Monday, April 27, 2009

What is the essence of CSA, yesterday and today?: Thoughts from a College of William and Mary student, Zoe Welch, about the CSA movement

Since its beginnings in New England in the early 1980’s, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has grown and developed in myriad, and sometimes surprising, ways. With influences from both European and Japanese alternative agriculture movements, CSA developed in the United States as a movement aimed at fostering a sustainable symbiosis between local food production and local economic and community systems. With direct influence from the European Biodynamic Movement, the original ideology of CSA emphasized holism in both philosophy and practice. Biodynamic agriculture espouses the view that the farm is to be treated as “a self-contained entity or organism.” [1]
Accordingly, one of the first identifiable leaders in the CSA Movement, Robyn Van En, created her Indian Line Farm CSA model with emphasis upon the benefits gained from the strengthening of spiritual relationships within the CSA schema. Van En’s ideology promoted the concept of the “core group,” a tightly-knit community of subscribers bound together by their commitment to their CSA farm, as an essential element to health in CSA operations. Broadly, it would seem that the initial CSA operations placed greater emphasis upon the idea of strong commitment and self-identification, both subscriber-to subscriber and subscriber-to-farm, as definitional of proper CSA ideology.
As importance was placed upon the necessity of both “spiritual commitment” and “operational practice” in constituting CSA, the original CSA models can be seen to have a great emphasis upon holism as a defining tenant. However, as CSA has developed over time, the emphasis upon holism and the necessary pairing of spirituality and growing methods within CSA ideology can be examined as a changing paradigm. Increasingly, it would seem that as more people become involved in the CSA Movement, and as more CSA models are tested and developed at more farms, that standards of acceptable constitutive CSA ideology are changing as well. What began as a one-model system for CSA practice now comprises numerous permutations and sub-permutations from that “original” standard CSA model. Among the CSA models now seen across the nation include: the free-choice model, multifarm CSA, cooperative CSA, pledge model, and the standard model. Additional definitional complications arise from the frequent hybridization between models, as well as the lack of a standard, third-party, classification system or source.
With these developments, a general trend can be noticed within the national CSA community—the increasing occurrence and acceptance of CSA programs undertaken as economic strategies. Of the growing numbers of CSA programs that have emerged in recent years, many more have been undertaken with a mindset that the economic element of CSA can be separated from the spiritual element of early CSA ideology. This is evidenced by the implementation of CSA programs alongside other such diversifying economic strategies as participation in farmer’s markets and selling to restaurants in a single farm’s operations.
Noting this development, many questions present themselves. How can we, as members of the CSA community understand these issues of “secularization” in the context of CSA ideology? Is there such a thing as “true” or “proper” CSA philosophy and practice? Is the assumption that original CSA ideology included elements of spirituality even a correct one to make? In a movement that has been characterized by its grass-roots empowerment and fluidity of standards, communication within this community is obviously the only way to elucidate the answers.
[1] Biodynamic Farming & Compost Preparation: Community Supported Agriculture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

2007 Census of Agriculture Results

This is the first year that the USDA generated a statistic relating to Community Supported Agriculture. They found that there were a total of 12,549 farms that 'marketed products through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)'. This number is based on the total number of farms in the US (for 2007)- 2,204,792. This means that less than 1 % of farms in the US are participating in a CSA arrangement. Also, it should be noted that the wording in the Census can be confusing. As far as we can tell, 12,549 is not representative of the actual number of CSA operations. The number represents how many farms, participated, in some way, in a CSA 'arrangement'. For instance, there could be a farm that runs and operates a CSA, but several other farms occasionally bring their product and market them through this CSA. The states above 1 % were: Maine (1.95 %), New Hampshire (2.09 %), Vermont (2.35 %), Connecticut (2.87 %), Rhode Island (2.71 %), Massachusetts (2.07 %), New York (1.00 %), Washington (1.11 %), California (1.18 %), Hawai'i (1.80 %), and Alaska (2.92 %). Let us know your opinion about this.