Community supported agriculture: The Civic agriculture reconnecting farm food and community

A stand with several vegetables coming from a community supported agriculture farm. A blonde young girl is selling them.

Initially, humans were very aware that they are active participants in food systems. Hunter-gatherers had to be aware of plant species to ensure they weren’t eating anything poisonous, and they had to understand animal behaviors to hunt them effectively. This tight functional and cultural tie between humans and their food systems ensured sustainability and made intergenerational responsibility a societal imperative. They were too aware that if they drive a prey species to extinction or overharvest staple plants, they too will suffer.

Many indigenous cultures place humanity as part of natural cycles as opposed to outside of them, in contrast with the Western idea of civilizing, conquering and/or taming wild lands. When was the decline of traditional agriculture? As humanity’s understanding of animals and plants progressed, horticulture and pastoralism became more and more common.

The rise of cities and social strata is usually presented as being either a cause or a result of this. Recent studies in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, summed in the book “The Dawn of Everything” by David Graeber and David Wengrow, argue (backed by archaeological evidence) that the line between hunter-gathering, horticulture and agriculture was a lot thinner than we imagine, with many cultures undergoing seasonal shifts in their production method and social structure. Complex webs made up of social relationships, trading and conflict tied societies with strikingly different modes of production.

There is some evidence of agriculture being “discovered” and then abandoned in favor of going “back” to hunting-gathering, which further complicates the idea of a linear progression from foraging to modern farming.


Agricultural communities. Community supported agriculture (CSA) and its modern formalization.

However, whether inevitable or not, and whether this was a good thing or not, all over the world, agricultural communities began forming and being tied to the land, eventually becoming the dominant form of human organization. As shifting food production methods changed societal organization, our view on the environment went through a transformation.

We went from relations of commensalism or mutualism, where the wellbeing of our surroundings was seen as beneficial to our own, to a form of competition with the rest of the living world.

So far away are the times where agriculture and religion were the heart of the communities and people were supporting that in a communal way. Modern initiatives have emerged in order not only to share the risk in the agricultural business but also in order to promote a more sustainable way.


What is a community supported agriculture?

It is a direct partnership between a group of consumers and producer(s) whereby the risks, responsibilities and rewards of farming activities are shared through long-term agreements.

The community supported agriculture (CSA) is a way to not only share the business risks but also an innovative (ancestral inspired) way to create sustainable, self-sufficient and sovereign food systems. This approach could transform the way producers and consumers relate to food as a local commons.

It is still difficult for a major percentage of the population to open their eyes to the benefits of small-scale agricultural approach.


– Which are the main community supported agriculture partnerships in Europe?

Several countries are leading the movement, with the Netherlands and Romania as the leaders in this trend. Some extra efforts has been put recently by European institutions in order to support the growing force with the program Rural Europe Action plan.

– Which are the main community supported agriculture partnerships in UK in 2023?

Community Support Agriculture schemes have been developing in the UK since the 1990s and there are now at least 80 initiatives. A Soil Association report in 2011 found that there were 80 active initiatives working on 1,300ha (3,200 acres) with at least 5,000 trading members.

– Which are the main community supported agriculture partnerships in Spain in 2023?

The first CSA in the metropolitan area of Madrid was created (Bajo el Asfalto está la Huerta) in 2000 by occupying a piece of public property – abandoned agricultural land. This model was spread in the region of Madrid and to other cities, and, in 2005, there was a meeting in Madrid of 14 initiatives of CSA-like food coops.

– Which are the main community supported agriculture farm in Germany in 2023?

Buschberghof farm appears as the reference successful case for all the newly founded CSA farms in Germany. After its foundation as the first CSA in 1988, only three further CSAs were set up in the following fifteen years. Between 2003 and 2007, the number doubled to eight CSAs. After this, and with the establishment of a national network, the movement grew very dynamically. Today, approximately more than 150 CSA farms are already operating.


The NOT traditional agriculture

Agricultural monocultures focus on a few crops, and everything else becomes a pest that needs to be killed. Forests, rather than sources of berries, nuts, fungi and wild game, become fields waiting to be cleared. Swamps, rather than staying reservoirs of biodiversity and carbon sinks, are drained and turned into fields. Grasslands, tundra, rainforests, coasts – every piece of land that can be used for agriculture is ravaged to support the expansion of kingdoms, pay taxes, feed armies and enrich merchants. In this context, the Earth’s wondrous biodiversity itself becomes an enemy of humanity.

In Medieval times within Europe, many properties were still administered in a communal way (a.k.a community supported agriculture), called common land – large fields which could be owned by an individual or group of people (frequently nobles), but entire villages (“the commoners”) were allowed to benefit from their use, such as by bringing their animals to graze on common pastures, by collecting wood and kindle from forests or by cutting turf. This incentivized people to collectively care for their environments.

While the “tragedy of the commons” tries to explain the end of collaborative economies and the emergence of private property as inevitable and even ecologically friendly, the real driving forces were a lot more complex, with enclosures being a key factor. Enclosing a piece of land meant depriving commoners of their rights of access and privilege and enabled the owners to “develop them” to their full potential, focusing on profit instead of fulfilling needs. On hand this increased efficiency and “freed up” the rural laborers that would eventually become the industrial proletariat, but it also fostered social unrest and gave rise to the growing separation between humans and their food systems, eventually leading to today’s environmental issues.

The situation is not uniform all over the world nor throughout history. In the book “Farmers of forty centuries: organic farming in China, Korea, and Japan”, the ancient traditions of East Asian organic agriculture are beautifully explored, looking in-depth at the labor and creativity needed to keep populations fed without destroying the environment. Countless other cultures around the world managed comparable feats, and our culture can be seen as a weird exception rather than the inevitable result of “human nature”.

In modern society, very few of us have any direct link with food production. Rather than active producers who are aware of their impact, we are passive consumers. We eat food that is grown, packaged and processed hundreds or even thousands of miles away, completely disconnected from the natural range and annual cycles of our crops. Big agricultural conglomerates and corporations see food as a product that can be sold, and often have no regard for natural cycles or sustainability in the real sense. Practices such as permaculture or organic farming are still not widespread, and many doubt that they’d be able to feed humanity.


Reconecting Farm food and community

Intensive agriculture does have some advantages over community supported agriculture – you can enjoy fresh strawberries at any time of the year! You can eat a light quinoa salad for breakfast, some slow cooked ribs for lunch, a rice bowl for dinner while living in London, tens of miles away from the nearest meat farm and continents away from the quinoa and rice farmers.

You can enjoy a selection of spices, desserts and delicacies year-round at affordable prices, living a culinary life more luxurious than many ancient kings and emperors could have dreamed of. But this could not hide the huge benefit of community supported agriculture.
The history of agriculture is significantly more complex than in this simple sum-up makes it seem. But its future is bound to be even more mind-blowingly diverse.

As big agricultural companies fight tooth and nail to keep their wealth and power, the growing pressure for environmental sustainability is giving rise to immense competition. Technologies and social movements are trying to reshape the relationship between humans and their food. While the future is terrifying, it is still being decided, and AutarPonics is one of the technologies aiming to set it on the right path.


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