Hammond Project to turn waste into wealth

March 19, 2010

Now that the weather is beckoning you outside, you might have realized a few more things are popping up from the ground too. There are several options to getting your hands on this seasonal food and supporting local farms. One popular option that has taken off in the last few years is Community Supported Agriculture, or a CSA.

CSAs operate on an upfront money basis. Consumers buy a membership or subscription to a local farm, which then entitles them to a box of fresh seasonal vegetables or fruits for the rest of the season. The frequency and size of the box all depends on your subscription and your farm. By buying a plan, the customer gives early cash flow to farmers and helps them with risk management. A particularly wet or dry season is defrayed by the income created through the subscriptions and lets consumers feel like they have a real role to play in the raising of their food.

CSAs originally started more like group farms. Friends and community members bought a plot and farmed together agreeing to split the harvest throughout the growing season. This notion of joint investment is still at the core of the CSA model today, as shared risk provides the farmer with a reliable source of income even in the face of nature’s unpredictability. While CSA members may receive a smaller box in a less bountiful season, a particularly abundant harvest will be passed on to members as well. In addition to having the opportunity to eat ultra-fresh food and to learn more about how their food is grown, many CSA members find that their food horizons are expanded as they are exposed to food they may never have eaten before.

Many forms of CSAs exist now. Some offer just fruits and vegetables and others offer an assortment of products ranging from flowers to jam to meats. Most are offered on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, with pick-up locations across the city.

For more information on the advantages of CSAs to farmers and consumers, visit Local Harvest.

If you’re interested in becoming a CSA member, check out these guides to Chicagoland’s local CSAs to find out what’s right for you. Sign up early because subscriptions go fast!

--Claire Feinberg