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Community Supported Agriculture - The Brexit Proof Food Revolution

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Community Supported Agriculture - The Brexit Proof Food Revolution

 

Written by Ben Raskin, Chair of Community Supported Agriculture Network UK

I write this in the run up to Brexit Dday. Whether you are remain or leave, the uncertainty of Brexit is a reality. Community Supported Agriculture has potential benefits however that apply to any uncertainty, manmade or otherwise.

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First some challenges facing horticultural businesses in the run up to Brexit, and in particular to the threat of a No Deal Brexit.

·      Labour –Solutions may be found in time but there are widespread fears that securing the necessary workforce when we have left the Union will be more difficult.

·      Availability of Produce – with no trade barriers, gaps in UK supplies can be easily met with imports of a wide range of products all year round. With barriers it may be harder to source the range of produce that is currently on offer.

·      Pricing – The flipside of a global supply of produce is continual downward pressure on prices. As a result, many mid-size growing businesses have disappeared. We now see a polarisation between larger and larger businesses that use scale to meet supermarket demand, and a proliferation of very small-scale operations that supply specialist high value products direct to local customers. At both ends of the scale tiny margins are a real threat to business sustainability.

Here are some thoughts on how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) might offer a Brexit proof business model, but firstly what is the CSA model?

Direct Connection

Find out more about The different types of csa
in the UK

Consumers, often described as CSA members, are closely linked to the farm, and provide support that goes beyond a straight forward marketplace exchange of money for goods. They might have invested in the farm or business or share the costs of production. They may instead accept a share in the harvest or providing labour.  

The most common produce for CSA farms is vegetables, but anything can be produced with the CSA model for instance eggs, poultry, bread, fruit, pork, lamb, beef and dairy produce. CSA farms are even developing around woodlands for firewood and more recently fish.

Benefits for all

Farmers receive a more stable and secure income and closer connection with their community, and consumers benefit by eating fresh healthy local food, feeling more connected to the land where their food is grown and learning new skills.

CSA helps to address increasing concerns about the lack of transparency, sustainability and resilience of our food system. It is one of the most radical ways that we can re-take control and ownership of our food system.

Read more about the


benefits of csa

The proposition of consumer and producer sharing risk and reward may not seem particularly attractive in an environment where food is cheap and plentiful. Why pay money up front or commit to a long-term arrangement with a farmer when you can pop to the shops or login to your favourite online retailer and get what you want whenever you want it.

Imagine instead a situation where lorries are delayed, or tariffs are high. Prices may shoot up. Importers may seek easier markets. Having a guaranteed supply of food (weather permitting of course) begins to make a bit more sense.

Beyond the practical, being a CSA member brings a whole range of social benefits. Opportunities to join in with farming, learn more about how your food is produced and perhaps even improve your physical and mental health.

While the CSA business model is still in its infancy in this country with 100 + CSA farms, new ones are starting all the time. You can find out your nearest one here. In USA and France there are thousands of CSA farms, helped perhaps by not having a developed organic box scheme market. In these and other countries many CSA farms are even supplying into cities and feeding urban populations.

While I accept of course that the CSA model will not suit all farms or farmers, it does offer a genuine vision for transforming our relationship with food and a way of shaping a future proof food supply.

CSA NETWORK UK : https://communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk/

 



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Small Farm Profits

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Small Farm Profits

by the Ecological Land Cooperative

The Ecological Land Cooperative’s short publication, ‘Small Farm Profits’, demonstrates that small farms are successful.

‘Small Farm Profits’, a short booklet made up of small farm case studies, demonstrates that small-scale, ecological farms in the UK can, and do, make a profit.

 In light of the proposed Agriculture Bill which recommends supporting public goods and improving agricultural activity, it is essential that new policies support small farms which produce healthy food. These kinds of farms are exactly what this booklet showcases.

 Small Farm Profits provides proof that small-scale doesn’t mean uncompetitive and that ecological agriculture can create economically viable, highly productive and sustainable enterprises on small acreages.

 The proposed Agriculture Bill, which will enforce UK policy post-Brexit, does not refer to small-scale, ecological farming or local food. This needs to change.

Vegboxes of the CSA, Cae Tan, at the ELC’s site in Wales .

Vegboxes of the CSA, Cae Tan, at the ELC’s site in Wales .

Oli Rodker, Executive Director of ELC, says: “Our booklet shows what can be done on small acreages even in today’s challenging economic climate. The new Agriculture Bill is a chance to put policy behind Michael Gove’s words and provide the financial and technical support to ensure we see thousands more of these types of businesses in the coming years.”

 Agroecological Small Farms should be supported because:

·       They produce fresh, local & healthy food free from pesticides and other chemicals

·       They have high employment figures per land area

·       More farmers means more innovation

·       Of their environmental stewardship: small farms promote biodiversity, good soil care and low carbon emissions.

·       They can adapt more easily to local conditions.

·       Of their positive Social Impact: focused on local economies and local people, small farms provide opportunities for community engagement

Busy harvest for workers and helpers at the CSA Cae Tan on the ELC’s site in Gower, Wales.

Busy harvest for workers and helpers at the CSA Cae Tan on the ELC’s site in Gower, Wales.

·       They make profitable businesses!

