How Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) can help flip the paradigm: from individuals of excess to convivial communities of reciprocal need
Why is it that only in times of crisis or need that many communities (realised or unrealised) come together? There is a modern illusion that we are all separate, individual and resilient people that can meet all our own needs, and we are encouraged to believe we can do this from the comfort of our homes, cars and offices behind a screen and with a credit card at hand. The reality is that this modern western lifestyle is not meeting the needs of people, particularly lacking in the provision of non-material needs for connection and meaning, whilst also often lacking the very basic real needs for healthy real food, deep rest (switch off time), physical exercise and intentional contact with other humans. Whilst these building blocks of a good life are missing, there are superfluous luxuries that are supplied in such excess that they are not even appreciated or enjoyed fully. Whilst this lifestyle has the illusion of independence and the freedom of the Euro-American dream, it is essentially reliant upon a hidden army of servants providing these needs and excesses to a minority. This is an unusual form of ‘community’, comparable to historic times of slavery and feudalism, but altogether unique to this time in its speed, potency and covert ‘power-over’ (a more insidious force of exploitation than overt power). The hidden army of servants makes up the global majority, from the food growers to the delivery drivers to the health care workers and many more who became somewhat more noticed in the covid-19 pandemic. Why is it only in these times of crises that we recognise need and vulnerability, and thus acknowledge the endless services that are being provided to us each day, with each bite of food and every item consumed?
The ‘community of excess’ in this business as usual paradigm is built upon a hierarchy from consumer of excess at the top to producer of necessity at the bottom. Within the consumer groups there is a distinction, whereby the consumers of necessity sit below the consumers of excess, meanwhile both of these groups sit above the producers. Of course we often sit in multiple camps, adding extra nuance to the power matrix. Within the producers lower end of the pyramid lies another distinction, between the produces providing for greed/excess, such as tech and information producers, and the producers for necessity, such as farmers, builders, teachers and carers. The latter are placed at the bottom of the power-over structure, in terms of both resources and cultural recognition (e.g. evidenced by how our schooling and work systems value the different occupations). And yet the ‘producers of need’ work the longest hours for the least pay and are endowed with scarce rights or property or time/energy to live well and change things (sound familiar?). Thus we still live in a servant culture, disguised by the elaborate claims that we are living in the best time ever for humanity and that things are at least ‘better than before’ and ‘what’s the alternative?’
There is now an alternative that goes beyond the politics as usual of left/right divide, just as it transcends false boundaries between producer/consumer. The alternative to individuals of excess consumption is a meeting of producers and consumers in symbiotic (rather than extractive) relationship. This is the core philosophy behind the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model. The CSA model is all about meeting the needs for all, without negative social and ecological side effects that the industrial food model has caused. This is what Colin Tudge refers to as ‘convivial communities within a flourishing biosphere’. Communities of need do not have to wait for crisis or violent revolution to emerge. They can be consciously designed and created through a web of reciprocal relationships starting with the meeting of basic needs locally and ethically (i.e. in a way that is non-exploitative to humans or land/water).
Just as the consumer/producer hierarchy is a modern illusion, so Is the assumption that we are all independent, separate and ‘in-control’ humans. In reality, we are all totally vulnerable and need each other and that’s ok. The independent separation mindset exhibits its extremes at each polarity– and both are rooted in escapism from the magic of interconnection, and a denial of our earthly and social responsibilities. At one end is the ‘fortress earth community’, the ultra privileged that are fully aware of (and complicit in) our looming trajectory of ecological (and thus social) collapse, and are taking action to protect themselves in an illusory lifeboat of protection - buying property in New Zealand (now banned by their prime minister) or elsewhere to guard and protect a false haven and supposedly meet their needs through wealth, private security, technology and power.
At the other end, and often less talked about, are the self-sufficiency recluses and radicals, who have (for very understandable reasons) decided to exit mainstream society and meet 100% of their own needs off the grid and completely independent of civilisation… I’ve been there, and I still live off grid on a bicycle powered narrow-boat and grow most my food, and its great – if it is centred in community resilience rather than an individualised self-sufficiency. The latter can feed into the same separation mindset whilst the former embraces interbeing and the gift economy, acknowledging that we can’t do it all alone and we need each other. If taken to its maxim, the self-sufficiency mindset can become a socially disengaged self-protection pursuit, essentially another lifeboat from the ‘sinking ship,’ albeit floating in a different way to the fortress earth lifeboats. Both camps might argue that someone’s got to evacuate if the ship is sinking, but this neglects solidarity with their brothers and sisters on the ship, whilst actually creating & reinforcing the reality of a sinking ship, when the deeper truth is that if those people with those skills remained on board working to fix it, then another reality of a repairing/healing ship would emerge and become the new story. Beyond these two examples, there are other forms of evacuation and escapism such as blind consumption of the ships resources whilst it sinks, and equally overproduction for luxury through unnecessary extraction. This isn’t about blaming and shaming any group or individuals, its about noticing both our complicity in the problem and our collective agency in the solutions.
These solutions lie right at our feet, in the cultivation & maintenance of healthy soil and thus a reciprocal relationship to the primary primary producer – the Earth. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) must be an ‘Earth Supported Agriculture’ (ESA) else it simply replaces one exploitative relationship for another. Once the fundamental producer called Gaia is looked after, there is a solid foundation for all to thrive. From here the solutions lie right on our doorstep – with the people around us and the growers and producers in our area. Maybe you live in an area where these have become an endangered species – herein lies your invitation to take the beautiful responsibility and create value in community by joining this growing movement of landworkers and ethical producers to meet community need in a non-exploitative way. The Community Supported Agriculture model is the antithesis to the lifeboat mentality and provides one doorway out from the age of individualism. The CSA model links together producer and consumer in a healthy relationship, whereby a local consumer group (often 50-300 people) will agree to provide for the costs of growing including the growers’ wages. The growers in turn agree to provide regular supply of fresh food to the CSA community, often in form of a box scheme.
The design, just like any conscious healthy relationship, is based upon the trust of the parties involved, on a symbiotic meeting of needs and allowing each individual and the whole to flourish. A CSA can take many forms depending on the people and growers involved, and the socio-ecological context theyre nested in. It can be a simple box scheme for a few local people to collect from the farm. Or it can be a fully fledged producers co-operative CSA, which is part of our vision for MGG - to provide year round regenerative diets for hundreds of people and diverse communities, incorporating a wide variety of growers producing not only fresh vegetables but also mushrooms, natural honey, nuts, berries, cut herbs & flowers, local grain (and fresh bread!), regenerative meat & dairy (for those that choose). These could all come from various sub-enterprises and a mycelium like network of landworkers in and around the local area, hiving together within communities of need to provide the material and non-material necessities of living well, for all.
Within these communities, already in existence and being modelled all around the world, lies a doorway not only ‘out of this mess’ but ‘into a beautiful future’ - prefigured in the now. It starts with a willingness to engage, to challenge ourselves to step out of the comfortable yet ultimately empty shell of modern existence. The invitation is to also step out of our conditioned binaries of producer/consumer, self/other and us/them, instead embracing the reality of entanglement and entering the joyful dance of reciprocity. This also means stepping out of comfort zones to ask for help, for communities of need can only emerge if we identify needs. Local growers need help more than ever in this transitory time when so much rests on the development of resilient food systems – so this is both a call for help and an offer of support, an invitation to become part of (or co-create!) a Community Supported Agriculture project on your doorstep.