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Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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Hello geniuses,
My housemate said he thought we should have mega-CSA's, to bring down the price of quality foods through economy of scale.

I would tend to think about getting chickens myself (we were focused on eggs in the conversation) but I also thought about the ease of information transfer today and the formation of worker-owner coops and cooperatives-of-coops (Mondragon). Wonder if there's a way of structuring things that makes sense, is transparent enough, has enough informed-voter quotient, and would provide the variety people want as well as quality of food and care of soil.

Thoughts?

I also googled and found an article below about what a mega-CSA should _not_ be (in my opinion):



The mega-CSA
How big is too big?
By Culinate staff
August 24, 2012
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Sure, the idea of community-supported agriculture — better known by its acronym, CSA — has been around for a while. Those weekly deliveries of locally grown veggies have grown to include meat and fish CSAs and urban-sourced CSAs, among other models. Now, as Twilight Greenaway writes on Grist, comes the next iteration: the scaled-up CSA.

Greenaway profiles one West Coast CSA, Full Circle, that’s trying to offer more products to a wider geographic range. She calls it “one of many companies looking to fill the so-called ‘middle space’ between small-scale local farming and the big industrial stuff.” But is it still really a CSA?

It began as a tiny organic farm with a CSA program serving eaters in the Seattle area and grew to occupy three Washington state farms totaling 450 acres. Winter produce in the cool, wet Pacific Northwest can be pretty limited, so the service added foods from California, Mexico, and elsewhere, as well as organic groceries from around the country. Full Circle expanded to serve customers in Alaska, Eastern Washington, Idaho, and — as of this summer — the San Francisco Bay Area. Along the way, the company, which has reached over 15,000 members and works with 400 farms, dropped the term CSA from its marketing material and began calling itself an “organic produce delivery service.”
As Greenaway points out, when given the choice between supporting a tiny local farm that can grow only a small range of produce and supporting a larger company that can source a wider range of edibles, most consumers will pick variety over local. “My hope for these big CSAs,” she concludes, “is that they can forge ahead without putting the small farms that want to stay small out of business.”
 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Location: Massachusetts, 6b, urban, nearish coast, 39'x60' minus the house, mostly shady north side, + lead.
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This thread ("who has the best large-scale permaculture set-up") is relevant, though a slightly different approach. http://www.permies.com/t/42835/large-farm/large-scale-permaculture-system

I was thinking, "how do we make this be decentralized enough" as well as "economy-of-scale-d-up-enough" to be more like an ecosystem and not run into monocultural instability. Local chapters and then chapters exchanging with one another for things that are more specialty items. The other thread points out that economy of scale has really been bolstered by cheap fossil fuels which are not an unlimited resource, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison.
 
Dillon Nichols
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I'd say that the 'CSA' in the article linked has successed itself right out of CSAhood; at least they've acknowledged this with the change of description.

There are certainly CSAs around which draw components from multiple farms. The catch being someone gets stuck with all the admin and logistics to make it all fit together...

The other downside, as Joshua/the other thread mention, is the fossil fuel thing. Fuel economy on farm trucks from 8 different small farms all running around to get the CSA stuff in one spot, and then back out again to pickup locations or customers... not that great. Semi-trucks are *much* more efficient on a tonnage/volume basis, which is part of the 'economy of scale' thing. Neither is practical in the long term barring a similarly cheap replacement for fossil fuels.


In Duncan, an online farmers market recently launched; you order online, then pick up on the next Thursday at the brick&mortar retail location of the non-profit running the thing. There's a good number of farms listing produce already, and it seems like it has real potential to me. From previous experience with direct to customer sales from a farm, the hassle factor was significant.

http://cow-op.ca/


A couple things occur to me if using that as a base:
1) Offer farm tours in the spring, so folks can visit the farms offering produce, rather than there being no connection beyond a picture of a carrot on the screen... There are profiles for the farms on the site, but they are a bit sparse.

2)One big upside of CSAs for the farmer is the up-front money. I see no reason a full season weekly delivery can't be offered through a store like that... added value being if you want you can order a chicken, strawberries, some eggs... and pick that up with your regular vegetable basket.


 
Joshua Myrvaagnes
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Good points, Dillon, thanks for responding.

I wanted to look at this in a speculative way especially, I almost wish I hadn't posted about a real implementation of this (which is really not a CSA, even)--what does it mean to scale the principle of the CSA? Maybe just spreading knowledge? maybe the customer has to become the farmer? what's a good design in terms of a) social connection/social capital b) feedback from systems and c) economy of scale/obtaining the best yield?

