Community Supported (or Shared) Agriculture is one of the most exciting movements of our time. It affords us a share of a local harvest - food that is as fresh as it gets. It also allows us to contribute to a system of recovery from harmful agricultural practices of the past century.
Members sign up during the winter or early spring. The fees run from $200 to $500 per season. This fee is based on the expenses of running a farm divided by the number of members. In return for the fee, each member receives approximately 10-20 pounds of food per week. Members share the cost and the risks (and, in some CSAs, the work), as well as the benefits of whatever the farm produces that season. Shares are picked up at the farm or at a pre-determined local delivery site.
CSAs began in Japan in the 1960s when a group of women formed a direct-buying group with local farmers in order to "put the farmer's face on the food" ( "teikei") and ensure the quality and economy of the food source. Today that buying club - called the Seikatsu Club - serves 230,000 households.
In the United States, the movement began in the mid-1980s. Today we have well over 1,000 CSAs in North America, mostly in the northeast.
CSA members typically enjoy pick-your-own crops, a farm stand, special events like member picnics or herb walks, as well as a weekly newsletter with interesting folklore, gardening tips, harvest news, and delicious recipes. For more recipes - and you may need more in years when there's a bumper crop - go to www.recipesource.com
For a list of farms in your area, contact the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (www.nal.usda.gov/afsic), Local Harvest (www.localharvest.org), FoodRoutes (www.foodroutes.org), or the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey (www.nofanj.org).
If you live in the New York Metro area, you can connect with a farm through Just Food (www.justfood.org). If you'd like help in bringing a CSA to your neighborhood, Just Food also offers a starter kit that contains a recruiting checklist, sample member agreement forms, and payment guidelines.
You can also contact: www.csacenter.org.