Get on my land! New report shows thousands benefit from community farming

An impact assessment of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in England has found that CSA schemes are providing manifold benefits not only to thousands of members, but also their communities, local economies and the environment. CSA offers an innovative approach to reconnecting people with their food, and helps to build strong partnerships between communities and farmers.

soil assoc The report was commissioned by the Soil Association, lead partner supporting the development of CSA as part of the ‘Making Local Food Work’ programme. It found that CSA schemes in England count at least 5,000 trading members and feed at least 12,500 people a year.

CSA schemes help empower communities to take control of their food supply by providing their members with a variety of local, often organically produced food from vegetables and meat, to milk, bread and honey - an impressive two thirds of members are supplied with all, or nearly all, of their vegetable needs. In addition the report shows that CSA schemes deliver many other benefits.

Key findings include:

· Strengthening communities: Almost half (45%) of CSA members feel their scheme has had a positive impact on the wider community.

· Increasing wellbeing: 70% of members say their quality of life has improved and 46% say their health has improved. 70% say their cooking and eating habits have changed, primarily through using more local, seasonal and healthy food.

· Reaching out: 12% of members have a household income under £15,000 and nearly 40% of schemes offer a service for those at risk of social exclusion.

· Developing and sharing skills: Over 75% of schemes provide training and over a third of participants say being involved has increased their skills.

· Providing local employment: CSA schemes tend to show high levels of employment relative to the land available (equivalent to 0.14 employees/hectare compared with a mean of 0.027 employees/hectare across UK agricultural as a whole). Over a third of CSA members are involved as regular or occasional volunteers.

· Offering farmers an opportunity to diversify: For many farmers developing CSA has provided a life line. Turnover for CSA schemes is over 0.2% of total farm income for England, reflecting the high productivity per acre of CSA and additional income from traded produce and other services.

· Supporting organic farming and improving sustainability: Over two thirds of CSA schemes have increased the amount of land they manage to organic principles. Over two thirds have increased their diversity of production. 55% have planted more hedges and trees and 61% have introduced new wildlife areas.

· Encouraging wider access to farms: Over 50% of initiatives make land more accessible to the public.

Gerald Miles, farmer at Caerhys Farm in Pembrokeshire, comments: “CSA is the best thing I’ve ever done as it has connected the farm with the local community.”

Bonnie Hewson, CSA Project Manager at the Soil Association, comments: “This evaluation report confirms that CSA is powerful on many levels. It is a proactive response to concerns around resilience and transparency in the food system and provides a logical step for consumers towards reclaiming sovereignty over the way their food is grown, processed and traded.

“Members are largely motivated by an awareness of global environmental issues but the schemes operate at a very local scale. They not only have a positive impact on communities but it is clear that the schemes have a far reaching impact on individual members too.

“Those concerned about justice and sustainability in our food system should consider seeking out or establishing a CSA in their area. In total there are 200 CSA enterprises trading or developing in the UK and we hope that our CSA resources help the creation of many more.”

The report ‘The Impact of Community Supported Agriculture’, can be downloaded here [PDF, 2.66MB]

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Full Disclosure Statement: The GREEN (LIVING) REVIEW received no compensation for any component of this article.