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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

CSA: What is it, and why should I care?

We have enjoyed some pleasant weather recently, and it makes me think on the coming growing season, and the abundant locally produced fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, cut flowers and everything else available at farmers markets. However, there is another way to get some of these goodies for you and yours, and that is through CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

A farm-product subscription service, with a twist

CSA members pay an up-front amount to their farmer prior to the growing season, which allows the farmer to buy seed, equipment, and other inputs, as well as pay their staff, without waiting until first harvest to generate revenue. In exchange, CSA members receive a “share” of the of the harvest-season bounty on a consistent schedule, usually weekly or bi-weekly, for several months. Generally, the cost breaks down to something between $15-40 per week, depending on the products offered. Some people spend more than that each week on coffee!

CSA members assume part of the risk of farming

Frost, drought, hail, crop failure, a global pandemic, or whatever the season sends. However, members also share in the reward, such as a summer-long bumper crop of tomatoes! Farmers that have been offering a CSA for a few growing seasons are generally skilled at their craft to be able consistently deliver quality product to their customers, even through challenging times. Many CSA operators and customers establish close personal relationships as a result of mutual support.

As important today as it ever has been

Last year, when COVID-19 emerged, there were runs on grocery stores. Staple foods were gone. People turned local, to farmers markets, CSA operators, practically anybody growing anything, and were well-received by producers who met an urgent demand for local food. Vendors of local food are now as popular as ever. However, many of their income streams fluctuate wildly during the year and can be hit-or-miss, such as farmers markets, wholesale account and roadside stand purchases.

According to Penn State Extension, CSA requires marketing, detailed planning of harvest, product delivery, customer communication, and more from the farmer. However, CSA represents a financially predictable income stream, a rarity in the world of farming, and is oftentimes a critical piece of annual farm finance for producers who use this model.

Consider subscribing to a CSA today

There are many producers in the Bloomington-Normal area who offer this service—just get online and search! Some may be full for the year, but others may have open spots through April, as harvest season approaches. Before subscribing, consider asking the farmer to connect you with a member from the previous season who can answer any questions you have. Together, we can support an economy that produces locally what is consumed locally.