Alternative food systems: community supported agriculture

May 27, 2015 Posted by:  

One of the ways to mitigate the negative impact of agriculture on climate, which PGN tries to promote through our campaign, is building alternative food systems based on sustainable local food production, distribution and consumption. This type of food systems, by using more ecological farming methods and shortening the distance between farmers and consumers, help, among other things, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve natural resource protection. Among various alternative models of food production and distribution increasingly popular is the so-called community supported agriculture (CSA).

Food from the farmer you know

The beginnings of the CSA model, which is based on the close cooperation between farmers and a group of people interested in eating healthy local food, go back to the 1960s. First initiatives of this kind were started in Germany, Switzerland and Japan as a response to the wave of urbanization and the deterioration of conditions of food production in the countryside. Creating a relationship between consumers and farmers characterised by partnership is a building block of this type of cooperation. Consumers who want to receive healthy and sustainably produced food pay up front the producers for the whole season of deliveries. In this way consumers secure the supply of food and farmers the sale of their products.

What is CSA really about?

CSA focuses on the production of high quality food for a local community. The production very often uses organic, biodynamic or permaculture farming methods. The key elements are close cooperation and trust between participating farmers and consumers. A group of consumers provides the farmers with money by paying in advance for the whole season of supplies of jointly agreed types of products (usually vegetables and fruits). As a result the participating farms do not need to search for new markets for their produce and can focus solely on growing food for their supporting community.

The consumers and producers jointly agree on the budget. Usually, it is farmers who carry out the necessary calculation of the production costs (seeds, machinery, transport, labour and so on). Naturally, the system might have numerous variations. The main differences concern the construction of the budget and the ways of delivering food. In order to reduce their ecological footprint, communities usually try to initiate cooperation with farms close to the cities in which they live. The distribution of food among the participating consumers can take various forms. Most often it is based on the system of packages or baskets - each participant receives regularly a package with the ordered products which is delivered directly to their household or picked up individually from the agreed place.

In many CSA initiatives the consumers engage in the work on farms. Depending on the agreement with the farmers, it could be either regular work, allowing to reduce the costs, or work of a more educational character - the consumers visit the farms where they can learn more about the ways of producing food.

Sharing risk

CSA creates a favourable environment for small-scale farms. The relationship between farmers and consumers, usually mediated by the market where the main goal is profit, changes into a personal and trust-based contact in which respect and cooperation replace the market logic. An essential element of this model is the sharing risk concept which is usually absent from traditional market transactions. In CSA consumers pay farmers in advance and thus accept the possibility of unexpected circumstances which may prevent the crops from achieving planned yields.

Global and local context

In the wider context, the goal of CSA is turning around the current tendency of replacing small-scale farms with industrial food production as well as preserving biological and cultural diversity in the countryside. In Poland, for example, this trend is quite visible - the number of farms has significantly diminished and their size has grown. CSA as well as other similar initiatives, such as food cooperatives, have a chance to become a real alternative to industrial food production, which is ineffective and harmful for the environment and climate.

Probably the first CSA initiative in Poland was started in spring 2012 in the Mazovia region between a group of consumers in Warsaw and the farmers in the village called Świerże Panki. Since then the interest in this model of agriculture has grown in the Polish society and new initiatives have been started in various parts of Poland.

Benefits for farmers and consumers

In conclusion, CSA brings many benefits for both farmers and consumers. Farmers, among other things: save time and energy needed to find recipients for their products; receive payment in the beginning of the season which secures their liquidity and allows for necessary investments; become independent from commercial loans; have an opportunity to meet people who buy their food; can get help from consumers in the work on farms. Consumers, on the other hand: buy fresh, healthy and seasonal products; learn how their food is produced and thus the consumed products stop being anonymous; know in advance time of the deliveries and can save time spent on traditional shopping; become a part of the community; have an opportunity to gain knowledge about growing food and working on farms. Both groups contribute to the protection of environment and to lessening the negative impact of agriculture and food production on climate.

The above article was written on the basis of the excerpt from the action guide "Time for change. Choose locality! How to support environment- and people-friendly agriculture?" published in Polish by PGN.

Photo credit: Suzie's Farm (Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Last Modified: Jun 9, 2015