Community Supported Agriculture in Alaska
Find ACAA Member-Farms that offer CSA shares.
What is Community Supported Agriculture?
Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between a local farm and a community of "shareholder" consumers. It is a relationship of mutual support and commitment in which a consumer purchases a "share" of what the farm produces during a growing season and then receives weekly deliveries of whatever is ready for harvest each week. The arrangement guarantees the farmer financial support when it is most needed early in the growing season and in return offers members a wide variety of locally seasonal foods harvested at their peak of freshness, ripeness, flavor, and vitamin and mineral content. Ultimately, CSAs create what is being termed "agriculture-supported communities" where small local farms can stay afloat and help to create healthier and more sustainable communities for all.
The CSA movement came out of Europe in the 1980s where biodynamic farms were forming producer-consumer food alliances inspired by the food co-ops in Chile in the 1970s. In 1984 Jan Vander Tuin brought the concept of CSA to America and introduced it to Robyn Van En at Indian Line Farm, who is credited with starting the first American CSA. While it is unclear whether the European or American pioneers of CSA were aware of it, there was a parallel movement occuring in Japan. In 1965 a number of Japanese women concerned with the increased use of pesticides, the increase in processed and imported foods, and the concurrent decrease in the number of farms, initiated a direct, cooperative relationship with local farmers in which they supported the farmers on an annual basis. The term "teikei" which describes this version of CSA is literally translated as "parternship" or "cooperation" but can also be translated as "food with the farmer's face on it."
CSA continues to grow in the United States, with an evolving number of different types of share agreements and levels of shareholder and community involvement. No two CSAs are exactly alike, and vary in things like expectations of shareholder involvement, length of season, foods offered, price, and flexibility. At the heart of the CSA movement, though, is the relationship between the consumer and the local farmer who grows for them and their family.
What are the benefits of CSA?
CSA creates a sense of community and brings people together around the basic and life-sustaining act of eating good food. CSA encourages proper land stewardship by supporting farmers and encouraging consumers to ask questions, become involved in the source of their food, and support the kind of agriculture they believe in and want to preserve for their children. CSA strengthens local communities by keeping food dollars in local economies (see the "Organic, Local and Seasonal Eating" page of our Resource Center for more information on both sustainable/organic agriculture and the importance of buying local). CSA restores a much-needed link between farm and table, between consumer and producer. CSA teaches about seasonal and local eating and will expand your mind and your recipe database by introducing you to new foods - and keep in mind that most CSAs include informative weekly newsletters with recipes that will help you prepare nutritious home-cooked dishes.
In an era when food in the US travels between 1500 and 2500 miles on average (and further to Alaska), CSA is an opportunity to commit to protecting our environment and our future. And in a place like Alaska that lacks much agricultural infrastructure, supporting your local sustainable farmer by participating in Community Supported Agriculture is also a commitment to the long-term food security of our entire state.
What is different about supporting local Alaskan CSAs?
In the past few years, a farm-based organic produce distributor out of Washington State has been marketing itself in Alaska as a "local" CSA selling "the freshest produce available." Unfortunately, this marketing campaign has confused the definition of CSA for a number of consumers. While there is nothing wrong with purchasing organic produce from a buying club, there is a very real difference between what our member-farms offer and what is being shipped from out of state - and often out of country - in a weekly box. One obvious difference is that when you support your local farmer, you support your local community - money will stay in-state and get spent locally, farmland will remain under sustainable cultivation instead of being bulldozed for development, and farmers will stay in business and continue growing food to the benefit of the food security of the entire state. Another factor to consider is the environmental cost of shipping, distributing, and processing food - recent debate has centered around the relative environmental impact of shipping organic produce long distances as opposed to supporting "conventional" local foods. (The good news is that here in Alaska you can source food that is both local and sustainably or organically produced!) Perhaps most important to many consumers is the quality of food they are receiving from their local farmer - the vast majority of CSA produce is picked the morning it is delivered, and never subjected to repeated handling and long-distance travel. Many studies demonstrate that the nutritional quality of food deteriorates rapidly after harvest, especially if not kept in ideal storage conditions. And a few studies even suggest that produce grown under Alaska's "endless" summer sunlight is higher in antioxidants, which help protect your health. So support your family and your community and consider buying a real CSA share from a local farmer - you can always ship produce in from the buying clubs during the dark months!
How Do I Sign Up?
Click here to find ACAA member-farms with CSA shares.