Is Dirt-Under-Your-Fingernails the New Sexy?

Via Abigail Wick
on Jul 9, 2010
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Can you say sexy farmer, anyone? The inimitable Antonio Roman-Alcala of In Search of Good Food.
Can you say sexy farmer, anyone? Antonio Roman-Alcala of In Search of Good Food.

There’s no time like summer’s hot, hot farm-harvest season to reflect on natural resources, carbon footprints, and environmental integrity. These considerations inevitably raise the question about food security—the availability and accessibility of food—and food justice—the notion that communities have the right to cultivate, sell, and consume healthy food. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organizations attempt to address these issues through alternative food-distribution systems.

The Basics
CSA members purchase a “share” of small-plot family farms located within their neighborhood, and in return, receive a regular allotment of the week’s harvest—it’s either delivered in a box to their doorstep or available for pickup at a central location, such as farmers’ markets. Depending on the farm, “shares” might be gained through monetary exchange, a labor contract, or a combination of both. In the US, the annual average CSA “share” costs between $500 and $800, according to The New York Times. Alternately, many CSA farmers offer work-trade options, allowing members with fewer financial resources to earn their keep by visiting the farm to till, plant, water, fertilize, and harvest. More often, members opt to pay and farm.

CSAs operate under the premise that the investment and risks of farming should be shared among the beneficiaries of the crop yield. A customer’s payment provides farmers with the capital to cover the annual costs of maintaining a farm. When customers pay in full at the beginning of the season, farmers have more resources to invest in the land, which translates to a more productive, healthier annual harvest. Traditionally, small-plot farmers are doomed if inclement weather or infestation ruins the crops; however, when a CSA community shares financial responsibility for food cultivation, farmers have economic security—everybody bears the burden of a bad crop by not getting as much food that harvest. Eating with the seasons means being at the whims of nature, which is part of the bargain when investing in a CSA.

City Girl Gone Country Beauty Ellen Roggeman of McEvoy Ranch & Alemany Farm.
City-Girl Gone Country-Beauty Ellen Roggeman of McEvoy Ranch & Alemany Farm loves permaculture.

The Deets
According to The New York Times, the CSA system first developed in Europe and Asia as a progressive means of reviving small-scale farming—a practice that has become cost-prohibitive in the modern mega-farm era of food production. During the past 20 years, CSAs have become a popular alternative to an unsustainable agriculture system. Academic experts following the phenomenon say that fewer than 100 CSAs existed in the US in the early 90s. Today, Local Harvest, a comprehensive grassroots directory of CSAs, reports more than 2,500 in its database. What’s more, the individual farms themselves are expanding through increased membership.

The movement allows consumers to buy and spend locally, while minimizing the environmental degradation and high costs that accompany the storage and shipment of goods grown outside of one’s region. Bill Duesing, a national leader of organic small farm organizing, says that shipping makes up 80 percent of the cost of food. Through CSAs, farmers and consumers are given a unique opportunity to connect with one another as like-minded people joined by a common cause. People discover new connections between habitat, annual seasons, land, and food production. Many CSA members learn to emulate the work of their ancestors by canning, pickling, and even freezing foods to preserve for the scant produce available during the winter months. So, go ahead! There’s never been a better chance to reconsider our culture’s food-production paradigm—and to do something positive to address its systemic problems.

*A version of this article originally appeared in


About Abigail Wick

Interested in glamor and good food? San Francisco-based writer and editor Abigail Wick is the creator of Eating with Abs, a cool resource that encourages innovative, intuitive, plant-based meals. It’s about DIY sophistication and culinary art on a budget. You're invited!


5 Responses to “Is Dirt-Under-Your-Fingernails the New Sexy?”

  1. yellowpeartomato says:

    IMO "dirt-under-your-fingernails" has always been sexy. Maybe it's just that i just turned 40, but i'm finding it both amusing and irritating that a topic has to be deemed "sexy " to get alot of press (after reading this article, i thought the term sexy was more of a hook to get the reader to read than much to do with what is discussed in the article). And that it seems as if there is a "new" sexy just about every week. As if "sexy" is something that can be defined by everyone for everyone. I was recently looking at a CSA network website and the first article was an award for the 10 sexiest farmers in america, or something like that….and my initial reaction was jeez, now we have to have a popularity contest in print for farmers? ALL that said, if it brings more deserved attention to all the great farmers and farms out there, fab!

  2. catherine hall says:

    great article – great content and incredibly well written!

  3. […] version of this article has appeared in Elephant Journal and Posted by Abigail Wick Filed in Get Personal ·Tags: Alemany Farm, CSA, […]

  4. jaedakota says:

    Echo yellowpeartomato re the sexy hook…. seems like the corporations often whore their food connections as food pimps depriving workers out of their due…. need more commitment to the "good" earth as Pearl Buck alluded to in her book the Good Earth…. good faithful relation to the earth instead of whoring the earth for profit… and faithful relationships are often Not considered sexy… but if the earth is "good", we should be faithful and good to the earth… article is well written and to the point,

  5. […] from global social injustice to the sprawl of luxury homes and golf courses replacing local farmland near my childhood home were striking chords within me. As an artist, I sensed an intimate […]