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Community Supported Agriculture for Urban Lifestyles
Alex Steffen, 3 Jun 05

Eat local food.

If there is one unquestionably good thing we can each do, it is to try to shorten the distance between farm and table.

Grow your own food, if you can, but many of us aren't in a situation to do much gardening, much less become self-sufficient. The next best route is community supported agriculture.

Also known as CSAs, farms which participate in community supported agriculture sell you food directly, bringing you boxes of vegitables every week in exchange for your direct financial support. Everyone wins: your local farmer gets much better prices for her produce than she'd get by selling it to a corporate middleman, and you get fresh, wholesome (often organic) veggies that you can enjoy in the warm glow of having done the right thing. And usually those boxes of food are a great value.

The problem is that word, boxes: often, getting a "share" in a CSA means getting boxes and boxes of food -- mounds of zucchini, mountains of kale -- which is great if you're feeding a large household, but the size of the average household has been dropping in most urban areas in the developed world, and there's no way a single person, or even most couples, can eat their way through such a pile of produce.

That common dilemma is what's brought Full Circle Farm to start offering flexible CSA memberships for singles:

Members can sign up for a week or a year, and everything can be done online. "Belonging to Full Circle's CSA is very easy and affordable because you pay by the box," explains Elizabeth Blessing, a single, 27-year-old nutrition educator and Full Circle Farm CSA member. "I tried to join another CSA once, and I just couldn't pay that bulk sum at the beginning of the season." A full-season subscription can run as high as $600 for a weekly family-of-four box. Full Circle's flexi-boxes, by contrast, run $25 to $45 per week, with every-other-week packages available as well.

That kind of technologically-empowered flexibility will not only help the CSA model spread, it also heralds a major aspect of the future of sustainable cities: the move from buying products to using services. Such product service systems all get easier as cities grow more compact and as information tools grow more efficient.

Better and better product service systems can also empower new and more creative models for getting good food on your plate, like harvesting urban fruit, preserving suburban farms, greening restaurants. Taken far enough, such pleasurably radical eating may even help us build sustainable post-oil megacities.

Now, if you'll excuse me, it's dinner time.

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One more really important point. Full Circle Farm's produce is magnificent. And their success is echoed by the farmers we visit/adore/buy from each saturday here in my neck of Seattle. My food patterns are shaped now by my farmers market. I am more in tune with the ag cycle, better fed and have a dang good time each Saturday morning.

What more could you want?

Posted by: Nancy White on 3 Jun 05

"Grow your own food, if you can, but many of us aren't in a situation to do much gardening, much less become self-sufficient. The next best route is community supported agriculture."

CSA's are great and it's good to see that they are adapting to singles and smaller families but I still like farmers markets. I walk to my local market, have developed a relationship with a number of different farmers, meet my neighbors, and get seedlings for my community garden plot and the spinach for the spinach egg lemon spring soup.

We already have an adaptive local food network that includes CSA's, farmers markets, community gardens, food coops, and local restaurants and processors. We need to make it explicit and expand it. This is something that has been built since the 70s, perhaps the most enduring legacy of the so-called 60s.

Here in Massachusetts about 25 years ago we did a small program called Fruition in which the state provided money to buy fruit, nut, and food-producing seedling trees and shrubs for planting on public access land. Grapes and raspberries for the fences around a park, black walnuts and apple saplings for more protected areas were available. The vision was on an urban permaculture where you could walk down the street and graze off the public plantings.

It worked for as long as attention was paid and the budget, as I recall, was about $60,000. Now everybody has forgotten but a few of the plants remain.

Posted by: gmoke on 3 Jun 05

Wendy does fantastic work. It's good to see she's doing so well with the farm and the CSA.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 3 Jun 05

Even if you dont want to take care of a garden you can plant some fruit trees and some berry bushes/vines. Nothing like being able to grab an orange 3 feet from your front door.

Posted by: wintermane on 4 Jun 05

Another model is the coop garden. That's what we do: there are 9 households sharing one 1/2 acre (0.2 hectare) garden. That keep the time requirement and skill level manageable for each household. It allows some specialization; we have good weeders, good tillers, good mechanics. It's also fun and social; we often have a nice potluck lunch after gardening together on Sundays.

Around here, folks are discussing the idea of knowing where one's food comes from. Most food is an anonymous commodity - it has no biography. Compare that to a typical discussion of a meal in France or Italy: the wine is from this region, the cheese was made by this family, the Bertalot family grows the best leeks around, etc. The term "Food with a face" describes the idea.

Posted by: David Foley on 4 Jun 05

Another (better :) place for finding your local CSA is

Posted by: Guillermo Payet on 4 Jun 05

Just make sure the grown the food was grown in is safe to grow food in. Alot of vacant plots were not always vacant... And some times there is a VERY good reason no one built there.

Posted by: wintermane on 4 Jun 05

Ahh, this is good. I tried to use one of these services a few years back (though they didn't call it "CSA"), but their only option was a huge bin full of vegetables vastly in excess of our needs. We rebuilt our entire diet around the box, which I was happy about, but no matter how many creative things we found to do with vegetables we still had to throw 30%-40% of the delivery away because we simply couldn't eat it before it went bad.

Posted by: Mars Saxman on 5 Jun 05

Everyone should be able to grow at least something with this little contraption!

And the cool part is things like cherry tomatoes grow way longer than the warm season lasts, so if you put this on your balcony and then bring it in before the first frost, you can have cherry tomatoes until Christmas!

Jason Trout

Posted by: Jason Trout on 5 Jun 05

At we are proposing anther way to grow food locally. Certainly the post-oil megacity will need rooftop vegetable gardens, both to avoid transporting our food and waste in and out of cities (approx. 98% of transportation energy comes from fossil fuels), and to cool our buildings.

Our light-weight soil-less systems are designed to make rooftop vegie gardens possible now, without the cost of retrofits. In fact the original research grant for the project even looked at the possibility of these systems for extended space travel - an activity which will require the most rigorous cradle-to-cradle process analysis yet.

Posted by: Alex Hill on 9 Jun 05



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