Recalibrating Infrastructures: CSAs in LA

December, 2009

CSA’s—short for Community Supported Agriculture—are a form of food delivery system that pairs production directly to the individual consumers.  CSA’s work with slight variations, however, the CSA’s being analyzed here all work on a subscription basis, produce boxes being delivered to drop-off points on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  The concept is that by supporting a CSA, a consumer can get a full diet of produce—fruit and vegetables—that is grown locally, in season and always fresh.  By creating this connection, a sustainable system of food delivery can be established.

01 CSA Routes

In Los Angeles, four primary CSA’s were identified:  Tierra Miguel Foundation, South Central Farmer’s Cooperative, Tanaka Farms, and JR Organics.  Each CSA has distinct distribution routes based on the farm location, drop-off locations, and days of delivery.  All four farms are located just outside of Los Angeles County, but within a 200 mile radius of downtown LA.  The closest farm, Tanaka Farms, is located just south of LA in Orange County.  Tierra Miguel and JR Organics are located near one another in Riverside County.  South Central Farmer’s Cooperative was located in South Central LA but has since located north of Los Angeles to Kern County.  The location of these farms outside of LA is indicative of the fact that agricultural land is extremely scarce within the county boundary.

02 CSA Route Analysis

The distribution routes of Tierra Miguel illustrate how CSA’s function.  Tierra Miguel has two delivery days in LA County—Wednesday and Friday.  Each drop-off location has its own characteristics based on who has volunteered to receive produce boxes and act as a local distribution point.  Tierra Miguel is specifically interesting because it uses the most grassroots distribution system where any house or business could be a local node.  The local nodes of Tanaka Farms are primarily based on schools and some churches while South Central Farmer’s Cooperative and JR Organics use farmer’s markets as local nodes.

The local nodes of Tierra Miguel each receive a different number of boxes based on the number of subscribers in that area.  The minimum number of boxes for a local node is five while the greatest is twenty-five.  At this point, there does not seem to be any correlation between the number of boxes being distributed per local node and the use typology—commercial or residential—of that node.

03 CSA Boxes

CSA boxes contain a variety of produce each week based on what is in season.  Each box always contains vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  The contents of each box are not known until the week of the distribution as farmers decide which crops are ready to pick, and which need to wait.  While in concept, all produce in the box is grown on the CSA farm, some farms do supplement boxes with produce from other local farms as the scales of operations do not permit a consistent weekly harvest.  In addition, some produce is grown year-round and can be found in almost every box including greens, carrots, tomatoes, apples, and oranges.  Boxes are 10-25lbs in weight—depending on the type of produce included—and roughly the size of a paper or banker’s box.

04 CSA Agricultural Land

The concept of CSA’s is that you can locally source all of your produce, creating a sustainable system of food production, delivery and consumption.  If this concept were applied to the entire diet, including dairy, starches and protein [specifically meat in this case], would LA be able to supply itself with enough food?

Land requirements vary per diet type, vegan diets using less land than diets that include dairy and meat, as land requirements for livestock are much higher than those for produce.  A vegan diet requires 700 square meters of land per person, while a omnivore diet needs 3500 square meters.  We have already established that LA has very little agricultural land.  This is in large part due to the density of development, covering almost all developable land.  LA has a density of 45 square meters of land per person, not nearly enough to sustain itself on any diet, even the most basic diet of potatoes still requires 300 square meters per person.  When accounting for the entire Southern California region, 1,175 square meters is available per person, a little less than what is required for a diet that includes dairy.  This shows that the density of population in Southern California, especially in LA County and Orange County cannot be supplied by a sustainable diet of locally produced food.  LA must rely on external production centers to supply much of its diet, especially the meats and some dairy.  However, LA could hope to rely on the surrounding counties for its produce consumption.