by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become an extremely popular and affordable way for consumers to buy locally grown foods directly from farmers. When you join a CSA, you are buying a “share” of produce and goods from a regional farmer or group of farmers. Typically, these shares are paid for before the start of the season which will enable the farmer to plan for the coming season. This subscription-based system allows him to purchase seed, make equipment repairs, expand his stock, etc. Many CSAs have transitioned into shorter termed subscriptions which allow less commitment than a typical three month (or seasonal) plan. The farmers then deliver those shares of produce to one of many pre-determined drop-off spots around the area.
These subscriptions are extremely advantageous to both the farmer and the consumer. It allows the farmers to spend time marketing their wares earlier in the year, it helps with their cash flow, and it provides an opportunity for the farmers to get to know their buyers. Consumers get especially fresh food; typically the produce is less than two days old when it is delivered. They also get the opportunity to try new vegetables and fruits, visit the farm(s) on which their food is grown, and develop a relationship with the farmer(s) who grows the food. Many CSAs also provide bread, cheeses, meat, flowers, and herbs to supplement their produce. All of their products are fresher and more organic than chain supermarkets can offer. CSAs have long been a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer as opposed to buying produce that has been shipped in from other countries, or “ripened” in a warehouse.
Industrialization of our nation’s food supply has allowed supermarkets to stock large amounts of meat, produce, fruit, etc without the proportional risk of spoilage, but it has also created more problems than it has solved. In order to extend shelf life, much of our food supply has undergone modifications at a cellular level. In the last ten years, we’ve had more than a hundred million tons of pesticides poured on our crops by industrialized agriculture in order to keep food “fresher” and more “uniform” in size, color, and rate of production. These pesticides pollute our streams, air, and the very foodstuffs they were intended to produce. Industrialized agriculture has also caused us to lose over 90% of our diversity; the quality of the soil has been depleting at 13 times the rate it can be replaced. That is due, in large part also, to creating monocultures on the farm itself.
Monocultures are created when farms depend upon only one or two crops to sustain their livestock. This begins a vicious circle where the crops the industry relies on to feed their animals are produced every year and certain pests and weeds feed on these crops. Pesticides and herbicides are used year after year to combat the pests, and the pests and weeds eventually become resistant to the chemicals. When these pesticides stop working, different ones are applied with essentially the same results.
The overcrowding and monocultures create new problems unknown in regular farming methods. Close quarters for the animals breed disease, which is then combated by antibiotics. The waste which is produced by these animals cannot be used to fertilize the land because it is full of pesticides and antibiotics. The crops are not rotated so the animal waste sits on a section of land, further polluting the soil. The paradigm of more goods at less cost has created a miserable existence for the livestock on farms. Animals are packed into small areas and stripped of their natural defenses in order to discourage the aggression that occurs in their crowded environment. They are then fed the grains that will produce the most weight and size of the animals in the shortest amount of time, whether or not it is part of their natural diet. The diets are also supplemented with dangerous additives. Warning labels on chicken feed additives note that application of it may cause eye irritation, respiratory tract irritation, and contact to eyes and skin should be avoided. Cows, who are natural herbivores, are forced to eat corn which has additives that include “dead and diseased cows” as part of its makeup. This creates new diseases which are then passed on to the consumer. Very simply put, industrialized agriculture is dangerous and unsustainable.
The farmers who are part of the CSAs respect nature, the animals, and the land. The food we buy at the grocery store may be less expensive, but it is also greatly diminished from a nutritional standpoint. Produce and animal products sold at CSAs are nutrient dense because they have been grown naturally. The farmers who participate in CSAs do so for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their concern for health in general. For example, cage free organic eggs are very different from the eggs that are sold in supermarkets. When compared side by side, the cage free organic eggs are full of omega 3 and vitamin A. Their supermarket cousins are not nearly as nutrient dense. The foods sold at CSAs are naturally organic because the farmer trusts nature to do her job. Crop rotation, use of animal fertilization for the crops, and the natural diets of the animals reduce or eradicate the need for antibiotics and pesticides.
Most CSAs have flexible subscriptions and payment plans to make it easier for everyone to join in and experience their delicious, and honestly fresh, foods. There is no official count of CSAs because the government does not track them, but it is easy enough to find one near you. And, there are many more near you than you might imagine. Go to www.LocalHarvest.org for an inclusive directory of participating farms.