Have you lost faith in the stock market? Here’s a delicious stock option: your local farm. Consumers who participate in the growing community supported agriculture movement in America send greenbacks in to local farmers, who send greens back in the form of lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, or other produce. Shareholders fund local farms before a growing season begins, giving farms capital to invest for the season, in exchange for fresh fruit and vegetables produced by the farm. Americans have been embracing the system for about 20 years, but the number of CSA farms has risen from less than a hundred in the 1990s to close to 1,500 farms today.
Community supported agriculture addresses several environmental problems. Farmers can afford to buy new equipment and hire a larger labor force to become organic with the capital from their CSA subscriptions. Purchasing local food also reduces transportation costs, fossil fuel use, and carbon dioxide emissions. The shareholder also makes an investment in their community, contributing to a stronger local economy.
From their beginnings in Europe and Japan in the 1960s, CSA has provided farmers with a stable food market and consumers with produce from trusted farms. A CSA is defined as "a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production." The individuals pledge to support the farm’s operating costs, including the farmer’s salary. They take on any risks from drought, pests, or natural disaster. Farmers receive economic security, and consumers receive quality, homegrown produce.
Some CSA programs deliver food straight to the shareholders’ doors, while others require shareholders to pick up the food at a central location. The home-delivery programs reduce consumers’ trips to the supermarket, saving on gas and reducing emissions. At Erehwon Farm in Illinois, community members can purchase packages ranging from $300 to $1,200. Each level receives a certain percentage of the farm’s crop and even certain specialties like fresh-cut flowers. ABC news reports that families can save $1,750 per year by buying food directly from the farm. With food prices in flux, buying food for the year can save consumers money in the long run.
But it’s not just that the price is right. Some consumers who self-identify as “locavores” are putting their money where their mouth is. The term locavore—the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year for 2007—refers to people who eat food grown or raised within a 100-mile radius of their home. In doing so, consumers reduce their impact on the planet by reducing transportation costs and supporting regional economies. The term allegedly was coined in the San Francisco Bay Area on World Environment Day in 2005.
The future looks promising for community supported agriculture. Consumers like having control over what they eat, and small farmers like the guaranteed market for their goods. Before you know it, small farms with community support will be growing all over the country.