Recently, we have witnessed scenes not present in American society for generations. Farmers are dumping milk that can’t be sold, plowing over crops and tossing produce–measures not deemed necessary since the years of the Great Depression. All are consequences of the supply chain’s collapse in the face of the COVID pandemic. Even so, some parts of the country are facing a future far less bleak.
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture: a movement that has garnered followers from all over the US, from California to Maine. These farms tend not to experience the problems traditional ones often face, and it’s important to study their unique model in these difficult times. Most businesses working in food supply–including farmers and restaurants–have seen their profits dissolve over the previous months. CSA, on the other hand, have enjoyed massive increases in demand.
CSA aren’t a new venture. They have existed for decades, but lack mainstream acceptance in the world of agriculture. Mainstream tends to favour large commercial farms, as they are deemed more likely to turn a profit. The old systems have their advantages, but the cons are more obvious now than ever.
“In all the time that we’ve worked with CSAs, which is several decades, we’ve never seen a surge as quickly as we have of the last few weeks,” said Evan Wiig with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which supports and lobbies on behalf of CSAs across California.
The COVID pandemic has only helped to expose the issues threatening our food supply: problems that have persisted for generations. These issues begin with a high specialization level in production, meaning far too many people are involved in the process. During a pandemic, this becomes more dangerous than ever. If one gear breaks down, the entire mechanism will fail. Across the US, these consequences are now being felt by everyone lacking access to a steady supply of local food.
“We think people’s habits will shift because of this” pandemic, said John Tecklin, who runs the CSA Mountain Bounty Farm in northern California. “For a lot of them, it’s kind of a wake-up call: ‘what’s important to you?”.
New programs, collaborations and ventures are currently being formed as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This happening across the country, and many CSAs are now working together, combining resources to deal with the demands of our new reality. Many restaurants and closed markets are also moving towards the innovation of the CSA model, in an effort to stay afloat through the pandemic.
The government is also taking note of the CSA model, incorporating the needs of local farmers into their overall relief efforts. Nearly $3 billion in aid is set to help farmers produce local, fresh food for struggling communities. The question remains how much of this aid will result in long-lasting changes, however.