By Jack Kittredge
Last summer in the New York Times Julia Moskin wrote a thoughtful article entitled: “When Community-Supported Agriculture Is Not What It Seems.” It is worth reading and can be found here for those who want to do exactly that.
Moskin’s basic point was that ‘farm share’ programs have evolved in complex ways from the original simple CSA model. This evolution has blurred the lines of exactly where the food is coming from, whether it is local, and whether local farmers are benefitting from the programs.
Traditional CSAs encapsulate a specific relationship between a farm and its customers. The model originated in the 1980s in the US — earlier in Japan and Europe — and the term adopted in Japan for the system could be translated as ‘food with the farmer’s face on it’. Whether started by a farm or by a group of consumers, a CSA was basically an agreement by the farmer to provide shares of the farm’s products each week during the season, and by each consumer to pay, upfront, the cost of their share.
By Jack Kittredge
This issue deals with a reality that all too many organic farmers are having to face – as new, younger people are coming into the market, they are bringing new expectations with them. As excited as they are about local food, they also want convenience, more choice, easier payments, and other features that we have not been good at providing – but that the conventional American food system has delivered in spades.
The market model that is under the most stress now is the CSA. For years pure CSA has been the preferred marketing model for many farmers. You get retail prices, you are paid up front, all your produce is sold, and you have few costs compared to staffing a farmers market or roadside stand, buying expensive boxes and delivering to stores, or paying a middleman or receiving reduced prices when selling wholesale.
By Center for Healthy Food Access
Food hubs offer an exciting bridge between food producers and consumers, providing a mutually beneficial relationship across both ends of the food system.
As defined by the National Food Hub Collaboration, “a food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source identified food products primarily from local and regional producers in order to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.”
By Liz Henderson
An Introduction to the CSA Charter
In February 1979, a tractorcade of 6,000 farmers tied up traffic in Washington, D.C. to protest farm policy that ended parity, the pricing system that had linked farm prices to the costs of other sectors of the economy. The deepening farm crisis of the 1980s accelerated the loss of family-scale farms. Developers were grabbing up farmland at the rate of many acres a day. In face of the grim reality that small and mid-sized, family-scale community based farming could disappear completely in the US, people who wanted to farm and support farms had to invent creative alternatives – that is how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was born.
In Anthony Graham’s words: “Ideas have a way of hovering until the time is right or the right person or group can give it form. Booker T Whatley sounds like he was a forerunner in the idea of communities supporting farms and farmers, but I don’t think he can be said to have created the CSA concept. In the mid 80’s what has now come to be known as CSA was an idea whose time had come, with roots in many places and in many people. It grew out of a sense of community and it came as an answer to a need. When the time was ripe it grew exponentially through the work of many people, not the least of whom were the farmers who recognized a great idea and ran with it.” In the South, Booker T. Whatley researched and taught farmers “How to Make $100,000 from a 25 Acre Farm.” Inspired by Swiss and German examples, Robyn Van En and Trauger Groh, Anthony Graham and Lincoln Geiger established the first CSA farms in the US in 1986, Indian Line Farm and Temple-Wilton Community Farm. Robyn became CSA’s Johnny Appleseed, spreading the concept at Biodynamic and Organic conferences across the country. In 2017, there are over 7300 CSAs in the US.
By CSA Partner
It is up to each CSA farm and its community to build a model that suits them best and to mutually ensure that the CSA upholds the principles of this charter.
- Farm members buy directly from the farm or group of farms. There is no middleman.
- The farm provides member families with high quality, healthy, nutrient-dense, fresh and preserved, local and low fossil-fuel food or fiber, filling the share primarily with products grown on the farm or, if purchased from other farms, clearly identified as to origin.
- Farm members commit to the CSA, sharing the risks and rewards of farming by signing an agreement with the CSA and paying some part in advance, even as little as two weeks for those on Food Stamps.
- The farm nurtures biodiversity through healthy production that is adapted to the rhythm of the seasons and is respectful of the natural environment, of cultural heritage, and that builds healthy soils, restores soil carbon, conserves water and minimizes pollution of soil, air and water.
- Farmers and members commit to good faith efforts for continuous development of mutual trust and understanding, and to solidarity and responsibility for one another as co-producers.
- Farm members respect the connection with the land upon which the CSA grows their food and strive to learn more and to understand the nature of growing food in their locale.
- Farmers practice safe-handling procedures to ensure that the produce is safe to eat and at its freshest, tastiest, and most nutritious
- CSA prices reflect a fair balance between the farmers’ needs to cover costs of production and pay living wages to themselves and all farm workers so that they can live in a dignified manner, and members’ needs for food that is accessible and affordable.
- Farmers consult with members, take their preferences into account when deciding what crops to grow and communicate regularly about the realities of the farm.
- Farm members commit to cooperation with the community of members and to fulfill their commitments to the CSA.
- Farmers commit to using locally adapted seeds and breeds to the greatest extent possible.
