Community-support agriculture (CSA) shares — also known as “farm shares” — allow individuals to support local farmers, and in return those supporters are gifted boxes of produce.
“Community members kind of invest in a farm or group of farms,” said Ned Savage, community outreach specialist for the Local Environmental Agriculture Project (LEAP). “They put up some money upfront, which helps the farmer invest in their operations in ensuring a good productive harvest later in the season. It helps them invest in things like seeds, and soil amendments, infrastructure they need early in the season when they don’t necessarily have cash flow coming in.”
LEAP has been working with area farmers to try to find ways of bringing fresh local foods to the Roanoke Valley. Savage describes how weekly produce boxes can contain a number of things — fruits, vegetables, eggs, and even flowers. All of the items in the box will come from the supported farmer.
There are many diverse CSA share models — each has a different price and offers various produce options. It all depends on the farmer and what they need before the peak of growing season starts.
Susanna Thornton, owner of Thornfield Farms, also has a CSA share which she has offered for five years. This year she has around a hundred investors.
“I always liked the idea of the model from the perspective of engaging the community in what we do and also it kind of being a backbone underlying the whole business,” said Thornton. “It’s reliable, more consistent. It’s a great community to help build.”
CSAs play a large role in keeping Thornfield Farms up and running. While the investments do help with operations on the farm, Thornton expresses that it’s much more than customers receiving a box of food each week.
“Their commitment reinforces our work,” said Thornton. “Also they spread the word about the farm to increase those people who come to farms markets and eat at our restuarants and things. We really think it’s the most important thing we do.”
CSAs also bring education comes into play. Thornton says many of her investors and their families will attend field trips, tours, and dinners at the farm. These opportunities give customers a look at where their food comes from.
“If you really care about where your food comes from, this is a great way to connect with the people who grow it, who produce it,” said Savage. “Learn about how they go about those practices and really connect with where your food comes from.”
Thornton isn’t the only farmer that offers a CSA share in the Greater Roanoke region — she says it’s a good thing since these options help to create a better community between farmers and their customers.
“There’s tons of farms that operate this way,” said Thornton. “The more people know about it and commit working with the farms, the better.”
Small Farm Central created CSA Day and holds it on last Friday in February. The organization states they usually sees a higher tick in CSA sign-ups during this period.