Buying the Farm? No, Just Subscribing.
By Jennifer Alsever

(Business 2.0) – It's been a while since America's farmers were in a stable business: 185,000 have gone under in the past 30 years, says the U.S. Census Bureau. But some family farms have found a way to thrive in the big agribusiness era: sell produce subscriptions to consumers.

Dubbed community-supported agriculture, or CSA, the business model offers subscribers boxes of seasonal produce along with milk, meat, and eggs delivered fresh each week for an average of $500 a season. More than 1,200 CSAs are listed on the directory LocalHarvest.org, and 100 new ones pop up each year. "It's becoming a phenomenon," says Rich Pirog, program leader at Iowa's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. "Consumers want to know where their food is coming from." And they're paying a premium for it: An heirloom tomato sold for 50 cents to a supermarket goes for $1.25 via a CSA subscription, according to Deborah Walton, owner of the CSA Canvas Ranch.

For John Peterson, who was forced to sell his family's Caledonia, Ill., farm in the 1980s, it's meant a second chance. His CSA, Angelic Organics, now boasts customers paying $370 to $560 for 12 to 20 weeks of produce. Many even drive two hours from Chicago to help out on what they call "our farm." Free labor from your customers? Call it Farming 2.0.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.