Bredbo Valley View farm - providing quality education in Permaculture and sustainable living practices.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Community Subscribed Agriculture system - according to WIKI

This is an extract from Wiki on CSA, it covers the main points and addresses how it is done in other countries. Subscription farming, as it is known here in Australia, is growing in popularity and is probably one of the most sustainable forms of farming practiced.

Our farm will provide chemical, artificial fertilizer and GMO free food, using only heritage fruit and vegetable varieties. Our goal is that everything we use on the farm in the production chain will eventually be a product of the farm.

Subscribers can also have personal choice of which vegetables are to be planted and which varieties of fruit we would plant. This of course is provided they are able to be grown within our climatic zone and suitable heritage seedor root stock is available.

In the future we also plan to be able to supply eggs, pork, mutton and beef under a similar system. If you would like to find out more please comment.

What is Consumer Subscribed Agriculture.

CSA generally is the practice of focusing on the production of high quality foods using ecological, organic or biodynamic farming methods. This kind of farming operates with a much greater-than-usual degree of involvement of consumers and other stakeholders—resulting in a stronger than usual consumer-producer relationship. The core design includes developing a cohesive consumer group that is willing to fund a whole season’s budget in order to get quality foods. The system has many variations on how the farm budget is supported by the consumers and how the producers then deliver the foods. By CSA theory, the more a farm embraces whole-farm, whole-budget support, the more it can focus on quality and reduce the risk of food waste or financial loss.

In its most formal and structured European and North American form, CSAs focus on having:
a transparent, whole season budget for producing a specified wide array of products for a set number of weeks a year;

a common-pricing system where producers and consumers discuss and democratically agree to pricing based on the acceptance of the budget; and

a ‘shared risk and reward’ agreement, i.e. that the consumers eat what the farmers grow even with the vagaries of seasonal growing.

Thus, individuals, families or groups do not pay for x pounds or kilograms of produce, but rather support the budget of the whole farm and receive weekly what is seasonally ripe. This approach eliminates the marketing risks and costs for the producer and an enormous amount of time, often manpower too, and allows producers to focus on quality care of soils, crops, animals, co-workers—and on serving the customers. There is little to no loss (i.e. waste) in this system, since the producers know in advance who they are growing for and how much to grow, etc.
Some families have enrolled in subscription CSAs in which a family pays a fixed price for each delivery, and can start or stop the service as they wish. This kind of arrangement is also referred to as crop-sharing or box schemes. In such cases, the farmer may supplement each box with produce brought in from neighboring farms for a better variety. Thus there is a distinction between the farmers selling pre-paid shares in the upcoming season's harvest or a weekly subscription that represents that week's harvest. In all cases participants purchase a portion of the farm's harvest either by the season or by the week in return for what the farm is able to successfully grow and harvest. The largest subscription CSA, with over 4,000 families, is Farm Fresh To You established in 1992 in Capay Valley, California.

Some farms are dedicated entirely to CSA, while others also sell through on-farm stands, farmers' markets, and other channels. Most CSAs are owned by the farmers, while some offer shares in the farm as well as the harvest. Consumers have organized their own CSA projects, going as far as renting land and hiring farmers. Many CSAs have a core group of members that assists with CSA administration. Some require or offer the option of members providing labor as part of the share price.

Some CSA's have evolved into social enterprises employing a number of local staff, improving the lot of local farmers and educating the local community about organic/ecologically responsible farming. Australia's Food Connect is a unique social enterprise that is now competing with the major supermarkets.

Typically, CSA farms are small, independent, labor-intensive, family farms. By providing a guaranteed market through prepaid annual sales, consumers essentially help finance farming operations. This allows farmers to not only focus on quality growing, it can also somewhat level the playing field in a food market that favors usually large-scale, industrialized agriculture over local food. Vegetables and fruit are the most common CSA crops. Many CSAs practice ecological, organic or biodynamic agriculture, avoiding pesticides and inorganic fertilizers. The cost of a share is usually competitively priced when compared to the same amount of vegetables conventionally-grown, partly because the cost of distribution is lowered.

Method of distribution is a distinctive feature in CSA. In the U.S. and Canada, shares are usually provided weekly, with pick-ups on a designated day and time. CSA subscribers often live in towns and cities - local drop-off locations, convenient to a number of members, are organized, often at the homes of members. Shares are also usually available on-farm.
CSA is different from buying clubs and home delivery services, where the consumer buys a specific product at a predetermined price. CSA members purchase only what the farm is able to successfully grow and harvest, in essence CSA members share some of the growing risk with the farmer. If the strawberry crop is not successful, the CSA member will share the burden of the crop failure by not receiving strawberries for the season or receiving lower quality strawberries. CSA members are also more actively involved in the growing and distribution process, through shared newsletters and recipes, farm visits, farm work-days, advance purchases of shares, and picking up their shares.

An advantage of the close consumer-producer relationship is increased freshness of the produce, because it does not have to be shipped long distances. The close proximity of the farm to the members also helps the environment by reducing pollution caused by transporting the produce. CSA's often include recipes and farm news in each box. Tours of the farm and work days are announced. Over a period of time, consumers get to know who is producing their food, and what production methods are used.

Share prices can vary dramatically depending on location. Variables also include length of share season, and average quantity and selection of food per share. As a rough average, in North America, a basic share may be $350-500 for a season, for 18-20 weeks (June to October), with enough of each included crop for at least two people (perhaps 8-12 common garden vegetables). Seasonal eating is implied, as shares are usually based on the outdoor growing season, which means a smaller selection at the beginning and perhaps the end of the period, as well as a changing variety as the season progresses. Some CSA programs offer different share sizes, also, a choice of share periods (eg. full-season and peak season).

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