Eating food is at the heart of almost every community. Think about it — there is food at almost every social function we attend.
Clubs effectively use food to bribe members to attend weekly meetings, businesses use food to encourage employees to get through the dreary hours of team meetings and college students congregate with friends around pizzas in an effort to momentarily forget the piles of papers due tomorrow. Yes, eating food comes naturally, but here in America, the actual growing of food and knowing where your food comes from has become as rare as an “A” on a dynamics midterm.
In an effort to bring Americans back in touch with their food, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes came about. The boxes originated in the 1960s in Switzerland and Japan, but didn’t become popular in the United States until the mid-1980s. Currently there are a little more than 400 CSA programs across the nation — and lucky for us in San Luis Obispo, plenty to choose from right in our own county.
The idea behind CSA programs is to reconnect everyday Americans with the process of obtaining food, including both the benefits and risks. “Shareholders” buy into the program at the beginning of the season and then receive weekly boxes of fresh produce. By paying up front, the farms have an improved cash flow to help throughout the entire season. It also allows the farmers to spend more of their marketing efforts early in the season before the long hours of harvest begin.
Clearly in this model there is a benefit for the farmers, but as any good consumer, you must be questioning, “What is in it for me?” As a shareholder, you receive weekly boxes of the freshest and most delicious crops from the farm, get exposed to a variety of new in-season foods you may have previously passed up when strolling down the supermarket aisles and, most importantly, get to know the people and places that grow the food you daily consume.
The beauty of this model is that it invariably grows deeper roots and dedication to the community. As a shareholder in a farm, you get to celebrate in the bounties of the season, and be invested in some shared risk. At first glance, risk never sounds good to a potential buyer, but in taking this risk, you are linked to the food in a way that a box on the grocery store shelf could never offer. Not to mention, rarely are you disappointed. Occasionally there are seasons that are more strenuous on some crops than others, but by investing in the farmers and farms, you accept in good faith they will be good stewards and keep your best interest and the lands in mind.
As the new season approaches (a most delicious one full of fresh strawberries might I add), I would encourage you to think about the journey your food took from farm to fork next time you sit to eat, and consider if it would be much more delightful to dine on if you knew both the farmer and farm that it came from.