What is Community
Supported Agriculture? Pros and Cons of SCA Farming
been around for some time now. However, what is it all about? What is
it exactly, and what are the pros and cons of such a system?
article by Jesse Taylor on CSA
Its a very objective piece of
writing looking at what it is all about, plus the advantages and
disadvantages of such a system.
Since buying our little farm place, 3
years ago, we've been researching
the CSA concept and evaluating the "pros and cons" of becoming an
active CSA, ourselves. So, while we've got no real, "hands-on"
experience, as of yet, we have visited a
Community Supported Agriculture operation and discussed,
at length, what it takes to run a successful Community Supported
Agriculture and what such an operation has to offer both the farmer and
WHAT IS COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE?
If I may, I would like to "field" the
question of "What is Community Supported Agriculture?",not only to help
answer that question, but to have my answers and views "critiqued" by
those on the list with more experience. To that end, I invite comment
and correction of whatever I may set forth. After all, this is a
learning experience for me and I'm counting on you, my farming
brethren, to keep me from being ignorant all my life.
The letters "CSA" stand for "Community
Supported Agriculture". At first glance, that may sound
like a program
to bring inner-city youth and older residents together by adapting a
vacant city lot into a community garden where everyone shares in the
work and the bounty it may produce.
As I understand it, the original
concept of the
Community Supported Agriculture was, indeed, aimed at bringing
together through labor participation in an agricultural setting.
However, I offer the opinion that the original concept has been
modified by a positive effort to better serve the wants and needs of a
greater cross section of the American people, both farmer and consumer.
For those who may object to these
modifications being called Community Supported Agriculture, may I
suggest such operations be thought of as "consumer shared agriculture".
Admittedly, some of these changes seem to have been necessitated in an
effort to negotiate a minefield of legal requirements and regulations
imposed upon both parties.
While I recognize and applaud this list
for seeking to distance itself from any political discussions, I feel
it is necessary to, briefly, touch upon this subject in order to form a
more perfect understanding of why a
Community Supported Agriculture exists and why they deserve
To quickly summarize, when you get
right down to brass tacks, it would appear that governmental
legislation seems to 'pigeon hole' a farm as being nothing more than a
facility for the production of raw materials to be processed elsewhere.
For instance, I can't sell you a fresh cup of raw, whole milk, but I
can sell you a "share" in my dairy herd. In effect, you own a portion
of the cows, perhaps a cow, and are entitled to use the milk from that
cow as you see fit. Naturally, you're going to be reimbursing me for
the expense of the feed and the electricity, roughly estimated, that it
takes to pump water, provide lighting and, perhaps, run the milking
machine for the benefit of your cow.
Also, I can charge you a "boarding
fee", much the same as if you were boarding a horse at a stable or a
dog at a kennel. A Community Supported Agriculture seeks to take that
concept a few steps farther. Instead of merely providing a share in a
dairy herd, you will be purchasing a share in the production of the
whole farm or in the production of only a certain aspect of that farm's
For instance, when you sign up for
Community Supported Agriculture membership, you may be entitled to a
certain amount of the fruits,
herbs, flowers and/or vegetables produced. You may be entitled to a
certain amount of the poultry and/or eggs produced. You may be entitled
to a certain portion of the beef or pork produced. You may even be
entitled to a certain amount of various other things, like fish,
mushrooms or firewood. The variety and quantity of a share is strictly
between the farmer and the consumer.
Legally, the farmer may not be able to
sell you unwashed, un-inspected, farm fresh eggs or an un-inspected
poultry carcass, but he can sell you a live bird and that entitles you
to the eggs or even the feathers, if you want them.
The farmer may not be able to sell you
un-inspected, prepackaged pork or beef, but he can sell you a live beef
or pork critter. He can even deliver it to your choice of
facilities and either pick up and deliver or hold the packaged meat for
you until you pick it up, just as any good friend would do for you.
