Here in the Cowichan we hear the term “CSA” used broadly to represent a range of pre-paid subscription programs for farm produce for everything from fruit and vegetables, to meat, eggs, and even fish. These programs might vary in some details, they all typically serve customers who pay in advance for an agreed upon amount of farm product to be distributed over the course of the season. While CSA programs are a service provided by the farmer or fisher, sometimes we forget that CSA actually stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”.
CSA programs are much more than a service; they are a partnership between the members and the farmer. Community members support their local farmer by committing to him or her at the start of the year, paying for their produce in advance of the season. Most farmers, especially fruit and vegetable growers, incur the bulk of their expenses early in the year when there is very little farm revenue coming in and so CSA programs originated to help farmers with this challenge. The early season income from CSA customers is incredibly helpful to the farmers at a time when they need it most.
Later in the spring and throughout the growing season, the farmers reciprocate by providing fresh, local produce each week to the CSA members. Most programs go further to include a farm newsletter, recipes and cooking tips, and even on-farm events like tours and potlucks. In this way CSA programs offer supporters of local agriculture an opportunity to really connect with a local farm.
Seasonal Eating and Other Benefits
They are also a great way to learn about seasonal eating, discover new foods you might have overlooked (and find out you love!), try new recipes, and learn new ways to prepare some old favourites. Another benefit is that farmers usually prioritize their CSA customers. On our farm we run both a CSA as well as going to farmer’s markets, but if we only have enough of favourite items like peas or strawberries, we put these in our CSA box first and only send the extra (if any) to market. Joining a CSA program is a great way to ensure your access to the best local produce all season long.
Save Your Change and other Payment Strategies
Some customers might not be able to make one lump sum payment at the start of the season, so talk to your farmer as some will offer payment plans. While it’s helpful to receive the full payment up front, farmers don’t want to be exclusive; they want everyone to be able to enjoy their produce. Another way to afford joining a CSA program is to save your change! At the start of this year one of our CSA customers started saving her all her pocket change each week. Over the course of winter and spring she had saved up enough to pay for the CSA in full prior to the program starting. Local food doesn’t have to be expensive! Not to mention that when you join a CSA you’re keeping your dollars here in the Cowichan, cutting out the middlemen, and supporting local farmers directly. Because each CSA program may vary slightly, I encourage you to talk to the different farmers and find a fit that works well for you and your family. Just remember, though, it’s a partnership: we all need farmers and the farmers need you! We all need to eat!
Niki Strutynski is the owner/ operator of Tatlo Road Farm, a Certified Organic vegetable farm in Crofton.