Balancing Social Values with Economic Realities
Farmer Experience with a Cost-offset CSA
Some farmers are offering subsidized or “cost-offset” community supported agriculture (CO-CSA) shares as a strategy to counter market saturation and improve low-income families’ access to fresh local foods. However, little is known about farmers’ experiences with this model, particularly in regard to the balance between additional resources required for adoption and subsequent contributions to farm revenue. As part of the Farm Fresh Foods for Healthy Kids Study of the impact of a CO-CSA on dietary behaviors in low-income families, we conducted qualitative interviews with 12 farmers across four states after the first and the third years of CO-CSA implementation. We explored these data to understand what accommodations farmers provided to low-income families, the benefits and challenges of implementing the CO-CSA model, and farmers’ perceptions of its impact on cash flow and profitability. We found that farmers selected pick-up locations that met CO-CSA members’ needs, were responsive to members’ food preferences in selecting CSA contents, and allowed for late payments and pickups, though sometimes this placed an additional burden on farmers’ time and resources. Additionally, weekly payment transactions led to increased recordkeeping. Despite its challenges, most farmers said CO-CSA adoption was a worthwhile addition to their business model. Expanding food access through this mechanism may become more sustainable with the additional support of innovative policies like eased land-use restrictions, operational models, and community strategies to fund and operate CO-CSA programs. This is an area ripe for future research, as there is little documentation on both single farm and multifarm CO-CSA operations.
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