Sunday, August 23, 2009

COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSA) SCHEMES

In our last post we had a bit of a rant about the incredible amount of wastage in our food supply system. There are alternatives out there (perhaps even close to you) that restore ethics into food supply. One of these is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

CSA’s are designed to restore fairness, health and quality to our food growing systems. Most farmers have a “boom or bust” type existence. In good years there is an abundance of food (farm prices are reduced because of an over supplied market) and in bad years there are crop failures (and income is reduced accordingly).

Farmers have to pay their costs up front (seed, water, ploughing etc) using borrowed money which eats into whatever profits they make. On top of this, the big buyers (supermarkets and processors) play farmers off against each other to gain the cheapest price possible. Whilst this may lead to cheaper prices (but not always) at the checkout, it has many serious negative effects. Farm incomes do not provide a fair return to the farmer and this can lead to economic, social, environmental and personal problems.

Many farmers are forced to use farming methods that lower costs or increase size, but result in poor quality food, soil depletion and environmental damage. There is also a huge amount of waste from the large farms that supply the mass market. Supermarkets demand that produce be of a uniform size, shape and colour. Of course nature doesn’t work like that, so vegetables that do not meet the required “standard” are often discarded. When food is wasted we are also wasting all the resources (water, fuel, labour etc) that went into producing it. The overriding concern of factory farm type production is not so much on quality and flavour and service to a local community, but on quantity and appearance (this is what modern consumers supposedly demand) and on profits.

How CSA's Work.
Members of the CSA pay an annual membership fee to a local farmer to cover the cost of production in advance, and in return they receive an equitable share of the farm’s harvest via a weekly box.
Both grower and consumer benefit from CSA's:-
• Consumers share the risks with the farmer. Communities are more resilient when consumers and producers understand and support each other
• The relationship allows feedback so that the farmer responds to the needs of members
• As the food is locally grown, it is fresher, and has very low food miles embedded in it (refrigeration, transport and storage).
• Consumers have a direct connection with their food supply, ensuring the use of ethical organic methods
• Many CSA’s encourage consumers to participate in the growing process. There may be opportunities for low income families to obtain their food at a cheaper rate in exchange for labour.
• Food security is enhanced because the community is not dependent on some distant supplier who has no obligation to maintain supply. Costs cannot be manipulated by profiteers whose only interest in food supply is making as much money as they can.
• CSA’s lead to far less waste in terms of packaging and selection of only uniform sized products
• CSA’s bring ethics, community, relationships and quality food back into the food supply chain

CSA related Websites
If you would like to know more here are some starting points:- http://www.organicfooddirectory.com.au/general-issues/community-food-systems/community-supported-agriculture.html has an excellent summary of how CSA’s work and lists benefits for consumers, farmers and the environment

http://www.abc.net.au/rural/telegraph/innovators/week5.htm In this interview the farmer outlines the benefits, particularly for the community as a whole.

We know of 3 CSA’s operating in Yarra Ranges Shire. These are:-.
• Little Feet Farm CSA run by Stuart and Luna (pictured above) in the Yarra Junction Area and can be found at http://littlefeetfarm.wordpress.com/
• Amy & Luc operate their CSA in the Healesville area. Contact Amy or Luc at lucamy@mooramoora.org.au
• Darryl runs Callavale Farm Fresh CSA at Monbulk. You can contact Daryl at mailto:darylknoll@gmail.com
If you know of schemes in other areas we would be happy to publicise them.

2 comments:

Onesimus said...

You wrote:
“On top of this, the big buyers (supermarkets and processors) play farmers off against each other to gain the cheapest price possible. Whilst this may lead to cheaper prices (but not always) at the checkout, it has many serious negative effects.”

The same kind of thing has happened in so many other industries. Manufacturing is moved overseas because production costs (pay rates) are so much lower and therefore the finished product can be sold to us for so much cheaper.

There is a significant hypocrisy in this because we help support industries based on far lower rates of pay than those we would be willing to receive ourselves. We are happy for workers overseas to live in poverty; working obscene hours for minimal gain, as long as we can buy a lot more with the significantly higher wages that we insist are our right.

Farmers are in a very similar situation to those overseas workers. They are far enough removed from the everyday experience of most Australians that they are given very little thought.
As long as we get our food as cheaply as possible it’s easy to ignore them.

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