The way we produce and distribute food contributes about 30 % of the emissions that are driving climate change. Clearing of new land for agriculture contributes to deforestation and the draining of wetlands, and therefore also makes a big contribution to the mass extinction of animal and plant species that has occurred in recent decades. Industrialized agriculture is often practiced in a way that degrades soil fertility and exploits both natural resources and people, often in places far away from where food is consumed.
The way we produce and distribute food contributes about 30 % (IPCC 2019) of the emissions that are driving climate change. Clearing of new land for agriculture contributes to deforestation and the draining of wetlands, and therefore also makes a big contribution to the mass extinction of animal and plant species that has occurred in recent decades. Industrialized agriculture is often practiced in a way that degrades soil fertility and exploits both natural resources and people, often in places far away from where food is consumed.
How did we get here?
Μodern, industrialized agriculture releases large amounts of emissions. If practiced differently, farming could instead serve as a “sink”, or storage place, for carbon, and a source, rather than a threat to biodiversity. Rather than feeling threatened with hunger or loss of control of their land and water through the continually increasing concentration of agriculture in the hands of large companies, people could be able to practice farming in a way that provides them with both a sound home and a meaningful occupation. Nobody should feel the need to leave his or her native country because of lack of access to food or land.
The world report on agriculture from 2008 states that small-scale farming is one of the keys to ensuring a sustainable and secure food supply for the world’s population. However, under current neoliberal market conditions and policies, small-scale farming has been put aside. Producing food has become an industry, whose main purpose is not to feed people in a nourishing and sustainable way, but instead, to make money. Sadly, most of this money does not go in the pocket of the producers themselves, but instead finances the equipment and products needed to sustain large-scale highly mechanised and input-driven farming systems.
Community Supported Agriculture practices (CSAs) seek to turn this process around, but they don’t try to turn back the wheel. They take modern science into account, which increasingly recognizes the need to decentralize food production, to become much more efficient in terms of energy input per calorie, to shorten transport and storage costs, lessen food waste and use locally adapted strategies to face climate change. Humanity will only survive if it works in alignment with nature, not against it.
CSAs can open the door to this kind of approach, because they are not totally dependent on the whims of the market. Instead, these enterprises are supported by a specific group of consumers who pay the real costs of the farming business. These consumers are willing to contribute their money and time to this effort, and to make the best use of whatever shape and amount of product the farm produces. They value the food, because they know where it comes from and what was necessary to produce it. By committing in advance to payment for their share of the harvest, CSA members also share the risks which are always involved in farming with the farmers: harsh weather conditions, diseases and sometime even to handle surpluses can be a challenge.
CSA allows farmers and consumers to ask questions like: what would be the best way to work the land? How can we maintain the fertility of the soil, even for generations to come?
CSA in Germany is called “Solidarische Landwirtschaft”, solidarity agriculture. This is intended to stress not only that the farmer is supported by the consumers, but also that the consumers are supported by the work and skills of the farmer. Also key to this concept is the idea of solidarity with nature itself and future generations.
CSAs often integrate methods to increase soil fertility by binding CO2 in organic matter (humus) that decrease erosion and stores moisture at the same time. They grow a wider range of corps, prefer non-hybrid seeds, and even breed their own seeds and exchange them in regional CSA-networks.
From 2011 to today, the number of CSA-like farming projects in Germany increased from 12 to 260. While most are certified as organic, many do much more. Some farms use horsepower to work the land, and others breed and use their own locally adapted seeds and plant varieties.
More and more CSAs have started to experiment with permaculture and agroforestry systems, while others implement intensive vegetable growing methods like the market gardening concept.
CSA farm sizes in Germany range from 0,4 ha to 250 ha, and include both small community-run gardening projects and bigger farms and collective structures with both crops and animals. Many actions necessary to implement climate-relevant changes are dependent on ownership of the land, because they are long term and require long-term investments: Planting trees for agroforestry, for example. CSAs can help save agricultural land from conversion, by raising funds for joint ownership or converting ownership into land trusts, such as that recently established by the organisation Kulturland eG.
CSAs can be future labs, not only for low emission food production, but for developing and adapting skills to mitigate climate change. They bring together urban and rural lifestyles, and educate consumers about the necessary skills and conditions for growing and processing food. This way consumers become much more aware and conscious of the way ecosystems work, especially in relationship to farming.
By ensuring a secure income from farming, it can become an attractive occupation again for young people. Thus, family-run farms can more easily find people to take over when the current farming generation retires.
CSAs still face many challenges. Not every CSA can prosper and fulfil all the hopes and dreams of its founders, but their efforts move us all in the right direction.
Find more information about the German CSA movement here