Community supported agriculture and the complexities of survival

2012 Annual Report for GNE12-048

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2012: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Grant Recipient: Boston College
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Juliet Schor
Boston College

Community supported agriculture and the complexities of survival


This project assessing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in Massachusetts continues to progress smoothly. The main objective over this early phase of the project has been to familiarize myself with the local agriculture scene, acquaint myself with a diverse group of persons familiar and/or participating in local agriculture in one way or another, and compile an extensive database of Massachusetts CSA operations. This phase has been preparation for the next one, which begins in January 2013 and continues through February. Interviews and surveys with farmers and farm workers will comprise the two main sources of data. I have intentionally postponed talking extensively with any one farmer out of respect for the seasonality of their work. However, the explicit aim of this project is to understand better the viability of CSA, and I have worked hard to build trust and a sense of mutual solidarity with farmers and eaters alike.

Objectives/Performance Targets

I have aimed to complete the following goals by January 10, 2013. They are complete unless noted otherwise:
1) Participate in CSA farm in as many different ways as possible.
2) Build core group that includes farmers, farm workers, researchers, consumers, and activists.
3) Complete survey and interview protocols.
4) Build farm database (in progress).
5) Administer survey pilot (in progress).


Beginning in June, I have worked with a farm in Western Massachusetts, acting as a CSA delivery coordinator for a site in the Boston area. This position has been ideal for many reasons. Foremost, I was able to participate directly in the CSA experience from a vantage point that allowed me to see both the farm production side and the consumption side. While most of my work was not at the farm proper, ensuring that produce arrives safely into shareholder hands is an essential task of any CSA operation. Over the summer and through the fall, I learned not only what the farm produced (items, varieties, and quantities) but also how different consumers reacted to such foods. I became acquainted with shareholders and feel well positioned to explore the consumption side of CSAqq. Over the course of more than twenty deliveries, I learned shareholder names, where they are from, how they travel to the site, how they became involved, what they enjoy about their CSA experience, and much more. These relationships were not simply utilitarian in nature, I enjoyed learning about the shareholders just as I know many enjoyed learning about what I was doing and why I am interested in local agriculture.

The other main benefit from working as a site coordinator for this particular farm is that in many ways they are on the forefront of the local agriculture scene. For instance, this farm is involved in farmland preservation through a land trust. This farm participates in Buy Local campaigns and the “Be a Local Hero” project. The farm helps connect other farms and their products to customers in Boston and the Pioneer Valley. They work with non-profits to deliver food to area shelters and kitchens serving the needy; this food might otherwise go to waste. The farm employs renewable energy and continues its expansion of season extension techniques through greenhouses, row covers, and root cellars for storage. In these and other ways, I have been able to situate myself directly into the local agriculture scene, albeit mainly from the perspective of those associated with one farm.

I have worked to develop a core group of knowledgeable individuals to provide guidance on the project, especially the survey and interview protocols. Survey materials are now nearly complete, and I am preparing to administer a small number of surveys as a pilot in order to address any remaining issues. My original plan called for administering surveys in mid-January and proceeding with farmer and farm worker interviews immediately thereafter. Farmers have confirmed this to be a sound plan. Other researchers have provided guidance on the project, corroborating, for instance, that building as complete a database as possible will in itself be valuable work for the local agriculture movement.

I began using the term “local agriculture” to match what farmers themselves often employ. While the goals of the project remain the same—to better understand CSA viability in Massachusetts—it has become clear that many farms utilize CSA as only one element of their marketing portfolio. Even for those farms that focus exclusively on CSA, “local” seems to be their preferred terminology. Other core group participants have encouraged the project because we continue to face the situation where we have a great deal of anecdotal evidence about single farms as well as a handful of national and regional surveys, but nothing in depth and on the scale of this project. At this point, if the project meets half the expectations of some core group participants, then I would consider it a success in supporting local farmers, those who eat their food, and sustainably expanding this important movement.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Feedback from core group participants as well as those who I have conversed with regarding the project more generally continues to be overwhelmingly positive. 2012 was fraught with drought and weather extremes that will undoubtedly become more prevalent in our future. At the same time, interest in local foods, building regional resiliency, and strengthening individual and community health continues apace. These issues—climate change and the local (ecological) agriculture movement—are interconnected in two important ways. First, the industrial food system contributes a great deal of greenhouse gas emissions, likely a third of the total, as well as other pollutants. Ecological agriculture, of which I would consider local agriculture a cornerstone, can work to reduce these impacts. For example, through building soil organic matter and sequestering carbon in soils. Second, climate change, even at the current .8 degree Centigrade level, has shown the susceptibility of large-scale, monocrop, chemically dependent agriculture. More farmers utilizing a diverse array of techniques growing a wide range of foods helps protect against droughts, floods, and temperature extremes of all kinds.

This project has only just begun, but the more I engage with farmers and those who have come to see their fundamental importance, the more sanguine it becomes—our future is intertwined with the ability of farmers to cultivate and care for the soil.


Dr. Juliet Schor
Faculty Adviser
140 Commonwealth Avenue, 519 McGuinn Hall
Chestnut Hill,, MA 02467
Office Phone: 6175524056