Spring is officially here, and in addition to daffodils and spring greens at market, April tends to be prime time for CSA sign-ups! Don’t know yet what a CSA is? Fear not; if you do, here’s a bit of info you may not have known before.
The idea of Community Supported Agriculture has Japanese roots, in an innovative system of pre-arranged, pre-paid produce delivery known as teikei in the early 1970s. Teikei – which means “cooperation,” or in this context “food with a farmer’s face” – started as an initiative of a few families near Kobe who were concerned with pesticide usage on their food. These folks later formed the early Japanese Organic Agriculture Association. European-style, subscription produce “share” programs also began around this same time. CSA did not reach the US until the mid-1980s when a farmer named Robyn Van En was introduced to the idea from a Swiss friend of hers. Robyn’s Indian Line farm in Western MA first experimented with the idea of CSA in a pre-paid apple orchard share. The idea proved a success, and Robyn’s farm share program later grew to include vegetables – which make up the foundation of most American CSA programs. In farm-dense New England, the CSA idea spread quickly from the Right Coast to the Left.
Why call veggie allotments “shares”? Well, CSA works as a type of investment: you pay for your “share” in the farm over the winter or early in the farm season as your farmer lays out their crop plan and preps equipment for the coming year. While many CSA farmers have other sources of income beyond their member base, CSA farmers know at the outset their profit and production targets. Income is received when it’s needed most (before plants or livestock produce), and it acts as a guarantee for payment when Mother Nature is unforgiving. In this way, CSAs operate as risk-sharing ventures – if a late season hail storm wipes out an early spring lettuce crop, or heaven forbid a plague of locusts should strike – Farmers John and Jane will still survive the season, and you just might miss out on some peas. What you get in return is a sense of investment in your regional farm economy, and healthy, locally grown produce “with a farmers face on it.”