SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that will enable community-supported agriculture businesses, or CSAs, to operate without having to obtain expensive retail food permits or have commercial facilities.
Assembly Bill 224 by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, sets up a new state registration program for CSAs and issues guidelines for food handling and food safety.
The legislation was sponsored by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and supported by other farm groups, including the California Farm Bureau Federation, which had complained that county environmental health officers were forcing the businesses to get food-service permits that cost hundreds of dollars a year.
Under this bill, farms or groups of farms will pay $100 a year to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which will make sure they meet certain standards such as properly labeling their products and keeping records.
“Environmental health people had come to the conclusion that CSAs were retail food operations,” said David Runsten, the Davis-based CAFF’s policy director. “They didn’t have any kind of permit and they were not an approved source. Federal law requires all food come from an approved source, so we negotiated a bill that would give CSAs an alternative route to become an approved source.”
The Gordon bill resulted from discussions with producers held last year by an ad hoc committee on direct marketing set up by the state’s agriculture agency, CFBF natural resources and commodities director Noelle Cremers told the Assembly Agriculture Committee earlier this year.
CSAs have been a growing marketing method over the last two decades, noted an Assembly bill analysis. Originally, participating consumers would prepay the farmer for the produce, but now other models have emerged including paying for regular box deliveries and offering discounts for helping with planting or harvesting, the analysis stated.
Since 2004, the number of CSAs nationally has more than doubled, and recent estimates place their number in California at 276, Cremers told lawmakers. However, CSAs have never been regulated, and they’ll need to be under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act, the analysis explained.
Runsten said he hopes the simpler registration program will enable the CSA phenomenon to flourish.
“We’re hoping to promote CSAs more,” he said. “We think it’s a good form of marketing for farmers. We need to do more to get urban people to be aware of it and participate.”
Community Alliance with Family Farmers: http://caff.org
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://cfbf.com
California Department of Food and Agriculture: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov