Growing Connections: Community Supported Agriculture Shares the Wealth
by Jessica Stein •
Thursday August 29, 2002 at 02:38 PM
“How do you build community around your farm?” asks
Peter Brady of Phillies Bridge Farm in New Paltz, New
York. “I think that’s what small farms should be about.”
Phillies Bridge is part of a recent movement to connect
farms with their surrounding communities: the
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement.
In the CSA system, local residents buy a “share” of a
farmer’s expected produce
in advance of the growing
season, and receive weekly
amounts of produce when
the harvest begins. A typical
season usually runs
from late May through
Thanksgiving, though some
farms have shorter seasons
or offer additional winter
Full shares in the New
York City area cost between
$300 and $400 per season,
though half or split shares
are often available at a
lower cost. Some farms
outside the city offer work
exchanges for a reduced share price. Phillies Bridge, for
example, offers a working share for $400, as compared to
$500 for a non-working annual share.
Advocates of CSA say that the arrangement lowers the
farmer’s economic risk, supports local agriculture and economy
and gives families access to local and fresh produce.
Most CSA farms are also entirely organic or striving for
the lowest possible use of pesticides and genetic tinkering.
“We could spray for them, but we don’t,” says Kate
Khosla of the leaf hoppers infesting her potato crop.
Khosla and husband Ron run Hugenot Street Farm,
another New Paltz CSA.
Because they expect half the yield, the Khosla plant
twice as many potatoes as a conventional farmer who
sprays. Many of the potatoes are also smaller than conventionally
grown potatoes — “but they’re clean potatoes,”
Khosla says proudly.
CSAs were developed in Japan in the mid-1960s by a
group of women concerned with the rise of pesticide use,
the increased use of imported and processed foods, and
the difficulty of maintaining a small, traditional farm.
The Japanese term for the arrangement is teikei, which
translates loosely to “putting the farmers’ face on food.”
The practice spread to Europe and was then brought to
North America in 1984 by Jan Vander Tuin of Switzerland.
Robyn Van En, a Western Massachussetts farmer, is credited
with popularizing the idea in the States.
There are currently over 1,000 CSA farms in North
In New York City, CSA exists in over 20 different
locations in all five boroughs, from Riverdale to
Bushwick. (See accompanying chart.) Farmers from a
variety of upstate New York
and nearby New Jersey
towns bring the weekly
shares to local distribution
sites for pickup. Many New
York City CSA farmers
serve more than one location,
such as Kinderhook’s
Roxbury Farm which brings
produce to CSA outposts in
both Central Harlem and the
Upper West Side.
Though it may sound
similar to greenmarkets or
farmers’ markets, CSA is different
in that it establishes a
consistent, reliable relationship
between farmer and consumer,
ending the farmer’s guessing game around both buyers
Once these associations are established, CSA farms are
often willing to modify what they offer in order to please
their shareholders. “We’re offering local berries this year,”
says Ron Khosla of Hugenot Street. “They’re not our
berries, but they’re local, and people were asking for fruit.”
Even with guaranteed community support, however,
many farmers are struggling. “We get up at 5 a.m. and
at 10 p.m. we’re still out there with headlamps on,” says
The Khoslas planted about 12 of their 77 acres this year,
providing share members with over 240 different varieties
of vegetables, herbs and flowers, a diversity not often found
in supermarkets. Phillies Bridge, which brings in a smaller
percentage of its revenue from CSA, planted five of its 65
acres with 30 varieties of vegetables and herbs.
Both farms draw their shareholders from New Paltz
and the surrounding area, though the farmers spoke confidently
about the future of the movement as a whole.
“The foods we’re growing—are they really feeding
you, or are they just filling you?” asks Brady. “I think people
are instinctively starting to know that we need CSA.”