Blows against the monocultureAside from the obvious advantage of fresh over frequent-flier produce, author Michael Pollan, in his book "The Omnivore's Dilemma," points out that community-supported agriculture programs may be the old "new" solution to the monoculture mentality of agribusiness that increasingly puts our food and environment at risk by growing single crops in large amounts, bolstered by fertilizers and pesticides.
"There are good reasons to think a genuinely local agriculture will tend to be a more sustainable agriculture. For one thing, it is much less likely to rely on monoculture, the original sin from which almost every other problem in our food system flows," Pollan writes.
"So when Iowans decide to eat locally rather than from the supermarket, their farmers will quickly learn to grow a few other things besides (corn). And when they do, they'll probably find that they can give up most of their fertilizers and pesticides, since a diversified farm will produce much of its own fertility and its own pest control."
Because community-ag programs can only serve so many subscribers each year due to labor costs and limited land size, most sell out early in the season and often have waiting lists.
Financially, such programs are unlikely to win over a die-hard supermarket coupon clipper.
"For too long, we've been conditioned to look for cheap food. We don't really know the cost of our food, what with all the ag. subsidies," says Mayer. "From that standpoint, we don't ever promote our CSA as a good deal or a cheap solution. We have had members who have compared us with the grocery stores and it sort of depends on the season, but we don't really advertise it that way."
But as a source of fresher, healthier food that doesn't deplete the planet, it's hard to find a better model than community-assisted farms.
"The public is starting to get it," Wilson College's Mayer says. "Although it is nice to have those strawberries from Florida up here in Pennsylvania in February, does it really make sense to ship them all that way? It costs more to get them here than it actually does to produce them. That's not sustainable, and they don't taste nearly as good as the strawberries I pick here in June."