Active Culture

Giving Small Farmers a Boost

By David Holtzman

This article is from the July/August 1999 issue of Dollars and Sense: The Magazine of Economic Justice available at

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This article is from the July/August 1999 issue of Dollars & Sense magazine.

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About 15 years ago, in the face of mounting pressure from corporate-run agribusiness, family farmers began seeking out customers in nearby towns and cities who wanted locally grown, organic produce. Out of those relationships was born community-supported agriculture (CSA) in the United States, a movement to revitalize small farms in the United States by creating close ties between farmers and the people they feed. There are now some 100,000 people linked to 800 family farms through CSAs.

In exchange for an annual financial investment in the farms, these customers get fresh food and a stake in the ecological and financial health of their communities. Supermarket conglomerates often ship produce long distances, generating much more pollution and using up many more resources than local delivery.

"The heart of the movement is not cheap food, but communities taking responsibility for their own welfare," explains Steve Moore, director of the Center for Sustainable Living in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, which supports the movement.

Chris Yoder, a small farmer in Dover, Massachusetts, and his business partner switched to running a CSA three years after taking over their farm because they were at the mercy of retail sales. The CSA gives them control over their market; a set number of buyers invests in the farm each spring, so Yoder can focus on his crops and forget about marketing until the next winter. In exchange, customers receive seasonal produce, and also some of the risk if a crop fails.

Even in rural areas like Chambersburg, where farmstands are everywhere, people are attracted to CSAs because they represent independence and self-sufficiency for communities, says Moore. Now CSAs are marketing to colleges and other institutions, expanding their base while strengthening their cooperative model.

Center for Sustainable Living, 717-264-4141.
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