Kiera Mulvey served as the executive director of FairShare CSA Coalition from summer 2008 through fall of 2013. FairShare and the CSA movement in southern Wisconsin experienced phenomenal growth during that period. She wrote this message after speaking at the 18th Organic World Congress of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements in fall 2014.
As you all know first-hand, Wisconsin’s CSA movement is thriving. With the support of communities, municipalities, individuals, and families, these amazing farmer-member partnerships are feeding thousands of Wisconsinites and supporting hundreds of families growing food and keeping their farms productive and viable. It is truly an inspiring social model that breathes life into our potential to transform relationships with each other and the land, and empowers individuals to take charge of our food and economic systems.
After almost a year away from Wisconsin and FairShare, I recently traveled to Istanbul, Turkey as part of a delegation of CSA advocates and farmers from around the world. As a member of the International Committee for URGENCI (the International Network of Community Supported Agriculture), I met with colleagues old and new to connect, inspire, and be inspired by the amazing work of the world community of organic food producers and supporters.
With thousands of participants from 81 countries, the 18th IFOAM Organic World Congress was an impressive demonstration of the strength and diversity of the international organic community.
According to Andre Leu, president of IFOAM’s World Board, the strengthening and empowering of small holder farmers all over the world is IFOAM’s most important commitment. Though IFOAM works with and represents the full spectrum of the Organic movement, it is reassuring to hear and see this high level acknowledgement of the grassroots center and critical foundation of the movement, our farmers. Those farmers, their land, the structure of their CSAs and other market endeavors are incredibly diverse.
URGENCI organized a pre-conference to the OWC on “Building Food Communities” which focused on Community Supported Agriculture and Participatory Guarantee Systems. The pre-conference attracted over 170 participants from throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. I had the opportunity to speak on a panel with two new CSA farmers from Ireland and from one of the first CSA farms in Croatia. Our panel focused on the diversity of the CSA movement and the core values and themes that can bring different iterations of the movement to the table to advance shared ideals.
Elizabeth Henderson opened the pre-conference by addressing these basic values that unite CSAs across national and international boundaries, interweaving the abstract terms of “solidarity.” “local,” and “partnership between farmers and consumers” with her personal story of how CSA has added meaning and rich community engagement to her life as an organic farmer.
In researching her book, Sharing the Harvest, Elizabeth has visited hundreds of CSA farms in the US, and in other countries, and testifies that no two are alike. She explained that each project fits into the cultural and physical landscape in a unique way that suits the farmers and loyal supporters attracted to that particular piece of land, or group of farms. There is no set formula – crops vary from farm to farm and season to season, each community finds its own methods of distribution and packaging, and sets its own prices and payment schedule.
Every culture has its own name for CSA – AMAP (France), Teikei (Japan), GAS (Italy), Reciproco (Portugal). Yet underlying all of these distinct projects is a set of shared values that were first set out in the 10 principles of Teikei, written and adopted by the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association in 1978. These values are reflected in the charters of CSA networks in France, England, and across Europe, and in the basic platform of Urgenci:
“URGENCI is the International Network of Community Supported Agriculture and defines CSA in these terms: “Local solidarity-based partnerships between farmers and the people they feed are, in essence, a member-farmer cooperative, whoever initiates it and whatever legal form it takes. There is no fixed way of organizing these partnerships, it is a framework to inspire communities to work together with their local farmers, provide mutual benefits and reconnect people to the land where their food is grown.”
In the main conference URGENCI organized a workshop on CSA around the world where a panel of presenters (including yours truly!) gave more detailed information about CSA in our countries: USA, China, France, and Croatia. Again, the similarities in values were outlined alongside the vast diversity of practices that make up CSA systems around the world. It was truly an honor to be able to represent FairShare growers and eaters and the range of CSA participants from the United States on this international stage.
We have a lot to give and to learn from such international gatherings, not in the least of which is the opportunity to share ideas, have a context for our good work, and inspire continuous evolution and improvements in how we grow, deliver, eat, and celebrate good food in community.
Next up on the international CSA stage will be URGENCI’s 6th International Symposium next November (2015) in and around Beijing, China. China has an amazing, inspiring young CSA movement that is largely being spearheaded by young people graduating from university and returning to rural villages. The conference will be focused on this “Rural Renaissance” and promises to showcase farms, connect practitioners, and foster ongoing international dialogue. Keep an eye on URGENCI’s website — http://www.urgenci.net/ — for additional information; I’d love to see a delegation of Wisconsin farmers and eaters representing the amazing work happening in the area!