Produce to people: Living off local organic farms through CSA

Published 10:16 pm Monday, June 17, 2013

This week, summer is officially here, and in addition to farmers markets blossoming in produce, the power of direct farm subscriptions through joining a local CSA is here.

Don’t know yet what a CSA is? Fear not. Today’s column can inform and connect you with Polk County’s local organic CSA.

The idea of Community Supported Agriculture has Japanese roots in an innovative system of pre-arranged, pre-paid produce delivery known as teikei in the early 1970s. Teikei – which means “cooperation,” or in this context “food with a farmer’s face” – started as an initiative of a few families near Kobe who were concerned with pesticide usage on their food.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

These folks later formed the early Japanese Organic Agriculture Association.

European-style, subscription produce “share” programs also began around this same time. CSA did not reach the U.S. until the mid-1980s when a farmer named Robyn Van En was introduced to the idea from a Swiss friend. I visited Robyns’ Indian Line Farm in Western Massachusetts three years ago with the Saluda Community Land Trust and through a grant from the Polk Community Foundation.

This is where America first experimented with the idea of CSA in a pre-paid apple orchard share. The idea proved a success, and Robyn’s farm share program later grew to include vegetables – which make up the foundation of most American CSA programs.

Why call veggie allotments “shares?” Well, CSA works as a type of investment: you pay for your “share” in the farm prior to or at the very beginning of a CSA share season.

While many CSA farmers have other sources of income beyond their member base, CSA farmers know at the outset their profit and production targets. Income is received when it’s needed most and it acts as a guarantee for payment when Mother Nature is unforgiving.

In this way, CSAs operate as risk-sharing ventures – if a late season hail storm wipes out an early spring lettuce crop, or heaven forbid a plague of locusts should strike – Farmers John and Jane will still survive the season, and you just might miss out on some peas.

In the case of Polk County’s CSA program at Manna Cabanna, up to six local organic farms source in so that the risk is reduced nearly effectively to zero percent loss to the consumer.

What you get in return is a sense of investment in your regional farm economy and healthy, locally grown produce “with a farmers face on it.”

Some CSAs, including Manna Cabanna, offer supplemental shares that may help reduce a household’s dependence on the grocery store. Common additions to veggies are eggs, milk, cheese, breads, meat, flowers, fruit and even locally-milled and roasted grains or coffee. It also offers cooperative buying options throughout the season with other farms who specialize in what one farm cannot, like micro-greens, mushrooms and fruits.

Contact for sign-up information and pick-up in three central locations in Saluda, Tryon and Landrum weekly now through October.