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History of Community Supported Agriculture

CSA is a relatively recent phenomenon in the United States and Canada. A CSA equivalent, called teikei, which literally translated means "partnership" or "cooperation," was first developed in Japan by a group of women concerned with the use of pesticides, the increase in processed and imported foods and the corresponding decrease in the farm population. The more philosophical translation for teikei is "food with the farmer's face." In 1965, these women initiated a direct, cooperative relationship in which local farmers were supported by consumers on an annual basis.

Around the same time, a similar model started in Europe. Instead of being formed by concerned consumers, however, in Europe the new model was an outgrowth of biodynamic farming, a process developed by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th Century. Biodynamic farming is based on the idea that all living organisms--including land, plants, and animals--are dependent on one another. Cooperative farmers in Holland and Switzerland developed models similar to CSA as an economic and social component to these ideas of interdependence.

CSA began in the United States on two east coast farms in 1986, with the earliest of the first group of CSA farms growing biodynamically and in many instances started by Waldorf School (another Rudolph Steiner inspiration) communities. At around the same time, several CSA farms developed in California. Since that time, CSA farms have been organized throughout the country with over 6,000 community supported farms serving farm fresh food in every state.

The Midwest has proven to be fertile ground for CSA farms and communities. The first CSA projects in the Midwest began near Milwaukee and the Twin Cities in 1988. In 1991, with encouragement and support from a Waldorf School community in Chicago, Angelic Organics began offering CSA to the Chicagoland area, and continues to be the largest CSA serving Chicagoland with a very loyal following. In 1993, farmers and consumers came together in the Madison, Wisconsin, area to develop several CSA farms which formed the basis of a CSA coalition which later became known as Madison Area CSA Coalition (MACSAC), and is now known as FairShare CSA Coalition. A Southern Wisconsin farm, Scotch Hill Farm was an early (1994) member of MACSAC and ultimately bridged the state line to serve both the Madison and Chicago areas. In 2009, about 30 CSA farms were known to be serving the greater Chicago area, and there are now at least 90 CSA farms bringing fresh produce, meats, flowers, honey, and more to households all over Chicagoland.

The above history borrows heavily from FairShare CSA Coalition and New York City's Just FoodFollowing are some additional resources about the history and evolution of CSA in the United States:

Articles

DeMuth, Suzanne, Defining Community Supported Agriculture, USDA National Agricultural Library (1993)

Van En, Robyn, Eating for Your Community, Context Institute (1995)

Books

Farms of Tomorrow Revisited: Community Supported Farms-Farm Supported Communities, Trauger Groh and Steven McFadden, Chelsea Green, 1997 (an update of a previous book, Farms of Tomorrow, 1990, by the same authors) - available at Steiner Books

                            


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