The ABCs of the New CSAs

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So while organizers say that farmer-run meat shares don’t appear readily available, “cowpooling,” or creating a customer-run clubs that agree in advance to buy whole animals, could offer some of the benefits of a CSA.

“What you can do is find a producer to drop off at a specific location every two weeks and or every month,” says Jo Robinson, a journalist who runs Eat Wild, an informational website about grass-fed meat. “A lot of them will say yes because that’s a very effective and lucrative way to get food out to the public.”

CSAs head out to sea

In Sitka, Alaska, salmon troller Eric Jordan says his highest-value catch goes to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s Catch of the Season program. The nonprofit delivers annual shares of wild-caught seafood to donors contributing upwards of $700. “It’s a tangible way to connect support of marine conservation with the resource,” says the organization’s director, Eric Siy.

Other fishermen say they hope the CSA model will foster awareness of depleted oceans and faltering coastal economies—in addition to offering seafood that’s often less than 24 hours out of the water.

In Maine, the Port Clyde Fresh Catch fishermen’s cooperative distributes a portion of its catch to church groups whose members have paid in advance. The arrangement gives fishermen a better price per pound, and the cash advance goes toward fuel for trips, as well as expensive vessel and gear repairs. The winter share costs $189 for 14 weeks of ten-pound shares of succulent Maine shrimp; in the summer, a 12-week subscription costs $360 for 8-12 pounds per week of whole, head-on fish.

“We want a high-quality product that we own from dock to plate,” says Kim Libby, the co-op’s manager. “It’s a grassroots effort.”

A Community-Supported Market

In Boston’s rapidly developing South End, an expansion of Lionette’s Market is in the works, and proprietor Jamey Lionette hopes to solicit financial help from loyal customers, whose investments will not only yield a stipend at the store but will also preserve his family’s five-year-old market and café.

“People in the neighborhood want their neighborhood to stay a certain way,” he says. That includes having a corner market where they can shop for grass-fed beef, produce, and cheeses that (unlike those at major supermarket chains) hail almost exclusively from regional farms around New England, New York, and Quebec.

Under Lionette’s plan, a $10,000 investment would give a $125 weekly return for two years (or $13,000 worth of food); $5,000 would yield a $55 weekly stipend; and $2,500 would give investors 10 percent off store items for two years.

Lionette says his reasoning for going direct to his friends and neighbors was pretty simple: “There’s a real bad economy and I already have one small loan.” And the concept of seeing tangible—and edible—evidence of an investment was nothing new to savvy consumers looking for local foods, Lionette says. “The CSA is obviously where I stole the idea from.”

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