My interest in Community Supported Agriculture stems from my love of food (and my love of convenience, hurray for delivery!) but I am motivated by social and political reasons as well.
Community supported agriculture is about giving reliable financial support to the necessary and extremely valuable (and undervalued) people who grow our food. The idea behind CSA-style relationships between farmers and consumers is that farmers can experiment and learn and go through disasters and medfly quarantines, and still know they’ll have an income, even if the plums are mealy that season or the tomatoes are quarantined (as happened to my first CSA farm, Eatwell Farm).
Because this is the bottom-line reality of our food system: If no one took the risks to grow the food, there would be nothing to eat. Organic and sustainable and ethical and biodynamic and all that may seem like a luxury (which they aren’t really, in the long run), but food itself is not. The burden of producing a necessary commodity under variable and uncertain circumstances (no widget factories to make our fruits and veggies) should not have to be entirely assumed by the producer.
CSAs – true CSAs, where you subscribe for a season or a year to a particular farm – are as far as I know the best way for those of us who do not grow food to shoulder our own responsibility in the food-production chain. Other produce-delivery services have sprung up in recent years which call themselves CSAs, using a model where the service sources produce from multiple farms. It’s important to keep in mind that the environmental savings that result from the CSA model decrease substantially with these pseudo-CSAs. Instead of one farmer driving a truck of produce to a central drop-off point where customers pick up their boxes, or even delivering a box to each customer’s home, many farmers drive many trucks from many farms to a central clearinghouse which is… somewhere… and from there another truck leaves with the CSA boxes to deliver them.
Depending on the model the produce service uses, there may still be great benefits to the farmers who supply produce to these services. If you are interested in subscribing to a CSA for environmental and/or political reasons (i.e. you want to support the people who grow your food in a more sustained and direct fashion), and you are considering a CSA that is not solely based in one farm, consider contacting them to ask about food mileage (how far food travels from the point where it’s grown to the point where you receive it) and what kind of financial relationships they have with participating farmers. And with any CSA, whether tied to a specific farm or multiple suppliers, it’s always great to find out what you can about how the farm workers are treated. There is a vast spectrum of work (and housing, in many cases) conditions for farm workers, with actual enslavement conditions at the worst end of the scale.
To read my own personal examination of the pros and cons of a pseudo-CSA, Full Circle, check out this post (scroll about halfway down for the CSA info).