We have all been exposed to horror stories about the source and processing of the food we eat and drink. Some examples of this are video documentaries such as Food, Inc (2008), and King Corn (2007). These are factual and alarming reflections of the dark side of what we ingest. There is however a growing movement that provides some light at the end of the tunnel. Consider joining a CSA.
CSA’s, or Community Supported Agriculture have been around for some time. They began in the early 1960’s in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, and started in the United States in the mid-1980’s. In short, they represent a partnership between local farmers, ranchers, and agricultural producers, and those that consume or use their produce, meat, dairy, honey, floral, and other products. A CSA is a direct marketing channel by which farmers sell shares, subscriptions, or memberships that provide consumers a diverse selection of products delivered or collected at a designated site regularly for a specified time during harvest. There are definite advantages to both parties.
The consumer is provided farm-to-table, ultra-fresh, flavorful foods, with the knowledge of exactly where it came from and how it was raised or grown. It is also an amazing opportunity to get kids involved in their “food chain”. The whole family can meet the farmer, ask questions, be introduced to new food items, and learn about how they grow and how to cook them. Often the farmer will sponsor an “open house” allowing members and subscribers to visit the farm, meet the workers, and see the animals and what is currently being grown.
The farmer has the advantages of marketing output and receiving payment early in the season, and the direct relationship with customers provides crop planning insight, as well as fostering an open friendly communication with customers. Farmers are small business owners, therefore spending money with a local business instead of a big box retailer keeps your dollars directly benefiting the local community.
However, one must consider the inherent concept of “shared risk”. Members and subscribers pay up front (either through fee, or negotiated promise of labor hours) for the whole season. Farmers do their best to provide an abundant supply each period, but if things are slim, there is normally no reimbursement. Most CSA farmers feel a great sense of responsibility to their members, and when certain crops are scarce, they make sure the CSA gets served first. It is wise to keep expectations realistic.
Tennessee is blessed with a long and diverse growing season. The interest in CSA’s by producers and consumers continues to grow with the demand for fresh and organic local food. Visit your nearby Farmers Market, meet your local farmers, consider enrolling in Community Supported Agriculture, and enjoy the many mutual benefits.