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Slate Worries about CSA Waste

October 14, 2008

Every once in a while, the local food system will come under attack for wasting energy in ways that the efficiencies of industrial ag has smoothed over – the “driving Hummers to farmer’s market” paradigm. There’s usually good answers to these questions, but continually questioning our answers to complex problems is a healthy way of avoiding unwarranted environmental complacency.

This morning, former YDN editor-in-chief fielded a question for Slate’s “green lantern” column: “My CSA gives me more than I can eat…is that bad?”For those who don’t know a CSA (community supported agriculture) is a farm where you buy a yearly subscription service, and, in turn, they give you a box of whatever produce they have that week. It’s a good way of removing the stresses associated with a farmer trying to sell all their produce at a farmer’s market, and for getting customers intimately involved with one farm. Many CSA’s will also have volunteer hours and u-pick components, sometimes as requirements for the weekly groceries, helping to cut down on labor costs.

As Slate points out, CSA’s have been given there due as a national trend in a front page New York Times Story, but doubts about food waste are valid. If we are to apply basic curves of supply and demand to an item like summer squash, a subscription service obeys basic laws of marginal cost for only the producer, not the consumer, and so in a classic microeconomic framework, consumer surplus is not maximized.

Of course, I’m an American Studies major, so I’m inclined to look at this a different way. You may not be eating all the food your CSA gives, but I’m willing to bet that you’re eating more of those kinds of food than you would be anyways, and, given a little time, you might figure out how to adjust your diet to allow for gluts of the hot vegetable of the week. Even if you never eat all the food, supporting a local farmer by investing in his/her farm is never a bad thing.

As Leibenluft points out, the only way to be sure if a small scale-farm is actually minimizing waste is to go there and observe its practices, and this kind of personal relationship with a farm is where the CSA model thrives. It allows for maximum consumer oversight by tying your food production to a single farm. Single answers to problems are always a tricky business, but as far as they go, “CSA” is among the best.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary Nelen permalink
    January 22, 2009 11:53 am

    Good cooks know how to avoid waste by preserving extra food in the larder or sharing with neighbors. That means freezing berries, storing potatoes in the cellar/parking garage and donating food to shelters. CSAs in my region collect food that people choose not to take and donate it.

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