What is CSA? (Part 2)

2.4. Potential benefits of CSA
The basic and universal features of CSA initiatives are sharing risks, responsibilities and benefits (yields), shortening the supply chains, regular packages with seasonal and unprocessed products, establishing communities interested in the issue of food. Due to these features and values, the CSA model offers many potential benefits for communities of urban functional areas and, indirectly, initiates wider change towards viable and sustainable food systems in the world. CSA can be considered an example of multifunctional agriculture, which not only provides food, but also performs important functions in other spheres (Pinna 2017, Van Oers et al. 2018). Further in the chapter, the potential benefits of the CSA model are considered in three widely accepted dimensions of sustainable development: environmental, social and economic. The economic benefits are also considered in the context of wider cultural changes in how the place of economy in contemporary societies is perceived.
2.4.1. Environmental benefits
The direct environmental benefits of the CSA model result primarily from three of its characteristics: the methods of land cultivation and animal breeding, seasonal production and short food supply chains. Farms working in the CSA model are predominantly small or medium-sized farms focused on local and seasonal production and using organic methods. Although using organic production methods (especially in the sense of getting official certification) is not a necessary requirement of the CSA model, people joining the CSA community are largely driven by the desire to access food produced with respect for the environment (Bougherara et al. 2009). Hence, it can be concluded that the existence of CSA groups in a functional urban area directly translates into beneficial environmental effects related to sustainable food production methods (see e.g. Tuomisto et al. 2012).
Moreover, the financing mechanism of CSA initiatives, in which members pay in advance and then collect parcels with variable content throughout the season, naturally leads to the supply of largely seasonal products. For example, Röös and Karlsson (2013) calculated that local and strictly seasonal consumption of selected vegetables in Sweden could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 60%. As is the case with organic production, one can imagine a CSA farm that produces not only seasonal food. However, this would not comply with the participants’ prevailing preference related to the food they want to consume, so this kind of production would not be popular among them.
Additionally, the idea behind the CSA model is the establishment of communities composed of consumers and producers organized around the issue of access to food produced in environmentally friendly way. Communities organized around this subject may function on various scales (an example is the global food sovereignty movement), but specific CSA groups practically always function on a local or regional scale. Thus, they exemplify short food supply chains. Such chains directly translate into (both global and local) environmental benefits related to the reduction of those environmental costs which result from transporting food over long distances.
It is worth to mention here that organic production methods as well as the local and seasonal character of production are not necessarily the most important aspect of how our diets influence the environment. Researchers usually point to the composition of the diet – primarily the consumption of meat and animal products – as the main factor determining the environmental footprint (Chai et al. 2019). For example, in Germany, the carbon footprint of organic and conventional diets are practically the same, and 70-75% of this footprint results from the consumption of animal products (Treu et al. 2017). The environmental impact resulting from further growth in popularity of the CSA model – and consequently short food supply chains – will therefore largely depend on the production profile adopted by these farms. A definitely positive aspect associated with the CSA model is the increasing awareness of the CSA participants about how food systems function. This, in turn, translates into a higher environmental awareness when it comes to making choices in other dimensions of everyday life (Hayden, Buck 2012, Cox et al. 2008). It is, therefore, likely that a significant part of CSA groups will use more plant than animal products. Gorman (2018) indicates that in Great Britain fewer than 50% of the active CSA farms keep animals, and even if they do it is not always for food production; some farms keep animals e.g. so that visitors can have contact with them.
The CSA can also indirectly bring environmental benefits by protecting the agricultural function of land, which competes with other forms of land use in suburban areas. Taking into account the tendency of CSA farms to use environmentally friendly production methods, it can be argued that, compared to other functions e.g. residential or industrial, these farms are able to maintain important eco-system services in suburban areas. These services may include support of ecosystem biodiversity, rainwater retention, carbon sequestration and protection against the intensification of the urban heat island phenomenon. Such environmental benefits are certainly not limited to CSA farms only, they may result from various forms of suburban agriculture (see eg Brinkley 2012). Nevertheless, since short supply chains are a key element of CSA, these farms naturally are located as close to cities as possible (because this is what allows to find a sufficiently large community that supports the functioning of the farm). Thus, these farms contribute to the achievement of the above-mentioned benefits.
2.4.2. Social benefits 
In the sphere of social benefits, the feature that distinguishes CSA from other alternative food systems is the creation of communities organized around everyday eating practices. In the CSA model, access to food does not rely solely on market exchange. Anyone who wants to participate in the CSA group has to participate in pre-financing of the farm. Depending on the principles of a given group, members can also participate in making the sowing plans, harvesting or other farm work. In addition, the CSA communities organize various events on the farms as well as share excess food with people outside of the group. The CSA model is based on cooperation so it naturally strengthens the social capital of the involved groups. Being part of CSA gives its members a sense of group identity, which in turn translates into a greater sense of influence and higher social involvement of the citizens (Savarese et al. 2020). Similar conclusions were also drawn in reference to local systems of food production and distribution in general (Kirwan et al. 2013).
Moreover, as a result of localizing (or "re-territorialising") food practices - which in the global food trade are devoid of any territorial identification (Thompson, Coskuner-Balli 2007) – being part of CSA gives its members stronger local identity. They perceive their region not just as a place, where they live, work and rest, but also as a source of healthy food, which is, after all, one of people’s basic needs. Moreover, CSA allows for direct control over food supply chains. Such control is much more difficult in the case of global food supply chains, since they are usually characterized by a high level of complexity and lack of transparency. CSA farms can therefore afford to grow crops or breed animals using organic methods without obtaining official certificates, because the trust mechanism in the case of CSA system is based not on certification, but on the consumers’ personal involvement in the functioning of the farms (for which physical proximity is necessary).
As far as the individual benefits are concerned, participation in the CSA may be assessed in various ways. It certainly requires a change in food purchasing habits, which many people may find uncomfortable (Birtalan et al. 2020; Lang 2010). Unlike making your groceries in a store, being a member of CSA means that you receive a package (usually once a week) with the content you have not fully determined. The content of the package depends on what products and in what amounts were produced at the farm. If the yields are smaller or larger than planned, the package will also be adequately smaller or bigger. This, obviously, translates into difficulties in planning meals. In addition, sometimes a package may contain products that are relatively less familiar to the recipients. In such cases more effort is necessary to turn them into a meal. Finally, since you systematically receive fresh products, you are in a sense “forced” to cook your meals at home. Logistics related to the collection of packages can also cause inconvenience (e.g. the need to travel to the farm or report at the collection point at a fixed time).
The inconveniences described above, however, do not constitute unsurmountable obstacles. People who have joined CSA declare that the quality of their life has increased since they did it – thanks both to a healthier diet and to the satisfaction with the choice they made which takes into account the needs of the environment (Balázs et al. 2016). This proves that logistical difficulties do not necessarily outweigh the personal benefits resulting from participation in the CSA. That is particularly true for those people for whom social and environmental effects of CSA system were key motivating elements. Moreover, the apparent inconveniences related to CSA, such as the unpredictable composition of packages or the fact that some products are less popular, may in fact be perceived positively by some people. This is because those circumstances stimulate their creativity and expand culinary options (Thompson, Coskuner-Balli 2007). Nevertheless, due to those logistical inconveniences a relatively high percentage of people withdraw from the CSA groups after their first season. This percentage can be as high as 40% (Birtalan et al. 2020).
The shift in daily practices towards healthy diets suggests that CSA should bring tangible health benefits to individuals involved (and, in a broader context, generally to public health). Rossi et al. (2017) compared CSA members with four other groups of consumers who were guided by health impacts of their food purchasing decisions. The scientists concluded that, among the analyzed groups, it is the participation in CSA system that translates most strongly into better declared health condition, less frequent visits to doctors and lower drug expenditures. The reason may be the highest proportion of fresh products in the diet of CSA members (see also Cohen et al. 2012). Those members are convinced that their involvement in farm visits and farm work also brings about positive health impacts (Chen 2013).
Joining CSA activities brings about also educational benefits. One can understand the nature of agriculture better if one can experience working on a farm, plan the sowing, exchange various recipes and get acquainted with various products. Various CSA groups focus also on cultivating traditional knowledge and skills related to food production and processing characteristic for a given region. Those are otherwise gradually lost in contemporary food systems, where “McDonaldization” and other corporate food models are dominating. (Thompson, Coskuner-Balli 2007).
2.4.3. Economic benefits
It is not easy to assess CSA system from the point of view of economic development of functional urban areas. This is because in this system gain is understood not only as financial profits but also as the above-mentioned social and environmental benefits. And these cannot always be directly monetized. This does not mean, however, that work on CSA farms is (or should be) financially unprofitable, especially that one of the key CSA assumptions is to ensure fair remuneration for work in farming. Some studies carried out in the USA have even indicated higher financial profitability of CSA farms compared to conventional farms (Lizio, Lass 2005, cited in: Balázs et al. 2016). On the other hand however, the analysis of the situation of CSA farmers in Hungary shows that, although running a farm improves their financial situation, it is insufficient as the only source of income (Balázs et al. 2016). This can lead to the conclusion that in financial terms the situation of CSA farms is better than that of similar (small and medium) farms operating on conventional food markets, but often it is still insufficient to ensure decent standard of living to the farmers. Certainly, further development of the CSA model requires modifications that will improve this situation.
Putting aside the problem of fair wages, the sustainable operation of CSA farms can make an important contribution to the regeneration of rural areas in close vicinity to functional urban areas. CSA farms maintain the productive function on those rural areas which experience strong pressure from other, unproductive functions. This way CSA prevents socio-economic degeneration of rural areas. Moreover, CSA farms are focused on local markets so the money circulates inside the functional urban area. It flows directly from the consumers to the farmers, so financial profits from food production remain in the area.
However, if we define development as economic growth then the contribution of CSA farms is debatable. CSA initiatives do not conform to the capital-intensive agribusiness model, in which farms are largely industrialized and achieve production worth even several dozen ESUs1. In that model it would be difficult to maintain the social and environmental standards of the CSA. And these standards are a necessary constituting condition for the CSA farms. In the CSA system, social and environmental benefits are valued at least as high as economic profits. On the one hand this leads to lower profitability, but on the other it provides the community with numerous benefits that are more difficult to evaluate - which does not mean they are less valuable. One can, therefore, argue after Bloemmen et al. (2015) that the CSA approach fits to the concept of degrowth.
The concept of degrowth emphasizes that in order to develop in a truly sustainable and fair manner, we must reduce global resource throughput to a level that will respect planetary boundaries (Weiss and Cattaeno 2017). To achieve this goal, it is necessary to abandon the paradigm of continuous economic growth which, inevitably, entails an increase in energy and material consumption and therefore contributes to the degradation of the planet's ecosystems that support the life of humans and non-human animals. Degrowth assumes, therefore, that - in the face of intensifying ecological, social and economic crises - a planned and controlled reduction of the biophysical size of the global economy is necessary. This will allow to maintain a high quality of life with a significant reduction in resource consumption. Maintaining a high quality of life, in such conditions, will be possible thanks to focusing the societies not on further consumerism, but on prosperity achieved through "slower" life, closer cooperation within local communities and more free time devoted to people’s own needs.
CSA, therefore, may be considered an example of the implementation of degrowth concept. CSA initiatives aim at creating communities focused on the issue of food, cooperation between farmers and consumers, care for the environment, personal development and, finally, a high level of welfare ensured by access to healthy food. Thus, they constitute a model of agriculture that goes beyond the primacy of GDP growth. This model, instead, proposes to treat the economy as only one of many dimensions of society, which - in the face of crossing planetary boundaries - can no longer dominate over other dimensions of prosperity. Even though the model is based on local solutions, it can be successfully used in various places and contribute to the global change of food systems (Savarese et al. 2020). Therefore, the CSA can be considered a "glocal" model (both global and local).
Finally, one can say that while in general terms of benefits for the functional urban areas, the concepts of degrowth and CSA may be considered relatively abstract, their local implementation translates into real improvement in the region's food security. Local food production and distribution, even if it is economically less competitive, makes access to food less susceptible to disruptions in global supply chains caused by market volatility, geopolitical developments or pandemics. Despite its clearly global approach, the degrowth concept is therefore also relevant at local level.

3. Possible support mechanisms by public administration

Despite attempts to change the model in which food is treated just as a commodity, currently CSA farms operate in a system in which access to food is regulated primarily by the rules of market competition. Of course, consumers who engage in the CSA system voluntarily agree to pay for food more than they would in a store, because this system offers them other benefits, described above, that do not accompany the food available through conventional distribution channels2. On the other hand, the change in eating habits, that usually occurs after joining the CSA (e.g. cooking at home more frequently because one needs to use up all the package content), means that participation in CSA does not have to translate into bigger expenses. In some countries, however, it has been observed that CSA communities are characterized by an overrepresentation of affluent people. This may mean that the CSA runs the risk of becoming less inclusive and, consequently, being less available to the wide range of the society.
In this context, subsidizing CSA farms form public budget seems to be a natural mechanism. This would, on the one hand, make it easier for the less affluent social groups to gain access to the CSA system, and, on the other, encourage farms to engage in this model of agriculture. As a result, this would translate into wider social or environmental benefits of CSA, which (in the absence of intervention in the free market) are ignored in the farms’ economic balance. Indirect subsidization of the CSA system is present, for example, in the USA, where this mechanism is used to ensure access to food for less affluent families with children who start their education (Hoffman et al. 2012) or people using food stamps offered by the state (Quandt et al. 2013).
However, even in the USA, where participation in CSA is correlated with higher than average income and education level (Chen et al. 2019, Galt et al. 2017), less wealthy people are equally (and frequently even more) involved in functioning of CSA farms (Galt et al. 2017). The CSA initiatives are obviously not fully dominated by the middle class. One of the reasons is the flexibility of this model, which allows people to perform work on the farm in return for reducing the participation fee. So one needs to remember that CSA initiatives differ from one another. Some are motivated primarily by the desire to access healthy food produced with respect for the environment and the farmers. Some others are effectively self-help initiatives undertaken by less wealthy people, including the groups at risk of marginalization. In both cases, public support should be adjusted to the barriers faced by people who are attempting to develop a CSA group.
Another form of public administration support for CSA system may be directed to farms. One of the available tools is public procurement in catering services and semi-finished food products ordered by public sector entities - such as schools or hospitals – where meals are prepared and served. The green public procurement concept introduced by the European Commission is already present in Polish law. It allows to take into account environmental and social aspects in awarding public contracts (Różowicz 2015a). The properly prepared public procurement is available in Poland as a mechanism to stimulate sustainable urban development (Różowicz 2015b), which may contribute to achieving a greater degree of self-sufficiency of the functional urban area in terms of food policy (Orlando et al. 2019). There is, therefore, a general legal framework allowing to supply public institutions with food products coming from the farms that use environmentally friendly methods. Nevertheless, in the case of CSA farms, several additional questions arise. Would the administration also pre-finance crops at the start of the season? How can you ensure a steady supply of food even in the case of lower yields? How to plan the menu in public institutions that will get their supplies through CSA system? With the variety of CSA organizational models available, it is certainly possible to imagine a model that will be able to meet these requirements. However, as is the case with individual people who change their habits after joining the CSA, people responsible for public procurement would also have to put some effort into the new system. Subsidizing the CSA system may encounter certain formal and legal barriers, but giving some preferences to local organic farms is much easier and it indirectly strengthens the CSA model as it improves the situation of local farmers (and this creates better conditions for setting up CSA groups).
Indeed, subsidies and public procurement require a certain level of financial contribution, which may provoke resistance in the context of the neoliberal expectation of minimizing public spending. But the administration also has "soft" tools that can support the creation of CSA groups. The first is spatial planning, which can support the development of local farms within the functional urban area. It would be difficult and probably pointless to include requirements to organize farms according to CSA principles in the spatial development plan. But even the protection of agricultural areas near cities against development certainly facilitates the creation of such farms. As already mentioned, the key aspect of CSA transparency - and therefore its legitimacy - is their physical proximity to the market, usually a large city. Such proximity on the one hand allows consumers to visit the farms and, on the other, makes it easy to collect and deliver the produce. Sometimes locations are preferred that allow easy access by bike from the city (Van Oers et al. 2018). Therefore, the protection of the agricultural function of the suburban area and the existence of appropriate transport infrastructure (including bicycle and public transport) are among the basic factors allowing to create efficient CSA system (Paül, McKenzie 2013). At the same time, they constitute a partial solution to the problem of uncontrolled, mono-functional suburbanization of Polish cities. Yet the logic behind this approach requires to appreciate the value of preserving the agricultural function of such areas not only in financial terms, but also in social, environmental and cultural terms.
