Community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are becoming more and more popular in Canada, and it is our belief that this model of agriculture is vital part of local food systems.
But - what is community supported agriculture, anyways? Many folks aren't sure and/or they are unsure of what the true benefits are (both for farmers + eaters!), so we thought we'd take some time to share with you a bit about CSA programs, and specifically, what these programs mean to our little farm nestled in the mountains of Rossland, BC.
CSA programs started to take shape in North America back in the 1980s and today there are more than 13,000 CSA programs operating throughout the US + Canada. Most simply, a CSA program is a food production and distribution system that directly connects farmers and consumers. Consumers purchase a "share" of a farms harvest in advance, and in turn, they receive a "share" of the crops as they are harvested throughout the specified season.
Taking this definition a little deeper we learn that CSA programs are in fact a partnership between farmers and eaters as they enter into an agreement to share both reward and risk inherent in just about any growing season. The (main) shared reward is a superior quality food product, and the shared risk is the understanding that some crops may be lost, either partially or entirely, for some reason (often out of control of the farmer, ie. weather / nature).
The rewards for both farmers and eaters go deeper than just sharing a bounty of nutritious crops. Let's take a look at how we all benefit from this mutual partnership:
- A defined share of the specified seasons crops (ie. a weekly or bi-weekly $25 veggie box)
- Receive the freshest food from your farm, typically hand-harvested the day you receive it
- Receive greater access to high demand crops (CSA customers typically get the 'goods' before other customers, ie. farmers' markets, etc)
- Typically receive extra value in your box, ie. enjoy a bit of a discount on premium food
- Enjoy a more personal relationship with the farmer(s) who grow and raise your food, which almost always directly translates into a greater understanding of how that food is produced, what farming practices are used and valued (and why), and often times you as a CSA customer get to witness your food being grown and raised first hand through farm visits or special events
- Typically you will receive a higher quality of food because almost all CSA farmers favour organic, sustainable and/or regenerative farming practices and strive to produce the most nutrient-dense foods possible
- Your knowledge of local food systems will almost inevitably increase if you take full advantage of the program you have subscribed to. To counter that, you will also likely learn more about the industrial food system and how this system can affect food, particularly its nutritional content.
- Learn how to prepare and eat foods you may not normally eat. CSA programs typically include all crops a farm has to offer at some point in time, regardless if it is a food you are familiar with. Embrace the learning opportunity!
- Enjoy a consistent, reliable healthy diet. If you receive a big box of nutritious veggies each week that you have invested in, chances are you're going to gobble them up and become healthier because of it!
- Often CSA programs offer exclusive events to CSA members like farm tours, work days and/or harvest celebrations. Use these events to learn even more about the food you are eating and the people working hard to bring that food to your plate.
- Feel good knowing that more food dollars are staying within your community! Farms who run CSA programs are more apt to support other local businesses when they need supplies, materials, labour etc.
- Help contribute to the reduction of food waste. Farms who run CSA programs are able to plan better knowing they have at least a portion of their market secured, and therefore will typically produce less food waste throughout the year.
- CSA programs are truly farm to table, which means you get to realize a reduction in your carbon footprint because the produce you are eating will be travelling a very short distance rather than thousands of miles to reach your plate.
- Earn pre-season capitol when it's really needed while securing a guaranteed market for their crops
- Gain the ability to better plan their growing season and their crops knowing that a certain percentage has already been purchased
- With this pre-season revenue farmers are able to make purchases that significantly affect the success of the upcoming growing season. There are a ton of expenses that begin as early as January in any given year, and this revenue supports a farms need to dish out a lot of money when revenue is typically very low at that time of year.
- Some of the things farms will typically use this CSA revenue for: seeds + plants, compost + soil amendments, infrastructure upgrades or needs, tools, materials needed for the season, and farm labour (to name a few things)
- Farmers take pride in knowing their customers and building their relationships to a point where CSA members often become friends or part of the "family". These relationships are deeply valued and vitally important to the success of the farm, and the become something that farmers rely upon to grow each year.
- Gain motivation and encouragement through the support offered by the community. Farming is not easy by any means, at any point of the year. Knowing that your community has your back and supports your endeavor to grow the best food possible for them can, and usually does, mean the world.
So, translating all of this CSA talk to our little farm. . . . how have our community supported agriculture helped us to date?
We have just finished our 2018-19 Winter CSA program. This program lasted 12 weeks and saw us growing and delivering nutrient-dense, delicious microgreens to 35 houses every week. Our awesome members of this program paid for their share up front back in October / November and because of their generous support and investment we were able to purchase the required materials to build a $2200 shelving unit to grow all of these greens. Not only did this $2200 investment allow us to feed fresh greens through the winter to 35 families, it allowed us to provide fresh greens to 5 local restaurants and a local retail outlet (therefore feeding even more of the community!). Without this upfront investment we would not have been able to feed anybody, let alone grow our business to a point where we have now expanded and secured wholesale customers who will continue to support our business throughout the upcoming growing season and through years to come.
Our 2019 summer CSA program is now 75% sold out, and through the incredible support we have received for this program so far and the financial investments we have received this early in the year we are realizing our dream of some of our priority projects for 2019: a new wash and pack station, a new cooler system, our second greenhouse, and bulk loads of organic compost that will feed our soil and our crops (to name a few things). Investing in all of these things will allow us to make improvements at the farm that will see our production dramatically increase in the summer and fall. . . and all the way through next winter. This means more good food for our CSA customers, our local restaurant partners and the community as a whole. Its a win-win for everyone!
Community Supported Agriculture will always be a vital program at our farm. Our winter CSA was so incredibly successful and we received such amazing feedback from our members (many of whom have signed on to the summer program as well) that we are already planning next winter's program (which will be even bigger and better!).
We are so grateful for the support we receive from this wonderful community, and especially from our CSA members. These folks believe in us and our big goals to provide the best food possible year round and they believe in the importance of supporting us when we need it. We feel humbled, and excited. So so excited! To know that there are so many folks in our community who value food the way we do is our driving motivation on a daily basis. After all, food is our fuel, and we can't figure out what could be more important than that!
So a massive shout out to our CSA members who we value and love, and a great big welcome to our prospective CSA members who are planning to join our growing farmily.
We hope this blog post has inspired you to embrace the amazing benefits of CSA programs, whether that is through our farm, through one of our amazing farmer friends in the Kootenay region (if you are looking for a CSA farm outside of Rossland, reach out, we know many!!!) or through a farm even farther away.
May we all enjoy an epic growing season ahead full of superior-quality delicious vegetables, great friends, and new/returning farmily.
To learn more about our 2019 Summer CSA program and to secure one of the remaining spots please visit: www.happyhillsfarm.ca/csa