Farmers' markets are fun. But what if you can't find time to shop at them every week, even though you still want a basket of farm-fresh produce? Some people buy a share of a farmer's harvest. An increasingly popular option, perhaps 1,700 farms are feeding thousands of people across North America through a concept called "Community Supported Agriculture" (CSA).
How it works: You get a basket of farm-fresh, seasonal produce each week during a specified season (often summer and fall). Thats in return for paying in full in advance. Enough produce for a family of four may cost $300 to $600, averaging up to $30 weekly for freshly picked, high-quality, often organic produce. Some people split subscriptions with a neighbor to cut the tab. Delivery options vary. Some CSAs deliver to a central location where youd go to pick it up; a minority deliver to your door. Some invite subscribers to pick up food at the farm, stroll around and enjoy the fresh country air.
Flavorful food is a big draw, but even more important is that these arrangements are good ways to support farms in your community that are threatened by encroaching development or fluctuating market prices. Dwindling farms and increasing reliance on imported food in the 1960s prompted the beginning of the movement in Japan, where the concept is called "teikei" ("food with the farmers face on it"). One of the first CSA farms in the U.S. began in 1985 in Massachusetts at Indian Line Farm, which still encourages members to participate in the farm and get their hands dirty with a variety of "u-pick" items. Occasionally, its members are invited to plant seeds or bulbs, such as during the fall garlic planting festival.
Because CSA farms plant a large variety of crops, theyre more sustainable as farms and for the environment than the vast single-crop farms (monocultures) that provide produce for supermarkets. If one crop at the CSA farm should fail, the loss isnt economically devastating for the farmer. Companion crops and crop rotation reduce the need for commercial fertilizers and pesticides, and so naturally many CSAs are also certified organic.
CSAs benefit everyone involved: Vegetables grow in healthier soil, theyre delivered the day theyre picked, and they have a higher nutritional value. And a diverse array of crops ensures that meals will be well rounded and in tune with the local growing season.
For more info:
For more information, or to find a CSA near you, visit this USDA resource page.
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