Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Community Supported Agriculture: Now's the Time to Join a CSA Farm

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February 2010

By Melissa White Pillsbury

Now's the time to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farm. A season's worth of farm fresh food awaits at over 150 farms across the state.

If you're new to the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept here's what you need to know: CSA is a way for consumers to buy products directly from a farm, but in a way that shares both the risk and rewards of farming with the farmer. Each farm has their CSA set up differently, but the traditional situation is for a farm to offer a 'share' of the coming season's harvest for a set price, to be paid at some point before the season begins. This gives the farmer some capital at a time of the year when typically a farm has to take out loans to pay for seasonal startup costs like seeds and fertility inputs. In exchange for this commitment from the consumer to support the farm's operations for the season, the farmer commits to providing, to the best of their ability (barring acts of God) a diverse selection of high quality, fresh, nutritious, and often chemical-free produce on a weekly basis throughout the season. A 'typical' summer vegetable share will run from late May or early June through October, and will be of a volume intended to provide the weekly veggie needs of a family of four omnivores. However, many farms offer multiple share sizes. Shares are typically picked up from the farm on a designated day, but some farms deliver within a certain distance of the farm, or offer their shares at the farmers' markets they attend.

There are many variations on this theme, and farms are getting creative in the ways they incorporate this concept into their individual operation. Examples include Winter shares, typically comprised of a monthly or bi-weekly pickup of root cellar vegetables, but sometimes include frozen, canned or otherwise preserved veggies from the summer harvest; Holiday shares, which make up everything you'd need for a holiday feast, right down to the fresh turkey and cranberry sauce; and various meat, egg and dairy share models. And now the community supported food concept is spreading beyond the farm to bakeries, fisheries, and creameries.

Since I started researching and collecting information about CSA's about 4 years ago, I have noticed not only the growing trend in the number of CSA's and new CSA's planned for the future, but also a growing awareness and interest from the consumer side about this concept and how one can get food from local farms.

Money tight? Many farms have flexible payment options for those who can't afford a lump sum payment in the spring. Farmers understand as well as anyone cash flow problems, and no farmer I've ever met wants to see a family go without the same fresh, nutritious foods that their own family enjoys. Local farms have an incredibly important role to play in food security, and every community that has a farm producing and selling food to the community is very fortunate to have that resource available to them and should do everything they can to make sure that resource doesn't go away. CSA is a way to help farms stay viable and keep on farming long into the future.

This article is provided by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), PO Box 170, Unity, ME 04988; 207-568-4142; [email protected];

Joining MOFGA helps support and promote organic farming and gardening in Maine and helps Maine consumers enjoy more healthful, Maine-grown food.

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