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.
-United States Dept. of Agriculture
About Community Supported Agriculture
Typically, members of the farm purchase a share in advance, committing to the farm for the season and helping cover the initial annual costs of the farm operation. In return, members receive boxes of the farm’s produce or products throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and being more knowledgeable of local food production.
Once harvesting begins, members pick-up a weekly box of foods which may include produce, fruits, cheeses, eggs, meats, poultry, flowers, herbs or preserves. Pick-up sites are often located at a member’s house, local businesses, or at the farm. Most farms create a newsletter that accompanies each delivery with notes about farm activities, descriptions of what’s in the delivery, cooking tips and recipes. Many farms also create opportunities for their members and families to visit the farm and participate in farm events. The typical CSA season in Wisconsin runs from the end of May through mid-October. Farms offer a diversity of share options including extended season shares, multiple share types and sizes, and special funds and payment plans to accommodate households on a tight budget. CSA farmers use sustainable and organic methods to produce high quality to reduce the impact of agriculture on the environment.
For the FairShare CSA Coalition and FairShare growers, CSA is MUCH MORE than just a weekly delivery of food or food products.
As CSA becomes a household name, we’re seeing more and more versions of “CSA style” products on the market. These “box schemes” source products from all over the country or world, just as most grocery stores do (we’re grateful to have a strong group of grocery co-ops in Wisconsin which do a wonderful job supporting local growers!). You don’t build a relationship with any of the farmers involved and it may be difficult to even find out where something really came from. On the other hand, our growers are the producers of the vast majority of their box contents. Does that mean they don’t collaborate with their neighbors to add value to their shares by offering occasional specialty items? No, it means that the CSA Coalition growers are the primary producers of their share members’ food. It means that as a member of a FairShare farm you TRULY know your farmer. Your dollars are literally going directly to the farmer at full retail value for their farm products. Your box is not a hodgepodge of products amassed from throughout the region or country, but rather a delicious box containing the bounty of your farm, picked, washed and prepared by your farmer, for you.
The goals of CSA support a sustainable agriculture system which provides farmers with direct outlets for farm products and ensures fair compensation.
Today, Community Supported Agriculture is somewhat of a household term in the Upper Midwest and in many other communities throughout the United States. However, this innovative partnership between consumers and producers is a relatively recent development. The growth of the movement and its wide adoption are astounding and inspiring.
The concept of CSA harks back to a time when people knew where their food came from, ate in harmony with their local seasons, and enjoyed a balanced, nutritional diet of basic, natural foods.
Community Supported Agriculture as we know it began in the early 1960’s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan as a response to concerns about food safety and the urbanization of agricultural land (sound familiar!?). Groups of consumers and farmers in Europe formed cooperative partnerships to support farms and farming by paying the full costs of ecologically sound, socially equitable agriculture.
In 1965, mothers in Japan concerned about the rise of imported food and the loss of arable land started the first CSA projects, called “Teikei.” The Teikei movement in Japan is alive and well, along with its sister movement of cooperative networks. The largest cooperative network in Japan is called the Seikatsu Club and is made up of 600 producer-consumer groups that supply food to more than 22 million people. While Seikatsu is distinct from CSA and Teikei, all three speak of “seeing the farmer’s face on their vegetables” and shortening the supply chain to support local farmers, prioritizing environmental stewardship, and maintaining control of their local food system.
CSA began in the United States on two east coast farms in 1986. Since that time, CSA farms have been organized throughout the country with over 12,500 community supported farms serving farm fresh food in every state.
The Midwest, and the Madison area in particular, have proven to be fertile ground for CSA farms and communities. In Wisconsin, the first CSA projects began near Milwaukee and the Twin Cities in 1988. In 1996, more than 65 Wisconsin CSA farms grew food for an estimated 3,000 households. The first Madison area farms began in 1992 and by 1996 more than 4,000 area residents were CSA participants. Today, more than 25,000 area residents eat fresh food from their FairShare farm every week during the growing season.