It started with Community Supported Agriculture.
CSA programs invite consumers to buy advance shares of a local farm’s harvest. Each week of the growing season shares of the harvest are distributed to the participants. What started in 1986 with two small farms in Western Massachusetts looking to improve their pre-harvest cash flow has grown into a full-fledged movement involving more than 12,000 farms in all 50 states.
Now the model is spreading beyond corn and kale with consumers subscribing to everything from sauerkraut to bacon.
North Carolina’s Scratch Bakery offers month-long subscriptions for their CSP– that’s four weeks of community supported pies (local area pick-up only). Membership in the community supported bacon club at northern California’s Black Pig Meat Company gets you monthly allotments of their brown sugar-cured, applewood smoked bacon (yes, you can have it shipped).
Raw milk fans are able to skirt state-level prohibitions against its distribution by purchasing “cow shares.” They pay an ownership fee for a partial share in a dairy herd, and a monthly fee to cover their share of the costs to house, feed, and milk the cows. The yield is then shared among owners on a weekly basis.
Community Supported Fishery programs are springing up on both coasts. In exchange for an initial buy-in, members can purchase a weekly share of the catch at a below retail price. Farmstands are selling jam, pickle, and sauerkraut shares, and many savvy restaurateurs have financed start-up costs, renovations, or just weathered the economic downturn through the sale of shares that pay a dividend to investors with discounted food and a guaranteed table.
The Community Supported Agriculture model is win-win. The producer gets the benefit of upfront payment, mitigated risk, and can charge above wholesale prices; the subscriber gets seasonal, local foods at a below retail price, and in a faltering economy an investment opportunity with community benefits and a tangible return.
Local Harvest can direct you to a CSA in your area.