Community Sustained Agriculture could be a solution to the industrialised and environmentally harmful processes which currently exists. In exploring this area, we discussed the matter with Davie Philips, Community Resilience Manager of Cultivate and resident of Cloughjordan Eco-Village.
The relationship that a consumer has with their food producers has never been more detached, with most of us having little idea where our edibles are coming from, and under what conditions they are grown, harvested, and delivered. Convenience has trumped all other concerns, despite the awareness that a direct connection to our food is more resilient and sustainable, and eating locally and seasonally is healthier and more harmonious with the world we live in.
Farmers, too, are negatively affected, being forced into a situation where many have to negotiate for the lowest price with unstoppable market giants such as Tesco or Lidl. The alternative? Spending extra time and energy selling at farmers or local markets, after their long days and weeks of agricultural labour.
Another option is community sustained agriculture. Here, a direct relationship is created between a group or community of people, and a grower/producer/farmer. Usually, the CSA works on a subscription based format – the consumer pays a standard rate (usually a standing order/direct debit) on a weekly or monthly (or even yearly) basis directly to the farmer, and then has access to a certain amount of foodstuffs through some negotiated form of delivery. This guarantees the farmer an income no matter what, whilst also providing them with a dedicated buyer they are directly in touch with, leaving them to concentrate on the work of growing and harvesting.
Community sustained agriculture can be found across the breadth of Europe, but in Ireland progress is slow; for an agricultural nation, there are only seven community supported agriculture schemes. One of these is based in the eco-village of Cloughjordan in Tipperary; here, instead of finding a farmer, the eco-village provided the land in order to lure the farmers in. Furthermore, the whole village contributes can help when needed – the drought season of 2018 for example was so bad that members of the community were regularly heading to the farm to assist with the watering (as a result of the unusual weather, irrigation systems are being looked into for the future). Having an enthusiastic community supporting the farm can be of huge benefit to the grower – in mass planting or harvesting times, many will pitch in in their spare time, getting their hands dirty to get the job done.
PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT AGRICULTURE
Mass agriculture is demonizing the world, deforesting great swathes of woodland, and denaturing the ground afterwards – turning land itself into non-renewable resource. Agriculture – most notably the meat industry – is responsible for mass greenhouse emissions and huge water use. And long supply chains leave us extremely vulnerable in the event of any disruption such as climate chaos or political uncertainty.
Many countries just grow for international trade, to feed someone else somewhere else. Rebuilding national resilience – agriculturally – will become progressively important as weather and ocean systems increasingly spiral out of control. Food security, such as community sustained agriculture, can strengthen local economies and provide livelihoods.
The problem of CSA’s – or of transitioning consumers to a CSA scheme – is one of convenience. This issue (the titular basis for Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’) recognises that any major change away from climate threats will carry a certain amount of public and private disruption with it. Climate action has to be convenient (on the ground level) and profitable (on the corporate level) in order to be appealing to those who care less.
HOW CAN IT BE INITIATED?
For those not interested, CSA’s need to grow and mainstream in order for many people to, firstly, become aware of their existence. Especially in urban locales, agricultural practices can seem like a different world, with the source of food becoming a meaningless concept. But for those who are keen to become involved, there can still seem to be a gulf between enthusiasm for the idea and actually putting it into practice.
What it takes is a cohesive community; a group of people that can ensure a farmer that they are going to make that payment every week or month. Even with ten people, there may be an opportunity to approach local growers and suggest a relationship and a negotiated drop-off point. Or – even before this, and to get the ball rolling – a group can set up a buyers club, where you mass order particular foods from a particular company (or individual) on a regular basis. Whist not directly approaching a farmer, it serves the same purpose – creating a relationship and directly controlling your food buying and consumption. It also initiates a communal culture of shared buying, which is the bedrock of community supported agriculture.
Modern agricultural methods will not exist in our future. The cracks in the structure of large-scale farming are already showing, and the result will take the form of widespread consumer disruption. Moving back to community supported agriculture is a change we can initiate now, and our participation in these schemes can provide us with a more secure future, and less shocks and bumps as the climate changes the future for us.
This article was co-written with the wonderful assistance of Davie Philip.