I'm a member of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and I love the fresh organic produce I get from my local farm. The organic farming movement is growing nationwide in the United States – at a rate of about 20% a year for the last 20 years.
Local Harvest describes how a CSA works.
Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
The CSA I joined is called Los Poblanos Organics, located in Albuquerque, NM. The farm owner, Farmer Monte, agreed to talk to me about Los Poblanos and about the CSA movement.
According to Farmer Monte, the reason CSA works so well and is growing so fast is because both sides give something and both sides get something. The consumer pays in advance, in essence making a commitment to the farmer. The farmer, in turn, is committed to providing fresh organic produce straight from the farm to the customer. The committed consumer is important to making the whole system work, says Farmer Monte. Because the consumer has paid for her weekly (or bi-weekly) box of vegetables, she's going to show up to get them. Unlike the Farmer's Market model, where a consumer might skip a week because of weather or some other event, the CSA customer will be there every week to get her share of the crop. The farmer knows in advance what he has to deliver each week because he knows his customers are committed to the same cause he is.
Los Poblanos Specifics
I took photos of Farmer Monte, the bat boxes that hang from the barn and house the natural insect control measure at the farm, a farm employee who was working there named Emily, one of many delivery trucks used to distribute food, a few pepper plants and a greenhouse. You can see more photos on the Los Poblanos Facebook Page.
All CSA members are committed to eating seasonally and locally. Farmer Monte does what only a small percentage of other CSA growers do. He lived in Santa Barbara and in Seattle before he returned home to New Mexico to start an organic farm in 2003. While on the West Coast, he saw and studied many models for how to organize and run a CSA. He's put those pieces together to create Los Poblanos.
His first summer on the farm, 2003, there were over 30 days in a row of temperatures over 100 degrees. Produce was frying in the fields. After that year, he decided that the weather conditions here meant that he needed to diversify a bit by bringing in food from a network of growers. Not all CSA farms do this. Some offer strictly what they grow in one location. But Farmer Monte decided to work with regional growers. For example, he gets apples from Colorado, blueberries from Texas, and citrus from California.
Farmer Monte felt that providing more diversity in the weekly box meant he could attract more mainstream consumers. Everyone he buys from is certified organic – many of them he knows personally. As I mentioned, only a small percentage of CSAs use a network of regional growers to add diversity to the weekly boxes. But some do. If the concept of eating only locally-grown food is important to you, check the website of any CSA you are considering to see where the food comes from.
Farmer Monte's approach is working. He started with 17 members in 2003. Now he has 2100. He's providing fresh produce to 2100 customers/families with just over 30 acres of farmland. Farmer Monte is looking for land near Santa Fe and Las Cruces, two very different regions of the state in terms of weather and crops that can be grown in a year's time. He's also adding greenhouses, with 16 new greenhouses ready to be unboxed and constructed very soon.
The greenhouses also provide free range for the farm's chickens, giving the birds about 12 times the free range space that is required by law to qualify as "free range chicken."
What Farmer Monte and other CSA growers do is good for the people who eat the healthy food, good for the soil and water because the farm is completely spray free, and good for the local economy. The Los Poblanos farm has 30 employees plus several interns each year. Five of the Los Poblanos interns have gone on to start their own organic farms. Everybody is winning in the CSA movement.
More on CSAs from the Blogosphere
PHD in Parenting has a lot to say about food. Here are a couple of articles: If you won't listen to me, listen to him (which features an amazing 11 year old talking about food production) and Organic on the cheap! 10 strategies. Her #2 strategy?
2. Join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) operation: Joining a CSA is a great way to get great quality local organic fruits and vegetables much cheaper than you would pay if you bought them in the store. And as a bonus, they often deliver directly to your home. We love the fact that the basket of food is different each week, which forces us to try new foods and adapt our menus to whatever is fresh that week. It is also a great way to support local farmers instead of buying everything from large corporations.
At Share Project, see Community Supported Agriculture Grows in Popularity. At Your Natural Choice, see Community Supported Agriculture or CSA’s bring home a bounty of seasonal fresh produce.
A Sweet Pea Chef says Community Supported Agriculture, where have you been all my life?
In case you have been kept in the dark on this fabulous gem as well, a CSA is an arrangement between a community of consumers (say, San Diego) and a local farm (say, Be Wise Ranch). The consumers purchase a “share” of the upcoming harvest produced on the farm at a rate that is based on the true costs of production. So, a CSA provides the community with farm-fresh, organic produce on a weekly basis while helping to support a local family farm. So. Cool. If you’re interested in learning more about CSA programs, you can check out Be Wise Ranch (my CSA farm) who has been providing only organic produce since 1993.
Ready to join up? Find your local CSA at Local Harvest.