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What is CSA? (Part 1)
Summary: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a model of organizing food production and distribution which offers many potential benefits for the territorial development of functional urban areas. However, it is still a rather uncommon social innovation in Poland and its impact on the sustainable development of food systems on a national scale has so far been very limited. In the following chapter, therefore, we present the social, environmental and economic benefits of potential development of the CSA model and we analyse various possibilities of supporting the CSAs by the public administration. We argue that the support provided to CSAs would translate not only into the supra-local development of this food system model, but would also bring tangible benefits to functional urban areas in which the CSAs would develop.
Sustainable and fair existence within planetary boundaries, arguably the most important challenge facing humanity today, will not be possible without significant changes in the functioning of conventional food production and distribution systems (Michel-Villarreal et al. 2019). Current food systems are inextricably linked to problems like climate change, fossil fuels consumption and environmental degradation. Thus, this model requires urgent and far-reaching intervention, on the one hand to ensure access to healthy food for all inhabitants of the globe and, on the other, to protect the well-being of the planet's ecosystems (Borsellino et al. 2020).
The transformation towards sustainable and long-lasting food systems is not possible without trying out innovations that help identify efficient and effective methods of organizing food production and distribution that allows to meet people’s needs in the field of environmentally friendly nutrition as well as the needs of future generations. Grassroots experiments with alternative food systems/networks are already underway in many parts of the world and are often producing promising results. At the same time, studies of socio-technical transitions indicate that there is a need of support for such experimental practices to develop. In the situation of market competition, conditions necessary for the development of such experiments in their early stages should be protected (El Bilali 2019). This is especially so because these experiments test solutions that go beyond the established rules of dominant food systems (such as the primacy of economic profit over other forms of gain) and, thus, they cannot compete with those systems on a large scale basing on the criteria that nowadays determine if a given initiative related to food production or distribution can succeed (Kirwan et al. 2013).
The support for grassroots experiments with innovations intended to bring (global) sustainable development translates into territorial development in the locations where they are taking place. Initiatives related to short food supply chains can bring direct economic, environmental and social benefits in the places where they operate (Mundler, Laughrea 2016). Due to the location of markets, shortening of the food supply chains creates a particular potential for the development of functional urban areas (FUA). It seems, therefore, that even if we ignore the positive impact of experimental alternative food systems for the global transformation towards sustainability, public administration - especially the one which is responsible for the development of functional urban areas - should consider supporting such initiatives since they demonstrate the potential to bring benefits in the areas that are managed by this administration. And yet, the study conducted in six functional urban areas in Europe by Celata and Coletti (2019) demonstrates that only half of the grassroots initiatives are supported by public policies, and for almost two-third of them public policies actually created obstacles to achieving their goals.
The aim of this chapter is therefore to present the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model as an example of an initiative that has the potential for beneficial social, environmental, economic and cultural outcomes, both globally and for individual functional urban areas. To this end, in the following subsections, we briefly describe the origins and the history of the CSA, we provide basic information about the CSA movement and consider the potential benefits of its development and the related support opportunities by public administration. Since in Poland the system of managing functional urban areas (through metropolitan unions) exists only formally, this article does not introduce any distinctions between various levels of public administration that may introduce the proposed support elements, especially that some of those elements require actions taken by different levels of administration. We merely want to signal here that allowing to create metropolitan unions would facilitate local governments’ cooperation in supporting initiatives such as CSA. However, even without metropolitan level structures, the benefits and methods of support described below are largely achievable through actions at the existing levels of administration.
2. The Characteristics of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
2.1. The origins and history of CSA concept
In the 1970s, almost 200 Tokyo housewives, worried about reports concerning heavy metal poisoning among people living around industrial areas, initiated cooperation with local farmers to have access to safe and clean milk for their children (Kondoh, 2014). Those women offered to pay the farmers an extra margin if they ensured that the milk (dairy) they supplied would be produced in a clean and safe manner. Soon fruit growers, gardeners and other food producers joined the dairy farmers. This was the beginning of the CSA movement in Japan, which was called there Teikei (literally, ‘food with a farmer's face’), and in English-speaking countries: Community Supported Agriculture. Today, no one remembers the names of the women who initiated this first cooperation with local farmers. But the memory of Teruo Ichiraku, the philosopher and the founder of organic farming movement in Japan, who first began to draw attention to the negative health effects of conventional agriculture, is still present.
