By far, the most ethical, most economically sensible, and rewarding changes I have made in the past year has been to join, and support, my local CSA. For the uninitiated, CSA is short for Community Supported Agriculture, and works on a subscription basis where individuals are asked to contribute in advance, or on a monthly basis, to an area farm, with the understanding that you will get a return on your investment in the form of a share of farm fresh food.
This socio-economic model has gotten a good deal of recent attention in the press, spurred on by rising food prices, eat local movements, as well as rampant food scares, but really the CSA model is hardly new. With established CSA farms in the United States dating back to the mid-80s, and European and Japanese models pre-dating those by at least 30 years, the CSA construct is a time-tested idea that maybe the beneficiary of a confluence of domestic problems.
As a parent, I have discovered an unforeseen benefit in joining my local CSA. I have long been a supporter of local farmer’s markets (I have fond memories of buying sacks full of sweet cherries from the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market as a teenager) and was convinced that the exchange between consumer and farmer over a folding table of farm-fresh vegetables was the pinnacle of righteous living.
I still frequent farmer’s markets, but have found the access and experience of belonging to a CSA makes for an entirely different experience, especially with children. There is a sense of undeniable ownership and esteem in knowing that our family has made a small, but significant, contribution to this farm (in the form of money and time spent planting onions) and that we are not just customers, but patrons.
We are not simply buying from the farmer, but we are “going to our farm” and picking up “our veggies.” This may be an issue of semantics for some, but I can’t help but thinking that all this is profoundly resonating with my child as he sprints through the rows of green beans chanting “our farm, our farm.”
Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.