Community Supported Agriculture
by Jack Innis
or, the Next Best Thing to owning a farm
IVING ON A FARM ... a fantasy for many San Diegans.
It's a cool, crisp morning. You and your family are carefully
picking tomatoes, cilantro, onions and peppers for fresh salsa. The rich
smell of freshly-turned soil dances with the freshness of the produce. A
big crow, watching from a fencepost, bobs his head up and down ...
While chucking it all to live on a farm is rarely practical,
growing numbers of San Diegans are joining CSAs (short for community supported
agriculture) as a way to find the spiritual and bodily nourishment they
CSAs consist of a community of individuals who pledge
support of a small farm operation. The farmland becomes the community's
farm, with the growers and consumers deciding which crops to grow and sharing
the risks and rewards of food production.
Rather than showing up at the grocery store and buying
produce with no idea of who grew it, CSA members know the farmer by name.
Rather than not knowing where the produce was grown,
or even from which continent, CSA members are encouraged to drive down the
dusty dirt road that leads to the farmhouse.
And rather than not knowing what chemicals were used
on their produce, CSA members feel safe in knowing the produce in their
"Harvest Day Box" is organically grown.
Harvesting the benefits
CSA members typically pledge in advance to cover the
anticipated costs of the farm operation. In return, they receive a year-round
supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts, usually at a cost below that
of supermarket produce. Members also receive the satisfaction of being linked
to the environment - right down to sharing the risks of farming such as
loss of part of a crop due to weather or pests.
CSA farmers benefit by establishing a direct link to
consumers. They receive working capital in advance, better prices for their
crops, some financial security, and feedback from those who eat what they
Bill Bramer, owner of Be Wise Ranch, in Rancho Bernardo,
has been an organic, small-scale farm producer since 1977. "Last April,
we decided to do a CSA," he said. "We started in June with about
40 people and wound up with about 175 by the end of November."
Bramer feels the climate in San Diego is ideal for CSAs.
The 52 week-per-year growing season allows him to provide his CSA members
with avocados, lemons, limes, tangerines, pecans, strawberries, navel oranges,
salad mix, lettuce, carrots, beets, celery, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower,
herbs, turnips, kale, squash, peas, peaches, apricots, figs, pomegranates,
cantaloupes, watermelons, tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, and eggplant.
"The challenge," Bramer said, "is to
have enough variety to make eating vegetables interesting all year-round.
To support a CSA, you have to know how to grow a lot of different crops,
how to stagger the crops and how to test-start the crops to determine the
best taste and appearance."
A family affair
One of Bramer's CSA members, Dr. Fred Cagle, spoke of
the change that has come over his family since joining the CSA. "My
teenage daughter has adopted an attitude about nutrition that is entirely
different from that of her friends," Cagel said at a recent CSA conference
in Escondido. He feels that the change in his daughter's eating habits since
joining the CSA has also changed her life-style. Cagel cites a recent tour
of the Be Wise Ranch.
"Three months later, and she still talks about
the hay ride," Cagel said. Considering the $30 million movie extravaganzas
Hollywood dishes out each year, a down-to-earth hayride still rates pretty
high in the mind of teenagers.
"My daughter has become a role model to her friends,"
he said. "See, the food you get is vitally important from a lot of
standpoints that have nothing to do with medicine and science, but have
more to do with philosophy and the quality of life."
Faustino Munoz, Farm Advisor from the University of
California, San Diego, believes that one of the most rewarding parts of
CSA is the involvement of families in farming.
"Kids are hungry to know how food is grown,"
Munoz said. "Kids love to see how carrot seeds are planted, how dirty
carrots are when they come out of the ground and what you have to do to
clean and bunch them."
"I love their questions," he said. "Kids
want to know why we don't have tomatoes certain times of the year. They
want to know what is local and what is in season."
Munoz maintains that despite the negative aspects we
hear about family farming - such as urbanization, water rates, and land
access - the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
"San Diego has excellent weather that allows us
to grow year round," he said. "San Diego County is in the top
ten in gross sales nationwide, with over $400 million annual sales of fruits,
vegetables, and nuts".
Complementing our terrific weather, Munoz said, is some
of the most honored technology in use in the world. San Diego farmers are
pioneers in the use of plastics, greenhouses and drip irrigation.
"One important aspect is that the consumers are
right here," he said. "We need not be concerned with corporate
interests trying to send food across the world. Other cultures, say in South
America or Mexico, must export their crops."
John and Kathy Sullivan, owners of Kathy's Farm in Valley
Center, are looking into forming a CSA as an offset to rising cost of irrigation
water which, at $700 per acre-foot, is some of the most expensive in the
"Unless all three of us work outside to support
our water bills," Kathy said, "there's no way we can stay in business."
Kathy's Farm grows avocados, grapefruit and oranges,
but are considering using some of their bottom land for row crops for a
CSA. The Sullivans tried operating a fruit stand but found their property
was too secluded. "Besides," Kathy said at the CSA conference,
"a fruit stand is boring!"
Forming a CSA may be the right ticket to link up Kathy's
Farm to local consumers. "I see a very open market for wholesomely
grown, fresh produce marketed directly to consumers," Munoz said. "People
are looking for an alternative to showing up at the supermarket and selecting
produce not knowing where it came from or how it was harvested," he
And not that many people can chuck it all to live on
Jack Innis is a freelance writer from Oceanside, California, and a
regular contributor to the Earth Times. He is an alumnus of San Jose State
University with degrees in English and industrial design.