Community Supported Agriculture – A Vision for a Sustainable Food System

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CSA is a partnership between producers and the local community, providing mutual benefits and reconnecting people to the land where their food is grown.The Wales CSA Network promotes and supports CSAs in Wales.

During the network’s last meeting held at Banc Organics in Bancsffosfelen, there were a variety of topics discussed, including how the network contributes to Welsh Government’s Well-Being of Future Generations Act.

Representatives from over 7 CSAs talked about how their schemes meet the 7 goals outlined in the act and their views are outlined below.

By definition, CSAs are an innovative local food production model, where producers and consumers are linked directly. Members of CSAs know where their food comes from, are able to learn how to grow their own and are made aware of the difficulties local growers face season to season.

This close relationship means that growers are able to appreciate the needs and preferences of their members and similarly members are aware of factors affecting local food production. CSAs ensurethat food miles and over production are minimised, with resources being shared amongst growers.

This collaborative approach to food production helps to establish low carbon food systems. As CSAs grow in popularity so do rural employment opportunities and the potential for quality training. For example, if the fruit and vegetable needs of Wales were supplied by CSAs, approximately 30,000 new community growers would be needed as well as business support workers. This would result in buoyant local communities, increased employment and new business opportunities for food processing enterprises.

The ecological footprint of the local area would decrease significantly as their food wouldn’t be travelling across the globe. A 2008 Cabinet Office paper stated ‘existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low carbon more resource constrained future.’ CSAs soundly meet this requirement.

CSAs encourage small scale mixed production, which in turn enhances biodiversity. They are adaptable to change due to their committed membership base. Members support growers by paying up front for their produce, providing ideas and practical help when growers are faced with a variety of challenges. This support means that they are generally less stressed compared with other producers who are at the mercy of fluctuating markets.

The direct link between grower and consumer increases knowledge of healthy food choices and provides opportunities for physical outdoor activities. Families are also welcome to participate and spend quality, healthy time together in nature.

CSAs are inclusive and provide mechanisms where reasonably priced, healthy food is accessible to low income households. Some CSAs offer ‘Work Shares’, where members work a number of hours in exchange for their produce. People on very low incomes can still gain access to quality food and benefit from peer to peer learning.

The fact that CSAs link production and consumption leads to respectful, inclusive and connected communities. This enhancement maintains education in culture and heritage, via links with schools and other local organisations. It is apparent that local arts, sports and recreation are all sustained by vibrant local communities, which the presence of CSAs helps to achieve. CSA allows for artisan producers to thrive by providing opportunities for them to market their products to the membership. The small production model also leads to many CSAs operating on existing farms which in turn supports the preservation of the current landscape.

To conclude CSAs are a sustainable alternative to industrial agriculture. The rising insecurity in global supply chains puts the sustainability of continued large scale imports into serious question.

The CSA model is globally recognised and can thrive in different countries and continents. It leads to responsible trade links and socially responsible production methods together with an appreciation of local culture and heritage.

If you’d like any more information about the Wales CSA Network or are interested in becoming a member please contact Louise at louise@farmgarden.org.uk.

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