Last November, Michelle Wyler, Senior Program Manager here at CAFF & The Farmers Guild, had the honor of representing California’s CSA farmers at the International CSA Symposium in Greece, organized by Urgenci and its Greek partner Agroecopolis. Here’s what she learned:
Over 300 farmers, food activists, consumers, researchers, and more gathered for four intense days to share their experiences and explore food sovereignty: our right to define our own food systems. With attendees from over 40 countries, the event showcased a diversity in approaches to this local food model. In contrast to the modernization of agriculture, which has often neglected the community and ecological elements of our food system, attendees instead highlighted a “solidarity economy”, one that seeks to transform dominant capitalist or authoritarian systems into new, more intentional models that place people and planet at their core. Between Greek folk dancing, traditional foods, seed exchanges, and tsipouro (the local drink), attendees from across the world shared their ideas and experiences promoting a variety of CSA models, each with challenges and opportunities unique to their home countries.
Farmers from Japan shared one of the most interesting models, “teikei”. Mother to the CSA model, Teikei literally means “food with the farmer’s face” and is guided by 10 simple yet strong principles, among them: right-size, ecological practices, and self-distribution, all with the goal of building a cooperative food relationship, not just trading partners. But whereas Teikei seems to have held on to the soul of CSA in Japan, many farmers in the U.S. are struggling to maintain the original CSA ethos, with shifting market trends and consumer behavior.
Up in Canada, Equiterrre offered an example of a well-organized CSA Network, with 150 dues-paying farm members, working collectively to develop new, non-competitive markets for all its members while training new CSAs for both individual success and that of the whole CSA movement. Equally impressive was a German CSA membership strategy that promotes a solidary payment system instead of a fixed membership fee to make it easier for people from a range of economic levels to participate: Producers introduce their estimated production costs for the coming year and the price is divided by the number of CSA shares as a starting point. Next, an auction or a bidding round occurs with a traffic light system to identify how much each member will pay for their share: Green is the price the member can easily afford, yellow is a stretch, and red is unaffordable. If all the green bids do not cover the budget, they move up to the yellow bids to set how much each member will contribute for the season.
A final potent example is Sister’s Garden in South Korea, which has been successful in empowering “housewives” to provide CSA boxes to over 10,000 people in their community while also enabling the female farmers to open bank accounts for the first time in their names - something we take for granted in the U.S.. Others from Africa, Croatia, and Palestine shared innovative farm-direct food systems that rally against drought, war, and political control turning chaos into triumph.
In California, we at CAFF & The Farmers Guild conduct CSA research, sharing best practices, and host farmer-to-farmer learning opportunities (the next one being the Small Farm Conference in Davis on February 22nd and 23rd) to help CSAs respond to membership and retention issues, two of their biggest challenges. We estimate that there are about 250 CSAs in California, yet have no clear way to count them. Over the next few years we’ll be working towards the North American action plan that dovetails with the goals of a recently funded FMPP proposal that seeks to unify CSA support organizations across the U.S. so that we can consolidate resources into one place; identify training topics and trainings to better serve both CSAs and Technical Assistance providers; and create unified messaging that will help CSAs not only promote themselves but build a broader U.S. solidarity economy.
If you’re a CSA and want to learn more contact email@example.com
Photos and more information about the 7th International CSA Symposium can be found on the Urgenci website – www.urgenci.net.