Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) conference and national network launch – The Subscription Rooms, Stroud, Gloucestershire – December 2nd and 3rd 2013
I was one of just over 100 people who attended this event, brilliantly organised and generously supported by the Soil Association, in the centre of Stroud. I was also kindly allowed to set out a table and give away information... and badges.
Ticket prices had been kept to an absolute minimum, enabling and attracting many people who are often excluded from similar things. Accommodation was offered at half price discount by nearby Hawkwood college, a number of people in Stroud, regardless of whether they had an immediate interest in the conference, had also given space in there homes to those attending, free of charge. All this enabled diversity, which, as we all know makes things far better for everyone and everything.
Chair, Phil Haughton, of the Better Food Company gave introductions of the event and network, which was is at the time, immanently going to be incorporated as a co-operative. The last such event was held two years ago. CSA's have existed since the 1960's but weren't introduced into the UK until the 1990's. There are 80 running at the moment with a recent flush of 150 in the forming process. Indeed their scope for openness, reconnection and the versatility in which they can be set up makes them a very promising model for huge increases in the future, and that is certainly the aim and hope of the network.
After the calm introductions, Colin Tudge (science writer, author and founding member of the fund for enlightened agriculture) was invited to stir the crowd a little, he wasn't shy to mix in and voice his political views and although I can't find flaw in his observations of the workings of the business oligarchy over and above government, I do wish he wouldn't do them the advertising service of repetitively naming some of this favourites and damning them for being incorporated... just as the CSA network are proudly about to do albeit in a different model.
Colin also spoke repeatedly and with gusto about the sheer scale of the 'agrarian renaissance' (A term which I very much approve of and first came across three years ago connected to a Church Farm, Ardeley, Hertfordshire) needed... I can't help but think WWOOF is diligently doing this and that we are the embodiment of the pioneering, leading, getting on and doing it attitude which as Colin identified, is a cornerstone of renaissance. Colin is clearly good at making impressions and inspiring debate and I look forward to catching up with him at the Oxford Real Farming conference early next year.
Several more speakers followed and even though I find the first giving me the most to say here, for me he wasn't the highlight. That came from four speakers from three different, and differing, CSA projects from around the country. I think similar inspiring stories may have been able to come from most of the people in the room, but to see people who are getting their hands dirty day in, day out given the time and space to speak from the podium hit the nail right on the head for me, you just can't fake the feeling and spark they carry.
After lunch we heard from the CSA co-ordinating project in New York city via internet videophone. We then broke up into workshop groups. I joined in with 'Volunteers - how to catch, keep and inspire them'. Helen Holmes and Axel Minet, two young people from Cambridge Cropshare ran this and although I took on writing up suggestions on a board for everyone to see I found myself only able to really watch and learn from two such energetic and motivated people rather than contribute much from a WWOOF perspective.
Breaking the room up into regional groups followed and as I am in the process of moving to Devon I sat in on the South West region, again I didn't find myself engaging hugely at the time but joined the mailing list and so hope to do so more in the future.
After closing the event we headed down to Stroud brewery were we were given a tour and a potted history, later the new film 'local food roots' was shown and sour-dough pizzas were cooked to order from their wood-fired pizza oven.
As well as our accommodation Hawkwood college also host the local CSA, Stroud Community Agriculture Ltd. A community-led enterprise using biodynamic methods. Members pay an annual subscription and a further payment in order to receive vegetables, pork and beef. We spent well over an hour being led around and asking questions and finding out about this very successful scheme which has over 200 members. Lunch was had at Hawkwood and that was the end of a very thought provoking and useful few days.
For more information please click on any of these links -
Phil Haughton, Better Food Company
Colin Tudge, Science writer and author
Jade Bashford, Community Land Advisory Service