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Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is an alternative food marketing model in which community members subscribe to receive regular shares of a farm's harvest. Although CSA has the potential to improve access to fresh produce, certain features of CSA membership may prohibit low-income families from participating. A ‘cost-offset’ CSA (CO-CSA) model provides low-income families with purchasing support with the goal of making CSA more affordable. As a first step toward understanding the potential of CO-CSA to improve access to healthy foods among low-income households, we interviewed 24 CSA farmers and 20 full-pay CSA members about their experiences and perceptions of the cost-offset model and specific mechanisms for offsetting the cost of CSA. Audio recordings were transcribed verbatim and coded using a thematic approach. Ensuring that healthy food was accessible to everyone, regardless of income level, was a major theme expressed by both farmers and members. In general, CSA farmers and CSA members favored member donations over other mechanisms for funding the CO-CSA. The potential time burden that could affect CSA farmers when administering a cost-offset was a commonly-mentioned barrier. Future research should investigate various CO-CSA operational models in order to determine which models are most economically viable and sustainable.
There is a need to improve geographical and financial access to healthy foods for limited resource populations in rural areas. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs can improve access to healthy foods in rural and limited-resource populations. However, research is needed to discern the most appealing conditions for a CSA (e.g. price, frequency, food quantity) among rural, low-income customers. The goal of this study was to understand low-income consumers' preferences related to participation in a CSA program, considering price, frequency, food quantity and accessibility (e.g. distance) conditions. A modified exploratory choice experiment exercise was embedded within in-depth interviews to examine willingness to participate in CSA under a variety of conditions among 42 low-income adults with at least one child in the household in North Carolina, New York, Vermont and Washington. Willingness to participate in a CSA under each condition was summed and compared across conditions. Results were stratified by race, number of children and household members and McNemar's test and Student's t-test were used to examine differences in willingness between conditions. Salient quotes were extracted to support themes related to each condition. Our analysis suggests that the ideal CSA would be a full-sized share of eight to nine items of mixed variety, distributed every other week, priced at less than US$15, no more than 10 min further than the supermarket (SM) from their home and preferably less expensive but no more than 20% more expensive than SM prices. CSAs interested in reaching rural low-income populations may benefit from considering these consumer-level preferences.
In recent years, several initiatives have sought to encourage redemption of food assistance benefits at direct-to-consumer (DTC) market venues such as community supported agriculture programs and farmers’ markets in the USA, with the dual goal of increasing access to healthy foods for low-income families and sales of locally-grown foods for farmers. Proponents of these interventions assert that these programs have a positive impact on local economies yet there is limited evidence to validate this argument. This research project used a customized input-output model to simulate potential economic impacts of programs and policies that enable Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to shift purchases from traditional food retailers to DTC venues in four states. Two different scenarios were explored: (1) increased outreach to low-income consumers and (2) financial support for using SNAP benefits at DTC market channels. We found a positive, though modest, economic impact at the state level under both scenarios when accounting for (a) business losses in the food retail and wholesale sectors, (b) a shift in acreage from commodity to specialty crops and (c) the cost to taxpayers. Since most of the increased economic activity would be in the produce farming sector, we discuss the opportunities and challenges for this sector along with potential policy implications.
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