Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is becoming a more popular way for consumers to enjoy the benefits of purchasing fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers, and at the same time, feel good about playing a role in reducing carbon footprint and contributing to small, local business.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is becoming a more popular way for consumers to enjoy the benefits of purchasing fresh, seasonal produce from local farmers, and at the same time, feel good about playing a role in reducing carbon footprint and contributing to small, local business. The concept of CSAs originated during the 1960s in Switzerland and Japan and was introduced in the United States in the mid-1980s. A University of Massachusetts study estimated around 1,000 CSAs in the United States. However, LocalHarvest, the most comprehensive directory of CSAs lists over 2,500.
Here's how a CSA generally works. A farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically a "share" means a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Consumers that purchase a "share," which is much a like a membership or subscription, receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
With sustainability, food safety, nutrition and supporting local businesses all being causes more shoppers are attracted to these days, it is no surprise to see the rising interests in farmer's markets, food co-ops, urban farming, and even some schools are incorporating produce from local farms into school lunch menus. And despite the recession, there is emerging evidence that some shoppers are even willing to pay a little more for these benefits. A 2010 Mintel study showed that 35% are willing to pay more for "environmentally friendly" products. Just a year ago, a quick poll on SupermarketGuru revealed that 82% will buy "better for you" foods even if they cost more than other choices. SupermarketGuru also found recently that with regards to "organic" products, 62% believe that they are "better for the environment," and 44% plan on purchasing more organic and natural products this year.
When it comes to these current areas of interest on the minds of shoppers, CSA's are ideally in a great position to offer solutions through partnerships between the farmer and shopper that benefit both sides. While small farmers are able to strengthen their cash flow by receiving payment for shares early on in the season, consumers are getting quality, fresh vegetables right from the farm with the feeling that they are also contributing to their community and supporting sustainable practices.
There is opportunity for food retailers of all kinds to learn from the CSA model. Stores can seek out relationships with local farmers, featuring their products as well as connecting them with their shoppers with in-store Q&As on modern farming, or spotlights on seasonal vegetables and unique ways to cook with them. Shoppers will appreciate the excitement it will bring to the shopping experience as well as the sense of community.