Maybe it comes down to having each CSA--hyperlocal--be a better CSA. A more appealing one. A more engaging one. A more inspiring one. As you said, not just a picture of a carrot but an experience to connect with the earth. I will never forget what Leah of SoulFire farm told me about a kid from the foster care system, autistic and nearly non-verbal, touching the soil with his foot for the first time. He started speaking again, and told a story about how his grandmother had gardened when he was very little and how much he had enjoyed being out in the garden. That kind of thing is a part of what the CSA customer (in many cases) is looking for, is hungry for. You can't put a price on it, you could but it would be self-defeating in most cases, but you can get a benefit from it--loyalty, involvement, engagement, willingness to get more informed. To pool resources and investment to make things easier for the farmers (a humane slaughterhouse in Massacusetts, for example, so the farmer doesn't have to schlepp up to NH or down to Providence and deal with market monopolies--I may have details wrong here but this was the gist of what a farmer told me is her challenge). To pool energies for harvest. Managing volunteers is a whole art form in and of itself, but there are low-risk, high-yield, savvy ways of doing this that do benefit the farm. Hyperlocalism really helps. But having some simple, clear guide for doing things can also help in your hyperlocal area--you don't have to reinvent the wheel completely. You have the CSA model, and then you have more steps to follow to facilitate connection among the members. People do want social connection and community, and done badly community-building can be a drag but done well it can be a simple effort.

If you think about Alcoholics Anonymous, a worldwide non-orgnization that has local groups and no legal power to regulate what any group does, you have a kind of model for decentralized order. Or something like a BNI (business network international) or other free associations. I don't know as much about how these operate. But they are global as well as acting locally.

A part of this, I think, may be that farmers need to stand up and say, "I am not a charity case, but there are real costs to eating food. I need you, my community, to be adults about this and take the responsibility for the farm that is naturally yours. It can't really fall all on one person. It's not a business the way another business might be. It is inherently interdependent. What I do goes into your body. Your life is dependent on my life, as my life is on yours."

Some brainstorm ideas:

* 10-year CSA contracts--a commitment for a long enough period that the farm can really get permacultural. Or a lifetime membership.
* stronger requirements for work participation--or at least requirement to be physically present, for those who aren't physically able to do farm work
* more support for the fridge-to-table component of things (this is a major weak link in our house's CSA participation--recipes are not self-cooking, and I think if we had more social support, if there were another CSA member in the area who said, "Hey, I wanna have you guys over and we'll cook these recipes together and share what we make" we'd totally go for it. We could be that CSA member, but so far I've never even met the other members, except the person who gets the drop-off, briefly, so it feels awk-ward with a hyphen. Making more social support would add value that the supermarket can't compete with.
* giving back to the farm: city-wide compost pickup is great, and personal composting is great, but there are so many things beyond composting that can be done. Of course there's Fukuoka--just throw it anywhere, not good for the city usually--but there's also the fact that your city compost is inclusive of all the junk that your neighbors, whom you don't know and don't really trust with your life--might be putting into their compost bin. Persistent pesticides? heavy metals? weird shampoos? bubble gum? I have no idea. Would I use city compost in my garden? Not in the beds I'm going to eat from. But if I have a direct relationship with my farmer where my compost (and someday even my poop) were closing the cycle, and if I knew that everyone else in the CSA membership has signed a blood oath to put only what will not harm the seventh generation in their outputs, that would be another huge increase in the trust level.
* mastermind principle -- CSA's helping CSA's: a yearly CSA-focused-only conference, in person or by phone or both, where farmers can share best practices and tell their stories and be heard. Mastermind principle is about people putting their minds together to further each individuals' goals, and accessing the "master mind" or the mind of the synergistic relationship that is formed in the group's dynamic. The group being more than the sum of its parts. It's used by businesses, I've not heard of farmers using it per se. Conferences tend to be more informational, with experts presenting and others listening; a mastermind group has each person take a turn to be the focus of attention.

The CSA was invented in a context, by Rudolf Steiner, I believe, or the concept was derived from the concept of the biodynamic farm, which is not just a model of a farm but of a farm-and-human-community unity. it's about the whole farm and community as a single, living organism. There is a flow to that. The material supports the cultural, the cultural doesn't have to curtail itself to fit into material priorities, everyone has an equal voice in the decision-making. The CSA will work best, I think, on both the local and global scale, when it is viewed with these principles in mind. A community of CSA's rather than a corporation of CSA's.


This got a bit afield from the question of how to sell this to an engineer who wants the eggs not to cost twice as much as the supermarket eggs, but maybe it's sparking some ideas.

Lastly, food just doesn't cost all that much, compared to other things . It's weird how people will hunt around so much to save 30c on a carton of eggs, yet blow a thousand bucks on a new gadget they don't really need. Rent or housing cost much more than food, and fuel (heating and transportation) is up there with food. Isn't it worth buying a bit better food? do we really need this to be at such a low price?

I'm gonna read more of the large-scale permaculture thread and see what I can learn.
 
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