CSA, or Community-Supported Agriculture is a crucial model to build local food security. Learn how you can financially support farmers in your community in advance of the upcoming growing season.
In early spring, farmers put out a call for their community to purchase CSA shares. The program allows members to buy portions of a local farm’s summer harvest as a lump sum. The cost to join a CSA in British Columbia ranges from $500-$1000, depending on the amount of produce members receive and the length of the harvest season. Typically, members will pick up their shares of produce directly at the farm or at a nearby farmer’s market.
At Whitaker Farm in Courteney, B.C, Farmer Mariette Sluyter strives to bring CSA members what they love, and what they will learn to love, every week. “We aim to know our members, what produce they like, and where to push their boundaries,” she says. “Different people have different desires for the CSA box. I have found that there are as many driving factors as there are members.”
For many, it’s a way to build a deeper connection to their food and the people who grow it. CSA programs are crucial to support farmers through the trials and tribulations of the growing season. Climate disaster– in the form of heat waves, wildfires, and floods–has impacted many farms in B.C. For CSA members, this means some weeks might yield a more prosperous harvest than others.
Sluyter encourages members to think of CSA programs as an investment that will build a good faith relationship with their farmer. “We strive to be as honest as possible with our members about how our season is going. We invite them to the farm to see where their food is being grown,” she says. “This relationship is a vital part of connecting eaters to their food and farmers to the people they feed.”
Undoubtedly, the CSA model is a win-win for members and farmers. Members receive vibrant, in-season produce, and farmers get financial security as they plan for the season ahead. Cash from CSA programs goes directly into the farmer’s pocket to fund the purchase of diverse seed varieties, labour, and equipment.
At Whitaker Farm, CSA shares begin selling in the winter and are sold out as early as February. “Many folks don’t realize it, but this is when farmers have the greatest outlay of costs,” Sluyter shares. “Seeds are purchased in December and those costs are in the thousands, then we get into amendments and compost in January, plus tool purchases and farm repairs. Not to mention staffing costs in the early season.” Even if farmers have funds saved from the previous season, the start-up costs are steep. A CSA member’s support is key to getting farm folks through to the next market.
We all lead busy lives, but joining a CSA isn’t just a convenient way to skip the supermarket and get nutrient-rich food onto your plate. “I think with the advent of grocery delivery programs and meal kits, folks don’t seem to connect with the CSA the same way”, says Sluyter. The CSA program allows farmers to ditch the middle-man and improve access to good food. Selling direct-to-consumer means farms can cut costs on marketing and packaging, and reduce CO2 emissions from transporting produce out-of-province.
Through a CSA program you’ll likely discover a new heirloom variety you wouldn’t have access to at the grocery store. Experimenting with rare produce varieties is one of the joys of receiving your farmer’s pick of the crop. This year, Sluyter is excited for Whitaker Farm’s strong line up of 60+ produce varieties. “I am experimenting with a lot of greens and cabbages used in Korean and Japanese cuisine. They grow really well in our climate”.
Sluyter encourages members to have fun with new varieties of produce. If you’re unsure of how to prepare a vegetable, just ask your farmer. ”They grow it and they know how to eat it. If they don’t love eating, find a new farmer!” Whitaker Farm sends out a weekly newsletter with cooking ideas and links to recipes.
Joining a CSA is easy and it allows you to play a role in rewriting a food system that has traditionally been unsustainable and cost-prohibitive for farmers. To find a CSA in your area, visit the website of a local farm and check if they offer a program. If you’re located in Vancouver or British Columbia, the Farm Folk City Folk CSA Map or the Vancouver Farmer’s Market Directory are both great places to start your search. It's not too late! Select farms are still recruiting new CSA members until early June.
“Just a quick note to say thank you so much for this week’s box. My quality of life just increased with your greens and veggies. It is truly a highlight of my day and I am so thankful for your hard work! I have two kids and work so can’t do a full garden myself right now, but this is even better!” - Merissa, Whitaker Farm CSA MemberPREVIOUS