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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.