Western Region Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Conference
1. To organize the Western Region Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) conference for existing family farmers, aspiring farmers, students of sustainable agriculture, community groups, educators, advisors, and consumers, and anyone interested in sustainable agriculture.
2. To provide practical information on family farm conversion to CSA.
3. To improve the understanding of this increasingly popular model for small scale agriculture through reflection at the conference.
4. To publish summaries of the conference in the newsletters of the following organizations: UC SAREP, CAFF, CSA International, CSA of North America, American Community Gardens Association, Homeless Garden Project, and the UCSC Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
Abstract of Results
With financial support from SARE, coupled with the invaluable contributions of time and talent from members of the planning committee, a successful Western Region Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) conference was held at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, CA from November 12 – 14, 1995.
Over 460 people attended, with farmers as the primary participants (275 producers). Other attendees included students, community members/organizers, non-profit representatives, researchers, and journalists.
The conference program had a good blend of the practical and philosophical underpinnings of operating a CSA. There was much discussion of how CSA farms sell shares in the production of the farm to consumers, and how each member then receives a weekly box of mixed produce directly from the farmer. Distribution systems included the boxes being delivered from a rural area to the urban members, or farms on the urban fringe or inside the city having people come directly to the farm to pick up the produce.
One attendee, Annie Main of Good Humus CSA in Capay, CA., said it best, This conference has been more than how to start a CSA or the nuts and bolts of CSA. It has been the realization and articulation that it is time to revitalize and start to live the definition of the word community: to listen from our hearts, and to love and care for each others needs to start living together.
With unprecedented attendance for a Western CSA Conference, there is evidence of a growing population that is interested in meeting one another and helping each other develop sound community supported agriculture projects. Nationally, it is estimated that there was a 12 percent growth in CSAs in 1995.
We also found that there are key issues facing CSAs that became apparent during the conference, which include but are not limited to:
acquiring, holding, and passing on land in a way that reflects similar public-private partnerships; adopting the appropriate legal business most appropriate for a CSA; offering the traditional apprenticeship model Ñ labor barter for learning the trade Ñ while still maintaining legal status with the IRS and being free of potential apprentice liability suits in case of injury; securing long-term, low-interest loans for capital improvements that keeps the interest on such loans revolving within the community; and, increasing CSA accessibility to low-income, urban neighborhoods.
Lastly it was found that the general public is receptive to the CSA idea and is willing to attend lectures concerning CSAs as well as join a local CSA when they find out how to become a member.
Dissemination of Findings
The results of the conference have been reported in various newsletters and journals including, The Agrarian Advocate, a newsletter by the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, The Cultivar, a newsletter by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, PANNUPS, an internet newsletter by the Pesticide Action Network, among s.
Bringing a large number of people together, united by the CSA concept, triggered an excitement and inspiration for the advancement of the CSA movement. Resulting were specific actions that can be seen as contributions to Community Supported Agriculture, including new CSA alliances and coalitions in specific regions where clusters of CSAs exist. For example, a number of Portland CSA farmers announced that they would meet for dinner one evening of the conference. At the dinner, they realized that they would want to continue meeting and working on regional projects that would benefit all the local CSA projects. This kind of cooperation among CSA farmers has been discussed as a positive shift away from the kind of competitive and divisive nature of the conventional marketing atmosphere that prevails for most small-scale organic farmers.
There also seemed to arise an interest in the further development of the CSA member community. Most CSAs in the Western Region are farmer-initiated, which has also meant that most of the responsibility of making the CSA successful has rested upon the shoulders of the farmers. Originally the CSA concept arose out of the notion that the community can begin to take on responsibilities for making the CSA work, especially outreach and education, thus enabling the farmer to focus on doing the best job they can farming in an ecological manner. We have heard of a number of cases where the farmers were planning on organizing meetings to recruit members who could help run the CSA. This kind of community organizing could be seen as a potential contribution to CSAs.
Reported in 1996