URGENCI’s Contribution to the American CSA Movement

The international network of Community-Supported Agriculture, reached a new stage of maturity at the 5th biannual Symposium that was held in Monterey in California, 20th-23rd January 2013. The first three symposia took place in Europe – Aubagne, France (2004 and 2008), and Portugal (2005). URGENCI then successfully organized the first international CSA conference outside Europe in Japan in 2010. Japan is generally considered to be the cradle of contract-based partnerships between consumers and producers. Three years later the next URGENCI conference took place in the USA, another stronghold of the movement.

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Download the program and listen to the audio recordings of the sessions!

The American CSA movement is currently experiencing a new wave, following the initial surge of the mid-80s. Whether there are 6,000 CSA programs nation-wide as Steve McFadden estimates , or if more than 12,500 farms operating a CSA-type marketing model, as USDA estimations stated in 2010 is irrelevant. What is most important is as Steve McFadden states, the American CSA is “at a decisive point. Is it going to become just another “business model” based primarily on monetary transactions for food? Or will CSA fulfill its ideal potential to become a model for healthy cells of social well-being, environmental health, and economic justice?” 

Are the large-scale box schemes endangering the original CSA concept? Who is in a position to defend the CSA principles? What is the role of the local networks in guaranteeing the ethics of new CSA models? Is multi-farm CSA simply a new type of food co-op? 

These questions were at the heart of the discussions during the farm bus tour on the 22nd and the Conference itself on the 23rd. The presence of participants from other American and 6 different continents was certainly beneficial to all participants, since these issues keep coming to the fore wherever CSA practice is firmly rooted. Some well-established movements have already gained precious experience in dealing with these delicate issues. The local participants – mostly organic family farmers – enjoyed learning through peer-to-peer exchange.

The CSA Conference had a direct outcome: a US nationwide CSA coalition has been established, and a strong basis for a Californian CSA network has also been built. This was achieved thanks to the involvement of an organization that shares much common ground with URGENCI, including the profile of consumer-producer alliance: CAFF (Community Alliance with Family Farmers). The CSA Conference participants thus made history at both local and national level. 

Prior to the conference, 25 representatives of CSA movements from all over the world made history by spending two days drafting a regional action plan for the next 2 years. 
For the first time ever, URGENCI members now have a concrete action plan to implement on five different continents, with regional groups in charge!

The well-established Urgenci-Europe group already held the first European CSA meeting in October 2012, and has a formalized coordination structure called Kernel, and permanent working groups. Andrea Calori, from Italy, was re-elected President of the International Committee (IC), and Jerome Dehondt, a French farmer (and a former CSA consumer) has been re-elected as Member of the IC and Treasurer.

The American participants to the General Assembly represented 5 different CSA organizations; they agreed to establish a light, pragmatic national coordination of the US CSA movement. Its mission is to facilitate the emergence and strengthening of CSA networks in N. America. Kiera Mulvey from Wisconsin-based FairShare CSA Coalition is a new IC member.

URGENCI-Asia is a real but informal entity, thanks to the presence of 3 representatives in the International Committee: Shinji Hashimoto, a Japanese farmer, Joy Daniel, from India, and Shi-Yan, a woman farmer and a CSA activist from China. She was elected Vice-President, in keeping with a certain URGENCI tradition of helping to prepare for the next URGENCI Symposium, planned to take place in China. The perspective of the first URGENCI-Asia meeting in Bangkok next May, and the organization of the VIth International CSA Conference in China in 2015, will undoubtedly boost URGENCI ‘s activities in Asia during the coming months.

Oumar Diabaté, a farmer from Mali, was the only representative from Africa. He was re-elected to the IC, and committed to creating a regional URGENCI network in French speaking West Africa before 2015.

For the first time in its history, a representative from Latin America was elected to the International Committee: Josefina Cendejas Guizar, from Mexico. She will serve as a relay for the fledgling CSA movement in various Latin American countries, as well as helping to build bridges with the rest of the solidarity economy movement in Latin America.

All the IC members will also systematically work in pairs on cross-cutting topics.

Apart from the implementation of the regional action plans, the IC will face the collective responsibility of negotiating a partnership with the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). URGENCI could become either a privileged partner on specific topics such as the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS), or a self-organized structure within the IFOAM. The IC has given itself 6 months to explore these two possibilities and decide which direction to take.

In addition to the elected decision-making body that governs the network, the International Committee, three Ambassadors were nominated during the first meeting of the new IC. They each have a special mandate: Judith Hitchman (advocacy), Samuel Thirion (Institutions) and Fergal Anderson (relations with the Via Campesina).

All these positions are of course voluntary. To date URGENCI has only 2 permanent employees, both based in France: General Secretary, Jocelyn Parot and Network Coordinator, Morgane Iserte.

Finally, Elizabeth Henderson, author of the famous CSA manual that has inspired a whole generation of both farmers and consumers around the world, Sharing the Harvest, generously accepted to become URGENCI’s Honorary President. She is a retired farmer and lifetime activist. This is a fair acknowledgement to her huge past contribution to URGENCI. This is a just acknowledgement of her huge contribution to URGENCI, her help in consolidating the network in terms of cross-border connections, thematic reflection, representation and high-quality reporting.

The 5th General Assembly and International CSA Conference was a well-shared harvest!