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Community Supported Agriculture
in the Highlands and Islands
 – would it work for your community?

A feasibility study commissioned by HIE is under way to see if Community Supported Agriculture can be established on farms and crofts in the Highlands and Islands. This paper gives a brief outline of how CSA farming works and invites you to get involved in the study and have your say.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), put simply, is a partnership between small farmers and local consumers who want to grow and eat fresh food. By joining a CSA, local families can sign-up to be consumer ‘members’ of a farm in their area and agree to pay for a year’s ‘share’ of the food produced on that farm. The farmer agrees to grow a range of food that the members want, and agrees a budget with them for the year. The produce is then grown and distributed among the members, who each get a share of what the farm produces.

This community approach to producing food locally is growing in popularity in many countries – in USA and Germany many thousands of small farms have switched to producing exclusively for local families. At a time when many small farms are being squeezed out by low prices and high costs, the CSA approach is enabling some small farms to survive, change what they grow and increase their income. CSA offers a route for communities to support local small farmers and get access to a supply of fresh and local produce, grown for them by a farmer they know.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) wants to see if Community Supported Agriculture could be feasible in the north of Scotland. The aim is to see if CSA could provide both healthy local food and an income for small farms and crofts in the Highlands and Islands, and the support that HIE can offer to help make it a success. The study is being carried out locally by a team led by Jo Hunt, from Cromarty, over the winter of 2003/4.

As a food consumer ~ would you be interested in buying a share of your food from a farm or croft in
your area?
If you run a croft, farm or food business ~ would you be interested in producing food for local families in your area?
If you are a community group member ~ would you like to get a CSA started in your area?

How does Community Supported Agriculture work?
“the CSA subscriptions are the most viable part of our business at present”
CSA Farmer









CSAs vary widely in the size of the farm, number of ‘member’ households and range of food they produce.

The key common traits of all CSAs are that:
· Local households make a financial commitment to a local farmer to buy food grown by them for a year
  or more
· Farmer and consumers agree at the start of the year, the range of produce to be grown and the
  production methods to be used
· The farmer and consumers agree a budget for the season and set a price for the annual ‘share’ of the
· The farmer grows and distributes a regular supply of fresh food for the consumer members
· Consumer members assist the growers with organising and running aspects of the operation
· There is regular contact between the farmer and the consumer members though a newsletter, visits to
   the farm and meeting face-to-face.

CSA is an unusual way to buy food: the key benefit to the producer is that they know who their customers are at the beginning of the season and that the risks of a variable harvest are shared by the consumers.

The advantage to the consumer is that they get their food produced for them locally by someone they know, and get good value and involvement in ‘their’ local farm.

Successful Examples
CSA farms very widely in size, number of households and the range of produce they provide. Successful examples of CSAs in the UK include:
· Kettering CSA: 1 hectare community field used for growing vegetables, salads and soft fruit for 60
  families, employing 3 people part time
· Brahan Garden: 2 hectare walled garden producing year round fruit and vegetables for 30 families,
  employing one full time grower
· Dun Community Woodland: 30 hectares of woodland used for producing pork, chickens and firewood
  for 60 families, employing one full time grower.
· Earthshare CSA: 8 hectare market garden within a 70 hectare mixed farm, producing vegetables for 280
  families and employing 4 staff
· Tablehurst Farm: 120 hectare beef and lamb farm producing butchered and packaged meat to 400
  member families, and employing 4 full time staff

As well as paying for a share and receiving regular supplies of produce, most CSAs get their members involved in helping run the farm. Many CSAs have a committee made up of the producers and representatives of the consumer members, who meet regularly to plan what is to be grown and share out some of the organisational side of the business. Members may get involved in distributing the produce, writing a short newsletter or helping with weeding. Many CSAs offer a discount to members who help out with running the farm.

Most CSAs also try to ensure fair trade. The price of a family ‘share’ is set to cover the full costs of producing the food, including a fair wage for the farmer. Most CSAs also offer good value for money. By cutting out the middleman, the price paid goes directly to the farmer and expensive packaging, transport and retailing costs are avoided.

"don't go into CSA if you want to make money….but if you want to survive as a local farm, like sharing the place with other people and want to remain independent, then it could be worth your while"
CSA farmer





CSAs are more than a box scheme ~ a wide range of produce can be supplied through a CSA and the farmer has a group of sympathetic customers in the area, who understand and appreciate the work involved. Above all, the food is produced locally for the members by a farmer they know.

Feasibility of establishing CSA in the Highlands and Islands
There are 3 CSAs already working in the north of Scotland, but most people have never considered or even heard of this approach to food and farming.

· Are individual consumers interested in CSA ~ and will they commit for a year?
· Are there community groups with an interest in seeing CSAs start in their area ~ and could they help
  link consumers and farmers?
· Are there crofters, farmers and other producers interested in growing for a CSA ~ and what changes
  would they have to make to do so?
· What steps need to be taken to get CSAs up and running in the Highlands and Islands ~ and what
  assistance can HIE offer to make it a success?

The feasibility of establishing many CSA crofts, farms, community gardens and woodlands in the Highlands and Islands is about finding farmers, crofters, community groups and consumers interested in working together. The study team will be visiting five very different areas in the Highlands and Islands to speak to people and organisations with an interest in local farming and healthy food, to see if they are interested in developing a CSA approach to local food and farming.

The five areas being used to ‘test the water’ are:
· Inverness initial visit 29 to 31 October 2003, open meeting at 7.30pm on Thursday 30 October in
  Culloden Library
· Thurso & surrounds initial visit 5 to 7 November, open meeting at 7.30pm on Thursday 6
  November in   Thurso Town Hall

· Black Isle initial visit 12 to 14 November, open meeting at 7.30pm on Wednesday 12 November in the
  Lighthouse, Cromarty and at 7.30pm on Thursday 13 November in Black Isle Leisure Centre, Fortrose;
· North Uist & Benbecula initial visit 19 to 21 November, open meeting at 7.30pm on Thursday 20
   November in Carinish Hall
· Ardnamurchan & surrounds initial visit 27 to 29 November, open meeting at 7.30pm on Thursday 27
  November in Sunart Centre, Strontian

Like to find out more?
Whether you are a crofter, grower, farmer, community group organiser or a food consumer interested in finding out more about Community Supported Agriculture, please come along to the open meeting in your area. The meetings will be informal and offer you a chance to contribute you views.

If you would like to see more information on CSAs in the UK, have a look at the Soil Association ‘Cultivating Communities’ website: www.cuco.org.uk .

If you have questions about the feasibility study or would like to arrange to meet with the study team individually whilst they are in your area, please contact:
Mr Jo Hunt tel: 01381 600205
Mobile: 07990 524280
E-mail: jo@blaeberry.org