Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a partnership between farmers and their local community, in which the responsibilities, risks and rewards of farming are shared.communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk
Ropsley Market Garden is Lincolnshire’s first CSA – the first of many: the English CSA moment is now here: people increasingly recognise the need for sustainable, resilient, healthy, local food, and the power we have in community to provide for ourselves and each other.
What is Community Supported Agriculture?
Community Supported Agriculture – a CSA – is a farm run in partnership with its local community.
This approach allows farmers and (so-called) consumers to support each other – but thinking of ourselves as consumers is immensely dis-empowering. It’s time to start thinking of ourselves as food citizens, with a part to play in our food system. (Read more about Food Citizenship here)
Increasing participation in our food system
The dominant narrative in the UK food and farming sector today is that as individuals we are merely consumers at the end of a food chain. Daily messages tell us that being a consumer is our only source of power to influence society as a whole and, specifically, our food system. Our role is to choose between products and services, not to participate in the systems that provide us with our food. We become demotivated and cut off from the food we eat.
…The problem is not that we don’t care, but that we feel powerless to act. And when we feel powerless, we are more likely to blame others, shift responsibility onto them and ignore our own impacts. The reason for this feeling of powerlessness? The fact that we’re treated as consumers, not citizens.Harnessing the Power of Food Citizenship, Report by the Food Ethics Council, 2019 – https://foodcitizenship.info/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/fec_food_citizenship_report_final.pdf
CSA members have a direct connection to the production of food. Their involvement goes beyond a market exchange, and can include participation in growing, skills exchange or gift economy; farms have a stable, reliable foundation in their community.
The pandemic has shaken us to the core. And now people are determined to build back better.
The journey to establishing a CSA
Jemma – the manager of Heath Farm, a 9-bedroom holiday home – quickly struck up positive connections with the Ropsley community when she took up residency at the farm a few years ago.
At first she sold her hens’ eggs to residents in Ropsley, and during the pandemic, gave them away to those who needed them.
Although her grandfather and her father (at least during his teenage years) were farmers, Jemma only got into growing food a few years ago. She found that growing veg at the side of the road got people talking.
Today, she is passionate about both growing food, and community connection. So starting a CSA was a natural development.
Her positive relationship with the landowner led to being able to lease a piece of land at an affordable rate. This is not (yet) a straightforward thing for landowners to do, and so the relationship of trust and goodwill has been essential.
Farming for the future
The plan for the Ropsley Market Garden is to grow vegetables, salad, edible herbs and flowers, and in due course, to create jobs and livelihoods for local people. The scheme will be financially sustainable, and there is the option to expand and take on more land in future.
The market garden will be managed on agroecological principles that both support and mimic nature, and includes techniques such as under-cropping, interplanting and agroforestry. These methods reduce or eliminate the need to till the soil, and for artificial fertilisers and pesticides.
Agroecological design creates food systems that are healthier and more resilient, where wildlife and people can thrive alongside each other.
Even before the first veggies are in the ground, 12 members have already signed up for the scheme, and the Ropsley Market Garden has the support and buy-in of the local community.
For example, Jemma is already working with Growing Together Grantham, a community food-growing group, an online farmers’ market, and there are plans afoot to team up with villagers to include their home grown produce, such as chillis.
Undeterred by the limitations imposed by the lockdown, Jemma has organised The Great Village Seed Start – in which local residents can get involved by sowing seeds in their greenhouses and on windowsills, which will later be planted out in the market garden.
This is a way for almost anyone to participate in their CSA, and an expression of the support and interest that it has already generated in the village.
The village pub, which has been offering hot meals to vulnerable people in the local community during the pandemic, will be able to use Ropsley Market Garden produce, as will the local cafe.
Fresh contributions will be made to the local foodbank, and offered as fundraising for the school.
How to get involved
Jemma welcomes people to get involved with the project – both from the local community and further afield. Those with little or no experience are welcome to come and learn, and those with prior experience are encouraged to come and pass on their knowledge and skills. After the pandemic, Jemma will also be welcoming WWOOFers and residential volunteers.
Volunteering is not the only way to support the project. Maybe you can offer green waste, seeds, machinery or materials that can be up-cycled?
To find out more, please visit Ropsley Market Garden’s Facebook page, and email to pre-arrange any visits, so careful arrangements can be made under the circumstances of the pandemic.
For more about CSAs – and how to set one up, check out communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk
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Farms need people.
Fewer EU workers and the Covid-19 pandemic have left a gaping hole in the number of agricultural land workers.
HMP North Sea Camp – a men’s open prison on the Lincolnshire coast – provides training and work experience to prisoners, including agricultural, horticultural and other food-related work.
This presents a particular opportunity for Lincolnshire employers in the food and farming sector to contribute powerfully to the future of prison leavers as well as increasing the safety of our communities in the future.