Is Community Supported Agriculture Growing Too Fast?

Staff Writer
One study argues that when it comes to local food, bigger is not always better

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

When it comes to CSAs, bigger may not always be better.

As the community supported agriculture or CSA model becomes more popular and widespread, the question arises: is bigger necessarily better when it comes to CSAs?

Recently, the CSA model has attracted thousands of new farmers and consumers across the U.S. Farmers enjoy receiving payment from the CSAs at the beginning of the season in order to cover the costs of production, while consumers who join enjoy the high level of access they receive to local food producers and fresh, unique foods. 

 The CSA model is changing, however, from the traditional model in which members buy a share at the beginning of the growing season and then receive weekly produce deliveries. Recently, farms have begun supplementing its CSA shares with produce from other farms, or even large, regional co-ops. 

Though this new arrangement can provide consumers with a better selection of goods and help farmers share administrative costs, it somewhat tampers with the one-to-one producer-consumer connection that the original CSA model promoted.

What’s more, some CSAs who have rapidly growing customer bases have begun to face debt and distribution problems as their farms become more diversified. Notably, Grant Farms, the country’s largest organic CSA in northern Colorado recently declared bankruptcy. 

Ryan Galt, a professor at the University of California, Davis, led a study of CSAs that determined that as farmers become more diversified, they reap a smaller percentage of their sales from CSAs and begin to rely on a variety of different outlets, from farmers’ markets and CSAs to retail and wholesale markets.  This somewhat connects to the much-debated question of whether the local food market can ever be expanded to a universal scale.

Regardless of how they may be changing, the growing popularity of the CSA model reveals a widespread American consumer interest in becoming more connected with the food on their dinner table. This is good news for the overall health of Americans, as local food has proven to be more nutrient dense and fresh than conventional produce found in supermarkets across the nation.

So it seems that when it comes to local farming, some may have an argument that too much of a good thing is still better than the conventional produce alternative.   

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