Describing the operational system that enables allows urban dwellers to grow food on a farm while maintaining their city lifestyle.
I recently stepped into the shoes of my grandparents and started a hobby farm named Abundance Community Farm. I wanted to have a farm near the city where I can gather with my community to collectively grow food and co-create gatherings (you can read more about this idea in my blog post Collective Hobby Farming). Abundance Community Farm now has the necessary living and farming infrastructure in place, and we are preparing the farm operation plan for next season and beyond. Our plan includes a modified CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model that I call CA (Community Agriculture), and I will to explain what I mean by CA in this blog post.
First, more about CSA. CSA is a locally based agriculture model that connects farms and farmers to their customers, also known as CSA members. Members typically buy CSA shares prior to the season, which entitles them to a box of delivered produce (called the CSA box) every week of the growing season, which is around (6 months in the Vancouver area). This highly benefits the farmer in terms of the funding required to finance the farm operation prior to having the harvest. In addition, it provides farmers with certainty of their sales forecast. Furthermore, the farmers get to share the risks associated with the agriculture practice, as CSA members agree to receive whatever the harvest season provides (farmer can change the box content based on the harvest). On the member side, it helps them connect with local farmers, know where their food comes from, and have a continuous supply of organic produce throughout the harvest season. In addition, the close proximity of the farms and members minimizes the farm to table delay, which significantly affects the freshness and quality of the produce. Last but not least, there is also a social aspect to the CSA model. CSA creates some continuity and interaction between the farmers and members, given the extended period of the relationship as well as the mutual benefit/enjoyment of growing and sharing food.
Despite the many benefits of CSA, the model has a few disadvantages. First and foremost, the members rarely visit the farm and participate in any farming activities. As such, while members know their farmer and where their food comes from, they do not get to connect with the land and benefit physically and emotionally from the farming practice. A related problem is the very limited community building (mostly limited to the interaction happening at the box pickup location) that happens within the CSA model. And yet, along with giving city dwellers access to high-quality, local, organic food, farming is a wonderful opportunity to connect people to land and nature, as well as to culture and community.
The CA model that we’re adopting has the benefits of CSA, while addressing the above-mentioned shortcomings. In this model, community members themselves spearhead the farming practices on a time-share basis. A CA share requires on average 4 hours per month farming effort during the growing and harvest season. Each member commits to help farm the land one weekend per month, 4 hours spent on farming practices, the rest spent on communal activities such as preparing shared meals, creating arts and ceremonies, creative expression, and outdoor activities. In other words, they nourish body and soul with various activities and experiences. The members who spent the weekend on the farm would bring the CA boxes back to the city for the remaining 75% of the community members that did not make it to the farm on that weekend. This collective supply chain enables the community to remain connected and interlocked through the farm. In fact, the farmland becomes a connection haven for the community, where they bond with the land and with each other and find deeper roots within themselves. The farm, in fact, provides the infrastructure for creating a community-based culture within the farming collective.
CA is a scalable model that can be used to locally produce the food consumed in cities. To do a case study for Vancouver: An acre of land can produce ~40 CA boxes, which provides the produce needs of 100 people. Divide the 2.6 million residents of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) by 100 people/acre; it becomes 25,000 acres of agriculture land requirement for the entire population of the region. To put this into perspective, this is about only 4% of the region’s land base, or 17% of the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) in Metro Vancouver.
An additional component that can be added to CA is food forests/edible forests. These are high-biodiversity low-maintenance agroforestry ecosystems of perennials, such as nuts, fruits, and vines that mimic a forest in terms of the symbiosis between the plants. Once a food forest is set up, there is minimal effort required for its upkeep and the main activity would be to harvest! The amount of land required for food forests is about the same as the annual CA vegetables gardens. Add greenhouses and food preservation practices, and it becomes feasible to satisfy a major part of our nutritional needs with local high-quality food year around.
There is also a significant difference between CSA and CA on the financial front. While CSA farmers expect to have financial benefits fro the farm, this is not the case in the CA model. In this case, the financial objective for the community is to break even and be able to pay for the cost of the community farm. As such, there are various options available to the community based on their skills and preferences. A straightforward approach would be for the community to divide the cost of the CA. Alternatively; the community could also collectively produce one or more agriculture products to pay for the CA expenses (nuts in our case). Another approach could be for the community to host retreats and gatherings on the farm to share the culture with the outside world and also earn some income to pay for the CA expenses. This is our preferred approach, as it also enables spreading the culture with other communities and inspiring them to spearhead similar initiatives.
I envision CA as an initiative that can pave the way for transition in our culture from consumerism to one that is focused on community. I explain in my previous blog posts that such cultural transition is the primary requirement for transition to a sustainable future, where I look from the lens of such a culture at different aspects of our lives. Below is a snapshot of my previous blog posts:
– The Paradox of Our Times argues that ecological challenges cannot be satisfied within a growing economy framework and that the alternative system needs to be first manifested on a cultural level.
– Quantifying the Path to Sustainability argues that the ratio between Quality of Life and Ecological Footprint is a suitable measure to quantify sustainability, and claims that a community-based culture can improve this measure.
– An Alternative to Economic Growth proposes economic stability as an alternative to economic growth. It argues that such transition becomes feasible in a community-based culture,
– Art & Science in the New World argues that the emotional body needs to take a leading role in the context of a community-based culture, with the analytical mind taking more of a supportive responsibility.
– Art and Sustainability elaborates on the role of art for emotional development and on the role of artists for creating a space for community creation and integration.
– Unlearning Spirituality explores the requirements of a practice that can integrate, reach out, and satisfy the spiritual needs of people from various backgrounds, which is imperative for a flourishing community culture.
– Education for a New World discusses the modifications that need to be in the education system in order to educate a generation that would be equipped with the tools necessary for creating a sustainable future.
– Collective Hobby Farming explains the concept behind the farming approach that can support the CA model.
Stay tuned for the CA call and gatherings that we co-create at Abundance Community Farm to manifest a community culture that is aligned with the above values and concepts.