Vermont U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I) and Patrick Leahy (D) on Tuesday introduced legislation to charter a competitive grant program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to promote Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
Vermont is a leader in the successful movement that directly links consumers with the farmers who grow their food.
Since the concept first took hold 20 years ago there are now thousands of CSA farms across the country, with more than 100 farms in Vermont offering some sort of CSA program. Vermont has the highest direct sales in the nation per capita - more than five times the national average - with great potential for further growth. At the start of each growing season, members of a CSA network pay for a share of a farm's produce. Throughout the season members receive a weekly box packed with their share of the farm's yield for that week. CSAs are taking their place alongside backyard gardening and farmers markets. CSAs benefit farmers by providing up-front income to support the spring planting season, and consumers get the freshest local food available.
Sanders and Leahy are original cosponsors of the Community Supported Agriculture Promotion Act, S.1414, working with chief sponsor Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jon Tester (D-MT).
"At a time when many families are struggling to pay for food, CSAs make sure families can put local, healthy food on the table," Sanders said. "As Vermonters have shown, linking local farmers with families creates jobs on farms and ensures that people have a healthy source of food."
Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, "Community Supported Agriculture serves farmers, families and their communities in several key ways. It links consumers to local farmers and a steady source of healthy food, while helping to keep local food and farmland available. These partnerships are part of the renaissance we are seeing in Vermont agriculture. Vermont's farming community is creatively building networks on the CSA model to meet Vermonters' needs. CSA is one of the engines that is creating new opportunities for economic development and jobs in Vermont's food and farm sector."
The competitive grant program proposed by Sanders, Leahy, Gillibrand and Tester would authorize grants to nonprofit organizations, extension services and state and local agencies to provide support infrastructure to growers, ranging from marketing and business assistance to help in developing innovative delivery and distribution programs and widening CSA participation through outreach and education efforts. The grant program would also give preference to projects linked to family farms, farms operated by or employing veterans, and networks that expand CSA reach into low-income communities that have poor access to healthy, affordable and fresh foods in retail grocery stores.