CSA: Supporting Local Farms
By Martha Jackson Suquet

If you’re paying attention to the local food movement, chances are you’ve heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA programs are a long-standing part of the local food system, especially here in the Berkshires where we’re lucky to have many farms with strong CSAs. Read on to learn more about what CSA is, what the benefits are for members and farmers, and what your options are if you want to become a local CSA member.
The first CSA farms in the US were founded in 1986 is most often credited to European or Japanese models that were first adopted by farms in the U.S. in 1986. CSA farmers were concerned about the threats to small farms and wanted to ensure that those farms could survive and thrive but, as with many dynamics of history, there is an overlooked story that tells us that the CSA model is rooted in Black history. In an article written by Natasha Bowens and published in Mother Earth News, we learned the story of Booker T. Whatley, who was born in Alabama in 1915, and raised during a time when black farmers were nearly one million strong. Dr. Whatley, who taught agriculture at Tuskegee University, strongly believed in regenerating farmer livelihoods through direct marketing. “The clientele membership club is the lifeblood of the [farm]. It enables the farmer to plan production, anticipate demand, and, of course, have a guaranteed market.”
(Image courtesy of Berle Farm.)
In the Berkshires, Robyn Van En, the original farmer at Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, was one of the first farmers in the United States to start a CSA membership program. Indian Line Farm is now owned and operated by Elizabeth Keen who believes that as “the farmer and members become partners in the production, distribution and consumption of locally grown food...[CSA farms are] shaping a new vision of agriculture”.

At its heart, Community Supported Agriculture involves consumers becoming “members” of a local
farm, purchasing shares early each year and receiving farm products on a set schedule throughout the growing season. But a CSA purchase is more than just a transaction -- CSA members support their farm, not just with their upfront payments each season but through volunteering, learning more about how the farm operates, and joining other CSA members for community events. It’s a bigger commitment than other “buy local” options, but with many potential rewards.

Each farm runs its CSA program differently, so community members can look for a local share that works for their budget, schedule, and food preferences. Some CSA programs offer different size shares, or a sliding scale cost to help make the program accessible. Some have different pickup sites and days, or even home delivery, while others may only offer pickup at the farm. Multi-farm CSAs, “full-diet” shares, and allowing members to customize their shares are practices that many farms are exploring. And many farms ask members to volunteer their time during the season, either on the farm or at CSA distribution sites.
Abode Farm Pick-Your Own Field. Photo by Camille Breslin
More CSA programs are also finding ways to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) payments, allowing community members who rely on those benefits to purchase shares. Some also offer discounted shares in order to ensure food accessibility for all. Woven Roots Farm in Tyringham offers Solidarity Shares, “shares that create access to fresh, delicious produce and healthful knowledge, regardless of income, identities, immigration status, and background”.
Some of the benefits of CSA programs for members include:
  • A deeper connection to a local farm through volunteering, events, newsletters and more
  • A chance to explore interesting and unique vegetables and other farm products
  • Recipes and information about farm products
  • Opportunity to support a local farm and the local food system in a dedicated way
  • Convenience – many farms have a choice of pickup times and locations

For farmers, CSA programs offer a source of strength, stability, and connection. Some benefits for farmers are:
  • Cash flow at the beginning of the season when expenses are high
  • A more predictable budget for the season
  • A supportive community in place in case of emergencies
  • The ability to connect to and get feedback from members
If you haven’t joined a CSA yet, check out this list of Berkshire Grown member farms who informed us they are still accepting members for the upcoming season. Whether you’re looking for vegetables, meat, eggs, or flowers (or everything!), there’s a share that’s right for you. Please visit their websites for details.

Flowers: Full Well Farm
(Image courtesy Woven Roots Farm.)
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Now more than ever, connections to local food and farms hold our community together. 

Berkshire Grown's 2020 Guide to Local Food and Farms is the region's best guide to farms, farmers markets, and restaurants offering local foods. Use this Guide to find farm stands, CSA farms, pick-your-own farms and orchards, as well as locally sourced, value-added products like charcuterie, preserves, and fermented foods.

Connect to the Guide here to see descriptions of Berkshire farms, farmers markets, restaurants and local food businesses, with addresses and a detailed map. Pick up a printed copy at your local grocery store or farm stand. Keep it handy and use it frequently!
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Margaret Moulton, Executive Director
Andrea Caluori, Program Manager
Jess Camp, Program Manager
Kate Burke, Farm to Food Access Project Manager
Sharon Hulett-Shepherd, Membership and Office Manager
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