Yesterday Jenaya and Alysha were interviewed and followed around the garden for the local news: I will link to this at the end of this post. But why did I start there and then make you wait? In a bit that didn’t make the news Jenaya was asked about the CSA and she basically knows what it is (duh she helps put together some pretty beautiful boxes every Friday!) but she didn’t know what CSA stands for and upon reflection it occurred to me that this deserved a bit of incite.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is not simply a box of farm produce received weekly (or monthly or what have you), paid for in advance. A corner of the USDA’s website introduces the concept like this,
“Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or “share-holders” of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.”
CSA is not the value of a box (be it huge and beautiful like ours were last week, or aphid infested like a box of ours that had valid complaints earlier this season). CSA is a different economic model than the one in the dominant food system. CSA has a history that is rich and hard to pin down the roots of but has gained steam basically in my own lifetime (since the 1980s). When members purchase shares they are investing in the farm and sharing in the benefits and risks associated with it. When crops are attacked by say, flea beetles or aphids, members may see damaged crops or none at all; when farmers are attacked by viruses or life in general, members may not get their boxes; likewise when harvests are plentiful boxes may be filled with much more than current market value of individual items. CSA is a subtle challenge to the dominant economic system, which is misaligned with nature.
What is different or similar about our CSA and others? One huge difference is that our farmers’ livelihoods do not depend on farm revenue. On the other hand, while in the future we hope to have a full-time salaried employee whose livelihood would not depend on farm revenue but would be more tied to it, our own farmers are investing time and hugely underpaid/volunteer labor because we take the community part pretty seriously. Another difference is that our farm is part of a 501 C3 non-profit and can accept tax-deductible donations (Down to Earth and Lane Forest Products have recently donated much needed supplies). Our main difference, of course, is that we are attached to a school and youth programs and have been a smaller or bigger part of that throughout the years. But again that does seem community oriented? This is witnessed in the news of our future: The Outdoor High School at Northwest Youth Corps is becoming Twin Rivers Charter School.
We all learn something new every day.