The foundations for the Community Supported Agriculture movement go much further than just food safety. This issue was rather a reason for confronting the needs of (mainly urban) families with the vision of the food system proposed by producers operating within conventional food production and distribution chains. CSA groups are firmly rooted in the assumptions of the solidarity economy and the idea of mutual benefits of all parties involved (Weckenbrock et al. 2016). The CSA movement is present on almost all continents. There are differences between individual countries in terms of its functioning and terminology used, but some features are common to all these groups.
The fundamental need of communities establishing CSA groups is to regain control over the system of food production and distribution (Henderson 2003, after: Balázs et al. 2016). The right to food, understood as good-quality, nutritious matter is an inalienable right of each and every one of us. This is why our food system should be socially inclusive, environmentally responsible and economically profitable for producers. Since conventional food production and distribution systems have so far proved unable to meet these requirements (Borsellino et al. 2020), more and more alternative food systems are emerging worldwide. They are trying to keep in balance the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. Community Supported Agriculture is just one example of such initiatives.
2.2 Basic characteristics of CSA
CSA is a form of partnership between buyers and local food producers in which the responsibilities, risks and benefits of producing food are shared. Although each CSA group has unique needs and abilities, there are basic characteristics common to all such groups. In 2015 in Freiburg, a group of people from 22 European countries established the following definition: ‘CSA is a form of direct partnership between a group of consumers and a farmer, in which the risks, obligations and benefits related to farming are shared by both sides under long-term contracts. CSA, operating generally on a small and local scale, aims to provide high-quality food produced with methods based on agroecology.’ (http://www.wspierajrolnictwo.pl/o-nas/definicja-i-zasady-rws).
In practice, this means that at the beginning of the season - which, depending on the location, may start at a different time or may even last the whole year - consumers pay membership fees to the farmer (in the amount previously agreed with him or her). Then, throughout the whole season they pick up packages with the food produced on that farm. The risks and benefits are shared by both sides. This means that if the yields are lower or higher than assumed, the packages are also smaller or larger than expected. The duties are shared too: the consumers either participate in the costs of running the farm by paying a fix amount at the beginning of the season or they participate in the physical work on the farm (which is also regulated by the contract). The basic assumptions of CSA can therefore be expressed in the following principles (Bashford et al. 2015):
1. Partnership. It is usually formalized in an individual agreement between each consumer and the farmer and it is based on mutual commitment to provide resources (usually money and food) over an extended period of time. The contracts are valid for several months, the whole growing season or a year, and prices are set on such a level as to be fair to both parties.
2. Solidarity between producers and consumers. The principle that the consumer pays a sufficient and fair price in advance is meant to enable farmers and their families to maintain their farms and live a dignified life, free of commercial loans. A fair price also means that it suits the needs and financial capabilities of the consumers (in particular when the price is set in an auction, the so-called bidding round). The key element is sharing both the risks and the benefits of growing food.
3. Close location. Local producers should be well-integrated with the surrounding areas and their work should benefit the communities that support them. This aspect also applies to production methods that are adapted to local conditions (care for biodiversity, use of native varieties of cereals, fruit trees, etc.). The cultivation methods used are beneficial to the soil and the environment.
4. Commitment to cooperation between farmer and consumer based on direct personal contact and trust, without intermediaries or hierarchy. Both parties are equally important and benefit from the cooperation. They are also ready to learn from each other and share their experience with other groups or new people interested in joining the CSA system. An important element of cooperation is sharing knowledge about the conditions of running the farm and growing food. This is done for a better mutual understanding of each other's needs and opportunities.
Broadly speaking, the CSA initiatives are based on three conceptual pillars; these are (1) food sovereignty, (2) agroecology and (3) solidarity economy (URGENCI 2016).
Food sovereignty is understood as the right of local communities to define their own food policy and system in order to ensure access to food that is healthy and produced in environmentally friendly way (Pimbert 2019). This concept underlies the peasant movements associated in La Via Campesina. It is also referred to by urban movements which point to food sovereignty as a way to build a resilient city (Sage 2014). Food sovereignty is distinguished from food security primarily because the former clearly points to the political character of the access to food issue, rather than allowing this issue to be governed by free market. The market is strongly dominated by international corporations who are difficult to control and who, for obvious reasons, place financial gains above any social or environmental goals. Thus, while both food security and food sovereignty aim to ensure access to healthy food, food sovereignty also pays attention to who actually decides about the shape of the food system and its consequences for the social, environmental, political and economic situation.
