Thursday, February 26, 2009

Community Supported Agriculture

Community supported agriculture
In Stuffed and Starved, Checking out of Supermarkets, the last few pages focus on an alternative to the supermarket that we depend on so readily for the food we survive on and much more these days. Two of the solutions that Raj patel mentions are Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s) and Farmers markets. A Community Supported Agriculture consists of a contract between the farmer and the consumer and entails a weekly supply of food delivered to the consumer based on whatever is in season at that time. Members of CSA’s pay a yearly fee which covers farm costs such as operating costs, seeds, fertilizers, water, equipment maintenance etc and in return receive a portion of the crop yield from that season, realizing and agreeing to the risks of weather and bad harvests. Patel mentions that although CSA’s are a good way to reconnect with the producer of the food and decrease the path that the food takes before it gets to your mouth, they don’t necessarily create fair wages for the workers. Farmers markets hold a similar theory in which local farmers all bring their food to a common location usually weekly and sell it to the public.

I think that these two options as alternatives to our destructive supermarket system are very promising and if made more widespread could solve a lot of problems. There have been an increasing number of CSA’s around our nation since the 1950’s when there were only 50. In Minnesota, a Community Supported Agriculture called Fresh Earth Farms serves to our local population and grows fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers including 30 varieties of tomatoes, 10 varieties of potatoes and 10 of garlic. There are over 150 fruits and vegetables grown. Fresh Earth Farms offers a FruitShare, a MeatShare, a CheesesShare, a CoffeeShare, and a WinterShare for storage during the winter. A one person share is $275 while a four person share reaches $845 for one year. This is very cheap considering a family of four spends around $100 on groceries per week! This summer, I am traveling to Hawaii to take part in an experience called WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I will live there for a month (May to June) working for a farm that grows green tea, fruits (pineapple, mangoes, etc..) and vegetables. In exchange for my labor I will receive room and board for the whole time I am there. The diet is completely farm based and every weekend there is a farmers market in the local town where everyone brings food to share. This type of experience is very common in Hawaii and WWOOF has locations in over 40 countries worldwide. If the general public realized these benefits and committed to this way of agriculture, our food system could prosper. Locally grown food, distributed to a local community, creates a tight knit and sustainable economic and social system. When everyone agrees to a cooperative and accepts the ups and downs that potentially could change but knowing that they are in it together, less destruction and tainted economic and social issues will arise.


  1. Reading through this post, and then looking at the example CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model of Fresh Earth Farms, made me consider the question of why do the majority of people use the supermarket versus a CSA in some shape or form. I spent some time looking through the Fresh Earth Farms website to inform myself about the practical application of how a CSA works. From what I have understood, the farm requires an upfront payment for the number of shares your family will require. This makes sense as a farm in general has a large lag time between input costs and revenue from the finished product goods. So for the example family of four, purchasing four shares to the farm would cost $845, for 19 weeks of produce. If this same family of 4 were to try to live from the fruits of the CSA they would have to buy at least 11 shares of food, and then during the summer this family would have to preserve some of these products to be able to live off of the farm production in the winter months. This would cost this same family $2175, or $42.83 a week for a full year's supply of fresh produce. Yet at the same time, this family would have to turn half of that fresh produce into preserved food to store for consumption during the months the farm is not producing food. In contrast, the family would still be able to obtain the same fresh produce, through out the winter months from the supermarket. One must also consider the fact that the farm only sells produce and the rest of the family's food intake must be purchased elsewhere, either through the various share programs, or directly from a supermarket. Purchasing meat, and fruit through the share programs with the Fresh Earth Farms, is an option but again it becomes expensive, with a cost of $475 per monthly share. A family of four could purchase one share a month for $475, but that would result in not a whole lot of meat for consumption for the month. It would also raise the weekly cost of food to about $160.75. If purchasing meat and produce through this system the family of four would spend about $60 more a week than if they only shopped in a grocery store. At the same time, this would also only be for the 19 weeks that consists of the harvest season. Food would also have to be purchased at a supermarket for the remaining weeks in the year, as fresh produce would not be able to be produced locally.
    While the CSA system has some advantages, namely as the website puts it, "tastier and fresher" food, for the time when the farm is able to produce, there is still the issue of what to eat when the farm is not able to produce fresh produce. In many parts of the world the growing season is not long enough or the soil is not fertile enough to produce enough food for the population that lives in the surrounding area. Taking the 1.2 acres of land to support one person's current diet in America (, we can make some simple calculations of how much land it would take to feed people in particular regions. Lets take a look at New York City with a population of about 8.3 million people ( This would require 15562 square miles of land to feed the entire population that resides in just the city. To put that number into perspective it would require that Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island all be cleared to become farmland. This is a massive amount of area and all the people living there would also have to be displaced and moved elsewhere or work the land and their needs would also have to be met by turning more land into farm land. Transportation problems will not be solved as food produced North of what is now Boston would have to be transferred to support the populace of New York City.
    This is not to say that the idea of Community Supported Agriculture, is not a viable alternative to the supermarket, but to say that the simple logistics of our current society makeup make it impossible to practically implement the idea of Community Supported Agriculture. I can therefore only conclude that because of our current form of societal organization the supermarket and all of the shortcomings that come along with that type of food distribution, is the only way to sustain the population distribution we have chosen as a people.

  2. Fascinating discussion here. Both JV and Anton make excellent points. I suspect the solution to the problems with our current food system is going to involve a combination of many different types of food production and provisioning. Maybe CSAs during the summer when it is practical, supermarkets with some modifications (like more emphasis on sustainably produced foods) during the winter, and maybe new innovations, like community-based food preservation centers, so people can freeze, dry and can food even if they don't have the tools at home.

    There's a really good discussion about the land availability issue that Anton brings up here:

    A study from Cornell suggests that a vegetarian diet only requires .44 acre to feed a person. So cutting back on meat when possible might make local food options more viable. See here: