CSAs: Farmers and Community

21, نوفمبر 2010


Capay Organic, the farm that supplies Farm Fresh to You’s service, was founded by Kathleen Barsotti and Martin Barnes in Capay Valley, California. A mere 20 acres of property purchased in 1976 has since become a 300 acre family-owned, purely organic farm with a large following of loyal customers. This case study is not only an example of a successful business, but it also shows the growth in popularity in organically produced foods over the last few decades, without which its success would be considerably less. The case study also demonstrates a shift in American society from grocery store chains to local farms, or, more generally, a shift from national to community. It also illuminates our growing demand for organic produce.
At the time of Capay Organic’s inception, Americans were not nearly as health-conscious and aware as we are today. Therefore its owners found its higher-quality, but pricier food more difficult to sell than its modernly farmed counterparts; they struggled to find a market in which to sell its organic fruit and vegetables. Instead of marketing itself to the general public as they would come to do, Kathleen and Martin began selling its high-quality produce to local stores, restaurants, and farmers’ markets.
In 1992, however, Kathleen realized that there was a significant relationship between the farm and “individual customers.” No longer content to provide people with her produce indirectly, she decided to cut out the middle man and begin Farm Fresh to You in 1992. Farm Fresh to You was designed to be a delivery service that delivers fresh, organic produce in boxes straight from the fields of Capay Organic to the customer’s office or home as frequently as the consumer chose. The service began out of Kathleen’s family station wagon; the service then became so popular in the Bay Area that the station wagon was soon replaced with vans full of boxes of organic produce that left the farm daily.
Capay Organic is a perfect example of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Over the last twenty years CSA has become a very popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. CSAsCSA works basically in the following way: a farmer markets a “share” to the public; this is generally of a box of some kind of produce or farm product. Those interested then purchase the “share,” usually in the form of a membership or subscription of some kind. In return the consumer receives a box, bag, or basket of seasonal produce all throughout the season. This new, direct relationship between farmers and consumers is mutually beneficial.
The farmers can begin marketing their produce earlier in the year, before all their hard work begins; they receive payment earlier in the season, helping with the cash flow in between harvests; and they have a unique opportunity to communicate with those consumers that enjoy their produce. The consumer also enjoys benefits from CSA, including being able to eat extremely fresh food, get exposed to new vegetables, visit the farm at least once during the season, encourage their children to eat more vegetables (assuming said consumer has children), and develop a relationship with the farmer that grows their food.
It all sounds very simple, and it is. The impact, however, has been much more acute. According to LocalHarvest, “tens of thousands of families have joined CSAs, and in some areas of the country there is more demand than there are CSA farms to fill it.” While the organization has no official record of how many CSAs there are in the United States, LocalHarvest estimates that their are over 2,500. And since their inception, they have expanded and grown beyond the traditional fruits and veggies. Consumers now can buy meats, cheeses, flowers, eggs, and many other products directly from the farm.


– Negotiation between the desire for organic produce and the higher price for organic produce

Organic food is healthier. It contains more vitamins, minerals, and enzymes and is free from pesticides, growth hormones, and other harmful chemicals. Buying organic produce is also a step towards protecting our ecosystem and resources. Organic farming eliminates synthetic-petroleum based inputs and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, thus reducing fossil fuel consumption and protecting the quality of our water. However, organic produce is more expensive than intensively farmed food. Research shows that U.S. shoppers who choose healthy foods spend almost 20% more on groceries. Study also show that buying organic food can consume 35-40% of a low-income family’s grocery budget. Thus, many consumers end up buying cheaper but inferior food.

– Negotiation between consumers and farmers

CSAs not only link consumers to farmers via a more direct relationship; they also put the two together in a shared risk-type situation. The not only makes the consumers more a part of the making of the products they are eating, but also makes the farmers feel more responsible for the crops they are producing. It seems as though what could be a negative thing – this risk – actually creates a positive result. Because both the farmer and the consumer are more invested, they inevitably become more invested in each other, which then allows for a unique sense of community.