Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is gaining ground across Canada. But what is a CSA? CSA’s are a form of partnership between the farmer and the consumer that allow farmers to secure money when they need it most and allow consumers to commit to receiving a pre-determined amount of farm fresh produce.
CSAs began popping up in North America in the 1980’s. In fact, the first CSA was a group of people that hired a farmer to farm a plot of land and grow what they needed. CSAs became very popular when farmers realized they could be beneficial to their production by securing funds up front while sharing some of the farming associated risks with shareholders. Since then, they have slowly spread across Canada and the US allowing urbanites to participate in, and enjoy the production of farm fresh fruits, vegetables and other products.
Farmers sell CSA shares early in the year, prior to planting, and use the money to purchase the necessary inputs such as seeds, compost, etc. This also allows farmers to better plan their crops as they know how many CSA customers they have and how much crop they will need each week. Unlike a farmers’ market where farmers’ can only estimate how much product they’ll sell, a CSA guarantees a demand for their crops.
Consumers benefit from CSA’s as well. Instead of hitting market crowds every week, a CSA offers pick-up, or delivery, at a pre-determined location each week. When the pickup location is the farm where everything is grown, customers have the benefit of visiting the farm and asking their farmers questions. These questions can range from what to do with a new and unfamiliar vegetable to what exactly their growing practices are. Talking with your organic farmers is a great way to hear their individual growing practices. As a consumer, by being part of the farming process and asking questions you can better understand the process, where your food comes from, and what you are paying for.
All farmers run their CSA’s differently. Some ask that shareholders spend a few hours each season helping out on the farm, as reducing hired labour and keeping costs down. Some offer different numbers of boxes (10 or 20 over the course of the harvest period) to accommodate family sizes and weeks you may be away. Some farmer’s allow shareholders to make suggestions for crops they’d like to see. No two CSA’s operate exactly the same, which is what makes them unique. They are all tailored to the farmer’s needs and influenced by what their consumer wants. CSA are also offered by all types of farms – vegetable, meat, eggs, flowers, variety, etc. are all options depending on what farmers have available. Some will even partner with a nearby farm to offer more variety to their boxes.
Finding a CSA doesn’t have to be difficult. First, check out your local organic directory:
Next, contact local farmers. Visiting a farmers’ market and asking your favourite farmers if they offer a CSA is a great way to meet the farmer. If they do not offer a CSA or have room available, they can probably tell you the name of a nearby farmer that does.