The Every Kitchen Table Blog: Why CSAs Aren't Enough

Some of my favorite writing on the topic of local, sustainable food these days comes from Rob Smart in Vermont, whose Every Kitchen Table blog (and Twitter posts) cite some of my favorites (Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser) as inspirations. Smart's March 27 post, explaining the downside of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model, is especially good.

 Rob Smart

The post discusses a 10 year study conducted in Minnesota and Wisconsin by Marcia Ruth Ostrom of Washington State University to better understand: “strengths and weaknesses of the organizational configurations, tactics, and outcomes of CSA as a social movement.” Here are some highlights, according to Every Kitchen Table:

  • CSA farms produce >40 crops for CSA shares v. conventional farms growing 1-2 commodity crops; “logistics…turned out to be more challenging than most had initially realized”;
  • Farms don’t receive hands-on consumer support originally envisioned; shifts burden of starting, administering and sustaining CSA to farmer;
  • Many CSA farms struggle with high member turnover and apathy;
  • Farmers setting prices in line with conventional food system, not on real costs of production (CSA vision);
  • Many CSA programs fold after 1-2 years, primarily due to economic, health and quality of life issues (in that order);
  • Most CSA members are middle-class, urban, white, and highly educated (limited socio-economic reach)

Smart goes on to explain the problem and even to suggest how we might approach solving it. The "Why Community Supported Agriculture" post also includes great links to farm co-ops around the country. It's well worth a read.