The History of CSA in Germany

Wolfgang Stranz (transl. Jocelyn Parot), “A Short History of the German CSA”, Teikei, n°26, september 2009

The CSA’s in Germany are a very peculiar theme, since the organic movement started very early here, while the subsequent developments occurred in a very singular way in comparison to the other countries.

The Genesis of the German CSA

On the consumers’ side, the interest for organic food stuffs grew all of a sudden right after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Then, the first food coops were formed, which were self-managed by the consumers and which, for most of them, were first organized in garages. The consumers were ordering directly from the farmer, who was delivering the product. Unfortunately, the system was extremely demanding regarding working time. The bookkeeping and the cleaning depended mostly on the same active volunteers, who were soon not any more willing to do the job for all the others On the top of this, some orders were for products, which were not available. At the opposite, the vegetables, which were prematurely mature, were not added to the list of orders on schedule, and could not subsequently be ordered. The farmer could then remain seating on the top of the crates’ pile.

The vegetable-subscriptions were a possible way out. One should subscribe to a crate, which size was set in advance, which was then filled up with fresh season vegetables that were available. This system is very much widespread in Germany. In Hamburg alone (1,8 million inhabitants) about 30 different crate-subscription systems are operating. Overall, nation wide, there would be up to about 1000 crate-subscription systems, knowing that the rural spaces would not be included in this figure.

To what extent the CSA, as they are ran at a larger scale in the US by Angelic Organics for example, with over 1000 crates per week, can match with the local systems, this, I am not able to tell. But compared to what I personally understand under the CSA concept, these systems still contain a big portion of disengagement: one can order his vegetable-subscription, and then when one does not want it any more, one just unsubscribes – for instance during the holidays.

To me, CSA means: a repartition of the risk and the responsibility in the farming activity between the producers and the consumers. We – this means the Buschberghof, from where we were collecting our milk – have had through personal relations always been in contact with Temple Wilton Community Farm, one of the first CSA farms (1986) in the US. Trauger Groh, one of the foundators, had been living and working on the Buschberghof from 1968 to the beginning of the 80s, before he went to the US. This is the way we knew, what was going on there.

At Buschberghof, during the mid-80s, there was a generation change among the farmers. Carl-August Loss, who had been offered the farm as a present by a generous donor in 1968, passed away. At this moment, the new farmers were fascinated by what had been realized, as it was said, at the Temple Wilton Farm. Quickly enough, we started in 1987 to discuss Temple Wilton ideas, then we decided in 1988 to dare going further in the direction towards CSA.

At first, only half of the farm capacity was dedicated to the community. This activity represented 40 families, whereas the sales at the farm were possible only one more year since we were afraid, that our experiment could fail. As it was obvious, after the first year, that CSA could be a sustainable solution for the farm, the sales on the farm were stopped and the customers were asked to join the CSA community, which was done by a lot of clients. Since then, 20 years have passed, the community is carrying the farm in a reliable way, and it is carrying it so well, that the farm could even further develop.

How our German CSA works

In practical terms, here is how our work looks like: in June, the farmers present their budget to the main collect of the year, which means they are giving an estimation of the costs one should forecast for the economic year to come (from July to August). The community members are then communicating their orders, telling very precisely how many euros they want to contribute the budget consolidation. If the sum is not sufficient, one should either once again take additional orders or cut the budget. This year, it went fairly well, there were even some thousand euros more than needed. It happened several times that, despite the fact that the individual orders were fair, we could not reach the necessary amount. We then had to be quickly looking for other members. This year, we have 92 families numbering altogether 320 members. We already had to institute a waiting list.

What is important nevertheless, is that this money is intended to farming activity, which, as it is well know, is very costly. Foodstuffs prepared at the farm are thus themselves, in a way, free. Moreover, the amount of the promised and paid money has nothing to do with the quantity of products effectively delivered. The food product itself does not have any price any more, but it is the farm business overall which does have a price, this year 330 000 euros. Third, we try to build up an economic process in a brotherly (solidarity –based) way between producers and consumers, and between consumers themselves. In our farm, there is no preset contribution, each family is free to take her own decision, regarding how big a contribution she wants to make to the budget consolidation.

Buschberghof is in the lucky situation of being able to provide the consumers with all what a farming unit could possibly produce: summer and winter vegetables, potatoes, beef, pork and lamb meat, sausages, poultry, eggs, milk and dairy products as cottage cheese, yoghurt, fresh cheese, soft cheese and hard cheese. The farm’s bakery produces 13 types of bread, which are baked once a week. This way, members can buy only few things, may be noodles, rice, pepper and some salt, vinegar, oil and mustard. All the other foodstuffs are coming from our farm Buschberghof.

A Model for German and Norwegian CSA

Since 1988, Buschberghof has been a model for the other farms, which have been adopting our hardcore CSA system. Nowadays, there are 11 CSA farms in Germany, which are working this way. The majority cannot prepare the large offer we have for them, but the idea of a solidarity –based economy is common to all of them. The majority of the farms are located in Northern Germany. Interestingly we can observe in the majority of the farms, that those who are interested in the CSA concept are no traditional clients, but a group of largely different people who are getting enthusiastic about this system. That was like that in our group already 20 years ago.

Buschberghof farm appears as a “godfather farm” for all the newly founded CSA farms in Germany, and we have also been contributing to the foundation of three CSA farms that were established in Norway. For all our activities, we have been obtaining the Price for Innovation in ecological farming from the Ministry of Agriculture. However, the development in Germany is going further very slowly in comparison to what one can see in France or Great-Britain. The development there is simply carried by powerful organizations like Alliance PEC (sic) or Soil Association. Here, everything is more or less dependent on our private initiative, but this slow growth might be healthier. More and more questions are coming from other farms and from universities and schools of agriculture, so that our system can be presented there.