Historic CSA Farm Charter set for USA & Canada

February 10, 2017

I’m pleased to share this press release, just developed by a community of people who recognize the importance of community farms (CSAs), and who see the potential for enhancing our environment, improving our diets, supporting our local farmers, and cooperating for mutual benefit with our neighbors. ~ SM

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms across the United States and Canada are setting roots more deeply in the land as they unite this year under a community-developed Charter for CSAs that provides a clear definition of what CSA farms are all about.

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CSA Charter logo by Ruth Blackwell

After just 30 years of development, over 7,500 healthy, sustainable community farms have been established in the US, and many thousands more in Canada. These sustainable farms are directly networked with hundreds of thousands of households in the towns and cities where they are based and provide weekly shares of fresh, healthy, locally-grown food.

Together, regional networks and independent CSAs in the USA and Canada are banding together to launch an innovative and strengthening Charter for CSAs. The Charter will be inaugurated on CSA Sign-up Day, February 24, 2017.

CSAs that endorse the Charter are making a public commitment to uphold the principles and practices delineated in the Charter. It will provide a window of transparency for member households and for farmers, helping define and clarify what CSA farms are all about.

In the words of Elizabeth Henderson, CSA farmer and author of Sharing the Harvest, “CSA is a tremendously flexible concept for consumer-farmer connections. It’s an alternative system of distribution based on community values. The economics of direct sales make this a win-win solution for farmers and farm members. The farmer gets a decent price and the member pays less, since there is no middleman.”

“For the farmer,” she added, “CSA offers the possibility of a broad support group. Those groups are composed of local people who know about the farm, who genuinely care about it’s survival, and who are willing to share the farmer’s risks and rewards.

“In reciprocity, CSA farm members have the opportunity to eat fresh, healthy food, to connect with the earth, to know and trust in the people who grow their food, to deepen their understanding of seasonal eating, to support the local economy, and to take an empowered stance of accepting responsibility for one of our most basic needs.”

Anthony Graham, a farmer for 30 years at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, said, “When we started the Temple Wilton Community Farm, we were interested in community and in the ‘culture’ of agriculture. What we were attempting to set up was a way for a community of people to support the existence of a farm through good times and bad by making pledges of financial support over the course of one year. By agreeing to support the existence of the farm our members became co-farmers.”

You can find the full Charter for CSAs in the USA and Canada here, along with background information and a list of the CSAs that endorse it. For more information, contact Elizabeth Henderson, elizabethhenderson13@gmail.com.


CSA Farms as a Sober Response to Political & Climate Chaos

February 4, 2017

I’ve written this message often before, and I shall write it again. Community Farms (CSAs) are a sober and intelligent response to accelerating political and climate turbulence. Economic turbulence may follow. Time to act.

orward-001Regarding our overall situation as urgent, I’ve reported extensively about the ominously active factors bearing upon us all & the potentials of positive community action in collaboration with local farms. I’ve also recorded a ½-hour narrated slide show on these issues for Youtube (Awakening Community Intelligence) freely available to all for personal or community education.

Now at the start of February, we are just a few weeks away from national CSA Signup Day, Friday, February 24. It is a golden opportunity for existing CSA farms to expand the community that supports what they are doing: clean land, clean food, enhanced local food security.

CSA Signup Day is also a golden opportunity for communities – neighborhoods, workplaces, churches and temples, suburbs, and so forth – to get busy building community farms right now, by the hundreds of thousands. It takes time to get a community farm together, but they can make a big stabilizing difference.

