Start Date

9-12-2012 2:00 PM

End Date

9-12-2012 3:15 PM

Description

Abstract

In recent years thousands of diverse alternative food networks and ventures have emerged around the world. Critical food scholars have argued that these alternatives are in response to a global agro-industrial system which disconnects people from food production and associated ecologies, and that this in turn results in a number of environmental, social, and economic crises vulnerabilities (cf Gomiero, Pimentel & Maurizio, 2011; Weis, 2010). Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives were among the earliest of these alternatives.

In the original CSA approach, a group of consumers (usually referred to as ‘members’ or ‘shareholders’ support a producer by purchasing a share of the farm’s production at the beginning of the season and thus sharing the risks and benefits of the harvest. In this way, CSAs seek a new form of association and market governance in order to redistribute value back to producers, re-build trust between producers and consumers and produce food with an ethics of care (Cox et al, 2008) for people and ecosystems.

However, today’s CSAs differ from the original model in significant ways. They take a variety of organizational forms, draw on different ideologies, use a variety of land tenure arrangements and perform different types of market relations. This presentation examines recent innovations and associated contradictions in the CSA approach as farmers try to simultaneously accomplish economic, social and ecological goals. CSAs, as market based alternatives sit at a highly paradoxical moment in history and their operators struggle between capturing value in the marketplace while maintaining the underlying values that initiated the movement.

The presentation begins with a description of the CSA movement in Canada and offers a typology that describes the evolving characteristics and innovations in this diverse movement.

We then draw on both Canadian and Chinese data to suggest 3 paradoxes that may be evolving in the CSA movement:

The economic paradox of market-based social change – Can CSAs keep their alternativeness or is co-optation inevitable?

Originally, CSAs were established as food “de-commodifiers”. Their pricing structure and shared-risk approach delinked the cost of food from market-based commodity pricing and enrolled consumers as full partners in food procurement. Traditionally CSAs rejected the emphasis on industrialization, economies of scale and maximization of efficiency that defines conventional agriculture. However, present CSAs in both Canada and China are changing payment schemes to be more attractive and competitive in the marketplace. Indeed we suggest that the model that originally separated the CSAs from other forms of commodified food procurement is eroding. In both countries, CSAs are threatened by co-optation from capital and or state interests.

The social justice paradox– Does the CSA approach include and empower or subjugate smallholder and peasant farmers?

CSAs were originally framed as an approach that could provide a stable income for smallholders trying to earn livelihoods in consolidating agricultural markets. While it remains true that CSAs offer strong economic opportunities for growers with small acreage, our research suggests that non-farmers are beginning to see the CSA as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Despite the different agrarian and political trajectories in Canada and China, in both countries the CSA movement is witnessing what could be described as a “re-peasantization”. While this has resulted in rapid increases in the number of CSAs in both countries, a deeper look suggests that this trend poses threats to economic justice for smallholder and peasants farmer and that new forms of peasant subjugation could be evolving.

The ecological paradox – To what degree does the CSA approach re-embed ecological relations?

The CSA model as it was originally designed, respects natural metabolisms and re-connects food procurement to natural cycles. In Canada, CSAs were initiated from within the organic movement, and hence strong ecological values have shaped their development. In China, CSAs seem to be simultaneously influenced by Taoist and Confucian belief in harmony between man and nature and Maoist perspectives on conquering nature. This translates into diverse and paradoxical ecological values and practices.

We conclude that the CSA approach is a hopeful response to social, economic and environmental challenges. The model demonstrates the potential for strong economic returns and inclusion for smallholders, affordability of trusted food for eaters and strong environmental stewardship. The approach is flexible and farmers are adapting it to address different political, social and economic circumstances. However, it also seems that CSAs are turning more and more to mainstream business practices and market relations and there is a risk that this could undermine the features that define the CSA as an alternative.

Streaming Media

Recommended Citation

Fuller, A. M., Schumilas, T., & Si, Z. (2012, December). CSAs in Canada and China: Innovation and paradox. Paper presented at 2012 International Conference on Sustainability & Rural Reconstruction, Southwest University, Chongqingng, China.