 The Ecological Land Cooperative works to create new opportunities for small ecological farms. For small farms to remain competitive and viable in today’s markets they need to be long-lasting and sustainable — financially as well as ecologically. Small Farm Profits illustrates that such farms are financially sound and that ecological and economic objectives can sit side by side productively.

 The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is a social enterprise, co-operative in structure, established to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods in England and Wales. Set up in 2009, the ELC purchases land, obtains planning permission, and installs the infrastructure to create clusters of three or more affordable smallholdings for future farmers. The ELC’s first project, Greenham Reach, in mid-Devon, was granted permanent planning permission in 2018 after five years temporary permission. Home to three thriving smallholdings, each operating as independent businesses but working co-operatively to manage the whole site. Greenham Reach is a living example of ecologically managed land providing truly sustainable land-based livelihoods. The ELC’s second site in Arlington, East Sussex has secured temporary planning permission and is the process of recruiting tenants to join the cooperative and start farming.

The ELC has also purchased land on the Gower in Wales and in Sparkford, South Somerset, both have planning applications in process.

The Booklet can be read here: https://ecologicalland.coop/small-farm-profits and for more info about the ELC please visit: http://ecologicalland.coop

 

Read More: CREATING CHANGE WITH THE ECOLOGICAL LAND COOPERATIVE

 



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Creating change with the Ecological Land Cooperative

Creating change with the Ecological Land Cooperative

by Phil Moore, Ecological Land Cooperative

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead’s oft-cited quote has a certain mileage in the underpinnings of the Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) — the only organisation in England and Wales to fight for affordable residential smallholdings for ecological agriculture.

Changing the world has to start somewhere, and so the ELC have focused their energies on land in the U.K. According to Kevin Cahill, author of ‘Who Owns Britain’ (2001), nearly half of the UK’s land is owned by just 40,000 people — 0.06% of the population.

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For many of those wishing to lead a land-based livelihood, such dreams are stymied by two distinct, but not entirely insurmountable, obstacles — the high cost of land and getting planning consent to live as an agriculture worker on your small-scale mixed farm. Between 2000 and 2010 new farm entrants accounted for just 4% of agricultural land purchasers. The average age of the British farmer is now 59.

This is where the ELC come in.

Zoe Wangler, former ELC Executive Director, and who remains a close ally, was inspired to help start the ELC through the example of others:

“I met a lot of people who wanted a land-based livelihood and wanted to contribute to a better world but just couldn’t access land. When I came across this idea for the ELC - using community finance to buy land and then getting planning permission for people to live on the land so more people could do such projects - I thought I’d absolutely love to get behind that.”

The origins of the Ecological Land Cooperative lie in spirited discussions in the spring of 2005 between members of Chapter 7, the ecological planning consultancy, Radical Routes, a co-operative working for social change, Somerset Co-operative Services, a co-op development body, and a smallholdings like Landmatters, Lammas, Highbury Farm and Five Penny Farm.

The desire for many to inhabit a living countryside in which humans flourish alongside the natural world, and centred around small-scale land-based enterprises providing meaningful employment, is vital for creating food and energy sovereignty.

Re-vitalising rural communities, improving ecological literacy and providing decent and honest food are lofty desires demanded by the passionate.

The Ecological Land Cooperative is the midwife to such breathy ideals, giving the doers and dreamers a practical hand in making small-scale agroecological farming a reality.

The ELC model and core business is simple: the creation of small clusters of three or more affordable residential smallholdings. As well as land, we provide smallholders with permission to build their own sustainable home, with utilities and road access. Our model allows us to keep costs as low as possible, both through buying larger sites at a lower price per acre and through distributing the cost of infrastructure, planning applications and subsequent site monitoring across a number of smallholdings.

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The ELC model of new starter farms is protected for farming, for affordability, and for sustainability. Small-scale agriculture presupposes an ethic of care for the land and a desire to feed people good food. This runs counter to the dominant food production system we see in the U.K. and globally.

The ELC has the skills and expertise necessary to show planning authorities why such small-scale farms make sense financially and culturally. As a cooperative, retaining the acquired knowledge around planning and policy is crucial as a way of both replicating the small clusters of farms model and in dealing with planning law to allow future farmers to focus their energies on growing their business.

More recently we’ve been awarded a temporary planning permission by Wealdon District Council for the creation of three smallholdings on our second site in Arlington, East Sussex.

The application process to lease one of our three smallholdings in Arlington opens in mid-September. Please visit our website to apply and to find out more about our work here: www.ecologicalland.coop/arlington

Our first site in mid Devon has been established for five years with three smallholder families running successful farm-based businesses benefiting the local area in a variety of ways, from providing excellent quality fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers, herbs and other organic produce, to creating volunteer and training opportunities and an environment in which the local ecology is thriving. We also have a third site on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales which is being farmed by a well established local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme, and a fourth (and possibly fifth) site in the pipeline in the south west of England.

The ELC is part of a movement recognising the value to local communities and the economic viability of small-scale farming -- as well as responding to the desire of young farmers wishing to get on the land.

The changes we are making are slow, but progress is steady and sure and we have big ambitions. Our approach isn’t flashy or loud, but rooted in a deeper rhythm of change and in a firm conviction that change is not only possible but desirable.

More about the ELC and our work: www.ecologicalland.coop

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