Agroecology is a term used to describe both a field of knowledge, a set of practices and a social movement (Wezel et al. 2018). The CSA movement refers to agroecology in all these meanings, especially that both the practices and the social movement of agroecology are inherently connected with agroecology as a field of science. It comprehensively studies agriculture and the environment in which it is practiced, emphasizing their inevitable interdependence. As a social movement, agroecology stands in opposition to conventional agriculture which uses methods contributing to climate change and the degradation of ecosystems in order to maximize financial profit and, at the same, time promotes a monofunctional model of rural areas that become merely a "food factory". The agroecological approach, on the other hand, aims to integrate environmental and social aspects into agricultural practices. Thanks to this, various spheres of sustainable development of a local community (including the economic aspect) and the environment are balanced so as to maximize welfare, not just profit. Agroecology is critical towards monocultures and artificial fertilizers. It promotes regenerative agriculture which protects the health of soil. It gives political meaning and draws attention to the problem of access to seeds, water or land which, in free market economy are treated as just commodities. At the same time, agroecology advocates the protection of small farms which are better fit to combine various dimensions of sustainable development. The arguments in favour of agroecology are both social and environmental: agriculture run in this way contributes to thriving local communities, and farming methods that protect or regenerate the environment usually cannot be realised through large-scale, intensive production that interferes with the landscape and ecosystems we live in.
Solidarity economy is based on trust and mutual commitment in the process of building economic communities. It is key that it recognizes all the real costs associated with the production of a given good. This means that the true costs should take into account all the components, including the otherwise externalised environmental and social costs. These costs should not, as is the case in conventional farming, be passed on to the weakest actors in the system, namely farmers, local communities and future generations suffering due to environmental degradation. In the CSA groups, the solidarity economy in practice means an exchange based on mutual trust and true interest of buyers in the farmer's work. When setting prices, a CSA group recognizes all costs necessary to cover the life needs of farmers and takes into account their competences and resources. In the conventional farming system, the price does not reflect the real costs of production – either social (fair and decent pay) or environmental (e.g. pollution caused by intensive production). Neither does it account for political impacts caused e.g. by the lobby of companies involved in production and distribution of animal products, which affect the final prices due to subsidies or preferences for specific producers.
Community Supported Agriculture, as described above, seems to be a complete, coherent model of access to food for local communities. It assumes respect for the environment (environmentally friendly methods and local character of production), decent remuneration for work and social inclusiveness. However, the difficulties in practical functioning of such groups should also be mentioned. One of the basic principles of CSA is shared responsibility, which is associated with access to knowledge (communication) and the division of duties. The management structure is horizontal rather than vertical (hierarchical). Both of these features require very polite methods of discussion, openness to different opinions of individual members and a good (adequate) division of responsibilities. The most difficult job related to the development of existing CSA groups or the establishment of new ones is related to building a community and managing group finances. In the sphere of community building communication competences play key role: the language used, sharing and access to information, conflict resolution. In managing the CSA finances, the biggest challenge is for the farmer to maintain financial transparency of its farm: to communicate the farm budget with a breakdown of the estimated costs of the work carried out, planned investments, profits and expected remuneration. Experience proves that, for many farmers, the business approach to their farm and keeping regular records of all the spending and costs incurred, is a big challenge. Summing up the observed experiences of the existing CSA groups, it needs to be emphasised that in order to succeed they have to demonstrate high communication culture and a high degree of social trust. These elements constitute a significant barrier to the development of groups in various countries as well as affect the nature of their organization (more open or more formalized).
2.3. The organization of CSA movement in the world and in Poland
The community built around the idea of CSA is a grassroots movement and does not belong to anyone. No one holds the right to the name or to certification. It is a common good owned by those who create it. The movement is coordinated by the international URGENCI network. The network-based, non-hierarchical nature of this movement may create difficulties for potential formalization, some extend of which is necessary in cooperation with the public sector. Thus, we explain below how the CSA movement is organized in the world and in Poland.
