Sustainability: What is a CSA? Why bother?

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CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, or Community Shared Agriculture. A farm sells a “share” of their harvest in advance. Sometimes, you will hear people talking about buying a “membership” or “subscription” to the farm. In return, the consumer gets a Harvest Box of produce each week. The box will contain a bit of whatever is being harvested at the time. Usually CSA shares, or Harvest Boxes, consist of produce. Some, though, will include meat, dairy, grains, or anything else you can get from a farm. One well-known CSA farm that aimed to provide all the food a subscriber would need is Essex Farm, in upstate New York near Lake Champlain, featured in Kristin Kimball’s 2011 memoir “A Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food and Love”. The goal was to build their farm to be able to support a community with all the food they would need for a complete diet, from vegetables, fruits, meats, poultry, eggs, dairy, grains, beans, and herbs. Most CSA boxes, however, are made up of seasonal vegetables, freshly harvested.

One goal of the Harvest Box or CSA is to make farm-fresh, local, seasonal produce available to many people. The food is good for you. It is local, thus reducing the environmental footprint of our food. Many people don’t know how to begin to make changes in their diets and habits that are good for the environment and themselves. A Harvest Box is a good place to start.

What does it have to do with sustainability? Well, in purchasing a CSA, or a Harvest Box, you are essentially supporting the farmer and farm in advance. They can plant, and care for, the vegetables you will get in your box. Most small farms operating through a CSA program employ principles of sustainable farming and regenerative agriculture. Food is grown with environmentally friendly methods. Pest management is natural, and the types of plants grown are those that thrive in the local area. Most people want to eat fresh, healthy, locally-grown, seasonal food. Not everyone can have a garden, due to space, or time. Not everyone wants to have a garden. Some of us live to get our hands dirty, some just want the good food! Using a CSA and Harvest Box program helps restore the connection between us, and the land that sustains us.

Supporting local growers and small-scale farms helps to strengthen food security. When we lose small food producers and small local farm stands, they don’t come back. Supporting a small farm through a CSA and a Harvest Box is a way to help ensure they can stay. Shipping our food from across the country or the world is not sustainable. Supply chains aren’t stable or reliable, and are vulnerable to social, economic, and environmental upheaval. Ensuring that we have locally grown food available to much of our local population is an important element of sustainability. People need access to good quality, affordable food that reduces its impact on our current environmental crisis. Harvest Boxes and CSAs help to limit the distance our food travels to us, often just called food miles.

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