The burning question at EcoFarm "Is the CSA movement sustainable?" was moot and not really that burning of a question. Hey, wait a minute- I thought using the word "sustainable" in the company of eco-farmers warranted being pinned with the scarlet letter on your cowboy plaid?
Rio Gozo Farm Ventura CSA (under 100 members) participated as a panelist this year at EcoFarm alongside Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm (1,200 members), Julia Wiley of Mariquita Farm (can't remember how many members), and UC Davis graduate student, Jessica Beckett (no members, nor any cowboy plaid). The speakers stayed away from the "S" word with a ten foot pole and veered toward the questions- how do we define a CSA and how do we retain members?
What is a CSA? It is important to define CSA so you know how to choose your Community Supported Agriculture program. There are farms who give the entire bounty of produce that the land provides solely to it's share holders, farms that diversify their market by running a box share program in addition to selling to restaurants and/or larger distributors, and/or farmers' markets. There are big food aggregators, like Farm Fresh to You, and smaller ones, such as Plow to Porch, who buy wholesale from farms and plop a weekly share on their subscribers' porch in a CSA box with a nifty newsletter and some recipes, and there are 12,000 member CSA's who smack of Sysco or FSA, basically large distributors sourcing for online ordering and delivery much like what we used to call a g r o c e r y store. Nonetheless,"CSA", like "sustainable", has turned into another one of those limp words- you know the ones I'm thinking of; let's say them together- "Green, Fresh, Natural". These may be your guiding words to help you sift through the options; but if you see them in reference to a CSA, they probably ain't growing the food.
Now, the question of holding onto memberships- there are a lot of farmers who worry about this because if CSA is how we stay farming, memberships matter. People are worried about attraction and retention- just like in any relationship, it's really about finding your people. John Fonteyn offered, "What attracts people to you is "you"- not what you can do for them. If you lose someone from your CSA to another type of program, the truth is, you never really had them- they weren't your peeps to begin with."
If you are interested in hearing the full discussion you can purchase the tapes through this link:
This video is a good CSA primer. Pass it on to any friends on the fence about joining Community Supported Agriculture.
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