(Community Gardens, Chicago. Mid-1940s.)
CSA Community Supported Agriculture !
An individual initiative (from one or more persons) to do something healing, something good or simply something necessary for a group of specific people – is met with supportive assistance from that group to the point of enabling the initiative to happen.
In the case of CSA: An initiative taken by farmers, gardeners or other kinds of growers (the producers) to create the highest possible quality food with the best possible methods for a specific group of people (the consumers), who gather around in support of the farmers and make the initiative possible.
Community Supported Agriculture is an attempt to support agriculture, well, actually to support the growers (farmers, gardeners, etc.) to focus on essential quality of work and product.
This support is primarily in the area of strategy, management and finances of the farm – so that the farmers do not need to be governed entirely by the risks of the open market, marketing and sales in their decisions and methods – and can concentrate on the spiritual, ethical and ecological aspects and on the highest possible quality of work and products.
Economic stability is an important factor. When a farming operation is stable economically: the risk, the amount of work and the stress of the farmer(s) is reduced enormously. Its all about liberating the producers from these three factors (risks on the open market, marketing and sales) in order to better be able to focus on doing their very best work, instead of having to enter into compromises that influence the quality of work and product. In return, the consumers get the best-possible quality of food and the earth gets the best-possible quality of care.
A CSA can be organized in many ways. The central concept revolves around three elements, namely, the development of:
- A jointly developed and transparent budget. (This is about discussing what can be produced, when it will be available and how everything should be paid for?).
- A jointly developed or common pricing system. (This is about how much will be paid by whom? Should the total budget be divided equally by each person (consumers), by family, etc. or an the entire budget (entire needs of the producers?) be met in some other, creative fashion? There are different models being used!)
- A jointly developed risk and reward agreement. (This is about securing the agreement of all the consumers to accept what the producers grow and “eat with the seasons” rather than (when one crop or another doesn’t do well in a particular year) going out and buying additional things from other farmers. On the other hand, the farmers agree to produce as much diversity of product as possible!)
With all these elements, there are variations from place to place – and – there are many other questions that CSAs look at depending on their interests and possibilities. One example is taking the productive land out of the speculative market and securing it for ecological/biodynamic care for a long time.
There are several versions of the history of CSA floating around – which is probably not so unusual for a movement – it was, after all, not the invention of one single person!
What I can tell you is this: My first contact with CSA came in 1986, when I was invited by the gardener Hugh Ractliffe and the curative education / social therapy entrepreneur John Root, Jr. to Great Barrington, MA to look at their project. They were inspired, by a gentleman by the name of Jan vander Tuin, an American, who had experienced community farms in Switzerland and was hoping to develop socio-economic projects based on ideas from Rudolf Steiner. The name “Community Supported Agriculture” comes from Jan. He inspired John Root, Jr. in particular to support the development of such a project, who in turn offered financial support, machines and labor – and – together with Hugh (the gardener) and Charlotte Zannechia (the organizer of the consumers) leased land from Robyn van En. I was invited after it all initially got started to help them develop further and spent a year working with them, mostly as a consultant. I developed the description of the three elements listed above.
At almost the exact same time, Trauger Groh developed a community farm project in New Hampshire on a very similar basis. He did an enormous amount to spread the model. Both projects emerged from anthroposophical thought and related projects in Central Europe and were not (as is sometimes suggested) inspired by developments in Japan or elsewhere (although those developments are quite interesting in themselves.).
For about 10 years, I worked to help unfold the CSA movement, along with other folks. I offered workshops, lectures, helped to organize conferences (the first several CSA conferences on both the East and West Coast of the US, as well as beginnings of CSA in Holland) and lots of individual consultations.
Almost 29 years old now, the CSA movement’s beginnings were very exciting. Unfortunately, many CSAs since then have not included the three elements listed above, especially not the significant element of “shared risk and reward” when instead of being CSAs actually morph into subscription farming (weekly or monthly subscriptions and the like for x amount). When this happens, the very essential “community support” aspect is lost as the producers take all the risk and get the, often not so substantial, reward. The “associative” element is lost.
I am very glad to work with existing or planned CSAs with courses, developmental consulting and education about the associative socio-economic model.
Here is an article that captures quite a bit of the early days of CSA, in two parts: