CSA: The Farm to Kitchen Table Trend That is Taking Off Everywhere

Have you ever heard of Community Supported Agriculture (also known as CSA)? If you haven’t, it is definitely worth some Googling. This new trend in farming has hit, and it is positioned to change the bottom line for farms all over the country.

Here’s how it works. Producers offer a certain number of “shares” to the public each season, meaning locals have the opportunity to buy in on a portion of their crop based on a set price. Once crops are harvested, these “share-holders” will typically receive a box containing a small part of the harvest every week until the season ends (the length of season depends on the farm and types of crops being grown.)

Though it has recently become popular, the concept of CSA is not new, having blossomed approximately thirty years ago. With a growing public focus on supporting local and organic foods, farmers came up with the idea to include the locals in the yearly crop process, not only to educate the community about the benefits of eating local, but also to guarantee revenue for farmers to supplement harvesting season, creating a mutually beneficial relationship. But what are the benefits?

Benefits for the community:

o   Guaranteed freshness
o   Farm visits
o   Personal relationship with food producer
o   Diverse food experience
o   Educational opportunities

Benefits for farmers:

o   Early season payment to fund crops/ease cash flow
o   Easy marketing of farm products
o   Pre-season publicity
o   Established relationships in the community

There are multiple types of CSAs that you can choose from to fit your needs.  Prefer a more flexible program where you can pick and choose your produce? Want fruits or flowers instead of vegetables? Do you prefer fresh meat over produce? Chances are you will be able to find a CSA that fits your needs. One farm in South Carolina even partnered with a supermarket to create a CSA program where shoppers could conveniently purchase a box of fresh produce for just $26 during their daily grocery trip. The possibilities seem endless and are only continuing to grow as the concept becomes more popular. 

The CSA industry has an estimated total of 4,000 farm participants all over the country, making the program easily accessible to most people. While there are many pros for CSA, there can also be some cons, so I suggest you do some research before investing in the process.

Interested in joining a CSA program in Ohio? There are plenty to choose from and plenty of people out there willing to help you navigate the process. Visiting the farm, testing the produce and talking to the farmer are all things that are encouraged and welcomed by most CSA participants. Why not take an afternoon and see how you can support local agriculture?

Drones: Not Just in Star Wars Anymore

Amazon was recently put under the microscope for their new plan to use unmanned
drones for a delivery program called Prime Air. An alien concept to many, this announcement was met with a variety of reactions, mostly because people do not know that the use of drones is actually very common.

Drones can be used for many things, but what is most surprising is the rising use of these
devices in the agriculture industry. Take a look at the chart below:

By 2015, agriculture is expected to be the largest domestic market for drone purchases, generating around $2 billion in revenue. In fact, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts the commercial market for drones will eventually reach 80 percent for agricultural uses. Why is this?  

There are many facts that suggest that drones are the next big thing in farming, many which have caught the attention of farmers all over the country.

The main selling point in support of using drones in agricultural production is the
extensive amount of data that drones can collect in a small amount of time. Drones can provide three different views for farmers who would otherwise be unable to collect data from these angles.

o   Aerial angles that can inspect crop patterns and discover irrigation issues, soil variation, pest and fungal infestations. This view can also be used to track cattle and other livestock herds to search for missing animals or analyze behavior to identify illness or aggression within a herd.
o   Multispectral infrared or visual views, which can indicate differences between healthy and distressed plants; data that would be unobtainable without this kind of technology.
o   Continual checks hourly, daily or weekly based on farmers’ needs. These are important because they can monitor changes and reveal trouble spots throughout the day at a much more efficient rate than any human.

Not only do drones save valuable time for farmers, they are also an investment that can
help farmers save money in the long run. Drones can be purchased at a cost as low as $1,000 per drone, compared to the $1,000/hour that crop imaging with a manned aircraft
could cost. By purchasing a low-cost drone, farmers could see a return on
investment in as little as a year, which could be huge for the agriculture and food
production industry.

Need another selling point? As the drone production market expands, so do American jobs. With more than 50 companies and organizations working to develop new drone models, the industry could create more than 100,000 jobs and nearly half a billion in tax revenue by 2025.

As the demand for agricultural resources increases, it will become increasingly important to make farming more efficient to produce higher crop yields in a lower
amount of time. It will be interesting to see the percentage of farmers who jump on the
drone bandwagon to stay on top of this demand. Do you believe national usage rates will reach the predicted level?

Want to know what farmers are saying? Check out this NPR exclusive interview with a farmer who has already integrated drones into his production process.

Photos courtesy of pbs.org, robohub.org, farmingdrones.com, suasnews.com, climate-kic.org

New Farming Trend: Crickets for Consumption?

A new farming trend has hit Ohio recently with a crop that may be a revolutionary answer to future farming sustainability: crickets.

Big Cricket Farms, which recently opened in Youngstown, Ohio, is the first farm to open in the U.S. that will breed insects for the sole purpose of human consumption. Cricket breeding is expected to increase in the coming years because of increasing demand for cricket flour by bakeries and companies making the switch from grain flour to the cricket-based product.

While Big Cricket Farms is breeding their crickets for a company that produces cricket flour chips (also known as “Chirps”), many companies use the cricket flour to make everyday baked goods and energy bars for those who are looking for a healthy protein alternative.

Crickets are cleaned, dried and milled into fine flour that can be used in any kind of baking as a substitute for regular flour.

All of these companies share the similar message that cricket farming is the way of the future, and they may be on to something.

Megan Miller, founder of Bitty, a San Francisco-based bakery startup that uses cricket flour in its baked goods and energy bars, approached this concept in a recent TEDx talk called “Are insects the future of food?” Miller presented many surprising facts about the benefits of introducing crickets into our diet, but also approached the stigma that many of us may share around “eating bugs.”

If you look at the facts, though, it is hard to ignore the idea that cricket consumption could change the agricultural industry in America forever. There are two surprising benefits that cannot be ignored when considering introducing the insect into your everyday life.

Nutritional Benefits

The health benefits are inarguably higher than most other protein sources that we currently consume, which can be seen in the diagram below, with high levels of iron, protein and vitamin B12.

In fact, the protein levels in crickets are higher than they are in most of our current food sources. Crickets are also very low in the fat and cholesterols that we already try to avoid in our diets.

Environmental Benefits

So how will cricket farming and consumption impact us environmentally? The statistics are staggering. With a population that continues to grow, agriculture will have to keep up, causing more stress on resources.  Luckily, crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep and two times less than pigs to produce the same amount of protein. They also produce much less methane than other food sources, emitting an average of 80% less gas than cattle.

More than 2 billion people worldwide already include insects in their diets, which makes me wonder why haven’t we jumped on the bandwagon yet. All we need to do is get past the psychological roadblock of “eating bugs.” Do you think you could?

Images courtesy of chapul.com, vice.com, exo.co, thailandunique.com