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Up Your Local Food Game with Community-Supported Agriculture

Get an insight on community supported agriculture.

| March 2018

  • Olde Lane Orchard advertises its community-supported agriculture program at the Bloomington Winter Farmers’ Market.
    Photo courtesy of Indiana University Press and WFIU
  • Teresa Birtles, Heartland Family Farm.
    Photo courtesy of Indiana University Press and WFIU.
  • In "Earth Eats", radio host Annie Corrigan and renowned chef Daniel Orr uncover recipes and tips on growing and preparing fresh local food.
    Cover courtesy of Indiana University Press and WFIU.

Earth Eats by Annie Corrigan and Daniel Orr (Indiana University Press, 2017) compiles the best recipes, tips, and tricks to plant, harvest, and prepare local food. Written by Earth Eats radio host Annie Corrigan and renowned chef Daniel Orr, this book focuses on local products, sustainability, and popular farm-to-fork dining trends. This feature promotes CSA's – community supported agriculture.

It’s the early-spring waiting game for local food lovers. We still have a couple of months before spring crops will be harvested and farmers’ markets start bustling. But this is a busy and expensive time of year for growers. They have to buy seeds and soil amendments. They hire workers and improve their farms’ infrastructure. To get an influx of money when they need it most, some farmers develop CSAs — community-supported agriculture programs.

When subscribers sign up for a CSA, they pay a sum of money to a farm early in the planting season, usually around March. Then during harvest season, subscribers receive boxes of food from the farm according to a predetermined schedule (usually weekly) for a fixed number of weeks (usually 20–25, depending on the region).

Under a CSA model, subscribers agree to adopt some of the risk that goes along with farming as an enterprise. Farmers appreciate the fact that the model decreases, and sometimes eliminates, the need to take out early-season loans to pay start-up costs. Those loans would be taken out against the anticipated revenue that comes from selling the harvest, but if the harvest fails due to bad weather or other natural disasters, they still need to be repaid.

The origins of the CSA model are disputed. The most common narrative is that in 1965, a group of Japanese women were concerned by the possible effects of pesticides on arable Japanese land, and the associated increase in imports. These women started the first CSA projects, called Teikei, out of a desire to make local, pesticide-free food available in their communities.

Steve McFadden of the Rodale Institute traces the American CSA movement to Europe’s biodynamic agricultural tradition. Considered the first modern take on organic farming, biodynamic agriculture is a holistic approach to land management, in which building healthy soil is as important as growing food and raising livestock. The two pioneering ventures were Indian Line Farms in western Massachusetts and Temple Wilton Farms in New Hampshire.

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