What the heck is a CSA?
In basic terms, a CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Members or shareholders of the farm or garden pledge, in advance, to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and the farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as the satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land. Members also share in risks, including poor harvest due to unfavorable weather or pests. -- as defined by the USDA
Belonging to a CSA is not like a buying club or co-op because participants are supporters of a specific farm. Sometimes several farms will partner in the CSA, but generally there is only one. CSA members accept that they will be subject to both the risks and the rewards of their particular farm. The "community" in CSA is the collective group of people involved, not the location or area where the CSA operates, although being provided with local produce is another big plus to belonging to such a group.
CSA is a great way for a small farmer to market all or a portion of his/her crops. The premise of our CSA is that it is simply a farm share, or a share our harvest for the year, purchased in advance, by our CSA members. No work at the Farm is required. Our obligation to our members is a top priority. While we do grow some of our crops just for our family, we also distribute some of these items to CSA occasionally, if we have a particularly bountiful harvest. Several larger crops like okra, winter squash and sweet potatoes are grown for both CSA and the general market.
Each week, for a predetermined number of weeks, members receive a share of everything we harvest for the group. Each year, we have a specific number of shares and once those are filled, there are no more added. This would dilute the member shares and that would not be fair. There is also a specified number of weeks in a share. This year it was 30 weeks, from April until November. Next year, it will only be 25, from May through October. This year, we had home delivery but next year we are going back to what works the best and that is having members pick up their shares at markets we are already attending, which saves on gas, time, etc.
We do not distribute shares based on a dollar amount, but rather the amount harvested. Produce is picked the day before, weighed and measured and then divided equally among the number of members at that specific location. When there is bounty everybody shares. If not, they share that also. Generally, we have an abundance, rather then the opposite, but we make it clear in advance that nature has the final say and our CSA members understand that going into the season.
The intrinsic value to belonging to a CSA is that members have a connection to a real farmer, on a real farm. That close relationship can give real insight into just what it takes to grow food crops and therefore, a deeper appreciation and connection to what is on the dinner plate. And for me, I get to see some of my best friends, twice a week, every week, for the length of CSA. That is the best part for me! That and watching our "organic" family grow and thrive on the food I grew for them.