What is a CSA?
CSA: Community Sponsored (or Supported) Agriculture.
It's now a phenomenal food movement sweeping the country and many countries. It's certainly strongly associated with organic foods, sustainable agriculture, and the local food movement.
There were several precursor incarnations in Austria, Japan, and New England--all of which had in common that eaters wanted to make sure their local farmers continued in business.
The early "CSA" farms in New England (circa 1985) were started by groups of villagers who would rent land from older nearly retired farmers near town and hire a younger farm manager, buy equipment if needed, and supplies. They would then get a proportion of the harvest, and thus also take a proportion of the risk. Those villagers usually would help out growing the produce and pick it up (literally!) at the farm.
We were one of the earliest adoptees of an offshoot of this movement. We were already established organic farmers and found most folks were pretty busy with their own occupations. And for them to drive all the way to the farm was colossally inefficient. So we began delivering family sized portions of our wide variety of seasonal produce to the city neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. In some ways it resembled the old milk routes which used to be common, in some ways it was like the neighorhood huckster--though we always had a bit of a grudge against any middlemen like that. We now often describe our CSA as like eating out of your garden. (Our garden is your garden...mi casa es su casa?)
The biggest difference between CSA and conventional retail food purveyance whether at a store or even farmers' market is the committment of the subscriber to a particular farm to purchase a season's worth of produce rather than an intermittant and capricious purchase. That makes a big difference in stability, but also in efficiency. Many a time in our years of selling at wholesale or farmers' markets we dumped good produce on the compost pile or didn't pick it because it wasn't or couldn't be sold. Maybe it was a rainy evening at market, or there was a ball game, or there was a glut at the wholesale level. It's been a sea change to be able to depend on consumers purchasing in this regular way. Since there's a steady group, we really do become a community.
So certainly the community has a direct impact on supporting these agriculturalists. With you, we have flourished.
We also have seen it goes the other way too--we have an agriculture supported community. We see a big part of our mission is to enhance the health those who eat the food we grow. Good food is ever the source of life and health. And when going is tough, we support our commnity and give back what's here to give.