As I understand it, if the farmer is
willing and if you're up to the challenge, you can even go to the farm
and butcher out your own livestock, just like free Americans have
always done. Your good buddy, the farmer, is even allowed to assist
you, provided he doesn't charge a fee for doing so or for using any of
his facilities, if any exist. This is a very common practice among the Amish,
as well as with "good old boys" all across this great land. It has,
absolutely, nothing to do with their religion and everything to do with
Granted, those are extreme examples of
what may, or may not take place, but a Community Supported Agriculture
may be considered an extreme way of conducting the, already extreme,
business of farming. Certainly, it takes an extreme commitment on
behalf of the farmer, who must be willing to go to great lengths of
time and trouble to, reasonably, insure that an abundant supply of
product will be available for the CSA "subscribers" who have agreed to
share in his farming endeavors and have invested money to enable them
to do so.
One more thing to consider, does your
CSA offer to let you help with the daily chores of tending to your
share of the farm? While you'll find quite a few Community Supported
Agriculture farms who willingly accept your generous offer to share in
some of the workload, and may offer share discounts for doing so, there
are a few of them who would rather you limit your activity to the
financial assistance and leave the actual application of farming
techniques to them. CSA farmers cite three reasons for this.
Reason number one is the lack of the
laborer's experience and the time it takes to teach workers to properly
perform various tasks. From the farmer's point of view, this is
perfectly understandable. As an example, I'll point out my own
experience concerning the well intentioned, but misguided, efforts of a
friend's wife. Knowing that the garden needed weeding, she set forth to
accomplish the task. Unfortunately, she couldn't tell a young tomato
plant from a weed and destroyed the entire tomato patch.
Reason number two has to do with
liability for accidents. Most farms carry an umbrella policy, which
protects visitors with insurance coverage, but that doesn't stop a
farmer from being sued. It's certainly something to be feared, as the
money to fight the lawsuit can be a severe drain on an already tight
farming budget. You may win the case and still lose the farm.
Lawyers like to use the term of
"creating an attractive nuisance" to justify why someone got hurt by
being where they knew they weren't supposed be in the first place. A
farm pasture, woodlot or pond presents an attractive nuisance which,
apparently, trespassers don't have the personal discipline to resist.
Neither do they possess the foresight to anticipate trouble nor the
personal integrity to accept responsibility for their own actions. If
someone can break the law by trespassing and still sue you, can you
imagine how much more legal leverage someone would have if you actually
invited them onto the farm? Call this "paranoid thinking" if you like,
but it is a concern to a lot of honest, well meaning folks.
But, what if you only want to visit the
farm to picnic, hike, fish or just see the plants and animals? Well,
believe it or not, by allowing recreational use of the farm, the farmer
could be breaking the law. That activity may place his operation under
the heading of "theme park". I know, I know, it sounds perfectly
absurd, but it's a legal fact in many areas.
Remember, as a Community Supported
Agriculture shareholder, you've only got a vested interest in what the
land produces, not in the land, itself. Your presence on that land may
even be considered as posing a health threat. You're tracking your
germs around and, as the law interprets it, a farm environment should
be kept as sterile as possible. Even wildlife should be excluded, since
they have been known to carry insects and disease. We can't encourage
farm livestock to build up immune systems, can we? I know, I know,
ridiculous as all this seems, so far-fetched as to be beneath
contemplation, but it's, none the less, a fact of legality in today's
world and it's a great consideration for a lot of, otherwise,
neighborly farm folks. In any or all cases, you'll have to discuss such
things with your farmer of choice and clarify what is and isn't allowed.
WHY BECOME A COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE FARM OPERATION?
The wife and I are
feasibility of becoming
a Community Supported Agriculture farm
operation. After reviewing some of the above, why in the
world would we
want to pursue such an undertaking? By now, you may understand what's
in it for the consumer, but what's in it for the farmer? Some of the
positives run parallel to the negatives.
main reason for becoming a Community Supported Agricultural farm
is that we think we
would enjoy growing food,
and a diversity of it, a whole lot more than
we'd enjoy concentrating on planting the whole place in grains and
being done with it. We're in the process of learning the fine art of raising
vegetables and are trying to prove to ourselves
that we can do it with consistency.
reducing our reliance on
outside food sources gives us peace of mind. All these
food recalls and
reports about food contaminants have us scared. Realistically, even
though our bureaucracy tries to achieve proper food inspection, it
possible. The volume of food processing is, simply, too great. The
inspector can't place a 55-gallon drum of ground meat under his thumb
and follow it from the grinding machine to my kitchen table. It can't
be done. For our own safety and for the safety of our family and
friends, we feel we must try to localize our food consumption.
on the list is good taste and
organic food tastes better and, while we have no
first hand, side by side, laboratory comparisons, we're convinced that
the fresher our food is, the more nutrition it's bound to contain.
we only have 28 acres and only
18 of that is under till. Anyone who plants grains will tell you that
isn't nearly enough ground for grain farming. You can't raise enough to
get your machinery paid off. It's not nearly enough for long-term,
large-scale production of livestock, either. Our only option is to
think outside the box,
as they say. We've got to find an alternative.
