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What Distinguishes a 'Real' CSA?

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs originally let local buyers support local growers. But with a rise in subscription-based "food box" clubs, it's getting harder to say what a real CSA looks like.
May 23, 2016, 6am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Linda N.

There's always been some overlap between alternative and local agriculture, and community-supported agriculture has been a way to operationalize small and local growers for decades. But a new wave of digital entrepreneurs is crowding the space with subscription-based "food box" services, not all of them local. 

Samantha Melamed writes, "Now, though, small farmers [...] are finding themselves in competition with a slew of subscription-based food vendors, from meal-kit boxes like Blue Apron to mail-order produce boxes like Farmbox Direct to aggregators who mix local produce with stuff from Florida or Mexico."

Traditional CSA farmers like Emma Cunniff take issue when these services brand themselves as CSAs. "'I've noticed so many cooperative-buying clubs; they're not CSAs, but they have adopted that title because it's really hot and sexy right now. Some of their farms are up to 250 miles away. That's not local agriculture.'"

Nevertheless, the CSA business model has proven useful to entrepreneurs who finance and source from small farming operations. Whether or not they call themselves CSAs—and perhaps they shouldn't—food box subscriptions and similar services have attracted clientele. 

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Published on Wednesday, May 4, 2016 in philly.com
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