Saturday, February 20, 2010

Community Shared Agriculture

Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) is becoming the new age way to farm. It is the only way for a small family farm to stay in business these days. It is the "farm share" concept put into practice. It works the same way as "cowshares", so much in the news lately. Also available are egg share farms and shares for anything else that the government and marketing boards have such a tight hold on.

Basically, the consumer is buying shares of ownership in the farm and are, therefore, part owners rather than simple customers. They can then partake of anything the farm produces for the amount of time that they pay their share of the cost in partnership fees.

This allows a lot more freedom of choice for the consumer and organically grown, fresh produce for much less than it would cost in the supermarket. Depending on the farm and type of partnership shares offered, consumers can have their portion of all vegetables, fruits, fresh herbs, cut flowers, eggs, baked goods, farm soap, dairy products, meats, honey and other things not available to the general public due to legal restrictions and marketing boards. It also gives them access to things they would otherwise no be able to afford in the supermarket.

Although many CSA farms offer only vegetables, some offer egg shares, dairy shares and meat shares sold separately. You usually pay a separate fee for each one. Occasionally, a really good farm will combine everything offered with occasional homebaked cookies, pies, jams and pickles processed on the farm.

It benefits the farmer by allowing him to sell everything he has available, directly from the farm without added costs for sales or transportation. Many of the seasons costs are covered ahead of time by the CSA partnership fees. Most farm shares are paid for up front each year in the spring or the season is divided in half and two payments are made. Either way is good for both the farmer and the consumer.

Ownership in a farm can have a downside. The consumer also takes the same risks as the farmer. Bad weather, drought, insects and other unncontrollable circumstances can reduce the vegetables by quite a bit and destroy some altogether. This is why it is unwise to pay upfront for the entire season. If you can make one payment upfront and another halfway through the season, that is the safest way to pay.

Vegetable farm shares usually come in two choices:
One bushel basket per week for a family of four, called "a full share", usually around $325-$400
Half a bushel per week for a childless couple or single person, called a "half share", $225 - $250
(Above prices are for Southern Ontario only.)

If you have a large family of six or eight adults and nearly adults, you can buy a share and a half, which is a combination of the two, or two full shares.

Delivery is not usually included in the price, if it is offered. Some farms deliver and some require you to pick up your shares, some with substitutes offered on hand. Many folks like coming to the farm to pick up their baskets. This gives them the opportunity to see what is produced first hand and to chat with the farmer and other partners. Some farms have other items for sale to the public that can be bought when farm shares are picked up.

Farm shares usually start in late May or early June and continue through until late September or early october with a basket every week of whatever the farm is producing at that time. Usually 18-19 weeks are offered, with extensions on either end if growing conditions are favourable. Obviously you won't get everything offered every week, as it is all locally grown and seasonal for your area. Farms that sell shares usually have a greenhouse or coldframe(s) to start early and end late, thereby giving their farming partners the fresh vegetables as long as possible.

Look around your area and on the internet for a CSA farm near you and join. Supporting local small farms is the only way to ensure our food supply for the future.

Next post: Our plans for a CSA farm.