Published: April 6, 2022 By

woman on a farm holding lettuceWhat is community supported agriculture?

The term CSA, short for community supported agriculture, originated in Japan during the 1970s. Japanese philosopher Teruo Ichiraku started warning local communities that large scale farms were using dangerous pesticides. Around the same time, a local farmer named Yoshinori Kaneko experienced an abundant season of produce that led him to realize that his farm could feed more than just his family. Both men’s philosophies eventually intertwined, and the concept of community shares were introduced. The first trial of the CSA system happened when 10 Japanese families agreed to pay the farmer a sum of money to receive rice, wheat and vegetables. The definition of a CSA is outlined by the soil association as “a partnership between farmers and consumers where the responsibilities and rewards of farming are shared. CSA is a shared commitment to building a more local and equitable agricultural system, one that allows farmers to focus on good farming practices and still maintain productive and profitable farms.” Since established, CSAs have spread across the globe, appealing in many ways to both community members and farmers.

The problem with industrial agriculture

To further investigate the benefits of a CSA system, it is essential to address the most prominent food supplier in the United States, which is industrial agriculture. Industrial agriculture was promoted originally to decrease the number of farmers and increase the amount of factory workers after World War II. Today, these factory farms continue to operate under the two primary arguments that they are, one - cheaper from an economic standpoint, and two - the key to sustaining a growing population. 

  • Industrial agriculture, while mass produced, still is not properly sustaining the entire United States population, let alone the world. One in nine people are malnourished worldwide and 12.7% of people in the US experience food insecurity. 

  • The US participates in agricultural dumping, which is when cheaply produced grains are exported at a price cheaper than the price to produce. This practice not only puts farmers out of business in the United States but also disrupts other world agriculture markets. There is clear evidence that this practice raises poverty rates through unemployment and decreases crop diversity. Read more here.

  • In order to generate large yields of crops over a short period of time, pesticides are sprayed over thousands of acres of land. Pesticides are toxic to humans and animals; runoffs and biochemical buildups make them extremely dangerous to our health. Pesticides and herbicides create a dangerous feedback loop as they stop working over time, and then stronger pesticides are needed in order to be effective. 

  • Due to government gifted tax breaks to large scale farms, local communities are suffering because the government is paying for pesticidal use. This damages any local communities' housing prices and physical health. They are paying taxes to have their community damaged. A study from 2005 found a loss of  $10 billion in environmental and public health costs. This includes higher obesity rates, polluted drinking water and more.

  • There are also job shortages tied with industrial farming, as the need for human employment decreases with the advancement of large pesticide spraying machines. 

  • Practices such as monocropping, when only one crop is grown across a vast area, are responsible for a decrease in biodiversity. Animals, plants and fungi cannot survive on one type of plant and thus are forced to relocate. 

Ecological impact

  • A key part of a CSA is a diverse selection of crops. Plants with different root types increase the fertility of the soil in which they grow.

  • CSA members have lowered their ecological footprint. They are less reliant on fossil fuels, produce less pollution and cut back on chemical pesticidal use. 

  • The localization of food also uses less water.

  • CSAs support biodiversity because farmers tend to cater to the ecosystem they are in. They grow crops suitable for the climate and organisms to flourish in. Local farmers respect the land.

  • Pest control is one worry that people have. Luckily, the best pest disposable systems are already in place in the ecosystem. Ecosystems naturally balance out - that's how they thrive. If a farmer grows produce suitable for the ecosystem, pests will not be a problem.

Advantages for farmers

  • Large scale factory farms receive tax breaks and permission from the government to use as many pesticides as that farm sees fit to produce optimal produce. In turn, these farms end up causing extreme damage to the local communities in terms of pollution and falling values of property.

  • As more of these factory farms have expanded, more have closed down. Being a part of a CSA helps farmers get the proper funds to expand their land while helping the community. 

  • Local farmers already have to pay higher production costs, and sometimes farmers can’t even afford to pay themselves a salary. A CSA ensures farmer prosperity and helps them with the hefty taxes the US government implements.

  • Due to the rarity of farmers in the US, the few that are left form deep connections with each other and the land. Farmers that have a CSA system tend to communicate with other farmers around the area. They are all aware of each others' specific situation and grow crops with mindfulness of each other.

Advantages for the community

  • Consumers can be more aware of how their food is produced.

  • Community supported agriculture also saves money because shipping and processing costs are eliminated from the price of the produce. The food will also be at peak flavor and ripeness. There will also be a more diverse spread of crops each season. 

  • Members enrich their cultural heritage by learning farming practices and techniques. 

  • Locally grown food is more trustworthy than organic food which is oftentimes still used with pesticides. 

  • The idea of “shared risk” is really what breeds a sense of community. When a crop does fail (a very rare occurrence) every person in the share is equally affected. The lack of disparities and inequalities ends up building the community up as people work together to find another alternative. The negative result becomes more manageable as people band together. 

  • For the most part, when we go to a supermarket, most vegetables and fruits are available all season long. This is because produce items are grown all over the world and shipped to large supply chain grocery stores. The natural way of growing harvest is to work within the seasons by growing and harvesting at certain points of the year. When consumers unpack a CSA box, they get the luxury of naturally grown vegetables that helps consumers form a connection with the land and the seasons. It helps them appreciate the environment more.

Local CSA Options

Around the Boulder county area, there are many opportunities to buy a share of community agriculture stock. Here is a brief listing of family-owned farms that grow varieties of produce and goods:

Aspen Moon Farm LLC, Longmont

  • Seasonal vegetables, all USDA certified organic

  • Organic flower farms

  • Option to purchase seeds and plants and get instructions on how to grow them at home

Benevolence Orchard, Boulder

  • Picking vegetables “buffet style”

  • Mushroom shares

  • Honey harvested straight from the orchard

Bonavida Growers, Longmont

  • Arugula, broccoli, cabbage and turnips

  • Has single person, couple and family share options

Left Hand Wool Company, Niwot

  • Raises crossbred sheep and llamas that are grass fed

  • Wool is certified as naturally grown

  • Natural dyes made from plants

Ollin Farms, Longmont

  • Seasonal vegetables, fostering community and providing education

They have a weekly drop off at CU Graduate and Family Housing too!

Final Thoughts

On a global level, findings show that the close relationships between farmers and members of a CSA are organized around the values of food quality, locality and respect for the environment. The systems we have in place right now do not feed the world adequately yet still contribute to obesity rates. Feeding the world is a problem stemming from the need for power and control, not food availability. The food we grow right now is enough to feed a population of 10 billion, yet 1/9 people are starving in the world. Sustainable farming depends on working within the climate barriers and human-made barriers already set in place. Studies have found that within the right circumstances, crops grown on local farms can produce the same and sometimes even over the amount chemical crops produce. So as a community, let's all support our CSA farmers for a better future.

Check out this video of CSAs from PBS