American CSA harvest. Photo: charles smith; license: CC BY-SA 2.0
In this concept, where consumers co-finance farms, urbanites also learn about seasonal food, cow shares, field work and ancient storage techniques
Misguided EU agricultural policy, with its one-sided subsidies, is driving small-scale, full-time farms into economic ruin. More and more people are fighting back with a new model: they collectively finance the production of a farm and share all the produce it produces over the course of a year.
Collective decisions and the cooperation of all participants are the supporting pillars of solidarity farming (solawi for short). Farmers on the one hand and supporters on the other hand together form an economic community. Together they discuss their needs for vegetables and other products. On this basis, the annual production is planned and the costs incurred for this are calculated. The monthly contribution of the supporters is based on a guideline value.
How much each pays depends on the coarseness of his household and its needs. So individuals pay less than multi-headed families. Everyone’s money should finance the annual production for one season – this includes all costs incurred besides planting, sowing and harvesting. Solidarity agriculture is not oriented to the profit interests of individuals, but to the needs of the people involved.
Concerned mother did not want to expose her children to conventional, contaminated food for a long time
The idea originated in a japanese initiative in the 1960s. Concerned mothers did not want to expose their children to conventional, contaminated food for much longer. They made an agreement with a farmer, to whom they guaranteed the purchase of all his products, under one condition: he was not allowed to use synthetic pesticides. The first teikei was born – and apparently so successful that others followed. In 1971, the teikei japan organic agriculture association (JOAA) was founded. By the early 1990s, one in four japanese households was a member of a teikei.
Around the same time, similar initiatives emerged in europe. In 1985, the idea reached the U.S. And canada, as well as the U.K., where it became known as community supported agriculture (CSA). In the U.S. And canada, there are about 1.400 CSA operations, involving around 100.000 families participate. In the new york area, more and more farmers had to give up their farms for economic reasons. Here, CSA offered a unique opportunity: it safeguarded the livelihoods of small-scale farmers while providing high-quality food to low-income people.
In 2001, french farmers brought the principle of CSA to france. This saved numerous small farms from bankruptcy. Today AMAP (associations pour le maintien de l’agriculture paysanne) is widespread in france.
In the meantime, people around the world have discovered community farming for themselves. In the USA, organic subscription boxes are sometimes grouped together under CSA, while in some countries solidarity farming is often the only way to obtain organic food.
Especially in industrialized countries, structural change and the lack of farm successors are putting farms under economic prere. On the other hand, awareness of environmental protection and high-quality food has increased. It is not without reason that CSA farms generally operate organically, because ethics and transparency are important criteria for a growing number of consumer-critical people when choosing their food.
Germany: around 50 CSA communities
Ten years ago, there were just three farms operating according to the solidarity principle. Four years later, the nine existing CSA farms began to network with each other. In 2010, representatives of various community farms met for the first time in kassel, germany. One year later the "solidarity agriculture network".
Today there are about 50 CSA communities all over germany. At least 55 more are in the process of being founded.The types of farms are diverse: there are farms with pure vegetable production, as well as farms with agriculture and animal husbandry, or even grassland farms with animal husbandry. The farm is like this "black sheep" at the baltic sea pigs and east frisian dairy sheep on 24 hectares of grassland.
The whole range of animal products is offered: different kinds of sheep cheese, wool, meat and sausage from pigs and much more. Once a week the farm supplies the solawi in greifswald.
This form of agriculture is also combined with other financing options. For example, kattendorfer hof, 40 km north of hamburg, demanded that its animals be kept with a proprietary idea: the supporters bought cow and calf shares worth 500 and. 100 and received an annual dividend for it – in cash or in the form of the farm’s own products, which they collected from the farm store.
The buschberghof, a kind of CSA pioneer in germany, located about 40 kilometers east of hamburg, even received the 2009 "demand price organic farming", because it "has successfully and sustainably taken a new path of farm management for germany".
But even on pure vegetable farms, animals are indispensable for field work: for example, at the wurzelwerk nursery in escherode near kassel, the fields are worked with cold-blooded horses. Together with the vegetable-growing collective of the niederkaufungen commune, the nursery forms the self-supporting community CSA-escherode.
Half of the vegetables produced in each of the two nurseries are distributed among about 150 member shares. Not far from escherode there are two other CSA farms: the village garden in eichenberg-hebenshausen is currently being established. And the freudenthal CSA near witzenhausen, which is supported by around 90 supporters, can already look back on three years of cultivation with a changing collective of partners.
Beginners change their eating habits
People who come from the city learn a lot from this kind of agriculture. Whereas before they used to get their staples from the supermarket, now they learn how much work goes into producing their food simply by working in the fields. They automatically throw away lettuce and vegetables less often than before. On the other hand, this is precisely how they build an emotional bond to their "their" land. In general, they are becoming more aware of where their food comes from.
For many newcomers, however, the biggest challenge lies in changing their own diet. As each season produces its own crops, not all of the produce is available all year round. Eating is mainly seasonal: in summer and autumn you can eat all kinds of herbs, salads and fruit freshly harvested. In winter there are carrots, celery, turnips, sauerkraut, radishes, red and white cabbage, potatoes, onions, parsnips, beet, dried beans, leeks and cucurbits.
What many learn here: you can also cook delicious things from cabbage and celery. Vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes are often preserved in summer. Part of the harvest is stored in the cellar in the fall. Old storage techniques such as covering carrots, cabbage and potatoes with damp sand are often used again.
More room for maneuver on the farm
The small-scale farm stands and falls with its marketing structure. Caught up in the constraints of the market economy, the farmer usually has to organize the marketing of his products in addition to his work on the farm, or he will be left holding the bag. Not having to worry about marketing will mean a significant relief for full-time solawi farmers.
You have planning security and a secure income. They are able to contribute one hundred percent of their labor to the farm. They know the buyers of their products personally, which increases their motivation to work. At the same time, their scope for creativity increases: soil fertility is challenged, seed-resistant varieties are cultivated, and new forms of cultivation are experimented with. And – if available – there will be enough time for the care of the animals.
The users receive food that they know where it comes from and whose production process they can experience directly – through their own cooperation. Because everyone is invited to help with the work that needs to be done. This is how consumers become producers. Their financing strengthens local value-added and smallholder agriculture on the ground. The responsibility, but also the risks, are spread over many shoulders. Even in a bad year, a less good harvest must be shared by all. Ultimately, everyone involved benefits from a new vitality with high social quality.
Further reading: perthen, J.: sustainable living and community supported agriculture. Scientific term paper at the university of kassel, 2011 bernhard, S.Ways to solidarity agriculture (CSA). Bachelor thesis at the university of kassel.