Protecting the productive function of suburban rural areas is one way to support the CSA model. Another one is the city's spatial policy related to locations where food can be sold. In this context, CSA groups can benefit from a network of local markets where parcels can be collected (in the CSA variant, in which products are delivered this way). The possibility to rent a stand usually for a few hours on a selected day of the week is a convenient solution for CSA groups. Moreover, protecting such places of food trade translates not only into better conditions for CSA development, but also supports various local food producers and traders. An alternative solution can be a specific location that can serve as a food collection point and is easily accessible by public and private transport. Local governments which own such premises may make them available to CSA groups on preferential terms.
Another instrument of support available to public administration is the possibility to run promotional campaigns and to inform citizens about the possibility to join CSA groups. As Diekmann and Theuvsen (2019) argue, this type of support can result in the development of this innovation from its early stage - in which only a handful of people participate - to more advanced stages when more people are involved. It would also be relatively easy to create an online platform linking farms with potential participants of the CSA in a given urban area. Another valuable activity would be an information campaign directed to residents of urban areas focused on sanitary issues related to the purchase of food directly from farmers (the relevant regulations were amended in 2019)3. It seems that some farmers are also not aware of the legal conditions regarding direct sales, and therefore such a campaign would also be useful for food producers. Since CSA is only one of many alternative forms of food distribution through short supply chains, an information campaign and a platform connecting farmers with consumers could in their scope go beyond the CSA model itself, and also include other issues related to the supply of food to the functional urban area.

4. Conclusions

This chapter serves as a contribution to the discussion rather than a complete list of methods in which public administration can support the development of the CSA. However, we hope that the above considerations convincingly demonstrate the social, environmental and economic benefits that functional urban areas can achieve by supporting CSA groups (and similar initiatives).
Of course, the implementation of specific solutions for this model should be preceded by consultations with the CSA participants. Such consultations would indicate what interventions are possible and desirable in a specific case. Despite the common basic principles, CSA groups differ from one another and some of them may even be opposed to receiving support from public administration. One of the reasons for such approach may be the reluctance to make the internal structure of the group too formal, which is pointed out in Ertmańska’s (2015) research. When considering different forms of support for CSA, one should therefore be aware of the tension between the requirements imposed on the initiatives supported by the public administration and the formalization of the CSA, which may affect the nature of this movement. The problem of CSA groups becoming more formal is part of a broader debate on the scalability of grassroots, niche (in terms of socio-technical transition) initiatives. While being part of a niche a given food system initiative can develop relatively smoothly, in order to exit the niche it must create an attractive alternative to the dominant food systems. In the scaling process, however, care should be taken to ensure that a given initiative does not lose its initial features that were fundamental to its creation. Scaling up of grassroots initiatives may lead to the blurring of their original goals (Gernert et al. 2018).
Perhaps the solution to this problem would be the acceptance of a diversity of alternative food systems, which will take various, more or less radical forms as they become more popular. Some of them will probably focus on cultivation methods and will allow to buy certified products from local farmers who do not want to establish a closer relationship with customers. Others will focus on direct sales, but without pre-seasonal payment requirements. Still others will perhaps have a goal of creating ecological urban farms with no strict division into producers and consumers. All of these models will have different benefits and challenges; and all of them can be (in different ways) supported by the public administration. What is crucial is not to lose sight of the principal goal of food system transformation, namely: to ensure universal access to healthy food produced in a truly sustainable and responsible manner.

What is CSA? (Part 1)
1 European size unit (ESU) – a set standard unit used to measure the economic value of a farm. In 2020 1 ESU = EUR 1,200.
2 One should note that the prices offered in CSA system are not necessarily higher than the prices of food produced and sold locally in shops or at outdoor markets (Cooley, Lass 1998, after: Balázs et al. 2016). Nevertheless, the prices in CSA are usually higher than the those of conventionally produced agriculture products.
3 Amendments to the relevant provisions were introduced by the Act of November 9, 2018, amending certain acts to facilitate the sale of food by farmers to shops and restaurants, and the Act of October 4, 2018, amending the Act on Animal Products and the Act on Food Safety and nutrition.
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