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Community Supported Agriculture: A Sensible Option to Organic Gardening on Your Own
by Chip Phelan

Community Gardens, aka Community Supported Agriculture or CSA is the wave of the future in sustainable agriculture. It's also a viable alternative to planting your own organic vegetable garden.

If youíre like a lot of people, who are so busy just trying to catch up with the demands of life in the 21st century, the idea of starting your own organic garden may be daunting. There is a viable option and itís called ďCommunity Supported AgricultureĒ or (CSA). CSA is a means of becoming involved in community based food production by sharing in the costs and the profits (in the form of fresh produce) of a local farm.

The Origins of Community Supported Agriculture
There are some discrepancies as to just where the idea came from, with various amounts of credit being given to Japan, Chile, Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Numerous experiments in cooperative farming were being tried throughout the world during the 60ís and 70ís. Two of the earliest CSA based farms in the United States credit, directly or indirectly, two individuals: Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977).

Susan Witt who is one of founders of the CSA movement in the United States and the director of the E.F. Schumacher society recalls "One of Steinerís major concepts was the producer-consumer association, where consumer and producer are linked by their mutual interests," she explained. "And one of Schumacherís major concepts was to develop an economy where you produce locally what is consumed locally.í We began to see CSA as a way to bring these key ideas together."

In 1986 Susan Witt, John Root, Robin Van En and Jan Vander Tuin began operation as the CSA Garden at Great Barrington (in western Massachusetts), an unincorporated association managed on behalf of all shareholders. This later evolved into Indian Line Farm, which still exists today under the ownership of the E. F. Schumacher Society. At about the same time in 1986 Anthony Graham and Lincoln Geiger co-founded the Temple-Wilton Community Farm about 80 miles to the northeast in southern New Hampshire.

Community Supported Agriculture is Growing
Although their methods differed, the underlying principals of Community Supported Agriculture were and are today the same: a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and rewards of food production. This creates a spiritual bond between farmer and consumer, working together for the common good of the community.

From somewhat humble beginnings, the CSA movement is now estimated to have over 1000 farms operating in the U.S. Although CSAs take many forms, all have at their core a shared commitment to building a more local and equitable agricultural system.

CSA Farms Generally Use Organic or Biodynamic Gardening Methods
CSA farmers typically use organic or biodynamic farming methods, in order to provide sustainable, fresh, high-quality foods. More people are needed in organic and biodynamic farming production than on conventional farms, and many projects encourage members to work on the farm in exchange for a portion of the membership costs. Others give members the option to work or pay for their share. Some require a nominal amount of work in addition to membership costs.

A Diversity of Organic Vegetables and Fruits and Various Payment Options
Most CSAs offer a diversity of vegetables, fruits, and herbs in season. Each CSA is structured to meet the needs of the participants; so many variations exist, including the level of financial commitment and active participation by the shareholders. Details of payment plans and food distribution also vary between farms.

Financing, land ownership, and legal definition of the farm operation can take a number of forms. In some cases land trusts or municipalities hold title to land that is then leased to farmers willing to operate them but without the means to go it alone.

CSA is sometimes referred to as 'subscription farmingí. Subscription Growers typically contract directly with customers who have agreed in advance to buy a minimum amount of produce at a fixed price, but who have little or no investment in, or attachment to the farm itself.

Subscription farming arrangements tend to emphasize the economic benefits, for the farmer as well as consumer, rather than the concept of community benefit, that is the basis of a true CSA.

Our Best Hope for Sustainable Farms
Consumer Supported Agriculture may prove to be our best hope for sustainable farming and a great way for citizens to re-connect with their communities. Rising energy costs, threats of possible terrorist disruption of distribution and/or contamination of food supplies with pathogens, only help make the case for CSAs. As with energy, sometimes small-scale, alternative solutions offer the best chance for success.

If you just donít have the time inclination to start an organic garden of your own, consider becoming a member of a CSA.

Guidelines for Choosing a Community Farm:

* Call the farmer and ask questions about the farm, growing methods, historical amounts per share, etc.

* Contact several different farms and compare their methods.   

* Visit the farmócall first; some farms restrict visits to certain days or times.  

* Choose a farm that suits your lifestyle (harvest size, varieties, distribution days, pickup locations, location of farm, etc.)

* Contact several different farms and compare their methods.   

 * Talk to other members to see what their experience has been.

* Select a CSA farm, "Support your local grower," and enjoy the bounty!

If there isnít a Community Supported Agriculture operation in your area, encourage your local leaders to look into creating a community land trust for the purpose of starting one. This could also be used to supply a local food bank and give low-income members of your community a dignified way to participate in an endeavor devoted to the common good of all.

Finding Community Supported Agriculture / Community Gardens:
Local harvest offers offer a great resource for finding CSAs in your area with a mapping feature. They also locate farms, farmerís markets, co-op grocery stores, organic restaurants and more.
This is the E. F. Schumacher Society home page. This site has excellent resources for among other things, information on starting a community land trust.

As Featured On Ezine ArticlesChip Phelan, a contributing editor for Organic Gardening Review, is an organic gardener living in Rhode Island. He has been gardening organically for 30 years while working as a sculptor and photo imager. He has recently created a research garden to experiment with organic and small scale sustainable gardening techniques.

Organic Gardening Review is a resource center for organic gardening enthusiasts and features his efforts and interests in all aspects of organic gardening. Find us on the web:

Looking for a place to share organic gardening info? Visit our Organic Gardening Discussion Forum at: Organic Gardening Forum.

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