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Editor's note: Today is World Food Day. This year's theme is "Agricultural cooperatives – key to feeding the world." The following post is from Ryan Neal, who runs the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) garden at Heifer's Learning Center at Heifer Ranch.

CSA volunteers on harvest day

There are probably as many types of agricultural cooperatives as varieties of tomatoes.  Whether consumer- or producer-run, cooperatives are a major player in feeding the globe.  Locally run examples include your local agriculture co-op where farmers purchase supplies, or even farmers markets where those same farmers get together to sell their products. Cooperatives have proven to be successful models in development when small farmers can get together in order to fill large orders needed by grocery stores.

Our model here at Heifer Ranch is commonly referred to as Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. The basic premise of this type of cooperative is participants, or “shareholders,” buy a share of our garden for the spring and summer growing seasons.  They do this in advance of the harvest in order to cover some of our upfront costs such as seeds, organic fertilizer, etc. In exchange we deliver to these shareholders a variety (typically seven to nine types) of vegetables each week, which changes as the weather warms. This type of cooperation allows the consumers a real connection to a farm and gives the farmer a chance to focus on production rather than marketing during the busy season.

Harvesting day on a CSA is a group effort.

Feeding the world's expected 9 billion people in 2050 will take more than a one-size-fits-all approach, and local cooperatives such as the one supported at Heifer Ranch might prove critical in supplying the sufficient quality and quantity of food we have come to expect. CSAs are present in many communities around the United States as well as the world. In fact, this model originated in Europe and Japan more than 50 years ago. CSAs can be found that support multiple farmers as well as multiple types of farmers.  A recent winter CSA started in the Little Rock, Arkansas, area, for example, includes meat, vegetables and eggs from three different farms.

CSA helpers at Heifer Ranch

Check out for examples in your area.

Are you a CSA member? Tell us about your CSA in the comments section below.

Read more of Heifer's coverage of World Food Day 2012 here.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.