Why Not a CSA?

Beatitudes Farm and Market does not–and will not–operate a “CSA”, which stands for “Community Supported Agriculture”.  The reason why is that it’s neither what farmers pretend it is, nor what consumers think it is.  I don’t believe CSA’s are good for farms or consumers.

Morally, there are great virtues to be gained in farming.  The most important of these are humility and patience.  

Farmers learn humility by seeing that the fruits of the earth do not come from man’s labor alone.  They see that their work can be wiped out in an hour by a July thunderstorm or a late April freeze.  They see that pests and diseases in plants and animals can come from nowhere and wipe out a farmer’s goods.  Modern farmers try to eliminate these dangers by the use of morally questionable practices that ancient farmers did not employ–and that for good reasons.  First, modern farmers purchase insurance for their crops and livestock so they do not need to fear losses.  Second, they employ chemicals to prevent damages to pests and even weeds.  Third, they increasingly invest in totally unsustainable systems (greenhouses, hydroponics, etc.) to avoid the dangers of outdoor production.  We are not interested in these human schemes, but are comfortable depending on God’s care, and we welcome His providence always.  He is the Lord, and we are His servants–all that we possess and produce is His.  We want to live in an environment where our weakness and dependence on God is felt everyday.  We want to grow in the fear of God, not try and escape it.

Second, farmers learn patience, but taking risks in pursuit of the riches of the earth, which God generously gives to those who seek them.  Naturally, there is no easy way to produce the fruits of the earth–and God wills it to be so.  He said, “By the sweat of your brow shall you bring forth your bread.”  We, therefore, want to learn these lessons.  We want to “sow in tears” and do our penance as we obtain our daily bread, because we are confident that we will “reap in joy”, not as the world does when it happens to fare well, but with the added joy of knowing that we did well in God’s will.  That is the joy we seek in our reaping–not possessing bread alone, but God’s favor as well.

In a CSA, farmers attempt to dodge the risks of farming.  They do this for no good moral reason, but to try and make their living more “stable” through a human scheme.  A local website about CSAs says:

This upfront payment helps buy the seed and other inputs needed for the season and provides the farmer an immediate income to begin the season.

That’s exactly the opposite of how the farm is supposed to work!  The customers are asked to provide the “seed money” and accept the risk while the farmer pretends to be something that he’s afraid of actually being–a humble, patient worker. We don’t deny that this works out in most cases, but we don’t believe that it’s good for farmers to employ this scheme.  

I don’t believe the reasons given by farmers for CSAs, such as this:

This allows the farmer to concentrate on good land stewardship and growing high quality food.

Supposedly, running a CSA allows a farmer to concentrate on responsible farm management, but no good farmer would know or consider any other option!  Good land stewardship is not an option to a farmer who sees the land as God’s property over which he is a steward.  Moreover, this is the only truly sustainable way of farming–period–and anyone whose methods depend on whether or not his customers absorb his risks is a farmer you should stay away from.

Worst of all, the CSA arrangement puts the buyer in an inferior situation than they should be in.  The farmers who run CSAs are going to price their CSA shares to avoid losing money if the harvest is good.  So, the CSA consumers are rarely, if ever, going to make out well.  Rather, the CSA arrangement puts the buyer in a position to accept a bad deal when the harvest is bad.  Why would buyers want to enter into this arrangement?  There’s no reason to do so and the farmers should be tested by how well they do their work, not how well they say they will do their work.  “You will know them by their fruits.”  No, don’t buy CSA shares.  Tell the farmer, “You show us what you can produce, and we’ll buy it when it’s ready.”  If he’s a great farmer, he’ll be able to command great prices, so his income should not be a problem.  He shouldn’t need any up-front payment.

Behind the scenes, farmers are not doing good to the buyers.  For example, advice to farmers on pricing says this:

Charge members a set amount, then give them a share of produce which would cost them that amount if they bought it elsewhere – usually use farmers’ market prices to determine value”

 In other words, after they cover your risks, give them the same prices as those shopping elsewhere–who DIDN’T absorb the risk of the farmers who produced their food.   The normal policy goes on to include this:

Some CSA producers write a statement explaining that they will grow vegetables for a certain time period to the best of their ability under the conditions of that upcoming season, and that the members agree to share the risk and are expected to contribute their share price no matter what the season brings.  CSAs generally do not refund money in the event of crop loss.

How, then, is this doing any good for those of you buying these shares?  You are being used by cash-seeking farmers to remove their risks, and then, if there are poor harvests (of if the farmers are unsuccessful), YOU absorb the losses.  Why would you possibly agree to this, unless you believed that you were participating in something other than you actually are?


For all the rhetoric and hype, we’re not buying the CSA model.  I could not offer such an option to my neighbors and not think I was deceiving them into an arrangement that is really not good for them in any way.  I, as the farmer, accept the risk, trusting in God’s good providence.  I accept the costs.  I accept the work.  My first goal is to provide sufficiently for my own family.  If the Lord grants us a surplus, I am happy to share it with buyers who have the opportunity to obtain locally grown produce that doesn’t require that they take any foolish risks.  It is a win-win situation for both the farmer and the buyer to handle farming in a traditional way, with God as our focus, and not according to the CSA scheme.




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One Response to Why Not a CSA?

  1. Steve S. says:

    Very good analysis and reasoning on the facts behind CSAs. Most people think this is an improvement over the systems of the world. God’s economy is marked by addition and multiplication resulting in gain and life, but in the world’s economies there is only division and subtraction, resulting in loss and death..

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