Reconnecting consumers to producers with Community Supported Agriculture

“Eating is an agricultural act,” said great writer, activist, and farmer Wendell Berry. If you consume food you are a participant in agriculture, and so we all are.

Not that long ago people grew most, or all, of their food and if they didn’t grow it themselves, they often knew who did. But as production on farms increased due to technology changes, and automated food production designed to maximize profits occurred, the value of growing one’s own food was, to a large extent, weeded out.

Today, the link between producer and consumer has become so distant and far-reaching it can often be difficult to know what farm, province, or country a product comes from. Remember the romaine lettuce recall that happened a few months ago due to an E.coli outbreak? How telling it was that the production of a single crop could impact half our country.

As early as the 1960s, a different socio-economic model emerged to re-establish the lost link between producer and consumer. According to Wikipedia, it wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that the term describing this model, “community-supported agriculture” (CSA), first appeared in North America, credited to biodynamic Swiss farmer Jan Vander Tuin.

While many variations of the CSA model exist, the overriding goal is to offer an alternative way to buy fresh food where producers and consumers are equals in a mutually-beneficial relationship. As the consumer, a person typically pays in advance to receive weekly or biweekly shares of farm products. In doing so the consumer provides working capital to the producer at the onset of the season, investing money directly in the local community and effectively voting for an alternative food culture that resembles the closer-knit farm communities of the past.

In this mutual relationship, consumers share the risk involved in producing food with the producer(s); risk that could result in crop failure or low yields. However, the consumer also receives products they are more likely to trust because of the relationship they have with their producer. Additionally, it allows them an opportunity to gain more insight into how food is produced and in some cases even have a say in what gets produced. With products being harvested within a few days of delivery, transport time from farm to table is often quite minimal. Some CSA farms also offer members additional benefits such as farm visits, harvest parties, and recipe ideas.

CSA weekly basket//Photo credit: Tara Callaghan

In a 2016 study from the University of Guelph, 399 CSA farmers were identified within Canada. Of the 100 farms interviewed, 55% of producers said the cost of shares was not sufficient to cover the cost of labour and inputs to produce the food. Yet, the biggest appeal to running a CSA for these farmers was “a guaranteed and predictable source of income”. In pursuing the model, the most common motivation for farmers was to provide a higher quality of food to consumers. While only 34% of interviewees were organically-certified, all farmers interviewed “engaged in organic practices” in their commitment to producing quality.

On PEI there are as many as 23 CSA farms. Of these, 13 provide produce (vegetables, herbs, and/or fruit), 6 provide meat and/or eggs, and 4 offer a mix of products. While many of the farms are located in rural areas, most offer pick-ups in Charlottetown or Summerside and some offer door-to-door delivery. To find a CSA farm in your community, visit Salty’s website or the PEI Food Exchange website and look under their resource tab for a current list of CSA Farms.

Moreover, other local food and farm-related businesses are now offering products using a CSA-like model or subscription. Examples include: a flower CSA through Red Roots Flower Farm; a soup CSA through My Plum My Duck; a meal delivery system through Youmeal; a tea subscription through Lady Baker’s Tea; and cheese memberships through The Cheese Company and Glasgow Glen Farm.

If eating locally, investing locally, and strengthening community are important to you, consider joining a CSA this spring. In doing so, you are not only committing the agricultural act of eating, as Wendell Berry says, you are also promoting social change toward a more connected food culture.

About Tara Callaghan

Decisions are not Tara’s friend. For this reason her passion cannot be reduced to one subject. She has always needed to write, keeping a journal since she was in the single digits. Her career began studying ecology and creative writing. From there she went on to study Landscape Architecture, working professionally for the last 10 years. More recently she launched Little Victory Microfarms; a small farm in Charlottetown and New Glasgow, PEI. With her mother, they grow a wide variety of fresh herbs and vegetables for market and wholesale.
While continuing to feed her passions for designing landscapes and growing food, Tara also feeds her passion to write though an eclectic blog and articles for Salty.

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