Authentic Food Organizations: Why I love my CSA

by cv harquail on May 29, 2008

Spring is here, and I’m in love again… with my CSA.

CSA as in “cyber-spouse avatar”? No, CSA as in Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a group of us — 55 families, Farmer John (that’s John, below), the five or so employees of John’s Starbrite Farm, and 20 weeks of organic produce.

[Quick introduction: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a group of member – customers who contract with a farmer for a share of her or his crops throughout a growing season. By paying up front, members help the farmer manage the cash flow challenges of the growing season. Members share the risks of bad weather, thieving critters, and broken tractors, and the delights of fresh beets, swiss chard, and the occasionally unidentifiable leafy green.]

Every year since Farmer Rachel at Singing Farm in Lovingston, VA introduced me to the CSA concept, I have been participating in one of these authentic food organizations. A CSA is all about authentic food — food that is fresh, local, healthy, sustainably produced, irregular, sometimes blemished, and always tasty. The authenticity of the food is enough of a reason to love my CSA.

Ask anyone who’s in a CSA, and they can tell you the basic reasons to love your CSA. Or, you could just look on my CSA’s website. Each reason to love your CSA exists because you can trust your CSA to be what it says it is. But there are some extra reasons why I love my CSA.

1. My CSA is not just about authentic food; it’s also about being an authentic organization.

At my CSA, there’s a beautiful reinforcing interaction between who the CSA says it is (its image), how the CSA defines itself (its identity), and how the CSA/we behave (its action).

2. The CSA does what it says it does. (Action = Image)

The CSA presents itself as a way to get fresh, healthy, seasonally, organic produce (check) while supporting an independent farmer (check) and supporting the concept of local, sustainable farming (check) .

3. The CSA is who it says it is. (Identity = Image)

Who is the CSA? It’s us: John, his workers, the families. We all take responsibility for making the CSA who it is and we all participate. Once I sign up for my set-up and clean-up shifts, you can bet I’ll be there; after all, the organization has to be supported by the community, and that means me.

4. Every action means something more than what you’d expect. (Action = Identity)

There’s extra meaning in every action, even actions that seem kind of banal. Writing a check, attending a meeting, setting up tables, weighing bags of English peas, filling out the end of season feedback form, and all the other actions that are part of being a member have additional meaning to me and the other CSA members. These actions get work done, and they also are about being a community member, about connecting with Farmer John as person, about eating more green things because green things are good for us and the earth, and about sharing in the work, the product, and the improvements in the systems. Each action expresses what it means to be a CSA.

5. This meaning can make it easy to respond to irregularities in the organization.

Sometimes, we members act spontaneously, in ways that extend ˜what it means to be a CSA. For example, on a day when I just forgot to pick-up my share, a member I didn’t even know dropped it off on my front porch. When confronted by celeriac and tatsoi, I’ve cracked open that vegetarian cookbook and added another non-meat (i.e., sustainable) dish to our repertoire. Both of these actions put a new twist on being a member.

6. Even chronic problems can get handled in ways that expand upon “what it means to be” a CSA.

–Too many days when random produce is left over after pick-up? Arrange for extras to be brought to the town soup kitchen.

–Kids complaining about Swiss chard again? Remind them that it’s local, it’s seasonal, it’s healthy. “Farmer John and his workers put a lot of effort into growing this food for us. We need to respect them and their work. Give it a try.”  You get the idea.

7. Being part of an authentic organization can make members feel better, because it can shift you into a different head space.

For me, being a CSA member clicks me into a different perspective, so that I’m aware of a whole new meaning of being part of this community. Being part of a community and having a way to create meaning together can really make a person feel good.

8. And quite honestly, another reason to
love my CSA is that,

by being part of this authentic organization, I have to be get to be a little bit more authentic too. When I’m participating in the CSA I have to be get to be slightly more of the cook, the mom, the community member, the citizen, the (ethical) consumer, the gardener that I want to be.

So, instead of being like this:
cat couch potato CSA authentic food organization

I get to be a little more like this:

Organic Farmer Woman CSA

I can actually feel my orientation towards produce changing as the season draws nearer!!

  • Do you think I’m crazy? Am I making too much of it? Am I a nut to love my CSA?
  • Is this really anything more than a way to feel sanctimonious while avoiding the lines at Whole Foods?
  • Or when it’s all said and done, is an organic carrot just an organic carrot?

Your thoughts?

Do you have friends in a CSA? Send this post on to them for their comments too!

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