Community Supported Agriculture

Why Should I Get Involved With Community Supported Agriculture?

If you are interested in eating fresh, healthy, local food but don’t have the space to grow your own – or perhaps the know-how, then becoming a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm may be just up your street!

CSA farms are worldwide, generally small scale, and often organic. They focus on helping local people and the environment so therefore provide a more sustainable approach to producing food.

Most of us are used to shopping at a supermarket or large store and, of course, these shops are owned and controlled by huge corporations. We all know that it’s profit that drives them and they need to satisfy their shareholders too. In contrast, CSAs provide a food system which is controlled by local communities for local communities.  There’s a huge difference!  The difference, both physically and mentally, between pushing a trolley around a giant store, with people pushing and shoving (or perhaps you do a shop online), and being outside in the countryside, dressed in old clothes and wellies, breathing in the fresh air, getting exercise and knowing that you’re part of a scheme which will not only help to feed you, but will also play a significant part in helping the farmer and nature!

Photo Courtesy of CSA Network UK

Background of CSAs

These farms started many years ago, yet not many people have heard of them …

Community Supported Agriculture was influenced by Biodynamic Agriculture in Europe, which was formulated by a philosopher called Rudolf Steiner. Two farmers, Jan Vander Tuin from Switzerland, and Trauger Groh from Germany, brought the concept of CSAs to the USA in the 1980s.

The first two CSAs in the USA were on the East Coast in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and during the late 1980s, CSAs started in other parts of the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe.

Similar farms had been started in Japan and Chile prior to the advent of Community Supported Agriculture. In Japan, the cooperatives are called “Teikei” and operate in a comparable way to CSAs as they are exclusively funded by membership fees. The Teikei movement is thriving today with hundreds of organic farms taking part.

Logo Courtesy of CSA Network UK

How CSAs Work

The idea of a CSA farm is that a partnership is formed between the farmer and their consumers, so that the responsibilities, risks and rewards of the farming activities are shared. There are several types of memberships and the rates vary as every CSA initiative is unique and has different rules, but in the UK, the CSA Network UK charges from £25 for an individual membership. Their website is: https://communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk/

Many CSA farms offer volunteer opportunities which give the individual hands-on experience from sowing and planting, right through to harvesting crops – and in return, are rewarded with fresh produce for free or at discounted prices.

The number of CSA farms is increasing dramatically around the world and they are becoming more and more popular, which is not surprising, as they offer a healthier alternative to the mainstream food system, give consumers more choice, and reconnect people to the land whilst cutting down food miles.

The farmers also benefit from becoming part of a CSA scheme as they receive a more stable and secure income and closer connection with the local people.

In the UK, a five year project was run by the Soil Association through the Big Lottery Fund “Making Local Food Work Programme” and in December 2013, a new multi-stakeholder cooperative was formed – the CSA Network UK, owned and controlled by CSA Farms.

The farms generally grow fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers, but their produce can also include eggs, cheese, yogurt, bread, honey, jam, chutneys, fruit juices, poultry, pork, lamb, beef and dairy produce.

Most of the farms reserve land for wildflower meadows, orchards, woodland or coppices which are invaluable for bees and wildlife. There are also schemes where an apple tree can be sponsored for a share in its fruit and a scheme where a vine can be rented.

Photo Courtesy of CSA Network UK

Learning the Skills

From an educational point of view, CSA is not only about learning how to grow vegetables or rear hens, as dozens of these farms (around three quarters) run programmes on a host of rural skills such as permaculture, coppice crafts, hedge laying and woodland management, together with advice on storing crops, preparing the food and cooking it. Many produce recipes on their website, making it easier for members to cook their fresh, seasonal produce.

Becoming a member of a CSA is also a marvellous way to meet like-minded people and join in the social activities. Many of them supply regular newsletters to their members and organise events for the local community to become involved in, whether educational or a fun day out.

Photo Courtesy of CSA Network UK

Start Your Own CSA Farm!

Are you a landowner, farmer or enthusiastic individual who has access to a plot of land? If so, why not start your own project? It is vital that the founder of the project has an in-depth knowledge of farming and business. Perhaps you know a farmer who sells direct to the public or perhaps has a vegetable box scheme already?  If so, this could be a good place to start.

The CSA networks give valuable advice on how to start a CSA farm. The benefits to farm members include courses and training events either for free or at discounted prices, access to CSA helplines, advice on land and tenancies, guidance on finance, promotion of CSA projects on social media and in the press, and information on the best ways to gain memberships.

In addition to the above, many of the CSA websites have a comprehensive FAQ page from setting up the farm and finding finance to finding volunteers, organizing training and social events. Do have a look on their websites.

Photo Courtesy of CSA Network UK

Want to Find Out More?

Most CSA websites provide an interactive map of participating farms making it simple to locate the nearest farm to where you live.

There are also plenty of case studies available to read online which explain the different types of schemes and these should provide lots of inspiration!

To find out more about a particular farm near you, phone them first and arrange a mutually convenient time for a visit. Some farms have regular time slots where they are open for visiting.  Do check first and not just turn up! If you do visit a farm, remember to wear appropriate clothing and take a drink and a snack.

How These Farms Can Help Save the Earth

Over the past few decades, due to intensive farming, much of the soil has eroded due to modern farming methods and the number of chemicals used. These chemicals contaminate the land and our water supplies.  In short, the soil is virtually dead! Over the years, some insects, weeds and diseases have become resistant to the insecticides, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, meaning that more concentrated levels have to be used.  In contrast, a handful of organic soil is alive. It consists of earthworms, organic material, beneficial organisms and inorganic minerals. The condition and structure of the soil plays an essential role in the plant’s health, and ultimately our own health.

Cutting down on petroleum based chemicals, using crop rotation and adding large quantities of organic matter to the soil helps to replenish the land and in turn, benefits wildlife and the environment.

We all need to reconnect with our food systems, stop relying on supermarkets for fresh food (which has probably been flown thousands of miles) and start to enjoy a healthier lifestyle by eating local, fresh, organic and seasonal, food. This was the way all people were fed in the past – and it works! I really don’t believe that there isn’t enough land to feed the world as it’s to do with HOW we produce our food.

We all need to take action now, including our children. Sign up with your local CSA farm. You’ll enjoy the fresh air, the exercise and perhaps some boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables in return!

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