Originally posted on 100 Days of Ideas
I'm a big fan of the CSA (community supported agriculture) model but at the same time, I am not a member. Part of that, sadly enough, is due to laziness and not getting on top of signing up etc. But at the same time, I wonder what could be changed to allow the likely large number of people who would like to support local farms but don't have their act together.
What I would love is a grocery store that sourced all or most of its food locally. Then the farms could deliver the CSA shares to the grocery store, who then acts as a distributor, and people who don't want to commit to a full share don't have to. Additionally, the grocery store could act as a storage/distribution center for people who do want a full share, but can't pick it up within the farms distribution hours.
One of the things that makes CSA successful is the risk that the famers and customers share, and that is one thing that would be tough to replicate with the grocery store. CSA's allow the farmer to get a commitment and an idea of how much food they will sell before the growing season, which not only allows them to worry about marketing in the offseason, but allows them to be more economically efficient. On the customer side, they doesn't have much choice about the food they get, though some mix and match or market style CSA's get around that, but they do get fresh local food.
I do think there is a way to make it work with the CSA grocery store. First, I believe many people would choose to shop at a grocery store that is stocked only by local farms. Boutique organic and health food stores are doing well, especially in places like Brooklyn, and I think a locally supported grocery store would to.
This also means that the grocery store would not have things like oranges from Florida, but it would have fresh, local produce. I would be happy to have a limited selection if I knew the food came straight from the farm. Also, the customer would feel a greater connection with the farmer because they know that nearly all of the money they are paying for their food goes straight to the farm.
This still does not mimic the shared risk of a CSA but a number of things could be done to accomplish that. The grocery store could charge a monthly membership fee which is charged monthly but acts as store credit for the customer. Basically this is just the customer putting money down for groceries they are going to buy and there could be different fee levels depending on how much food you need. This would be part of the commitment of the customer to the farmer. The grocery store could also collect a lot of data on how many customers are shopping there, how much they're buying, etc so that they can work with the farmers to match the demand and the supply.
While there are a few kinks that need to be worked out, I think this model has a lot of potential. The ability to reach many more customers who either don't want to commit to a full CSA share or who just want to shop for a few things would be great for farmers and the local food movement in general.