21 November 2019
Agroforestry event in Melton Mowbray

A Win Win for Farm productivity and the Environment

3 December 2019
iSAGE training course and workshop

Innovations to improve sustainability in the sheep and goat sector

4 November 2019
Calling all UK Sheep farmers!

Survey on breed distribution and management

31 October 2019
Proceedings of the European Conference on Crop Diversification

Abstracts, presentations and workshop reports now online

21 March 2019
In adversity, what are farmers doing to be more resilient?

Opportunities, barriers and constraints in organic techniques helping to improve the sustainability of conventional farming

CSAs & other community-based opportunities for growers

CSAs can take several forms but essentially they are either community-led or grower-led. A look at how grower-led CSAs work and what advantages they can bring to an organic vegetable business.
(Organised by OGA and OCW)
Phil Sumption (Garden Organic): Chair

Session Summary

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is one of the most exciting developments of the last few years, helping enliven the organic movement and introducing new growers. The focus of this session was how CSA's can maintain viability when funding streams come to an end and how the CSA model can benefit existing growing enterprises. We heard from two speakers with first-hand experience of working with CSAs.

Roger Hitchings described the Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) project he is working on. He is involved in creating a survival guide for Welsh CSAs - drawing on the experiences of 8 CSA's in Wales and reviewing the different set ups, history and lessons learnt from CSAs in other countries. 

CSA's have developed differently in different countries. The Japanese Teikei and French AMAP models only work where there is a population and a pre-existing producer, whereas in the US and UK all models are possible with the greatest longevity seen where the CSA is run as a not for profit or by a charity.

The review found that in order to survive, CSA's need

  • a realistic pricing policy
  • the right expertise
  • to avoid over-reliance on volunteer labour
  • clear land entitlement
  • a suitable site and a clear communication structure.

An established growing business ticks most of these and CSA's can offer an opportunity for growers to diversify their markets. Roger used Mike Westrip as an example of a grower with an established box scheme/ local market business who has now added a subscription CSA to his business. The  CSA is operated as a voucher scheme where customers buy blocks of vouchers which can then be used in any part of the business – the voucher acts like a social share giving a commitment to support the farm and the customer gets the benefit of flexibility.

Ben Raskin gave further clarification of what CSA's are and different approaches. He outlined the business case as to why producers should consider a CSA, the main advantages being cashflow, security (especially in the light of last season) and allegiance. Ben also mentioned a potential downside is that you have to like people! Managing volunteers/ CSA members is a different skill to growing. But another advantage is a pooling of skills in the membership which as a lone grower can be costly

He noted that both the Soil Association report 2011 on The Impact of CSAs and the Plunkett Foundation report 'Keep Farming Local' give good overviews of where the movement is at and where it might be heading.

Discussion points:

  • There is a need to raise awareness and consciousness of CSA's in wider public/ policy-makers.
  • How can arable farms encourage community engagement? Community Supported Bakeries/ Breweries.

Action points:

  • A description of Mike Westrip's voucher scheme in the OGA magazine was requested.
  • If you are a producer looking to set up a CSA there may be funding available. Contact Rachel Harries from the Soil Association.

Speaker presentations and abstracts

Roger Hitchings (ORC): CSA survival guide (280KB)

The Better Organic Business Links (BOBL) project has been working with every link in the supply chain in Wales to create opportunities for producers and to provide them with the tools to improve business performance. One element is support for what is a relatively embryonic CSA sector in Wales. This presentation will launch the draft report from this project as well as introducing a survival guide for CSAs.

Ben Raskin (Soil Association): Grower led CSAs in England (640KB)

Ben will give a resumé of the Soil Association report on CSAs in England carried out as part of their 4 year project. In particular opportunities to get closer to you market and build loyalty and connections with those that consume the food we produce, as well as looking at what motivates members to get involved in CSAs.

Mike Westrip (Rhos Market Garden): A growing experience of community support

Mike was unable to attend the conference.

In 2008 Alice and I began to establish a market garden in the Welsh Marches 850ft above sea level. Five years later the enterprise has established two weekly market stalls plus a veg bag scheme of 40 plus. We also supply a number of local restaurants and caterers, as well as an organic shop in Ludlow with our surpluses (when we are able to grow them). From the outset we wanted to include a “CSA element” in the business but, at the same time, needed it to be genuinely sustainable and provide a reasonable living as it was (is) our main (only) source of income. Our only funding came from a Powys Council business start up grant…other capital came from us and interest free loans. We now have over 20 “members” who give an extra level of support by paying upfront for a book of “veg vouchers”, which are then redeemed at the stall or bag collection points. Other community support comes in the form of “weed swoops” or work days; help with marketing and events; help on open days; even help making paper bags.