Know What’s IN Your Food
Many people join a CSA because they are concerned about what’s IN their food and where it comes from. With a CSA, consumers get to know their farmer and farm personally. The recent success of CSAs has bred a lot of competition. But many of these are not REAL CSAs.
A long time CSA farmer states, “I’m seeing way too much tolerance in the Food Movement for food writers who want to re-brand this important social movement as “Just about Food,” “…there are few food programs that have the potential to do as much for the Future of Food as the does the original grass root CSA movement.” “The person who understands that we need to use our food dollars to build a better food system will value a real CSA which is not just about food.”
What’s Real / What’s Fake?
So what are fake CSAs? These are businesses that deliver produce from “anywhere”, have no farm or farmer, but compete for the dollars communities would be spending to support real farms. The basic tenet to follow is – “If You Don’t Know Your Farmer Personally, You Are Not in a CSA.”
The commonly understood definition of CSA is a business model wherein members pay up front for a season’s worth of shares and share risks with the farmer. Over the years this has changed to include growers that collaborate on multi-farm CSAs to include not just their own products but other farm goods that they purchase from another farm or a wholesale market. While these variations provide expanded marketing possibilities for farmers, it has also given rise to retailers that grow nothing themselves and instead purchase produce at wholesale packing houses and then market it, box-style, under the label of a CSA. Because online listings are not monitored, “fake CSAs” can advertise alongside conventional CSAs and will even undercut real CSA farmers on price.
When the U.S. Census of Agriculture asked about farmers’ participation in a CSA marketing arrangement, many answered ‘yes’. This national census identified 12,549 CSA farmers, whereas a count on LocalHarvest is closer to 3,000. This “massive discrepancy” is attributed not only to fake CSAs, but also to farmers’ misunderstanding the census question and the real definition of a CSA.
The True Value of CSAs To the Farmer and The Consumer
CSAs are not about convenience or cheap food. The most important value of a CSA is control over your food supply, locally and nationally. In the United States the number of persons living on farms comprises less than 10% of the nation’s rural population. In urban counties such as San Diego, the farm population is even smaller due to the increased movement of non-farm residents from the city into the countryside. Many farmers have adapted through a variety of means, such as direct marketing to consumers. These strategies have allowed farmers to remain economically viable even in the face of strong developmental pressures.
Why Real CSAs Are So Important
- Communities reconnect to farmers who are often anonymous to one another in the dominant food system.
- There is a sharing of risk among farmers and consumers. In lean or disaster years, the farmer still manages a livable wage; in good years, the consumers share the bounty.
- Consumers have direct knowledge of who produces their food, where it is produced, how it is grown, and have the opportunity to provide input into farm decisions such as varieties and quantities of food produced.
- Community Building – consumers develop a connection to the farmer, his/her family, and the farmland through direct interaction, while the farmer acquires a greater social awareness of the local community and its concerns.
- Consumers develop increased awareness of the food system