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June 3, 2018
The Meaning of CSA
By Charis Lindrooth
Many of you have already heard the Farmer and I wax philosophic on the future of CSAs in our region. Maybe I should say, we wax anxious about the issue. Surely everyone knows by now that the term CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture.” The question, then becomes, what exactly does that mean?
Originally, the CSA model was designed to accomplish two objectives:
  1. The CSA model provided farmers with the assurance that their product would be sold throughout the season. Growers who previously relied only on farmers' markets and wholesale outlets, such as produce auctions, might experience dramatic fluctuations in sales, depending on fair weather and customer turnout. The upfront commitment by CSA customers removes this uncertainty.
  2. The unadulterated CSA model eliminates the "middle man.” This is a win-win for both customer and farmer, allowing the customer to receive a fair deal on the freshest produce and the farmer to get full retail price for his labor. This has made all the difference for small family farms such as ours.
An article in the New York Times summed up what we have been sensing over the past few years. The concept of CSA is morphing.
Isn’t there an old saying, “Where there is blood there are sharks"…or something like that? The success and profitability of the CSA enthusiasm has attracted larger organizations, ready to cash in on the opportunity the local food movement provides. From large cooperatives of farmers, such as Lancaster Farm Fresh to Amazon and Target, the range of organization and good intentions surrounding the delivery of local goods is now mesmerizing and maybe confusing for the consumer.
As the NYT article put it, “The opportunity for confusion is of enormous concern to many farmers in the New York [and Pennsylvania, we might add!] region. Depending on how and where these new businesses buy their produce, consumers can receive all the benefits of C.S.A. membership, while the farmers get only a fraction. Some farmers say that after years of steady growth, their C.S.A. memberships have dropped since the arrival of services like Local Roots or Farmigo….But the drawbacks can outweigh the benefits. Some say that these hubs have siphoned off their members, partly by offering a more convenient product, but also by blurring the definition of terms like ‘C.S.A.' and 'farm share,' so that customers believe they are directly supporting local farms with their purchases when they might not."
Our production has expanded greatly, and our growing skills sharpened since we started more than a decade ago. Those of you who have been long-time customers have weathered through some ups and downs with us. Do you remember when we had virtually no cucumbers? Or when the list was so short in August, when our squash conked out and the tomatoes were blighted out of existence? The Farmer has bull-doggedly forged on, year after year, honing his skills, creating systems around seeding, planting, weeding and harvesting. All to bring variety and quality consistently to your table.
In spite of the apparent strength and progress of our farm in the past few years, our CSA membership has plateaued, and then this year, actually declined. At first, we felt this was a natural shift as the market grew saturated and diverse opportunities were presented to our customer base. We felt that we needed to diversify, which is why we ventured into wholesale. But wholesale is a new game. The profit margin is smaller and takes a much larger production scale to achieve the type of security we so easily found in our CSA. The need to expand into new markets has also required us to make changes to meet more stringent food safety standards, which is why we are now GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified.
The concept of CSA was born from a passion for supporting small farms and for a grass-roots endeavor to reconnect with where and how our food is grown. I maintain this blog with the primary intention of helping our customers know us and our farm. I write with my heart on my sleeve, because I believe that our customers care about the welfare of their farming family as much as about the convenience of having their local food arrive in one box. I want our customers to know without a shadow of a doubt their dollars are supporting the livelihood of a small Pennsylvania farm and their support makes this farm a better provider of fresh, high quality, safe food for people throughout our region.
How can you help?
1. If you are not a current member, please join today! Our CSA is the only one in the region offering weekly online ordering.
2. If you are a member, refer a friend. Tell them about our farm and share this post.
3. Consider making a tax deductible donation to one of our Community Supported Accessible Food partners: Ardmore Food Pantry and New Bethany Ministries.
For donations of $285 (feeds 10 families for 2.5 weeks) we would like to invite you and a friend to a truly fabulous dinner at the Farm, with the Farmer and his Wife. You can’t get much closer to Farm to Table than that! Donations must be submitted via the partner portal or via check payable to Ardmore Food Pantry or New Bethany Ministries. Please let us know if your donation qualifies you for the Farm to Table Dinner. These donations are tax deductible.
New Bethany Ministries Donations (portal available soon).
As always, we are grateful every day for the opportunity to feed you and your families. Thank you for your continued support.
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