Are you part of the population that wanders aimlessly through the produce aisle only to settle on Fresh Express bagged salad? Do you hate taking the time to choose between the cheaper non-organic food and the safer organic grown? If so, Community Supported Agriculture might be the answer you are looking for.
According to Market Garden Coordinator at the UC Davis Student Farm, Raoul Adamchak, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a concept started by disciples of Rudolph Steiner. Steiner founded biodynamic farming, and his disciples sought to create a more economic system where farmers could sell shares of their harvest directly to customers. From there, the CSA system was born.
CSA is the process in which a small farm will harvest its produce for the season and distribute the food among subscribers who pay a given amount. In Davis, CSA prices range from nineteen to twenty-five dollars a week, depending on the farm one subscribes to.
The system works like this: subscribe to a CSA, pay a certain amount a month or quarter, and receive a weekly basket full of various seasonal and organic produce. At the Student Farm CSA, this fee comes to roughly 19 dollars a week for a large basket that could meet the weekly produce needs of an average family.
“Farmers sell shares of their harvest to customers up front so that they have more money for the season. Income is more secure for small farmers this way,” Adamchak said. “It introduces you to new produce and supports the local community and the farmer.“
“The Student Farm CSA alone has a year long waiting list and 65 subscribers,“ said Kori Farrell, a student farm worker and senior studio arts and plant biology major.
“The Student Farm harvests on Mondays and Thursdays, and places the baskets of food in a produce locker,” Farrell said. “Once a [prospective customer] gets on the list, they are assigned to pick up their produce on one of those days at a time that works for them.“
Farrell said customers receive a variety of produce throughout the year depending on the season. In the summer a subscriber could expect summer squash, eggplant, basil, tomatoes and onions. Transitioning into the winter season, baskets may include jujubes (the Chinese date), winter squash and spinach.
Andrea McNees, an international agricultural development graduate student, has been a student farm CSA subscriber for two years and has been satisfied with the service.
“For lovers of good produce, it’s a great deal cheaper than purchasing organic at the grocery store,” McNees said. “The baskets are consistently overflowing with produce.“
McNees shares her basket on an every-other-week basis with her sister – a trend that is not uncommon with CSA subscribers.
“We have a lot of families that subscribe,” Farrell said. “But we also have a lot of people that alternate with friends on picking up the basket every week.“
In addition to providing customers with fresh, organic produce, Farrell believes a CSA can also serve as an educational tool for the community. By receiving in-season produce, customers can be exposed to new fruits and vegetables they may not have considered before, explore new ways of cooking and recognize when certain crops are in season.
“It is really important to give people the opportunity to know how the food is grown but also that it’s possible to do it,” Farrell said. “And as a farmer it is really wonderful because they can become more in touch with the people that are buying their food.“
With the direct feedback of customers, farmers can determine which foods are most popular among subscribers and which produce they could do without. McNees believes the CSA system is crucial to helping local farms survive and turn profit.
“On a grander scale, [CSA] continues to support small farms which are struggling to subsist in an already grueling agricultural industry,” McNees said. “There is a camaraderie and efficiency in small farm production which is unrivaled by large agribusiness production systems, and I feel fortunate to support them.“
Other CSA groups in Davis include Good Humus, the Full Belly Farm, Farm Fresh to You and Terra Firma Farms. Students interested in learning more about Community Supported Agriculture or becoming a subscriber to the Student Farm CSA can check out the website studentfarm.ucdavis.edu/.
AMANDA HARDWICK can be reached at email@example.com.