Beyond the CSA: Four Ways Communities Support Everything From Books to Beer

You know the model: Consumers purchase a share of the season’s harvest upfront and get a box of fresh produce each week from the farm. Now you can get your medicine that way too.

Since the first community supported agriculture program was established in western Massachusetts in the 1980s, the concept of buying food directly from local farms has taken off. There are now thousands of CSAs across the country. It’s a simple enough model—consumers purchase a share of the season’s harvest upfront, and they get a box or bag of fresh, locally grown produce each week from the farm.

And this model is not restricted to farming. In recent years, people have applied the CSA idea to other types of goods and services such as dining out, microbrews, and even fish. It’s a system that works for both producers and consumers. Here are some of our favorite examples.

Community supported breweries

According to the Brewers Association, there were nearly 1,500 microbreweries in the United States in 2013, a 23 percent increase over the 2012 count. As craft beer becomes ever more popular, some breweries have adopted the farm CSA model to offer customers exclusive access to their favorite local brews.

By purchasing a CSB share, you get to take home a specified quantity of beer at regular intervals, usually monthly. You are directly purchasing from the producer, thus creating a relationship between creator and consumer. CSB memberships typically offer six- or twelve-month options and include additional benefits like discounts and members-only events.

It’s a system that works well from a brewery’s perspective too. “For a small producer, you get money upfront that you need to buy ingredients and packaging, you know what people want ahead of time (in some instances), and they come and pick up the beer themselves,” explained Page Buchanan, owner of House of Brews in Madison, Wis., in an email. “So, it solves the challenges of knowing what to make, buying the raw materials to make it, and then distributing it to the end consumer. It’s very efficient.”

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