Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Short History of CSA

By Nina Berryman
CSA farms are spreading like wildfire across the nation! It seems new ones are being created every year, and many have waiting lists. Given how popular CSA is, it’s not surprising that the principles behind it emerged independently in many areas around the world. There is a misconception that there was one original model that was the inspiration for all of the existing CSA farms, however this is not actually the case.
In the 1960’s a group of women in Japan concerned with chemical-laden, imported food came together to implement a different kind of food distribution. They bought directly from dairy farmers to ensure they knew the source and quality of their milk. This concept spread to include more products, farmers and consumers. It became known as Teikei which translates to “cooperation,” “link up” or “join business.”
In the 1970’s there was a strong co-op movement in Chile as well. Farmers and consumers created buying and selling partnerships to promote the local food economy. These cooperatives inspired the first producer-consumer food alliance in Geneva.
The roots of the current CSA movement in North America can be traced to the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner. Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher (as well as a scholar, architect, playwright, and educator) who lived from 1862 to 1925. His works were largely concerned with “spiritual science,” the connection between western science and mysticism. He is considered the founder of Biodynamic agriculture, a method of agriculture that tries to source all farm in-puts from the farm itself, and considers a farm as one complete organism, compiled of many mutually beneficial interactions and ecological processes. Steiner also believed strongly in the importance of forming a strong relationship between a producer and consumer, where they both are aware of their mutual interests and work together to strengthen them. More and more farms began practicing these ideas of biodynamics and forming an intentional, close relationship between consumers and producers. In North America, these ideas were implemented on two separate farms, independently and simultaneously in 1986, the Indian Line Farm in Massachusetts and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire.
Indian Line Farm was started by a core group of people who had either visited biodynamic farms in Europe, or were at least familiar with the teachings of Steiner. Robyn Van En, Jan Vander Tuin, John Root, Jr., Charlotte Zanecchia, and Andrew Lorand started this farm with an apple orchard and sold shares of apples, cider and vinegar. They sold 30 shares in their first year, but quickly grew to include more crops, more land and more consumers.
The Temple-Wilton Community Farm was started by Anthony Graham, Trauger Groh and dairyman Lincoln Geiger. Trauger moved from Germany where he had been working with Steiner-inspired agricultural techniques. The Temple-Wilton Community Farm did not have a set price that all shareholders had to pay. Instead they made a budget for the upcoming year and simply asked shareholders to contribute what they could in order to reach their budget goals.
Today, in Pennsylvania alone there are more than 150 CSA farms, and that number is increasing rapidly. While there are many CSA’s that serve Philadelphia, we are proud to say that we are one of two CSA farms located within the city limits. The other is Greens Grow Farm, located in the Kensington area.

Sources for this article include:
Local Harvest:

The Rodale Institute:


Sharing the Harvest, Henderson and Van En, Chelsea Green Publishing Company. Vermont. 2007.

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