The problem with CSAs
Community Supported Agriculture is brilliant – consumers purchase fresh produce and other goods directly from farmers by purchasing an annual “share” of the farm. Usually, consumers can expect to receive one box or bushel of veggies a week throughout the growing season in exchange for an annual commitment of several hundred dollars. This is great for the farmers, because they get money in advance to pay for farm expenses. It’s great for the consumers because we get ultra-fresh veggies for less than we’d spend on similar quality (organic, local) produce at the grocery store.
So what’s not to love? The problem is the CSA concept of “shared risk.” Farms are not perfect machines. The crops may suffer due to drought, flood, hot weather, cold weather, insects, and other unforeseen events. However, CSA payments are made before the season opens and most CSAs acknowledge the risk and pass it to shareholders – if the farm experiences catastrophic failure (admittedly a pretty unlikely outcome), you will not get your veggies and you will not get your money back.
Consider an analogy to the stock market. In both a CSA and the stock market, investors purchase shares that have some risk on the expectation that they will receive a return on their investment. However, we accept risk in the stock market because risk correlates with potential return. In a CSA, there is no such correlation – the “return” is capped at the box or bushel of veggies per week, even if the farm has an amazing bumper crop year. CSAs might find many more willing subscribers if excess return was passed on to shareholders in the same way that diminished return is passed on. This could be in the form of canned goods for winter, a cash dividend if the farm has excess produce that is sold at market, or a dividend paid in “shares” which could translate to a reduced price for the next year’s CSA subscription.
If you run or subscribe to a CSA, I’d love to hear from you – would this model be appealing to you? Why or why not?