Last December saw the launch of the Community Supported Agriculture Network UK. It felt like a major milestone for a movement that, although globally has been developing for the last 30 or so years, has really only got going in the UK during the last 6 or 7. For the network though, it was, by definition, the starting post. The work since then has been all about building a strong, independent cooperative that works for, and represents, projects in the UK. To fund it, we have recently launched a crowd funding appeal to support the network. Let me be up front; part of the reason for this blog is to persuade you that it’s something worth supporting, but it’s also an opportunity to talk about CSA more generally and why it’s important.

What exactly is Community Supported Agriculture?

A widely accepted definition is ‘any food, fuel or fibre producing initiative where the community shares the responsibilities and rewards of production in a spirit of mutual trust and openness. Whether through ownership, investment, sharing the costs of production, or provision of labour.’ It is effectively a partnership between producers and the communities they feed. Projects up and down the country have many and ingenious ways of making that work on the ground, and these examples from Wales are but a few. However they choose to operate, they work to a set of basic principles which the network is seeking to formalise in detail through a charter, but in essence they are:

  • People Care: A fair and steady income for the producer and a relationship based on trust with the consumers/members. Access to healthy food at affordable prices.
  • Earth Care: A chance for the land and biodiversity to flourish due to ecological farming methods and shared interest in these methods of production.
  • Fair Share: A share in the harvest of healthy (mostly organic or biodynamic), local and low carbon produce; a connection with the producer, the land and each other.

Why do we need a network?

community supported agriculture in action

In many ways, CSA is the very antithesis of our current food system. Supermarkets, governments, agrochemical companies and many others, have spent over 50 years and eye-watering sums of money establishing large-scale, high input, high carbon, centralised food systems that have isolated producers and their products from their local communities, and relieved consumers of the risk associated with, and responsibility for, their food. And they have been very successful in doing so. Swimming against this current is unimaginably difficult.

So it’s vital that projects get the support they need and deserve. At the heart of the network is a desire to help projects to share resources, knowledge and experience. That might be tips on farming and growing or experiences with different business structures or managing volunteers. That happens in many ways: an annual conference; smaller regional meetings and exchange visits; discussion forums/email groups; a website; social media and so on. In terms of resources, the network can facilitate sharing of machinery, labour or produce. We are exploring whether we can negotiate price reductions for members on inputs such as seed and compost, or insurance for when the community members are on the farm. Essentially anything that makes life that little bit easier, cheaper and more efficient.

It has another, more outward looking role and that is to raise awareness of CSA. Part of the job is to communicate the ideas to the general public, through meetings, broadcast media, social media etc., making it easier for individual projects to recruit new members. The other side of the coin is informing and influencing local and national government. With big changes to the way in which rural businesses and communities are supported, that aspect is more important than ever.

In a nutshell the network exists to create the conditions that allow projects to flourish in their local areas.

Why support it?

community supported agriculture carrotsThus far, 72 people or organisations have contributed £2,750. Their reasons are many and various, but I will tell you mine. I contributed because food is important to me: It nourishes me, it is a cornerstone of my health and well-being, it gives me pleasure and it is part of the glue that helps to bind me to the people that I love. By extension, the people who produce my food are also important to me. They do a magnificent job, often under very difficult conditions, and at the very least they deserve a fair reward and a bit of commitment on my part. I also care deeply about how my food is produced, which is how I came to be at Organic Centre Wales. Community supported agriculture, which shares the risks and rewards equitably between consumers and producers, and is underpinned by organic and sustainable production systems, is a logical choice for me.

Looking beyond my own selfish needs, society needs resilient and secure food supplies; it has to use less energy and carbon to produce them; it must look after its soils better if it’s going to feed my grandchildren and it must halt the decline in biodiversity. It needs well supported, financially viable, sustainable food producers on its doorstep if it is going to get any of those things. The contribution that CSA can make to a better, fairer food system is limited only by the size of the movement. For me, that’s more than reason enough to get involved.

For more information and to support the network, visit www.buzzbnk.org/CSANetwork

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