Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is about taking responsibility for how our food is produced and how it gets to the table. It is a direct relationship between a farmer and the people who eat the food the farmer produces. The term Community Supported Agriculture was coined in America and encompasses a broad range of partnerships between consumers and producers. Each of these CSA arrangements is unique, tailored by the circumstances they develop out of. The Soil Association define CSA as:
A partnership between farmers and consumers where, at best, the responsibilities and rewards of farming are shared.
As CSA farms are directly accountable to their consumer members they strive to provide fresh, high-quality food and typically use organic or biodynamic farming methods. Generally there are more people working on CSA farms than on conventional farms, and some CSAs encourage members to work on the farm in exchange for a portion of their membership costs.
CSA is a shared commitment to building a more local and equitable agricultural system, one that allows farmers to focus on good farming practices and still maintain productive and profitable farms.
Models of CSA
CSAs reflect the culture of the communities they serve, the capabilities of the CSA land and the farmers who manage it. Therefore no two CSAs are likely to be the same and tend to be dynamic as the community’s needs change over time. In England alone there is a rich variety of initiatives such as: whole farm CSAs, customer supported box schemes, conservation based initiatives, intentional communities, rent or adopt schemes, urban food growing projects, community allotments and charitable projects.
A number of case studies are available on the soil association website (go to http://www.soilassociation.org/csa.aspx) to see some examples of what can be achieved. However you could go and see a working CSA closer to home just over at Blakeney Hill. The Blakeney Hill growers Have just installed their new polytunnel in their fruit and vegetable garden; they have four goats and will soon have 40+ chickens. You can visit their website (http://www.blakeneyhillgrowers.org.uk/) for more details.
CSA therefore, does not describe an end product, CSA is more about how to develop a new local food system. However CSAs can be categorised according to who organises them or the motivation behind them. These are described below:
Organised by the farmer, to whom the members financially subscribe, with little other involvement, but this obviously varies between schemes. This kind of CSA is probably the most common in the United States. In the UK this is equivalent to a producer-run vegetable box scheme often with activities bringing customers to the farm.
Consumers participate in or may even run the scheme working closely with the farmer who produces what they want. The degree of consumer involvement is variable. Stroud Community agriculture and Camel CSA are good examples.
● Farmer co-operative
Farmer-driven CSA where two or more farms co-operate to supply its members with a greater variety of produce. This model allows individual farms to specialise in the most appropriate farming for that holding (larger farms may concentrate on field scale production, smaller farms on specialist crops and upland farms on rearing livestock). There are several examples of this in Japan and Germany.
● Farmer-consumer co-operative
As described above, farmers develop co-operative networks to access a variety of products but there is greater commitment by the consumers. Consumers may co-own land and other resources with the participating farmers and work together to produce and distribute food. Stroud Food Hub is a pioneering model where the co-op is jointly owned by both produce