Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA as it’s commonly called, is an agricultural production system that sees the consumer share risk with the farmer by agreeing to buy food in advance of the production. We learned of the CSA system a few years ago, and have always wanted to include it in our business model. We have our market, restaurant, and bulk sales, but expanding that to include CSA is attractive for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there’s significant risk in what we do. CSA started with vegetable and fruit producers, who are at the complete mercy of the weather. Theirs is often a famine or glut situation, and being able to spread that production risk is of enormous benefit to them.
The weather is less of a factor for meat producers like us, but we can never guarantee our production. We’ve had pig litters from 3 to 13, and while every breeder aims to maximise both the numbers born and the numbers weaned, we really are often at the mercy of nature here. Don’t get me wrong – stewardship and management are vital factors in any breeding enterprise. However, there are times where it doesn’t matter what you do, and you end up with a boy shooting blanks, variable fecundity with your girls, or predation on your flock/herd.
The way a CSA system helps us mitigate that risk is by sharing it, to a certain extent, with the consumer. You, the consumer, buy futures in our production, and you basically receive what we’re able to produce in a monthly delivery. We can guarantee a minimum weight, which we term “CSA shares”, but it’ll be a mix of meats up to that weight. For example, if our sheep production has been booming but our pig production is in a slump, then your CSA box may be heavier on lamb than pork. There are nuances here, as factors like the various CSA box options or your family’s dietary requirements come into play, but generally speaking, the variety in the boxes changes to match my production.
The second reason why I love the idea of the CSA system, and I think the one that appeals to me the most, is that it connects consumers to me, my farm, and what we do in a very real, very tangible way. You’re not just buying meat. You’re not even just buying meat from somebody who you know grows the animals in a way that parallels your own ethical/moral compass. You’re explicitly buying a part of my production, and through that we have a special kind of relationship. All of a sudden, you’re intimately connected with our breeding, both the practices and the outcomes. You’ve got a stake in how I raise my animals, and their wellbeing. You’ll be feeling both our successes and our failures more intimately, and in the process you’ll have a closer connection with where your meat comes from. That makes me very, very happy. 🙂
There are also benefits to the consumer here that make the CSA option attractive to me. You’ll get a much better sense of the amount of meat you eat, and I can express that to you in terms of kg/month or kg/year, and also how that equates to the actual animals (e.g. each subscription will have estimates of the number of pigs/cows/lambs/chickens that will be consumed annually). Everybody should rationalise the amount of meat they eat, for both health and ethical reasons, and buying CSA shares is the perfect way to do that.
The other benefit to the consumer is value-for-money. The price-point for CSA shares is between bulk prices and market prices. CSA purchases are cost-effective, customers get to buy in bulk without actually having to outlay that much money upfront or needing to store entire beasts in the freezer.
I’m not sure we’ll ever move to a 100% CSA model. Right now I’m able to forecast our production for the next 12 months, and I’ve split that about evenly between CSA and the market. While selling all of our produce via the CSA system would make better sense from a production/risk point-of-view, I like the market because it gets us in front of a lot of new people every week. Building relationships with a smaller set of regulars is awesome, and the idea of having those long-term relationships as part of our CSA system and having that as the entirety of our business is tempting. A large part of why I do what I do, however, is to spread a message. The markets give us that opportunity on a large scale where the CSA system does not.
The way I want to implement a CSA system is by offering three different kinds of boxes, namely, pork-only, a mix of pork, lamb, and beef (mixed mammal), and a mix of pork, lamb, beef, and chicken (mixed mostly mammal? 😀 ). We don’t grow the chickens, but I have a source who grows them properly, completely free-ranged, and I have full confidence that they are happy, healthy birds.
A CSA share is 5kg/month, and the boxes will range from small (1 share), medium (2 shares), to large (3 shares). This effectively equates to a monthly delivery of 5, 10, or 15kg. These weights are the minimum weight that each box will contain, but the variety in the box will vary from month-to-month. We’ll also have additional offerings like bacon and mettwurst (spoiler alert – we’ll be producing smallgoods in the 2017 New Year!!!!!!!), and will cater for people’s dietary requirements (e.g. gluten-free).
We’ll also offer CSA members discounts at the market, and will host members to tour the farm either themselves or as part of a broader CSA open day. We’re still working out some details, after which I’ll put them up on our web page. This is a blog after all – I’m not posting here to sell people stuff. 🙂
The result should be that people can order their CSA box to suit their family situation, and we’ll cater to what they want to the best of our abilities. In the process, the customer is getting value-for-money, and a much closer connection to my farm and their meat production and consumption. They benefit and we benefit, but my real hope is that this kind of practice starts to grow and takes on more of a life of its own. These systems are big in the US and UK, and while we’ve seen it a bit in Australia, mostly in the eastern states, and we have come across some local family co-operatives that have similar aims, it’s still only just taking off here. This kind of system, supporting small family farms and connecting people to their food, can be a real alternative to the mass-production, intensively-farmed misery that is the majority of our food industry. Fingers crossed…