CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture (although I've also seen "Shared" used in place of "Supported). It's meant to directly connect the farmer and the eater. Generally, it works like this: Before the season begins, people buy shares in the farm. Later on, as the season progresses, they receive a weekly box of goods - typically consisting of mostly produce. There many variations on this model though. Sometimes shareholders can work on the farm or there are pick-your-own fields. Some are free-choice, and I know of one CSA, Essex Farm in New York, that is full diet and year round.
Devin lent me a wonderful book about CSAs that I'm still making my way through: Sharing the Harvest. In it, the first person (a lady named Robyn Van En) to own a CSA in this country is quoted as saying that the mathematical equation is "food producers + food consumers + annual commitment to one another = CSA and untold possibilities." On Localharvest.org some of the advantages are outlined. For farmers, they get to bring attention and financial support to their farms before the season begins. For consumers, they get fresh food, new vegetables and chances to learn about different forms of cooking. And both people get to meet each other - an incredibly rare experience in are current food system.
One day last week, while we were weeding a bed of carrots, I asked Devin what he thought I should include in a post like this. And, really, it seems I should have either recorded his answer or he should write all about this himself. The main points he addressed were diversity, community and stewardship. A CSA brings people together because of a common interest that in turn nurtures the land. And it's also about cooking, he said. Every week (Wednesday, in Side by Side's case) shareholders receive their box of goods and have to make what they will from it. From what I've heard and read, you have to be willing to experiment when you take part in a CSA. (And the truth of this we shall soon see, because as part of my internship I'll be getting a share.) Farming is hard work, but it's hard work that is worth it for all parties involved - the farmer, the shareholders, the community as a whole, the environment, and future generations.
Localharvest.org as a search tool for CSAs. Visit their website to find one near you.
And go here to learn more about Side by Side.