Community Supported Agriculture Is a Growing Trend

Supplement your homegrown harvest and support local farms with one of these CSAs across the country.

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Bamboo Creek Farm, Stone Mountain, Georgia

Bamboo Creek Farm, part of Global Growers' network of community farms in Georgia.

Bamboo Creek Farm, part of Global Growers' network of community farms in Georgia.

Have you always wanted to grow your own food but don’t have the space in your yard to grow the garden of your dreams? Why not consider joining a CSA or a local produce co-op? The entire farm-to-market trend of the past several years has had a profound and positive effect on the way we eat while changing our thinking about traditional models of food distribution.

Typically, a CSA is a local network of farmers and individuals from the community who work together to grow, harvest and distribute food to their members/shareholders who pay a pre-season subscription fee that covers their weekly allotment of fresh produce (usually organic). More importantly, the CSA member knows who is growing their food and their involvement helps to support local agriculture and build stronger community ties.    

The CSA concept has been attributed to Austrian philosopher and social reformer Rudolf Steiner whose biodynamic farming ideas were introduced to the U.S. in the mid-eighties by two European farmers, Trauger Groh from Germany and Jan Vander Tuin from Switzerland.  

Below is a brief snapshot of CSAs, organic food co-ops and other fresh produce providers across the U.S. that have their own distinct methodologies. 

Roxbury Farm, Claverack, New York: Now in its 24th year, this biodynamic farm has one of the highest profiles of successful CSAs in the country with a membership of over 1,000 shareholders representing 1,200 families or more. The secret of their longevity is due to the vision of Jean-Paul Courtens who started the operation in 1990 and has remained true to his belief that “when a farm is biodynamic, it is transformed from a factory, producing food and generating profit, to a being that has its own characteristics with associated strengths and weaknesses that are honored." The operation enjoys the rare distinction of managing farmland that can never be sold and has a lifelong lease that is inheritable. Members assist in the distribution of the food. Leftover or unclaimed produce never goes to waste and is donated to local food banks. New types of produce are also introduced periodically such as bok choy, celeriac, broccoli rabe and tatsoi, a type of Chinese green that is similar to spinach.

Global Growers, Clarkston, Georgia: A project of the nonprofit Refugee Family Services that began in 2009, Global Growers provides training programs, assistance and farm land to international farmers who had to flee their homelands due to war or persecution and have nowhere to continue their livelihood. Composed of a network of farms, the organization began a CSA operation recently to provide economic opportunities for the farmers and to offer the community locally grown produce. Global Growers offers an internship program for students and sponsors regular local events to help connect the farmers to the community. The CSA varies the weekly shares as much as possible so customers don’t get the same vegetables constantly and new items like local honey and goat cheese are added at no extra charge. Recipes on their web site educate members on how to use and prepare some of the more unfamiliar vegetables they receive like sour leaf (roselle) or kohlrabi. 

Western Montana Growers' Cooperative, Arlee, Montana: Located near Missoula, Mt., this 30-farm collective began in 2008 and provides weekly produce to members between the months of early June and late October. Part of pledging your support as a member in a CSA means you share in the risks with the growers in the event of catastrophic weather or crop failure. But with a multi-farm CSA, the risk is reduced by having several backups in case of one farm’s crop failure. Each week members are directed to a drop point in their neighborhood where they can pick up their order and trade vegetable shares they don’t want with fellow members. CSA education is fostered through community meetings, organized farm tours and traditional and social media campaigns. And all growers are either Certified Organic by the USDA or are members of the Montana Sustainable Growers Union (Homegrown).

In addition to CSAs, some of the other alternatives for people who want fresh local product are community garden co-ops, local farmers' markets, and specialized businesses such as Nature's Garden Delivered (NGD). First established in 2009 in Norcross, Georgia, NGD is described by co-founder Scott Frishman as “a web-based farmers' market operating year round” that delivers directly to your home. Unlike a CSA, NGD, which delivers in both Georgia and Arizona is a website-only operation that requires no prepayment. People can customize their order from week to week and cancel their subscription at any time. The company strives to offer certified organic foods and local produce in the southeast region (within a 400-mile radius). 

It’s only a matter of time until there are beer and wine CSAs as well. Wait a minute … there already are! BrewLab in San Francisco, Big Alice Brewing in New York and Charlton Orchards Farm & Winery in Massachusetts are a few examples of this emerging trend. 

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