In conjunction with CSA Signup Day, February 24 will be marked by the launch of a CSA Charter, which will set out the principles and practices that guide CSA farms in the USA and Canada. In my view, that’s a big step forward for evolving the community farm web in North America, in a time when big steps are immediately needed.
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CSA in the USA: The Next Quarter Century

November 22, 2013

“For whatever reason, whether it’s the economy or the availability of oil, or how crops are grown and where, people will very likely be turning to their neighbors for a network of support. That’s where CSA stands right now as a wise response.”       —Erin Barnett, LocalHarvest

CSA Harvest - photo by thisischile.cl courtesy of Creative Commons

CSA Harvest – photo by thisischile.cl courtesy of Creative Commons

Twenty-eight growing seasons ago our forefarmers brought forth on this continent a new way of living in relationship with the people who eat the food they grow and with the land that sustains us all.

Conceived in community, the approach was rooted in the best of agrarian traditions — not just of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but also from the essential ethos of this our native land, Turtle Island (North America). From the outset, this new farm way has been favorably engaged with the digital, high-tech culture emerging so dynamically in the world.

This relationship with land, with neighbors, and with plants and animals came to be known as CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

Now that 28 growing seasons have come and gone we have well over 8,500 CSA farms in the USA, extrapolating from national databases. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is serving hundreds of thousands of families and households in urban and suburban communities, and also in some rural locales. Many thousands more such community farms are at work in Canada and globally, weaving people together with the land and their food.

Yet across the US, many rural regions are “food deserts” where production ag reigns supreme, and fresh local food and supermarkets are scarce. In this context, CSAs in general (and also collaborative CSAs, a.k.a. cCSAs, and CSAs in partnership with co-ops) have potential to meet many profound needs.

But before CSA will make a significant, rural impact, the movement will need to reckon with a paradox: many farmers and shareholders identify community as a weak part of CSA. They say it’s just not happening as theorized.

farmingaloneIn their  article Farming Alone? What’s Up with the ‘C’ in Community Supported Agriculture? scholars Antoinette Pole and Margaret Gray tell of how they learned through an extensive survey that few people say they consciously join CSA to build community or meet like-minded people. The majority say they sign up for the fresh, local, organic produce.

Anthropologists Cynthia Abbott Cone and Ann Kakaliouras set out a contrasting view in their equally thoughtful paper, CSA: Building Moral Community or an Alternative Consumer Choice? Identifying CSA as a social movement, the authors observe that many participants express their commitment in moral terms, and see themselves as nurturing soil, family and the larger community.

Beyond paradox, there is a revealing reality: many CSAs have dismal renewal rates. A study undertaken with LocalHarvest, the nation’s leading online directory of organic and local food, reported that sustaining membership is one of the most difficult aspects of running a CSA. In many areas of the country, the public has a number of CSA options, including aggregators, which may eschew community to follow a “business model.” Aggregators source products from several farms to sell to buyers; some advertise themselves as CSAs.

In analyzing data from the 850 farms in the LocalHarvest study, researchers identified two things that CSA farmers can do to remedy membership turnover: host special events on the farm and consciously build personal relationships with members. But that’s asking a lot of farmers and their families: to grow the food and also to grow the community around it.

That’s why the CSA core group concept — a group of committed volunteers who serve and advise the farm — has been key in helping many CSAs sustain themselves. No doubt core groups could also play a crucial role in helping CSAs reckon with the FDA’s impending and ill-conceived Food Safety Modernization Act, which seems designed to ensnare small, organic farms in red tape and added expense.

blaz-L-7As CSA pioneers conceived of it 28 growing seasons ago — and as it is still being practiced at many community farms — CSA is not just another clever approach to marketing. Rather, community farming is about the necessary cultivation of earth-renewing agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival. It’s also about the necessary stewardship of soil, plants and animals: the essential capital of human cultures.

If the ideals are kept in mind over the next quarter century and community does engage, then in addition to all it has already accomplished in our cities and suburbs, CSA can continue to metamorphose and do far more, and also make an emphatically healthy difference in rural America.

Note: A version of this essay was first published in The Cultivator, newsletter of The Cornucopia Institute.

I had an opportunity to give a 3-minute Quick Pitch talk on this theme — CSA in the USA — at the national Rural Futures Conference held Nov. 4, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here’s a link to a Youtube video clip of the talk.


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