Monday, June 25, 2012

Benefits of the CSA

Building Community and Eating Healthy

Everyday I walk by the same poster hanging in the middle school cafeteria where I work; a farmer working in his field with, “Get to know the people who feed you...”, written in large white letters above his head. At first, I optimistically viewed this as a step in the right direction; the school receives its food from  a company that is trying to incorporate fresh, local food and minimize transportation of their products. The benefits of this change include a reduction of carbon emissions, along with healthier food that does not contain the synthetic pesticides and preservatives found in produce grown on a large industrial farms. While I was very pleased with this information, I quickly realized that the majority of the students pay little attention to the poster’s message, and in the end, couldn’t care less about where their food comes from. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones.

There are plenty of reasons why most people don’t take the time to think about where and how their food was grown, raised, or made. Convenience is a necessity in most people's fast paced lives. That is exactly what a supermarket promises. We are used to being able to purchase almost any produce we want, whenever we want. Strawberries don’t grow in New England’s bitter winters, yet I can go to any Stop N’ Shop supermarket and purchase them whenever I want. This accessibility is commonplace for most people, and to take that away would create a sense of consumer chaos. But no matter how important year-round variety is to the consumer, there must be some kind of change in the way we produce, distribute, and consume our food.

We rely on a system that depends heavily on the trans-national, as well as international, transportation of products. Intensive farming and transportation of large crops are extremely environmentally degrading. Along with the excessive use of fossil fuels to transport goods, large industrial farms often use monocropping to get the most product with the least effort. This system of food production minimizes the diversity of the farm in order to standardize the growing techniques. The pesticide intensive process has been linked to large scale soil degradation and pollution of local water sources.

While this information has not been enough to elicit a change in the way we produce our food, with peak oil production at hand, it may not have to. Put simply, the fossil fuel dependent system we currently have will no longer work when there is no more fuel to be used. Whether we are ready or not, change will be forced upon us. To make the transition easier, we should be looking for alternatives now instead of waiting until it is too late.

The answer lies in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA is a system in which farmers offer “shares” of their produce to the local community. The people in the community usually purchase the shares in the off-season, and receive their weekly share of produce during the harvest months. There is no guaranteed amount of produce for each shareholder. Instead the shareholders all get an equal amount of the harvest set aside for them each week. When the harvest is plentiful, farmers have enough to give to each shareholder their weekly amount with some left over to sell at farmers markets or local grocery stores.

 In most parts of the United States, “your local grocer”, has become an obsolete phrase. Instead of having local produce in a neighborhood grocery store, almost everything is imported to a large superstore. This may be convenient for the average person, but it takes away from the livelihood of the community. Buying local produce through CSA programs allows customers to converse with farmers in their community, learn about the processes used to grow their food, and support the mission of a small family owned farm. It also promotes the feeling of community that has been lost in most places.

Supporting local economy is another reason why Community Supported Agriculture should be more prevalent. Spending money at large corporate owned supermarket takes revenue away from the community. However, buying from local farmers creates a circulation of money within the community, thus supporting area development and sustainability.

Allandale Farm in Brookline, MA is a great example of CSA. Located right outside of Boston, Allandale farm offers shares from $350-$600 for their organically grown vegetables, cage-free eggs, and even flowers. Along with each week’s share comes a friendly newsletter that includes information and recipes for the different produce received and some insight into daily life on the farm. The farm also has a farmstand which sells more local goods including honey, breads, pies, jams, pasta sauces, and of course freshly picked fruits and vegetables. Starter plants and valuable gardening information is available at the farm’s garden center and children can learn about farm life through the farm’s informational summer programs. The success of this small farm shows the great potential of local food production.

Community Supported Agriculture is one possible alternative to our current food production system. It is less dependent on transportation and therefore does not rely on large amounts of fossil fuels. It supports the economy and livelihood of local communities and most importantly helps preserve small family owned farms. While completely converting our food production system is easier said than done, small steps can be taken to start the process. Supporting local organic farms, such as Allandale, is definitely a big step in the right direction.

Bridget Coleman