Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
As more of us take steps to eat locally and seasonally, a growing trend is community-supported agriculture (CSA), which connects local farmers with local consumers. Here's how it works: Individuals support a farm by becoming "members" (or "subscribers" or "shareholders") and pledge to cover the costs of the farm operation and the farmer's salary in return for a weekly delivery of produce, dairy, or meat. Typically, CSA farmers are paid in advance by the season, although some accept weekly or monthly payments. Some CSAs also ask that members work a few hours on the farm.
CSA members get the health (and taste) benefits of farm-fresh food and the spiritual nourishment of knowing they're helping the local economy and getting involved in the growing and distribution process. In turn, they share with the farmer the risk of a poorer-than-expected harvest, fostering a true sense of community.
The concept of community-supported agriculture originated in 1965 in Japan when a group of women concerned about the rising cost of food imports and a declining farming population initiated a direct growing and purchasing relationship with local farms. The idea migrated to Europe and took root in the United States in the mid-1980s. Today, there are more than 1,500 CSAs operating in the U.S. and Canada.
Local Harvest, an online resource for "real food, real farmers, real community," allows you to search for CSA farms by state and ZIP code. Other searchable CSA databases are provided by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association and the Robyn Van En Center. You can also find CSAs in your area by entering "community-supported agriculture," plus the name of your state, into a web search engine.