I talk a lot about shopping local and supporting community businesses like a farmer’s market or an independent health food store because this is where a person can make her money really count. Shopping local is like an investment in where you live. All your hard-earned money goes directly—or nearly directly–into the hands of the people you may even call your neighbors. It’s the time-tested axiom of thinking global and acting local.
For me, the greatest of these investments has been my membership in Daydream Farms CSA program. CSA stands for Community-Supported Agriculture, and its history in this country dates from the mid 80s. According to the very-cool-for-farmers website Harvest Hand, Robyn Van En “was the organic farmer who founded the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in the United States and applied the CSA concept at her farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts, Indian Line Farm. In the 30 years since Indian Line Farm was founded, CSAs have become understood and adopted by thousands of communities around the world, but when Robyn Van En was pioneering the model in the mid-1980s, it was revolutionary.”
My CSA is a business agreement between Daydream Farm owner Bruce Haas and me (along with several other of my market friends), in which I supply investment money at the beginning of the market season so that Bruce can have cash to run his farm. We decide how much my up-front investment is going to be, but some CSA’s have set prices for half a season to a full season worth of produce and other items. For this investment, I get a little discount on what I buy, which is already reasonable beyond belief, in my mind.
I “spend” this investment at the market each Saturday, until I’ve spent it all the way down. Then, I reinvest! And so it goes through about September, when we turn the agreement around and I begin buying on credit until a few weeks after the market ends (maybe mid-November) and Bruce is no longer making deliveries to town. At that point, I write him a check, based entirely on my calculations, and send it his way with warm wishes for the family, happy holidays, and plans to see him early next spring. Now he has money to order seed and start the next year. Try that kind of agreement with the superstore down the street.
Not all CSA’s work the same. A lot of farmers deliver boxes to their members part or all of the year, ensuring variety and quality but not necessarily the ability to pick and choose produce. Others offer “deals” for labor. A friend of mine has such an agreement with a local farm, and she takes her son with her to work on the farm a couple of days a month for a win-win—she invests in the farmer, gets great organic produce and meat products at a discount, and introduces the next generation to the importance and bounty of local, organic farm production.
Interested in a CSA near you? There’s bound to be one. Check out LocalHarvest.org to find it. Invest in the future—yours, family farming’s, and the Earth’s. Big corporate CEOs will never miss the income. Really.
Learn more about extraordinary Robyn Van En in the book Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, 2nd Edition. Available in storefronts and online and, most importantly, your public library.