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Meet Chef David Swanson, of Braise Culinary Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is a Terra Madre ’08 delegate, and–with the help of a grant from the state of Wisconsin through their Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin program–last summer he started an RSA. We had a chat with Dave, to find out more about RSAs.

Q: What is an RSA? How is it similar to a CSA?

RSA or Restaurant Supported Agriculture is based on the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model. The CSA model allows farmers to create a better cash flow by having members pre-pay for their subscription. The RSA follows this by having restaurants pre-pay a portion, bringing in immediate revenue for the farmer. A little different format is that the RSA works with the farmers and businesses so the surprise aspect is taken out of the equation. Some businesses need a steadier supply of ingredients rather than waiting to see what shows up at their back door.

The biggest obstacle with restaurants/businesses working with local ingredients is to change their way of thinking. We need a paradigm shift in the way we think about food, it’s value, it’s importance to a well balanced life and how we view the people who grow our food. Not an easy goal to obtain, but the RSA is attempting this through education. Bringing the chefs and farmers together, creating a common language.

Q: Can you describe the benefits for each party?

Restaurants: a steady supply of products at a better cost along with saving the chef/owner time in foraging for items.

Farmers: upfront payments allow better cash flow. To create better efficiencies on the farm; using up surplus, working with composting, etc…

I am reasonable with what I ask the restaurants to pre-pay since they are a cash flow business. It usually comes in at a small percentage, this keeps farmers from having to borrow money for seeds and infrastructure costs at the start of the season. The remaining balance is paid quarterly or monthly depending on the account.