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CSAs at the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Ben Raskin - 02 January 2013

After a hectic Christmas managing the excitement of small children, a nice way to start my work of 2013 is two days at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. With a massive programme of really interesting topics, I think the difficulty will be working out which sessions I least mind missing out on.

The Soil Association is co-hosting a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) session at the conference as part of the UK CSA network. As some of you may know we have just come to the end of 4 year project to help support and develop CSAs. There are now 80 trading CSA initiatives in the UK with many more in development. It is not suprising that the success of a CSA relies heavily on the skill of those actually producing the food. No matter how supportive and loyal the community are, if there is nothing to buy or eat then the venture will fail, and even a supportive and loyal member base will tire of second or third rate produce eventually.

The really successfuly CSAs are those with experienced and skilled growers and farmers at their hearts. Whether the initial idea comes from the producer or the community doesn't in the end matter, but farmer led CSAs can succeed more quickly as you can cut down on some of the heartache and painful learning that community initiatives sometimes go through as they take on a new piece of land and learn what to do with it.

And excitingly, we have just managed to secure some project funding from the Ateam to continue our work and support producer led initiatives. 2012 was again a really stark reminder of how fragile our relationship with our food supply is, and there is a big risk that we will lose producers as their businesses take another climate related pounding, to add to the ecnomic malaise that drags on. In its most radical form CSAs can provide some insurance to farmers against disaster years, as consumers seek to secure long term food supplies from local producers.

I look forward to seeing some of you at the conference.

After discovering the outdoor life on an organic vineyard in Northern Italy, and a one year professional gardening course at Lackham College, Ben has worked in horticulture for 16 years. Previous incarnations include running a walled garden in Sussex, working for the HDRA (now Garden Organic) at their gardens in Kent, setting up and running the horticultural production at Daylesford Organic Farm, before moving to the Welsh College of Horticulture as commercial manager. Ben is passionate both about the commercial production of high quality organic vegetables and teaching practical skills through on farm learning. He currently works as horticultural advisor and learning manager for the Soil Association, as horticultural advisor for The Community Farm at Chew Magna, and has just signed the lease on a piece of land near Bristol to plant an experimental and educational fruit and agroforestry system.

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