How does Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) work, and what is it? The details vary as greatly as there are different types of farms and farmers. Most of what we read about CSA farms is from up north where the season is short and specific. The challenges are different in the South which has longer and more defined seasons. In the South, spring is spring and summer is summer with months in-between fall and winter. Beets and lettuce will not be available at the same time as tomatoes and water melon. It is up to the farmers to explain the seasonal availability to their CSA Members.
We have been providing CSA memberships for over 10 seasons now, about five years, delivering to seven different drop-sites serving our local communities. Every year we tweak the program to best fit our needs with the members we serve. I have also spent time talking with other farmers and the challenges they face in serving their members. After some reflection, I would like to share what the ideal CSA arrangement would be for most of the producers, the type of CSA program that our farm will be promoting in the future.
Before January, a minimum of 30 families get together, usually organized by an individual coordinator, interested in finding a local farm to provide seasonal vegetables to their group, in this circumstance, they are a pre-existing community. After contacting and inspecting a local farm, the group secures a drop-site location (preferably a church or community center) and collects pre-payments providing the farmer with the income needed to begin planting for the season. While the farmer is preparing fields, planting seeds in the greenhouse, adding amendments to the soil, gathering irrigation and other supplies, the group coordinator is planning volunteer rotations from the group and how to best manage the drop-site.
Once the season begins, the coordinator will be the liaison between the farmer and the CSA Members, informing them weekly what will be available, when additional payments are due and reminding volunteers about their schedule to help out. On a scheduled day each week, the farmer will deliver cases of produce to be divided by the volunteers for each member to pick-up. The farmer may have the added expense of providing delivery to the group, but the service provided by the Coordinator allows the farmer to focus more upon the production of food rather than the marketing.
In the past our farm offered a monthly payment plan, however, this does not always provide the commitment from the members that is necessary for a CSA to be successful. It is not uncommon for some members to drop out in the middle of the season, due to vacation or other personal reasons, leaving the farmer to hold the bag with produce that they had previously committed to purchasing, at the farm's expense. In the future we will most likely offer three seasonal payments, better insuring our member's commitment.
So, to break-down the steps on how to bring local food to your community:
- Ask your church or community center to host a drop-site (help them understand how this can be a valuable community outreach program).
- Find at least 30 families or individuals interested in participating in a CSA Program.
- Schedule a meeting for the farmer to come out and explain the program to everybody.
- Collect pre-payments to secure the farmer’s work for the season.
- Get organized, hopefully with a designated Coordinator to work out the details.
- Plan to have a weekly newsletter and volunteer program among the members.
- Get ready for good food! When the season begins, you will experience a fresh difference, enjoying food like it was meant to be.
If you are interested in bringing food to your community in the West Houston area, please give us a call, 979-251-9922. You can find local farms in Texas by visiting www.tofga.org or across the nation at www.localharvest.com.
- Farmer Brad