Solutions for Self-Reliance

The Future of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture)

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Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is something we feel everyone should be taking advantage of.  Not only are prices often comparable to grocery store prices, but the food is of a much higher quality.  Many times food can be on your table as soon as 24 hours after it has been harvested.

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CSA is also a great way to support local farmers and build resiliency into the local economy.  Farmers are able to grow their best crops without worrying about whether or not a market exists.  Produce can be selected based on taste and quality; not shelf life.

CSAs have exploded in the last decade.  Current estimates report that there are over 1,700 active CSAs in the United States.  In the early 90’s, there were less than 100.  This exponential growth is certainly a testament to the demand for local food.

Changes to the Conventional CSA Model

Due to its sudden growth, CSA has started to undergo some major changes.

The growing popularity of CSA has caught the attention of entrepreneurs.  Many small businesses have been started that claim to be alternative CSA models.  Unfortunately, many of these businesses are simply reintroducing the “middleman” into the local economy.

There’s a careful balance that can be struck, but most of these newer business models seek to address one issue that consumers dislike about a CSA: the risk.

Most CSAs require you to pay a fixed price for the entire year’s harvest. If the farm has a record yield, you benefit. If there’s a pest, not enough rain or an early frost, less fruits and vegetables will hit your dinner table.

The average consumer is used to spending money in order to receive a fixed benefit. CSAs don’t have that. You often get a plethora of rare fruits and vegetables that may not be a part of your normal diet.

Personally, I view that as a good thing. It makes you expand your horizons, find good recipes and preserve when you get a bulk of vegetables you can’t eat in a week. But that scares many people away. Instead of buying a “share” of the entire crop, they may be willing to pay more for a specific selection.

And it’s this consumer preference that is leading to a few alternatives that could quickly outpace the traditional CSA model.

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Now, let’s take a look at a CSA in Atlanta that is helping to revolutionize CSA for the better.

The My Dad and Me Family Farm is offering what is known as the “50/50 Handshake Basket.”

The 50/50 Handshake Basket offers consumers 50 weeks of fresh food for $50 per week.  The farm produces a variety of fruits and vegetables and recently added grass-fed beef, milk, and poultry to its weekly offerings.

Not only are consumers able to get most of their food from this multi-faceted farm, but they can do so without a large up-front cost.  Each week, members can visit the farm to fill up their basket with an assortment of locally-grown, farm fresh products.

You can find out more information by visiting the farm’s website at www.mydadandmefamilyfarm.com.

In addition to new CSA models like My Dad and Me Family Farm, some farms are adding a unique twist to the conventional CSA model in the hopes of building strong community ties.

The Pastures of Plenty CSA in Longmont, Colorado is an excellent example of how the conventional CSA model is still alive and well.  In addition to selling hundreds of shares to CSA members annually, Lyle Davis and Sylvia Tawse offer frequent events at the farm to promote a healthy CSA community.

Since Davis and Tawse are both professional chefs, they often invite members to the farm for cooking classes.  Parties that emphasize local products are also common at Pastures of Plenty.

Even though this farm still relies on a traditional CSA model, community events like the ones held here really make a difference.  Membership has steadily increased each year and the farm is doing well.

This demonstrates that the CSA model is not broken.  Getting the community involved whenever possible means that conventional CSAs are still a viable option.  However, sometimes a fresh approach, like that of the My Dad and Me Family Farm, is required to renew interest in the benefits of CSA.

A Slightly Different Approach to CSA

It’s interesting to watch farms use technology to their advantage.  Even the website for the My Dad and Me Family Farm is a professional looking site that many would deem “out-of-place” in the traditionally low-tech farming industry.

Here’s another example of technology at work for a CSA.  Farmigo is a company that helps local farms reach consumers by focusing on the local business model.  Unlike the “unconventional CSAs” mentioned previously, Farmigo offers farms increased market share and a potential business opportunity for consumers.

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Farmigo has something unique here that we should be watching and even considering for our own communities.  Instead of a traditional CSA model, farmers sign up to be a part of the Farmigo community.

At the same time, a local resident decides to start a “CSA business” using Farmigo as a platform.  As a Farmigo host, this person is responsible for getting the word out to the community and establishing a place for customers to pick up orders.  This could be a community center, church, or even in your own living room.

Customers log into the Farmigo website to view produce available on a weekly basis from local farms.  Farmigo arranges to pick up the orders from the farms and bring them to the pickup location.  The host gets 10% of everything sold; a potentially lucrative opportunity.

Let’s look at this a little more closely.  Even farms currently operating a conventional CSA can benefit from the additional business.  Residents are able to select exactly the products they want while still benefiting from the farm-to-table model that is increasing in demand.  Finally, the host generates a revenue stream by orchestrating the event.

This is a unique opportunity that could revolutionize the conventional CSA model.  Of course, we like anything that can be turned into a viable small business opportunity within the community.  Using Farmigo as a platform, we can make a profit while promoting local farms and organic produce.

It’s no secret that the conventional CSA model is not for everyone.  Whether because of financial limitations, risk aversion, or simply not being able to choose exactly what produce is received, many people shy away from the CSA experience.

If you currently live in an area without a traditional CSA, this could be an excellent opportunity for your community.

More information about Farmigo can be found by visiting www.farmigo.com.

So far, the model has worked well for the farmers (there are currently about 3,500 farms participating) and the hosts who are leveraging this business opportunity.

Although the system may not be perfect, it definitely gives us a window into the possible future of CSA and is something worth checking out.

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