It's Monday – and time for another Real Food Quote Monday (RFQM). I'm catching up on my reading of the latest Wise Traditions journal from the Weston A. Price Foundation. I got the Spring 2010 issue more than a month ago, and I just finished the “Letters” section. That speaks not only to how behind I am, but to the fact that every word in the journal is worth reading.
Allan Balliett, who runs a biodynamic CSA, from Shephardstown, West Virginia wrote a very enlightening letter, bringing our attention to fake CSAs. He said when he browsed LocalHarvest.org, he noticed an increasing number of “fake CSAs” — farms or organizations that distribute non-organic produce they acquire from off their farm. Don't mistake this for local farms who've partnered together to offer greater abundance to local consumers; the fake CSAs distribute food where the source is unknown or obscured.
“Transparency is lost. And so are the deep benefits of getting your family's food from a CSA. As the local food marketplace has grown, entrepreneurs [have moved in] who do not operate from the ethical grounds [from which] the movement arose.”
What is a CSA? According to LocalHarvest.org, “Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of “shares” to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a “membership” or a “subscription”) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.”
As Allan points out, “a fake CSA exploits a consumer's assumption about the value of a CSA.” I'd say so! When I think CSA, I think:
- I expect to receive high-quality local produce
- I expect my produce to have been picked very recently (ideally the day of distribution)
- I feel good that I'm supporting a local farm or farms who are ecological farmers — doing their best to take care of the land
- I enjoy the convenience of receiving all my produce in one box or at one location
If you are or were a CSA consumer, what are your assumptions?
In a fake CSA, which distributes produce from unknown or obscure sources, three of my four assumptions are violated:
- (violation) My produce may come via a USDA organic food club cooperative — probably not local
- (violation) My produce is probably not fresh if it was shipped in for distribution
- (violation) I am probably not supporting local, ecological farmers, but rather USDA organic farmers
- I still receive the convenience of picking it all up in one place
Oh, wonderful. As a fake CSA recipient, I still get convenience, but none of the most important benefits:
- love for my neighbor (that's what we do when we choose local)
- health for my body (food grown in healthy soil)
- stewardship of the earth (farmers who improve soil quality)
Here's a revealing quote from Allan Balliett on the subject of the limitations of USDA organic farming.
“When choosing produce for maximum health, one must always remember that USDA organic is a procedural approach to reducing toxins and has zero nutritional goals. In addition, commercial farms and farmers simply cannot and do not take care of the land as well as the small ecological farmer does.”
We've got to go beyond natural and organic. If we're careful, a CSA can help us do that. Not a fake CSA — a real CSA.
Here's a similar issue. Answer this question: If you went to a local farm stand, would you expect that the produce sold there came from that very farm? (Or at least one nearby, if a few farmers were working together.) I would. There's large local farm in my area with an even larger farm stand. Yet, they ship in a great deal of their produce. I call this a fake farm stand.
What can we do to avoid fake CSAs or fake farm stands? Transparency. Know the farmer. Ask questions. Visit the farm. Grow it ourselves. It isn't hard, but it takes being present and involved with our food's origin.
What do you think? Have you run into an fake CSAs or fake farm stands? You can read the entirety of Allan Balliett's letter here.
We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. This post may contain special links through which we earn a small commission if you make a purchase (though your price is the same).