CSA is an acronym that seems to be ubiquitous these days. For those of you not familiar with it, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In basic terms, CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation in return for a portion of the farm’s harvest. Over the last 20 years, it has become a very popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from the farmer.
This system provides many benefits to both the farmer and consumer. Most CSAs request the support at the beginning of the season. This provides the farm with working capital, relieves much of the burden of marketing the produce and allows farmers to get to know their consumers. Leslie Pillen, a Community CROPS CSA farmer, states that she prefers the CSA model as it encourages lasting relationships with clients. “It is more motivating and satisfying to grow food for people that you know and like,” said Pillen.
Consumers receive a variety of nutritious and ultrafresh vegetables throughout the season, get exposed to new vegetables, develop a relationship with the farmer who grows their food and learn more about how food is grown. Most CSA farmers use organic or biodynamic methods and are committed to providing meat and vegetables that are chemically and hormone free. As many condemn the decline of family farming and the monopoly of Big Agriculture, consumers can vote with their fork and choose an agriculture that is healthy, humane and sustainable in nature.
Teri McGinn, a member of a local CSA for many years, said it has truly changed the way she eats.
“I have always tried to eat healthfully, but my CSA membership introduced me to the idea that we can choose to select locally grown produce. The difference between quality of CSA produce and grocery produce was a revelation to me. Having access to fresh greens that were picked earlier in the day has changed the way I eat. Steamed chard for breakfast? Of course!”
Not only do you have access to fresh produce but most likely an exposure to new vegetables or new varieties of familiar vegetables. Locally grown food delivered right after harvest retains its nutrients and flavor. The secret to great cooking lies in the ingredients! As Maggie Pleskac, owner of Maggie’s Vegetarian Café explains, “As a chef, it’s fun to open up a box with six or more ingredients and see what I can create. For me, it’s a creative culinary challenge. Since everything is freshly picked, I can simply play off the raw ingredients with nothing more than technique to enhance their seasonal flavors. Every week is a surprise and a new dish waiting to be created. I grow a lot of my own vegetables, but I like the surprise of the CSA box. It’s kind of like Christmas every week.”
The benefits are CSA, however, are not limited to health and taste. Ecologically, there is a decrease in the consumption of fossil fuels and packaging material, and there are economic benefits as well.
Participating in the local food system is a very effective economic stimulus. According to the University of Nebraska Rural Initiative, if every Nebraskan spent $2 per week on local foods, over $160 million each year would be retained in the local economy. CSA membership not only supports the individual farmer but in some instances helps the community at large. For example, the profits from the CSA operated by Community CROPS fund their programs, which help local gardeners to grow food for their families or to sell at markets.
As you might expect with such a model, there are many variations to the CSA. Differences in price, duration, products offered, methods of distribution and the size of the membership are a few of the attributes to consider when selecting a CSA that is right for you. One common characteristic, however, is the concept of shared risk. CSA members share in both the risks and benefits of production. A hailstorm, an infestation of the squash vine borer or an escaped goat are all calamities that a crop may face. Be prepared for certain promised crops not to arrive. This is the uncertain nature of farming that reminds us all how our food is grown. This reconnection with the land and the food we eat is definitely worth the risk.
Local CSA contact information
Beulahland (Novak Family Farm), Lyons, Neb.
Black Sheep Farms, Bennington, Neb.
Bloomsorganic, Omaha, Neb.
Bryan Family Farm, Fort Calhoun, Neb.
Fertile Ground Family Farm, Blair, Neb.
Green Leaf Farms, Omaha, Neb.
Kvam Family Farm, West Point, Neb.
Old Nelly Farms, Crescent, Iowa
Kumari Durick, (402) 981-3109
Pawnee Pride Meats, Steinauer, Neb.
Rhizosphere Farm, Waterloo, Neb.
6 Acre Woods, Axtell, Neb.
Amber Springer, (308) 238-3898
Sunny Slope Farm, Filley, Neb.
Merlin and Rita Friesen, (402) 223-9541
TD Niche Pork, Elk Creek, Neb.
Travis Dunekacke, djt99[at]yahoo[dot]com
Brockley Farmaceuticals, Lincoln, Neb.
Common Good Farm, Lincoln, Neb.
Community CROPS, Lincoln, Neb.
Gourmet Growers, Lincoln, Neb.
Nate Steele, gourmet_growers[at]yahoo[dot]com
Robinette Farms, Lincoln, Neb.
Shadow Brook Farm, Lincoln, Neb.
Nebraska Food Cooperative (over 70 local producers), Lincoln, Neb.