CSA – What?

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Chances are pretty good that you may be asking, “What on Earth is a CSA?”.  Although CSA has been around in the U.S. for nearly four decades few people are aware of the existence of CSA’s because the concept has only recently begun to gain mainstream attention in Maine.  The short answer is that CSA is an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture.  The long answer (outlined below) leads to the following prediction:  there is at least one CSA out there that is perfect for you and/or your family.

If you follow this blog regularly, and I certainly hope you will, you’ll come to learn that there are certain acronyms I just don’t like.  Here is a short list: FDA, CDC, USDA, GAP and HACCP.  This only touches the surface.  You’ll see.  There are however some acronyms I tend to like and one is CSA.

CSA is a very simple concept that is pretty much summed up by the title itself.  Community Supported Agriculture is a mutually beneficial arrangement between a farmer or farmers (the agriculture part) and the customer or customers (the community part).  Typically this involves an up front investment by the customer and a dividend paid out by the farmer at harvest time.  The best part is that this dividend is the crop itself.

There are a multitude of different types of CSA but mainly they fall under two big umbrellas.  First, and most common, is what is known as a box-style or box-scheme CSA.  In fact this type is so common that most people think this encompasses all of what what CSA is.  The second type is known as a debit style CSA.  Here at Parker Family Farm we have tried both and have decided that the debit style is the most beneficial for us and our customers.

The packing room on harvest day.

Variety is often key to a successful CSA.

However, first let’s discuss the box style.  Essentially this is an arrangement whereby the customer pays an upfront, set amount of money at what is typically called the ‘beginning’ of the season.  I’ll get into this misnomer in a later post but for now let’s just call it early spring or summer.  Then at set intervals throughout the growing season (another misnomer which will also be addressed later) you the customer will receive a dividend in the form of fresh vegetables.  Usually this means a weekly bag or box of veggies that the farmer picks out, harvests and packs together.  Pretty simple!  My next two posts will be dedicated to dissecting the pros and cons of each of these two major categories.  But for now, let’s move on.

A debit style CSA, like the one I run at Parker Family Farm, is more like a prepaid phone card.  Again, you pay a set amount at the ‘beginning’ of the season and then you get periodic dividends in the form of fresh veggies throughout ‘the season’.  In this case however, instead of the farmer picking out the veggies you get to choose which ones and how much of each.  Again, this is just a quick general idea of how these work.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles for both the farmer and the customer.  Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at each type.

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Our ‘Farmer’s Choice Heirloom Tomato’ selection at harvest time

Before we leave the overview however it’s important to note that you have a nearly infinite number of food choices with the CSA model.  While CSA’s began as, and typically still are used by, vegetable operations you can find a CSA that serves nearly any need you may have.  There are CSA programs that offer vegetables of course but there are also fruit CSA’s, beef CSA’s, pork (we run one of these!), egg, dairy, fish, flowers, bread, wool/yarn CSA’s and even lumber CSA’s! 

The happy couple.

The happy couple.

The sky is the limit and the diversity of offerings is growing all the time.  If you’re looking to jump the industrial, globally sourced, centrally controlled food system ship (and for your sake I hope you are already running for the railing and strapping on a life-vest) then you will probably be able to find a CSA to meet any of your local, real food needs.  In fact, many places are just like Parker Family Farm and offer multiple CSA options all from one farm.  That’s the kind of agriculture any community could support.  Local food.  Eat well – be well.  

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Ryan Parker

About Ryan Parker

Ryan Parker is a farmer, writer, artist and musician. He currently lives in Central Maine with his wife, two children, a golden retriever, some pigs and chickens. He raises pastured and forested animals and grows a diverse range of vegetables without synthetic chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or taxpayer subsidies.