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Dec 9th, 2:00 PM Dec 9th, 3:15 PM

CSAs in Canada and China: innovation and paradox

Abstract

In recent years thousands of diverse alternative food networks and ventures have emerged around the world. Critical food scholars have argued that these alternatives are in response to a global agro-industrial system which disconnects people from food production and associated ecologies, and that this in turn results in a number of environmental, social, and economic crises vulnerabilities (cf Gomiero, Pimentel & Maurizio, 2011; Weis, 2010). Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives were among the earliest of these alternatives.

In the original CSA approach, a group of consumers (usually referred to as ‘members’ or ‘shareholders’ support a producer by purchasing a share of the farm’s production at the beginning of the season and thus sharing the risks and benefits of the harvest. In this way, CSAs seek a new form of association and market governance in order to redistribute value back to producers, re-build trust between producers and consumers and produce food with an ethics of care (Cox et al, 2008) for people and ecosystems.

However, today’s CSAs differ from the original model in significant ways. They take a variety of organizational forms, draw on different ideologies, use a variety of land tenure arrangements and perform different types of market relations. This presentation examines recent innovations and associated contradictions in the CSA approach as farmers try to simultaneously accomplish economic, social and ecological goals. CSAs, as market based alternatives sit at a highly paradoxical moment in history and their operators struggle between capturing value in the marketplace while maintaining the underlying values that initiated the movement.

The presentation begins with a description of the CSA movement in Canada and offers a typology that describes the evolving characteristics and innovations in this diverse movement.

We then draw on both Canadian and Chinese data to suggest 3 paradoxes that may be evolving in the CSA movement:

The economic paradox of market-based social change – Can CSAs keep their alternativeness or is co-optation inevitable?

Originally, CSAs were established as food “de-commodifiers”. Their pricing structure and shared-risk approach delinked the cost of food from market-based commodity pricing and enrolled consumers as full partners in food procurement. Traditionally CSAs rejected the emphasis on industrialization, economies of scale and maximization of efficiency that defines conventional agriculture. However, present CSAs in both Canada and China are changing payment schemes to be more attractive and competitive in the marketplace. Indeed we suggest that the model that originally separated the CSAs from other forms of commodified food procurement is eroding. In both countries, CSAs are threatened by co-optation from capital and or state interests.

The social justice paradox– Does the CSA approach include and empower or subjugate smallholder and peasant farmers?

CSAs were originally framed as an approach that could provide a stable income for smallholders trying to earn livelihoods in consolidating agricultural markets. While it remains true that CSAs offer strong economic opportunities for growers with small acreage, our research suggests that non-farmers are beginning to see the CSA as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Despite the different agrarian and political trajectories in Canada and China, in both countries the CSA movement is witnessing what could be described as a “re-peasantization”. While this has resulted in rapid increases in the number of CSAs in both countries, a deeper look suggests that this trend poses threats to economic justice for smallholder and peasants farmer and that new forms of peasant subjugation could be evolving.

The ecological paradox – To what degree does the CSA approach re-embed ecological relations?

The CSA model as it was originally designed, respects natural metabolisms and re-connects food procurement to natural cycles. In Canada, CSAs were initiated from within the organic movement, and hence strong ecological values have shaped their development. In China, CSAs seem to be simultaneously influenced by Taoist and Confucian belief in harmony between man and nature and Maoist perspectives on conquering nature. This translates into diverse and paradoxical ecological values and practices.

We conclude that the CSA approach is a hopeful response to social, economic and environmental challenges. The model demonstrates the potential for strong economic returns and inclusion for smallholders, affordability of trusted food for eaters and strong environmental stewardship. The approach is flexible and farmers are adapting it to address different political, social and economic circumstances. However, it also seems that CSAs are turning more and more to mainstream business practices and market relations and there is a risk that this could undermine the features that define the CSA as an alternative.