In a world where produce hails from around the world, and the people who grow it are strangers to you, your CSA box from Frog Hollow Farm may feel like a weekly rebellion. And in some ways, it is.
Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, is a movement that reconnects consumers with farmers in their immediate region. “A CSA addresses the concern that the average distance that food travels from farm to consumer in the United States is approximately 1,300 miles,” says PennState Extension. When you join the Frog Hollow Farm CSA, that distance shrinks – depending on where you live – to single digits during our growing season. During our off season, we work with farmers across California to pack your weekly boxes with quality organic fruit. You get to try a huge variety of produce and add some pizzazz to your table.
When did CSAs start?
There are a few different origin stories, but many point to the Teikei movement in Japan during the 1960s when people began buying food directly from farmers. During the 1980s, several U.S. biodynamic farmers introduced the idea of community supported agriculture in the United States, and the movement started its ascent.
There are many benefits to CSAs for farmers and customers. Traditionally, CSA customers paid for their food in advance, essentially buying their “share” of the harvest. This gave farmers income they could count on – they could buy seed and other supplies to keep their farm going. They didn’t have to sell their entire harvest to wholesalers, where they would earn much less. And the CSA gave them a way to connect directly with their customers, who directly support them through the ups and downs of the growing season.
When farmers are on a first-name basis with their customers, they can educate them about the growing process. Together, they share in the bounty and the challenges that each season brings, which increases their understanding of how farmers work with Mother Nature to produce the food we eat. Many CSAs have a mission to nourish and educate. And each one is unique – farmers are free to design their CSA to fit their operations and the people they are serving. At Frog Hollow Farm, we offer customers the flexibility to sign up for what works for them – there is no requirement to commit to paying for an entire season.
“Imperfect” is perfectly delicious
Frog Hollow Farm started its CSA program in 2001. Farmer Al heard the buzz about East Coast CSAs at a conference and he thought Bay Area customers would enjoy a fruit-only CSA from Frog Hollow Farm. Today, our CSA customers can “add on” products from partner farms and artisan food producers, like eggs, cheese, coffee, bread, and more. Our orchard is largely dormant during the winter months, and we have long-standing relationships with many growers who don’t have CSAs. Our year-round CSA members support the work that happens at Frog Hollow Farm, such as pruning, planting new orchards, and caring for the soil. During our off season, when we work with our partner farms to fill farm boxes, our CSA members are giving those farmers a new market to sell their fruit that they may not have otherwise had.
From the beginning, Farmer Al let his CSA customers know they had to be open to fruit that was cosmetically imperfect. The fruit you get in your CSA box would not be suitable for the grocery store, because it’s generally ripe and may have a scratch or two. We can’t send this fruit to grocery stores because shoppers are looking for cosmetic perfection, and they pick over the fruit until they find it. Too much handling will ruin the fruit, especially when it’s ripe.
Our CSA customers get riper jucier fruit than what they generally find when they go grocery shopping. And in most cases, they’re getting fruit that hasn’t been stored for an extended period of time. (Farmer Al says the exception is our Warren pears, which get sweeter after we pick them.)
We are grateful for the relationships we have forged with our CSA site hosts and our members over the years. Some of our CSA members have been with us for a decade or more! Our site host, Jamie, in Piedmont, welcomed us to her porch in 2005. They recently told us, “It's 17+ years now, and I still look forward to the seasonal box every Tuesday. It is a testament to how much CSA lifestyle is part of me, and it’s become second nature. I became a CSA member of a mostly veggie farm back in 1994 and never looked back. I will always be gobsmacked at the amount of hard work and toil and time farmers and their crew put into running a successful farm.”
There is so much that is anonymous about conventional food and farming – we rarely have the opportunity to hear from the people who do the work that ultimately nourishes us. CSAs actively connect people and farmers and create links in the community that keep us all going. We value and appreciate these connections! Farmer Al says it best:
“We meet some really cool people through our CSA. We’ve established many friendships over the years.”