Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is part of a growing movement that encourages a partnership between consumers and farmers to share ownership and responsibility for the land on which their food is grown. The growers and CSA members provide mutual support to the farm, sharing the benefits and the risks of the food production.
Many people join CSAs for the amazing, fresh food at the peak of the season. Others enjoy having a specific connection to the farm. Either way, CSAs are beneficial to the farmers, the consumers, and the local economy.
Norm Gross, owner and operator of Earth Dance Farm in Spring Valley, has been farming sustainably for over 10 years, founding his CSA farm in 2007. With the help of seasonal interns, Norm has three seasons, or shares, available for CSA purchase: spring, summer, and fall. Summer is the longest share at 18 weeks. The fee, which is typically paid up front, contributes to farm operation and helps the farmer determine the amount of produce needed for upcoming seasons.
Members have their choice of 3 box sizes, which are all dependent on the produce needs of that individual or family. These boxes are stuffed with fresh, locally grown food and delivered once per week to area drop sites. Norm delivers all the way to the Twin Cities.
All of Norm’s produce, and even the eggs in his add-on Egg Shares, comes directly from his farm and is delivered straight to drop sites where CSA members pick up their boxes. This allows for maximum freshness of the product.
Though CSA farms differ and may have diverse growing practices, all have a shared goal of building a more stable, local agriculture system. Almost every CSA farm operates with no pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers.
“Its a mindful way of living, knowing what you’re putting in your body and where it comes from,” says Norm. “Eating locally grown foods is the basis of a healthy diet.”
Developed around the idea of knowing your farmer, CSAs provide the chance for residents of the community to meet in a new way, over common commitment to the farm. Often, CSAs and the farmers take on the task of educating people in how to shift their diets to include more fresh produce.
The weekly newsletter that comes with every box from Earth Dance Farm is also a great vehicle for communicating with members. Newsletters are a way to connect members with the farm on a regular basis. They often list recipes for that week’s produce, announce things of common interest, and simply inform people of what is happening on the farm.
Though many people have busy schedules and cannot visit the farm, Norm welcomes a visit from any member just to hang out or to see and learn more about farm operation.
“That’s the great part about CSAs,” says Norm. “Members can come out here and have a relationship with the farm, the farmer, and their produce. In a way, they see this farm as their farm.”
Though Norm typically operates the 42-acre farm alone, he appreciates assistance from his seasonal interns, as well as from members. Norm offers “Work Shares,” where members can come out to the farm and actually work for their share. At the end of their work day, they can pack and take their box home with them.
While all of Norm’s boxes provide staple vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, and greens, members also receive more uncommon vegetables that they may have never cooked with or even eaten before.
“Unlike in grocery stores, produce is completely dependent on the season. Members soon learn more about their food. They know what foods are in season and learn how to cook with different foods,” says Norm.
Is CSA for you?
When joining a CSA, you are supporting a local farm and the local economy. Being a member gives you insight into farm operations and connects you to the community; keep in mind, however, being a member also means you have a shared risk in the farm. If the farm suffers from loss of produce in some way, you’re just as at risk as the farmer, because there won’t be any produce to receive in your box. Your membership dollars, however, could help the farm sustain such a blow.
CSA offers fresh produce to contribute to a healthy diet. Your food is always in season and at the peak of its flavor, but you have to be ready to use it. Making a commitment to a CSA farm is also making a commitment to prepare and cook your produce. Before deciding on a box size, take time to research. It is suggested that you start out small and grow the size of your share if you find yourself wanting more produce mid-season.
Lastly, CSAs are typically inexpensive, but be prepared to pay your membership fee upfront. While season and box prices differ from farm to farm, the fresh produce you’re receiving every week quickly makes that initial payment worthwhile.