Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
“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.” USDA
CSAs take many forms, the essence is that supporters cover all, or part of a farm’s yearly operating budget by purchasing a portion of the season’s harvest up front. This model is all about sharing the risk and often includes members who have a deep understanding of the risks and challenges of farming and are willipport this; rain, hail, drought or shine! The idea of CSAs started in Japan with the 10 “Teikei” principles.
A CSA farm may be fully owned by the community and employ a farm manager, or the farmer may own the farm and ‘subscribers/customers’ buy a seasonal or annual share in the produce. This arrangement may also include donating labor to assist with running the operation.
Under a traditional farming model, a farmer may end up with tonnes of damaged tomatoes from a hail storm, which must be dumped because they are deemed unfit for sale in a retail environment. The farmer will be left with the costs of growing these tomatoes, but no income from selling them, thus absorbing 100% of the risk of running a climate-dependent enterprise.
Members of a CSA, however, will learn of the climatic risks involved in farming and will happily take the damaged goods or understand why a crop has failed or is unavailable and understands that their ‘membership’ helps to cover any of these ‘bumps’ in the road. On the other hand, there will be seasons and years where there is an excess of produce and members will reap the rewards.
In essence, the members have committed fully to the ups and downs of what occurs on farm and will be educated and engaged at every step of the way.
This mutually supportive relationship between local farmers and community members helps create an economically stable farm operation in which members are assured the highest quality produce, often at below retail prices. In return, farmers and growers are guaranteed a reliable market for a diverse selection of crops. CSAs will often host farm working bee days to offer their supporters an even closer on-farm experience.
Through the support of their CSA members, farmers are also able to plan for the future based on guaranteed income, and can work with their customers to grow food varieties that may not be as accessible via other markets.
This partnership model often leads to exciting developments, which would not be achieved through traditional models, i.e. on-farm butchering, diversified heirloom crops, restoration of native flora and fauna, alternative pest and weed management strategies etc. The model allows for a level of freedom and creativity on farm that comes from building trust and education with customers, it also often results in less waste as farmers are able to better estimate demand.
Membership fees are often based on the seasons, where you sign up for 12 weeks at a time, with payment options varying depending on the CSA.
Transition Farm (VIC) – Fruits & Vegetable
Jonai Farms (VIC) – Pork & Beef
Purple Pear Farms (NSW) – Fruit & Vegetable
Symara Organic Farm (QLD) – Fruit & Vegetable
If you have any questions about CSAs or want to hear the experience of others, jump on the CSA category on the Fair Food Forum.
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