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Community Supported Agriculture verses Agriculture Supported Community

Posted Nov 17 2011 9:00am

By now, many many people know what CSA stands for, but in case you’ve missed it, it is “Community Supported Agriculture.”

CSA roots reach back more than 30 years to Japan where a group of women concerned about the increase in food imports and the corresponding decrease in the farming population initiated a direct growing and purchasing relationship between their group and local farms. This arrangement, called “teikei” in Japanese, translates to “putting the farmers’ face on food.” The concept traveled to Europe and America, where it was given the name “Community Supported Agriculture” at Indian Line Farm, Massachusetts in 1985.

In America, the differences between CSAs are as vast as the number of CSAs. While they are primarily vegetable-based, many offer fruits as well. Meat, cheese, and even grain/flour CSAs are in existence. Most CSAs have members sign up early, sometimes even the fall prior, while others have various payment plans, or account-balance-based structures. Some CSAs have hefty work requirements of members, while others do not have any. The list of differences goes on.

What CSAs all have in common, though, is a significant connection between farmers and consumers.

I argue, however, that perhaps we should be making a shift to calling them ASCs instead; Agriculture Supported Communities. With all the buzz about ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’, shouldn’t we be looking at ASC as a model?

There’s something that seems not-quite-right when some CSAs are delivering veggies all over Philadelphia, and pushing 60 to 100 miles from their home base to do it. There are farmers who are traveling 3 hours and more to sell at Philadelphia and New York City farmers’ markets. Please note I am not dissing these operations, just making a point. Personally, it seems somehow not-quite-right for me to be schlepping Fruit Shares to Horsham and Kutztown, each of which are 40 miles distant, or going to a farmers’ market 60 miles away.  It’s not that I don’t want those folks to get my fruit – not in the slightest – but now that ‘local’ and ‘CSA’ and ‘sustainable’ are gaining such momentum, I think we must watch out for how to encourage things to ‘travel’ in the right direction.

It wouldn’t make sense, after all, if a Lancaster-based CSA were delivering shares to Philly, while an urban or suburban Philly farm couldn’t sell all the shares it had available to sell. And although there are no other local Fruit Shares like ours available in the area at this time, if one did pop up near Kutztown but had to deliver shares to our own Chester County area, we’d be passing each other on delivery day. Sounds goofy, huh?  But that’s just what has happened as commodity agriculture grew. As a nation, we are exporting apples TO China, and importing apples FROM China. Where’s the sense in that? Same thing goes for all kinds of other crops and businesses.

So, what we need to be on the lookout for, and work towards, is making sure that things make sense. Work towards ASC: If you’re joining a CSA, choose one close to home. And then, as years pass, make sure it’s STILL the closest one to home. While I’d hate to say goodbye to long-term members of ours who live at somewhat of a distance, I would enjoy saying ‘hello’ to new members who live in our own county. While I’d be sad to leave some far-flung farmers’ markets that I’ve gone to for years, I’d be happy to supply my direct neighbors with food, knowing at the same time that other new farms are supplying the people I used to. Of course, new orchards are far and few between, as the development costs, in both time and expense, are so friggin’ high. But, new farms will come along if we all, as a community, can show that there is the need and desire for them.

In days gone by, we all practiced ASC. Little hamlets and small towns relied on their own neighborhood farmers to feed them. We are living in an environment so gosh-darned suited to agriculture that there is no reason why we cannot again practice ASC. But, of course, many people are still unaware of the concept of buying local, or may be unwilling to practice it.  They may think it too expensive or inconvenient. But such feelings and attitudes are changing; we’ve been watching it happen.

Community as a word has come to represent just about any group: Facebook friends, online gaming groups, etc. Community as a locale would be a great thing to bring back as its major definition. Imagine knowing personally your shoemaker, cheesemaker, electrical engineer, jelly maker, and farmer – because you lived near them, worked with them, and supported each other in business. I think we may be headed that way. ASC is one of the first steps.

ASC would really be teikei. But, we’d love to see things go further than that. Let’s really see the consumers’ faces, as well as the doctors’, the mailmans’, and yes, even the garbage collectors’. It takes all of us to build community.

Lisa Kerschner, Organic Farm Owner

Lisa Kerschner

Lisa and Ike Kerschner founded  North Star Orchard in 1992 on a 4-acre piece of leased property. Today they offer lovely orchard fruit, vegetables and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) to the local community. North Star goes to great measures to grow their produce as organically as possible on the East coast.

Lisa enjoys working on the farm, although she’s more occupied with keeping the farm business glowing through farmers’ market participation and managing the CSA. Meanwhile, she oversees the farm’s website, email, newsletters, and book-keeping.

Lisa’s life’s focus, in addition to the business, is that of homeschooling their son Jay. Reading, writing, and working on art projects are small pleasures that let her inner light shimmer.

PS, If you found this article interesting and want to hear more from us, please do hop on the mailing list…

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