We've got to find a "niche" market. We believe that market may be
catering to folks who, like ourselves, desire better tasting, more
nutritious,locally grown foodstuffs.
we have a vision, call it a
"romantic ideal" of what a farm should be. We can tell you
shouldn't be. It shouldn't be row after row shiny, steel sided
buildings full of imprisoned livestock, living their short lives under
artificial lighting, never knowing the feel of grass under their feet,
the freshly scented air in their nostrils, the cool breeze in their
face, the warmth of the sun or the cooling rain against their skin.
That is an unnatural life and is an insult to all animal life on this
planet. Maybe not everyone agrees with the vegetarians, who consider it
inhumane to kill animals for human consumption, but everyone should,
certainly, consider it inhumane to raise them in a fully enclosed,
Neither do we feel a farm should
consist of acre after acre of plowed earth, so severely depleted of
nutrients that chemical agents must be poured onto the soil so as to
coax the production of genetically altered grains and discourage the
growth of weeds. We think we can do better than that and we feel there
are other folks who think it can be done better. Maybe, just maybe,
some of those folks may be willing to support our efforts to transform
and rebuild one small piece of America into a more natural environment,
an environment that won't become a brown, barren, wasteland, devoid of
life from the end of harvest season until the first sprouts of spring.
We envision a farm place that can
provide fresh orchard and vine fruits, herbs, nuts and vegetables. We
envision a farm place that can provide fresh meats based on a
rotational grazing program that enhances both the life of the soil as
well as the life of the plants and animals that depend on it.
We envision a farm where honest,
friendly, hard working people can feel welcome and can bring their
children and say to them, "This is how it used to be, and how
be." We envision a farm that allows us to get to know our neighbors and
treat them as friends, instead of only as customers. That's what a
Community Supported Agriculture means to us.
You can see why a
Agriculture farm may not
be available in most communities. As was previously
mentioned, it takes
extreme dedication to produce such a thing in this day and time. Our
American lifestyle has evolved to move at such a fast pace that, all
too often, the speed and convenience of food preparation is the
deciding factor in whether or not we get to eat a supper before
bedtime. For far too many, the speed of convenience may be a deciding
factor at any mealtime.That means that a Community Supported
Agriculture's share of the food market will never be a large one. In
fact, it's necessary that it not be large. Only just so many acres can
be managed without lapsing back into industrial farming practices that
are so typical of the "corporate farms", so often found in America,
Community Supported Agriculture
farmer can only feed just so many people. These will be
the "elite few"
in the community. These will be the people who truly do desire to give
themselves and their families the very best that their elite,
community, farming operations can produce.
If there is one in your area, and if
you are truly interested in providing the very best for yourself and
your family, I urge you to support a Community Supported Agriculture
operation, or at least, to frequent a farmer's market. Only by getting
to know your local farmers can you expect to bring home the very best.
The above article on Community Supported Agriculture
(CSA) was written by Jesse Taylor
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CSA FARMS IN THE UK
For those of you who live in America, CSA Farming is a
familiar concept. Others of us who live and farm elsewhere, it isn't a
concept that has been adopted widely in other countries. And I don't
know why, because it is an excellent way of being able to grow your own
vegetables if you don't have that little bit of dirt that you need to
There is now a community farm not far from Bristol, in the UK,
in the Chew Valley run by 3 young men who are about to launch this
concept this September (2009). See their website for details: The
Story Community Farm
to see how you may join. They offer a wide variety of
individuals and different groups. We wish them great success and hope
that many more farmers in the country will follow their lead.
BOOKS ON COMMUNITY SUPPORTED FARMING
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