You may have heard about CSAs in recent years, or had a friend tell you they had to pick up their “share.” If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, Edible Cleveland is here to help.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between the consumer and the farmer. Consumers “subscribe” to the CSA. They pay in advance for products that the farmer will grow and distribute over the coming growing season. This provides cash for the farmer when seeds need to be purchased, fencing installed or repaired, irrigation systems improved and a myriad of other expenses that must be paid to get the crops and livestock produced. The consumer also shares in some of the farming risk. A crop that is lost to hail, late frost, floods or droughts is lost to both the producer and the subscriber.
The idea behind CSAs started in the 1960s by a group of mothers in Japan who were concerned about the increased use of pesticides in food, loss of certain foods and nutrition diminished by processing. They sought out farmers who were willing to use chemical-free methods. This cooperative idea was called teikei, which according to Robin Van En, literally means “partnership” or “food with the farmer’s face on it.”
Robin coined the phrase community-supported agriculture in 1986 before she had even heard of the mothers in Japan. Her concept for her farm was “local food for local people at a fair price to them and a fair wage to the grower.” Over the years, she helped create more than 1,000 CSA farms worldwide to support growing fresh, local, organic produce.
Here in Northeast Ohio, the practice goes back more than 25 years ago to when Silver Creek Farm in Hiram offered a CSA program and delivered bags of produce to subscribers in Shaker Heights. The practice was slow to catch on but in recent years it has really taken off, with dozens of CSAs around the region.
There are several different types of CSA to choose from, from single farms that sign up members and deliver what they grow, to groups of farmers who work together to supply a great variety of products, to small aggregators who buy from local farmers and deliver to members. It’s even possible to join a meat, poultry and egg CSA. There are CSAs that include only fruits and vegetables and others that include baked goods, jams, syrup, honey and cheese.
Additionally, there are weekly shares, half shares, summer only and winter shares. The added revenue goes directly to farmers, making it possible for them to receive a retail price for their products, just as they do at a farmers market.
For many of us, getting a weekly CSA bag is a little like getting a present each week. What will be in there? Will we know what to do with it? Luckily, recipes and cooking instructions are usually in the bag as well. And visits to the farm are highly encouraged.