Irish CSA Celebrated at the Feeding Ourselves 2017 Gathering

“Irish CSA Celebrate at the Feeding Ourselves 2017 Gathering”

By Roisin Nic Coil, Irish CSA Network Coordinator and Oliver Moore, from the Irish CSA Network.

The Feeding Ourselves 2017  gathering at the WeCreate centre in Cloughjordan Ecovillage, Ireland, is a now annual event that focuses on community and agroecological approaches to farming and food. This year, 70 people came together over a night and two days to meet up, hang out, plot, plan and generally get energised and inspired by each other’s company.

The programme was packed, and included an added focus on soil, farm diversification, transition towns, hemp, the Irish launch of a citizen science and soil initiative called GROW, and the launch of the Landworkers Alliance in Ireland, as Talamh (the Irish for ground).

At  night, a convivial evening of compelling conversation, poetry, music and food, called speakEATsy, brought a fresh batch of regalers to ponder and be provoked by the themes of the day.

From a CSA perspective, the weekender saw an afternoon session called: “Celebrating Community Supported Agriculture”. This was “a dynamic session led by the Irish CSA Network on why we need CSAs, how best to maintain them, how we can support getting more established as well as improving communication and synergy between them.”

And there is much to celebrate! In 2015, the Irish network was formed, after the Common Ground project, and this is the fourth get-together. There are five CSAs in Ireland who are very active in the network and another 5 or so that we are aware of. As well as the session specific to CSAs, Carolin Gruber gave a presentation on the software she is working on: OpenOlitor.

But apart from the formal meeting aspect, we found that it is really important to just hang out with each other. As CSA farmers and members, it’s important to chat about experiences and issues or concerns which we have and to hear the opinion of other like-minded people in the same CSA boat. It’s also  noteworthy at Feeding Ourselves how interested all the other attendees are in CSA and how keen they are to learn from our experiences. So the pizza-eating and beer-drinking at the SpeakEATsy was just as important as the main meeting.

One of the network members and a CSA farmer near Lahinch was interviewed by RTÉ recently and gave a lovely definition of CSA as a “community that commits to a farm”. The discussion continued at Feeding Ourselves, to help better defining or describe CSA. Observations included:

  • It’s about people who value the food and the farmer: the price at supermarket does not reflect the value of the food. A CSA knows that and want to pay a real price to a real farmer.
  • It’s a system in which people can exchange, trade or buy food in a short supply chain where the producer and consumer have a relationship or connection.
  • It’s like “a box scheme with conditions attached”.

In Ireland, as of yet, the CSA network is small and self-regulated. Should the need arise for considering what does or does not qualify as a member-organisation, suggestions for the future included vouching and signing up to the Urgenci European Charter of CSA.

We demonstrated a new look for our website, designed by Cat Kramer of Dublin CSA. This will primarily direct people towards their local CSAs. Facebook and an email list compliment this at present. (communitysupportedagriculture.ie)

The non-CSA members present were full of ideas: why are there only, it seems, CSH’s – Community Supported Horticulture – in Ireland at present? Reference was made to milk and pork CSAs (previously Cloughjordan had milk and an organic farm in Kerry – Manna organic’s –  did a pork  CSA, which they could share learnings on).

A representative of NOTS, the National Organic Training Skillnet (organic beef and sheep John Brennan) suggested the organisation could support a CSA training course. And some practical questions were asked: What number of members do we need to have a viable CSA that can support a farmer or grower? Pat Malone (of Cloughjordan) suggested 60 and Matt (Moy Hill) agreed. Future outreach potential included public procurement (schools, workplaces, hospitals, nursing homes).

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What are the challenges of maintaining your CSA?

o   People turn over, e.g. in Dublin CSA members can be transient, with few Irish born members, and many incomers (CSA is of course a good way to get to know a local community for an incomer)

o   More skilled labour and engagement from the members would be helpful

o   Managing volunteers is time consuming.

o   Making a living wage for the farmer is difficult (with the CSA only or even with CSA as part of other earnings)

o   Getting members more involved in running their CSA

o   Admin can be big challenge.

o   Being able to live on the land you farm

o   Keeping all disparate elements in a CSA happy and cohesive.

How do we improve cohesion and synergy between CSAs?

  • Could we resource the work of coordinator (Roisin) in CSA Ireland so she can work more at coordinating?
  • Farm walks and visiting each other’s  setups. Leaf and Root potentially next for CSA AGM.
  • People involved in CSAs should be confident and proud of what they do.
  • A CSA street feast.
  • April 24th is the 100th anniversary of Irish proclamation. Celebrate our food proclamation to celebrate our food and independence.
  • World Food Day in October could also be a good day or international food security day.

In conclusion, the work is being done at farm level and really very little is happening at a ‘network’ level because no-one has the time to dedicate to it although there is always more promotional and linking work that could be done. Ferg and lads in Moy Hill are a great voice who draw a lot of publicity. The network needs to exist, even at a most basic level of web-presence, so peopel know where a local CSA might be, so we can feel strength in numbers, and link upwards with the international network and downwards to local Irish farms.