Five Good Reasons to Support Local Family Farms with a CSA

There’s over a foot of snow outside my door but its time to start thinking about vegetables! Not just the seeds to plant before the last frost (when I can find the ground again), but March and April are also the months to sign up for a CSA.

For those not in the know here, a CSA is like a subscription for vegetables and more. Usually a CSA supports a single farm, but sometimes it is provided by a group of farms instead. CSAs have a lot of value for both consumers and for farmers, too.  The biggest benefit to a farm is that your down payment for the season’s subscription gives the farmer income he or she can count on to get the land planted and survive the season.

CSAs support real farms.

Not the names on food labels that imply a single farm, but an actual family farm. The number of family farms steadily declined for decades, in fact the number fell by half in the span between the 1950s and 1970s with the rise of corporate farming. Latest statistics show — for the first time in decades — a four percent rise in the number of family farms. Part of that growth has been made possible by the CSA model. In 1990 there were an estimated 60 CSAs operating. Today, there are closer to 1,500 CSAs.

CSAs often practice organic or sustainable agriculture

With the unique model of direct-to-consumer and the localized scale of a CSA farm, farmers can better balance income for the farm with the costs of organic and sustainable growing methods. This results in healthier food for your family as well as a healthier environment in your community.

Know your farmer, know your food

We read some pretty grim headlines daily on food recalls. What’s striking about them most is the number of people who can be sickened across the entire country from a single recalled item. Why? Basically, this occurs because our food system is very centralized. A single contaminated batch of produce or meat is mixed with non-contaminated product at a central facility, then shipped to many states at once. With a CSA, the food is grown in your community and goes directly from the farmer to you. The farmer and his or her family eat the same food you are eating. You can, and should, also visit your farm in person — many CSAs offer u-pick or time for their subscribers to help harvest the crop.

Your food dollars stay in your own community

The impact of buying local actually doubles each dollar you spend for your local economy. Think about it like this, if you buy an apple imported from New Zealand at the store, the money you spend goes to the farm, distributors, retail chain, and then perhaps a tiny bit to the store franchisee in your community. Buy that same apple from a local farmer and all of that money provides him income he will in turn spend in your local economy.

You are supporting diversity

One of the reasons my family has stuck with a CSA for over a decade now is that “my farm” grows amazing food. Foods of a quality and variety that I can’t find in a grocery store — not even a high end one. Often, CSA farms pride themselves on heirloom varieties that they grow and source rarer seed stock from organic seed companies. Thanks to our farm, we’ve tried everything from watermelon radishes and purple carrots to divinely sweet Cherokee Purple tomatoes to even edible “weeds” like purslane that packs more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green.

The diversity doesn’t just happen in the fields, either. CSAs have brought more diversity to farmers, not just farms. Our CSA is staffed entirely by women — a growing trend in organic and sustainable farming.

Further, small scale local farms also support cultural diversity in my community, some of them even growing their culture’s traditional foods like sweet potato leaves (no, it’s not part of the nightshade family!), Asian long beans, lemon grass and fiery Thai chiles. A truly unique CSA program in my community is called New Roots for Refugees. The farmers are all part of a special program that assists refugees with land, tools, education and transportation support to help them achieve economic independence.  In fact, the CSA model is often used to create economic opportunity for those who need it most.

This next posts in this Spring CSA series will cover the types of CSAs available, and how to know if a CSA is right for you.

Beth Bader is the author of The Cleaner Plate Club: Over 100 Recipes for Real Food Your Kids Will Love. You can find her recipes and food musings at her blog Ex-expatriates Kitchen.