Established in 2004, URGENCI brings together all entities who are involved in supporting the idea of CSA or who implement this model in practice. Anyone can join the network - as an individual, as a CSA group or as a supporting organization. When joining, a given person or organization declares what amount of money he or she is able to give to the network to support it. Until recently, URGENCI suggested an adequate annual contribution. But in 2018 the URGENCI General Assembly decided to change the system of membership fees. A new model was adopted – an auction, similar to the one that determines the membership fees in a CSA group. In this model, everyone, according to their financial capabilities, independently determines how much they can contribute to maintaining the URGENCI network. URGENCI, as a non-governmental organization, is also a leader or a partner in many public (European) financed projects. Those projects cover the costs of substantive work related to the development, support and dissemination of the idea of short supply chains based on cooperation and solidarity. The method of financing the network activities is important because it reflects the same philosophy that is applied to the functioning of CSA groups – partnership and mutual recognition of needs and financial capabilities.
According to the estimates of the URGENCI network, in 2015 in Europe there were at least 4,792 CSA groups, producing food for almost one million (969,255) people1 (Wackenbrock et al. 2016). Since then, the movement has grown, the number of groups in individual countries has increased, and so has the number of families benefiting from such cooperation. Each country and each food community can organize CSA groups in their own way, which is why CSA groups in Greece may function differently from those in Germany or Poland. Each grassroots community focused around food should be treated individually, as it has its own needs as well as geographical, cultural and social conditions. The Community Supported Agriculture model encourages local communities to establish cooperation with local farmers to collectively benefit from this cooperation and enjoy good quality food. However, in order to further develop the movement and to establish a common vision of what CSA is, cooperation was also established at the international level, which led to the adoption of the European Declaration of CSA. This declaration sets out the basic principles of the CSA model.
In 2012, the URGENCI network organized the first European CSA meeting in Milan, during which a social research group was formed to identify existing CSA organizations and groups across Europe. During the subsequent, second European CSA meeting near Paris (Villarce-aux), a group was formed that initiated work on the CSA Declaration - a document that would share the vision of what Community Supported Agriculture is and what its overarching features and goals are. The works lasted over 2 years and were carried in a group of a dozen to over twenty people. Each country cooperating with the URGENCI network had its representative in the group. They contacted other people in their home country in order to consult the proposed clauses. Finally, in the fall of 2016, during the 3rd European Meeting of CSA groups in Ostrava, the declaration was adopted (see URGENCI 2016).
In Poland, CSA emerged in 2009, when, as part of the URGENCI initiative, members of the French CSA groups - a fruit grower, a consumer and a local coordinator – visited the country. It was one of the URGENCI’s missions to Eastern European countries, meant to spread information about partnerships between farmers and consumers based on mutual cooperation and solidarity. At that time, representatives of AMAP (Association pour le maintien d'une agriculture paysanne) visited Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Bulgaria. The goal was to identify existing initiatives, support the establishment of new ones and share own experiences (see URGENCI bd.). This visit was a seed that fell on a “fertile ground”, as similar initiatives were already emerging in Poland at that time. Although none of them was a CSA group in the strict meaning of the name but they turned out to be a good basis to promote the idea. It is recognized that in 2012 the first CSA group in Poland - Świerże Panki - was established, and subsequently new ones appeared (Olszewska, Sylla 2016). The people involved decided to establish a social fund. The money they managed to collect financed the establishment of the website www.wspierajrolnictwo.pl and the preparation of information materials. The fund is currently not operating but the website wspierajrolnictwo.pl is still active; it is socially managed and provides information on the state of CSA movement in Poland. It features a map with current Polish CSA groups and articles devoted to the development and life of the CSA movement in Poland.
The crisis related to the global COVID-19 epidemic has exposed the weaknesses of the globalized food system. It has also strengthened the grassroots movements focused on building local communities, establishing relationships with local farmers and refocusing people’s priorities towards a small-scale life. Reports from both farmers and the media show that the interest in participation in CSA groups and other alternative food systems has substantially increased (Forum Aktywizacji Obszarów Wiejskich 2020, Friends of the Earth Europe 2020). Consequently, in the middle of 2020, the URGENCI network launched a study on the state of short supply chains and the situation of local European food communities based on solidarity during COVID-19. The questions focus on the situation of these groups during the pandemic, the solutions adopted or the changes they experience. The results will be published on the URGENCI website (www.urgenci.net).
What is CSA? (Part 2)
What is CSA? (Part 2)
1 The update of the data is planned for 2020/2021 r.