Small farms are seeing an avalanche of sudden growth, and trying to ramp up to meet it.
The CSA (community-supported agriculture) model—where an upfront membership fee gets you a weekly box of assorted veggies—has its flaws. It’s not great for picky people. Sometimes you have to pick up at a specific spot, which isn’t as convenient as home delivery. And, for many years, single farm CSAs only offered veggies, or fruit. Which meant you still had to go to the market for other staples. As writer Jessica McKenzie reported in her recent piece for The Counter, before Covid-19, traditional CSAs were suffering from a years-long decline. McKenzie points the finger at competition from other produce delivery models, which may or may not come directly from small, local farms.
But over the past six weeks, when grocery store shelves have been wiped clean while dairy farmers have been forced to dump milk and crops rot in the fields, many Americans have started to realize that our supply chains are less sturdy than they imagined. Add in the closing of several of the nation’s largest meat packing plants, and suddenly a box of produce—even if it includes things you don’t like much—starts to look like a smart buy.
The renewed interest in community supported agriculture is not a surprise to German sociologist Birgit Blaettel-Mink, PhD. In 2017, Blaettel-Mink authored a paper on CSAs as a response to issues with capitalism–when consumers start questioning animal welfare, fair wages, and consolidation among producers, for instance. She sent surveys to every CSA member and farmer in Germany, and got nearly 600 responses. She also did in-depth qualitative interviews with 10 farmers and CSA members, to go beyond the baseline ideas her survey may have captured. The final paper cites ideals like supporting neighbors and opting out of a dysfunctional system as reasons Germans signed up for CSAs.