- The CSA seeks paths to social inclusiveness to enable the less well-off to access high quality food and commits to growing the CSA movement through increasing the number of CSAs and collaboration among them.
By Simon Huntley
reprinted from Small Farm Central
Since CSA migrated to the United States in 1986, this model has been remarkably successful. It has now grown to over 6,000 farms (estimated) in the United States and many more in Canada and the rest of the globe. All of this growth occurred despite the very grassroots nature of CSA, asking customers to pay up front, and the non-consumer friendly nature of the program. The current state of CSA would look like a huge success from the viewpoint of the CSA pioneers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1986, however there are problems mounting in our community.
CSA still only serves a small minority of families. In my local market of Pittsburgh, I estimate that 5,000 CSA shares are sold per season in a metro area of 988,000 households. That means only 0.5% of households in this region buy a CSA each year. What a huge opportunity for growth! Of course, we won’t convince everyone to buy a CSA share. That’s fine, but even if CSAs grow membership by 10x, that’s still only 5% of households. I believe that we can get there, but it will not be easy.
By Jack Kittredge
Many years ago, when the organic movement (and its farmers) were much younger, I remember hearing of a great marketing idea that was being tried in New Hampshire — a multi-farm CSA! At the time I remember thinking: “That sounds great! What a nice way to fill in for each other’s deficiencies, provide customers with crops one farmer is not so great at growing but others seem to raise easily, or manage a weekend off once in awhile.” But then I started thinking about the downsides: “I wonder what happens when two farmers both want to provide the same product, when everyone else thinks the quality of Farmer Brown’s lettuce is slipping but she doesn’t see it that way, or when I think my produce is not getting a fair share of the CSA’s income?”
One thing or another kept me plenty busy and I never followed up on that New Hampshire brainchild. Until now. In October I realized that this issue of The Natural Farmer on Organic Aggregation was a perfect opportunity for me to check out that misty memory. Was it still alive? Had crusty New Hampshirite (that is the official term, says the Government Publishing Office, honest!) farmers managed to work together this long? Were there fatalities?
By Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems & The Wallace Center at Winrock International excerpted by Jack Kittredge
Food hubs—businesses that actively manage the aggregation and distribution of source-identified food products—are receiving continued, growing attention from diverse stakeholders who see food hubs as vectors for economic growth and social and environmental change. As consumer desire for local and regional foods continues to grow and evolve, food hubs are increasing in number and adapting to shifting demand from intermediated local and regional food markets. The 2015 National Food Hub Survey and its predecessor, the 2013 National Food Hub Survey, represent a broad effort to aggregate national-level data on the characteristics and impact of food hubs. Together, these surveys represent the beginning of a longitudinal database from a large, broad national sample of food hubs.
By Steve McFadden
Community is not a warm and cuddly marketing concept attached to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). It is, rather, a defining element. Yet in the past few years, some middleman food businesses have appropriated the term “CSA” to describe what they are doing, without involving community. This practice is leading to confusion and concern.
Initiated in America in 1986, CSAs are constellations of local farms, food and people who are united in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet, and their growing popularity has caught the attention of entrepreneurs. Many food delivery businesses have been started that claim to be alternative, more efficient CSA models but which simply reintroduce the middleman into the local economy, standing between the farm and the people.
By Jack Kittredge
Field Goods is a subscription-based service that delivers produce year round from small farms to employees and consumers at workplaces and community sites in the Eastern New York area. It is located in Athens, NY, a small Hudson River town in Greene County. Besides providing consumers with convenient access to local produce on a regular basis, the service tries to motivate them toward a healthier lifestyle. Field Goods has been recognized for hiring workers with disabilities, supporting agriculture and creating jobs in an economically disadvantaged area.
The organization was founded by Donna Williams in 2011 and has grown rapidly since then. Williams had been employed in the food industry but was laid off with the business downturn in 2008. Using her familiarity with food-based businesses, she looked around for opportunities in that field. While taking a job with the Greene County Industrial Development Agency to assess an incubator program for new farming ventures, she saw an entrepreneurial opportunity. “There was huge demand for local food and a lot of people that want to start farming, but there wasn’t a scalable distribution system for small farms.
By Jack Kittredge
The Winooski River rises in Barre, VT and drops 400 feet until it flows into Lake Champlain just north of Burlington. The loops and bends of the river in the flat land surrounding Burlington actually form the city’s eastern boundary. One of those loops encloses the 700 acre site of city bottomland called the Intervale.
Native Americans long hunted and foraged in the Intervale, settling there seasonally because of the rich alluvial soils. Over 400 years ago Samuel de Champlain recorded extensive cornfields there. One hundred and fifty years later Ethan Allen built a homestead there and formed the Onion River Land Company with his family to sell Intervale Land. Almost a hundred years later the Central Vermont Railroad laid track there and Burlington formed a major junction in the system running from Montreal to New York City.
During these years the Intervale supported a number of farms as well as the town dump. But by 1980 the farms and even the dump were abandoned, and the Intervale was a dangerous place, used primarily as a dumping ground for tires, old vehicles, and garbage.