[Market-farming] what's a CSA? - 2nd try

KAKerby at aol.com KAKerby at aol.com
Thu May 3 23:59:48 EDT 2012

Good evening everyone.  One of the emails I tried to send earlier  today, 
which didn't post, a lot of you will have gotten already on the  CSAFarmers 
list.  But for those of you who aren't on that particular list,  I wanted to 
share it here too.
There was a conversation on that list a few weeks ago, about coming up with 
 a definition of "CSA" that we can share with customers. Toward that  end, 
a number of people posted their definition of a CSA, and I offered to  
compile the definitions into something that could be put into any given farm's  
marketing material.  The following text is the result of that combined  
I also came up with some working definitions for other food distribution  
methods, and how they differ from each other.  I'll have to send the  
language for the other distribution methods separately.  I'll also post the  whole 
thing as a PDF doc to our farm website, and make it available for  download. 
 I hope and encourage folks to continue to refine the  definitions.
Kathryn Kerby
Snohomish, WA
Ruminations - essays on the farming life at  frogchorusfarm.com/weblog.html
What is a  CSA? 
Community Supported  Agriculture is a term which is used by farmers and 
consumers both, to describe  an alternative to the current conventional 
practice of buying and selling via  brokers and other middle-men.  The  term comes 
from an approach to marketing where the farmer forges a direct  relationship 
with a group of local customers, such that the community has  immediate 
access to food and the farmer has immediate access to customers.  While CSAs 
can vary on some details,  they usually feature most if not all of the 
following  criteria: 
1)       a one-on-one relationship  between farmer and consumer, where both 
parties get to know each other, and each  other’s concerns and goals for 
food production, quality and access.   
2)       A subscription arrangement of  some kind, such that the consumer 
knows in advance what variety and amount of  products he or she will receive, 
and the farmer knows in advance what to grow,  and how much of it, 
throughout the year. 
3)       A payment arrangement such  that the consumer either pays in 
advance at a discount, or agrees to pay a  certain amount per week.  These  rates 
are often cheaper than the consumer would pay for the same quality of  
product at a grocery store or farmers market, and both approaches give the  
farmer some guarantee of weekly and/or seasonal  income. 
4)       An opportunity or expectation  for the consumer to come to the 
farm to see first-hand how things are grown and  raised.  These visits might be 
to  pick up weekly boxes of produce, or for regular work parties, or for 
member days  to celebrate events such as planting and  harvesting. 
5)       A formal or informal  guarantee that the products will be the 
freshest possible.  Most CSAs work on a weekly delivery or  pickup schedule, and 
as a result most of the produce sold will have been  harvested within a few 
days of that schedule.  This does not apply to all products,  because some 
products (such as honey, cheeses, and meats) are either harvested  
infrequently throughout the year, or need to age prior to sale, or have longer  
shelf-lives which allow for sales distributed throughout the  year. 
6)       Many CSA farms are managed in  sustainable, natural, and/or 
organic ways.  The personal relationships forged between CSA growers and buyers 
works to  encourage all parties to discuss concerns, goals and priorities, for 
various  food safety issues.  Some CSAs will  actively include consumers in 
the farm’s day to day decision-making  process.One  fundamental feature of 
many CSAs is the concept of shared risk.  By having pre-paid subscriptions 
for  each year’s produce, the farmer and customers all share the risk for 
crop  failures.  A corollary to that  feature is diversification - most CSA 
farms will offer a wide variety of  products so that if one crop fails, others 
are still available.  This philosophy seems very simple but it  forms the 
core of the CSA concept.  By diversifying into lesser- known products, farmers 
can better tailor  their plantings and products to match their particular 
farm’s  micro-climates.  They also can offer  products which would either be 
so fragile, or aren’t in great enough demand,  that there are no 
conventional outlets.   Consumers in turn gain a much  greater awareness of the threats 
to any given farm’s yearly production of foods,  and their subscriptions 
help ensure the farm’s continued survival even in the  face of crop failure.  
Yet those  customers thereby also receive products at reasonable cost, which 
they would  never be able to find in conventional markets at any price.  
This diversification is one of the  features applauded by both farmer and 
buyer, as one of the features which sets  CSAs apart from all other farm product 
marketing options.
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