Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a concept which has been around in the United States in an organized form since the mid 1980s, although it started in Switzerland and Japan in the 1960s. Essentially, CSA is about connecting consumers with the people who grow their food; in exchange for a set annual fee, CSA members get a box of produce delivered periodically from the farmer who grew it. Numerous people in industrialized nations participate in CSA programs under a variety of names to have a steady supply of fresh, healthy, often organic, and local food.
The concept of CSA was originally developed in the 1960s, and appears to have arisen independently in Japan and Switzerland. In both nations, citizens were concerned about food safety and the disconnect between people and the source of their food. Urban-based community groups made contact with farmers, and established a subscription system. In 1984, Jan VanderTuin, from Switzerland, introduced the concept to the United States. The basic fee includes a box of produce, typically every one to two weeks. For an additional fee, the subscribers can get eggs, dairy, fruit, honey, and other specialties from farms that offer them. The CSA boxes are delivered to the home or to a central pickup location, depending on the size of the CSA program and the manpower the farm has.
Typically, people join a subscription CSA, where they get a fluctuating amount of produce delivered from the farmer. The contents of a CSA box will vary depending on season, but most farmers try to provide a varied mixture to their CSA clients, along with information about the produce such as how it was grown and ways to cook it. Consumers appreciate the locally grown produce and the deeper connection with the land, and farmers benefit by having a set group which pledges to support them, sticking by the farmer in times of good harvest and bad.
Sometimes a more formal shareholder CSA will be developed. In a shareholder CSA, shareholders participate in decision making, and often purchase or lease a piece of land, hiring a farmer to work on it. The group decision making balances input from subscribers and the farmer's knowledge to create a cooperative agreement. In this case, many shareholders also spend some time working on the farm.
Being a member of a CSA program provides high quality food at a reasonable cost, and many low income families join CSA groups for this reason. The food is often organic, is usually produced within 100 miles, and the boxes often introduce members to new flavor experiences. Numerous Internet resources exist for finding locally based CSA groups in Canada, the United States, and Europe; use your preferred search engine to look for one near you if you are interested in learning more or taking on a trial subscription.