In CSA farming there is a special interaction between farmer and consumer that doesn’t happen on large scale and industrial farms. Members of the CSA farm have a direct relationship with the food that is grown, and becoming a shareholder often means becoming more intimate with the local food system. CSA members often care more about the details of the food they get from the farm, and rightfully so, they have a stake in it! The CSA farmers, managers, and workers are like public servants catering to the needs and wants of their community. It’s beautiful when you meet people like Jenny, who, when she comes to pick up her weekly share is carrying an 8 month-old in her womb. Who wouldn’t feel good knowing that her baby is being nourished by the highest quality, freshest, and most organic food possible! As I hand her the bag, I congratulate her on supporting new life and giving it such fine fuel for healthy growth. She smiles gracefully and counter-thanks me for growing it! The next morning, when my sore back is grumbling over a fresh bed of weeds I can tell it that babies need to eat. End of story.
Ok, now anyone whose worked in any service industry and has dealt with people knows that people can be funny sometimes. Its true. Now, I’m not going to start complaining about how picky some of our shareholders are – how Martha expects a custom order of veggies specified to the taste in her mouth that week, and Prajwal is upset because he thinks radishes should taste like beets, and Jamila thinks we should pre-package our salad mix with raspberry vinaigrette – because they’re not that picky; I just made those things up. BUT, without a doubt the juice in the details of CSA farming is in the people who make the model work, and yes, sometimes make it a little frustrating.
Take, for example, farm volunteers: They come, they help, they converse, we all laugh, work flies by, and then they’re fed by the food they helped harvest – usually for the week (hopefully they like salad). As the 2012 summer apprentice here at Townside – a newbie in Silver City – I’ve been able to meet new folks every week, learn about town culture and hot spots, including little-known trails and oases in the surrounding Gila Wilderness that I couldn’t have known from the map or forest service; its priceless. Working in the field with CSA members, community members and friends of the farm another type of community is formed, bonds are made, information and inspiration shared. For the people, being in organic fields together is socially, physically and spiritually healing. For the farm, it’s community supporting agriculture – supporting a healthy local food system.
It does not go without saying that CSA farming requires functional communications skills and finesse in working with shareholders’ unique needs. People are people, and miscommunication is inevitable. Some people just don’t pick up their shares sometimes, I don’t understand why. Others come at odd unspecified hours a week before shareholder pickup begins looking for grubs. How do you get it across to that shareholder who grew up techno-dazed in a city that avocados don’t grow in Vermont, and the Watermelons take 100 days to ripen? It’s important for both farmer and shareholder be clear of their agreements; each needs to know up front what to expect, what’s expected and what to do, when and why.
Bringing food to the community is a sacred contract, but a contract nonetheless. Silver City’s local Townside Farm requires shareholders to read, comprehend, and sign a membership agreement, which clearly outlines the agreements and expectations both ways, including what to do if you forget to pick up your share that day, and that shares will vary in size, weight and variety depending on the time of the season. It’s been said that CSA farms are as varied as the shareholders that buy in. Thus, its important to talk to the farmer and get to know the operation if you’re considering buying a seasonal share; and that’s what this model is all about: Reconnecting people with the source of their food and reestablishing the sacred relationship with the land and the people who grow food on it.
Before this post gets too long, I’d better end it. Sorry. If you want more juicy details you’ll just have to get involved with your local CSA farm.
To find a CSA farm near you, try an internet search of “CSA Farm Directory” in your Region.
Or, try the directory at http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ -one of the largest directories of CSA’s with over 4,000 listed nation-wide.
Lastly, check out this great 3-minute video made by the Land Stewardship Project: “Community Supported Argirculture: What to expect when you join a farm”