I recently did and interview for this story that appeared in the Smithfield Herald:
The story quoted me extensively, yet much more needs to be said.
CSA stands for "Community Supported Agriculture". The customer contracts with the farmer for the season, and the customer is guaranteed to share in the harvest, while the farmer is supported by his group of customers. With farming subject the both good and bad weather, the customer shares in the risks that all farmers take. Excellent growers anticipate bad situations or challenging conditions and it is their skill as growers that minimizes the risk on both sides of the equation. True or "Real" CSAs grow all the crops that they sell, and do not buy in produce from other farmers. We make the extra effort to grow a wider range of vegetables and offer more selection during the course of the season. This is another hedge against less than ideal conditions during the growing season. If one crop doesn't cut it, another one can fill in.
Does the farm grow things in their proper season dictated by the local climate or do they buy in produce just because customers want it? After reading some posts on 4042.com, I was disappointed to here people saying that their CSA was buying in potatoes from Florida. Again, CSAs originated to support local farms, not to be an avenue to resale produce from a 1000 miles away. You could get the same product at Food Lion for a lot less.
That is your choice. The USDA Organic label is useful for farms located 3000 miles from your door, but good organic growers were around before the USDA program began in 2002, and good ones are still around. Many in the organic community who have dropped their certifications did so because they felt that they often go beyond the standard that the government set and that their customers visit the farm and take a more active role is learning about how the farmer grows their food. In essence, the customer certifies the farm by visiting during the season and asking questions.
These are farms, individual, or companies that are springing up to meet the surge in demand for local produce. They grow some of their product and buy in the rest from farmers they know or again act as an agent on behalf of several growers to do the marketing for them. Not a bad idea, but the more hands your product touches, the more the price goes up. Small shares that I see listed by some of these businesses cost $22 or more, and would be the equivalent of a typical CSA share grown by one farm that is sold for $16. This incurs more cost to the customer, and if it's run of the mill product, not worth the premium price. Also, by not being skilled at growing a wide range of products, they put themselves and the customer at greater risk during challenging situations. Sure, anyone could buy replacement products, but if this is a regular strategy, then you should go to the store and the inexperienced grower should stop using their customer as a lab rat.
In this area this means 25 weeks starting in April and running until October. Our CSA sold produce for 37 weeks last year when we added our 12 week winter share. We had 100% locally grown produce from our farm from November through January. Hybrid CSA's don't require commitments like this from customers because they don't grow all or most of their products so have less invested over the course of the season. We are planting and tending our crops from January 1st until December 31st for the good of the customer, to give them a superior product to what they can get from the store. Customers that can order at will one week and skip some are truly not in touch with their farm and their food, and are not getting an experience that differs much from walking into the store.
Tom Kumpf, Owner. Operator. Farmer.