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11/25/08 5:55PM By Ron Krupp
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The Community Supported Agriculture initiative in Vermont - CSA for short - is a fast growing movement that brings farmers and consumers together. The way it works is that a partnership is formed between farmers and consumers where consumers buy a "share" in the farm. In return, the farmer provides a wide variety of fresh, local produce through the growing season and the consumer agrees to purchase a "share" of the harvest, at a set price before the growing season begins.  
Some CSA farms offer installment plans that allow for three or four payments during the season. Others offer subsidized shares to low-income families or accept food stamps. CSA's often provide free shares to local food banks, soup kitchens and community pantries.  Some CSA's have "work shares," by which they exchange labor for part of the cost of the produce.
CSA's invite members to take part in life on the farm through tours, potluck dinners, cooking classes and workdays. In the process, members learn how to eat locally and seasonally, and develop a relationship with the grower and the land the food comes from.  
CSA's are a type of community funding network that builds value that cannot be measured simply in dollars. Ripton author and activist Bill McKibben wrote in his book, Deep Ecology, there are many benefits to what he called, "the economics of neighborliness."  In the case if CSA's. the ultimate harvest might be the preservation of the family farm,  and farm communities.
One aspect of CSA's that's rarely discussed is the concept of "Associative Economics.  Let me explain. The true price of a crop is when the farmer receives enough to satisfy his or her economic needs until it's time again to produce another crop. In other words, the farmer doesn't get paid for his or her labor or the product of their labor. When farmers can make decisions based on the needs of the farm, rather than monetary concerns, farms have a greater chance of thriving. Farmers are able to put all their attention towards nourishing the soil, caring for the livestock in a humane way, handling manure safely and supporting the total "farm organism."  
To run a successful CSA farm, there has to be a spirit of cooperation and commitment between the farmers and shareholders. Both parties need to be able to sit down and communicate their needs to one another. Today there are 75 CSA's in Vermont, including a number of winter CSA's.  Many CSA's are now working with other farmers in order to provide breads, eggs, beef and fruit to increase the supply of local food.  Some CSA's are working out arrangements with land trusts, by which communities can permanently set aside land for farming.  This is all good news.
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