In America, co-ops and community supported agriculture (CSA) schemes are well known and well supported. CSAs began in Japan in the 80’s when some city-dwelling women started the teikei movement which means “putting the farmers’ faces on the food”. They were underwhelmed with the lack of knowledge about where the food came from, who grew it and how. Australians are usually more familiar with box schemes, which is a similar concept, but has some fundamental differences, usually in the finances of the schemes.
CSA box schemes are usually run over a limited production season. This corresponds to the local growing season. Keep in mind that large parts of North America are subject to frozen winters and you’ll understand why there growing season is between 24-30 weeks long. That’s still a good six months worth of fresh, local produce. In keeping with this model, a lot of the CSA farms grow cultivars of vegetables that are known keepers for storing over winter when fresh supplies are not available.
Consumers pay anywhere between $500 and $1000 for a “share” in the farm enterprise; an investment agreement that lasts as long as the growing season and entitles them to a weekly box of awesome produce. These boxes of nutritious delights work out to be $17-$42 per box and are designed to have enough produce for an average family of four. The other main financial consideration of the CSA agreements is that most people who purchase a “share” pay for it upfront either at the end of Winter or the beginning of Spring. This means that the farmers have the capital when they need it to purchase seeds, any new equipment for the season and can start to budget for how many workers they can afford to pay. Don’t underestimate the power of decision making with known information, it’s so much easier than trying to guess what your budget will be.
In Australia, we are pretty lucky in that most places can grow some form of food all year round. We are even lucky enough that we have suitably varied climates so that we can currently access a lot of Australian grown produce when it’s out of season in our local area. Our access to food is enviable and we take it for granted. But it’s not sustainable. Our food producing areas are currently shipping the fruit and vegetables to regional and urban centres for redistribution back to the local and interstate supermarkets. This is what is meant by the “food miles” that produce travels. It is also a major cause of road congestion and deterioration as well as fossil fuel waste.
The success of a CSA enterprise is reliant upon educating the consumers about their individual seasonal produce and local growing conditions. CSA farmers want to help their consumers to get the most out of the boxes of produce that they provide. They usually include a newsletter each week to communicate how things are going on the farm and suggest recipes for the produce included, especially if it’s something that the consumers haven’t seen before. The farmers want people to get involved with the farm and many encourage visits to the farm as a form of social and community engagement and personal quality assurance checking. CSA and local organic farmers are encouraging people to take back their power when it comes to information about their food.
A lot of what can be produced on a farm and direct marketed in this way is produce that is unfamiliar to consumers because it doesn’t survive in our industrial food supply chain. Think green tomatoes (that remain green when ripe) or fresh figs that are too delicate to pick when actually ripe. To pick the food at the peak of ripeness and get it to consumers within a matter of hours or days rather than weeks and months drastically changes the flavour, consistency and nutritional value of that food. It radically changes people’s relationship with food and is a much more satisfying experience overall. A truly satisfying meal; lovingly and communally prepared, filled with nutrition and flavour and shared with family and friends, leads to a feeling of happiness and completeness that many of us are searching for without even knowing what it is we crave. We can eat less and still be fulfilled which means that food accessibility becomes more equitable for all.My dream for ThisLittleFarm is to become a local larder of fresh produce year-round. I want to feed people, to grow (myself, my community and nutritious food) and to reap what I sow. I’m not religious, but I have found the Divine in the world. Who’s interested in walking this path with me?