The CSA concept is believed to have originated in the 1960s in Japan, where a group of women initiated a direct farmer-to-consumer relationship to address their concerns about increased pesticide use on farms, a rise in imported and highly processed food, and a corresponding decrease in the farming population.
CSA members enjoy just-picked produce delivered to them each week, ensuring maximum flavor and nutrition. Fresh vegetables tend to lose nutrients quickly, so the farther they have to travel to get to your home, the more time there is for their plant cells to shrink and their sugars to turn into starches. In contrast, food grown nearby can be picked one day and eaten the next. Furthermore, the easy access to fresh vegetables that comes with being a part of a CSA means that members often increase the amount of vegetables in their meals. They may even receive vegetables they have never tried before. Many CSA members appreciate learning more about how their food is produced and hearing about how their crops are progressing. Some CSA farms publish newsletters, host special on-farm activities, or offer a standing invitation for members to visit, thereby allowing members to build stronger connections to the people who produce their food.
CSAs offer environmental benefits as well. Small-scale local farmers find it easier to practice environmentally friendly farming methods. The distance the food has to travel from the farm to your table is also significantly less, which means less fossil fuel is required. Choosing locally-produced food can invigorate the local economy as well. If consumers would divert just one percent of their food dollars into local purchases, the farmers in their area would experience a five percent increase in their income. Additionally, 90 percent of the price of a local food purchase goes directly back to the farm.
How It Works
By subscribing or becoming a member, you are buying a “share” of the produce from a farm. You pay upfront for an entire season of produce, thereby allowing the farmer to plan for the season and make necessary spring purchases for the farm. Then, from about mid-June to October, the farmer will deliver your share of produce to a convenient drop-off spot in your neighborhood. Although it varies by CSA, a share is often enough for a family of two to three people and may include seven to ten different vegetables. Many CSAs don’t limit themselves to vegetables; some also offer add-ons such as meat, eggs, mushrooms, honey, or even flowers or other locally produced goodies. Most CSAs sell half shares and sometimes even micro shares. In some cases you can select the length of your subscription. For example, Garden Fresh Farms in Maplewood offers four to 12 week subscriptions. Alternatively, CSAs like Pahl’s Market in Apple Valley and Axdahl’s Garden Farm in Stillwater offer the more typical 18 week subscriptions.
Finding a Grower
Start by asking neighbors or coworkers for CSA recommendations. Have them tell you about their experience with a CSA and ask them what they’d look for when choosing a CSA. You can also search for CSAs in the Minnesota Grown online directory at minnesotagrown.com/member-directory. When you hear or read about a CSA that seems like a good fit for you, contact the farmer with any questions you may have about joining. CSA, after all, is all about connecting farmers to consumers. Be sure you know what exactly is and is not included in a share from a given farm, but remember that the consumer takes on part in the risk as well as the bounty when buying a CSA share.