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Our Voices - International CSA Symposium 8

In Kobe, a History of CSA Worldwide

March 2, 2010 | By Jim Sluyter

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Elizabeth Henderson, who spoke about the history of community supported agriculture at last month’s Kobe symposium, is seen here at the 2004 Michigan CSA.

Elizabeth Henderson wrote the book on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Or maybe, if my knowledge of the literature is complete, she actually wrote one of the two books on it; hers is titled Sharing the Harvest.

Elizabeth was one of the keynote speakers at the International Symposium on CSA, which I attended last month in Kobe, Japan.

She spent some of her time showing pictures of CSAs in the U.S. and elsewhere, describing different ways that these diverse and “place-based” farms operate. I always enjoy a good, well-narrated slide show about farms, and hers filled the bill.

Then Ms. Henderson summarized the history of CSA. For a movement that developed so recently, there is a surprising lack of historical clarity. Most sources credit the Japanese with starting it all with their teikei farms, which date back to the early 1970s. But no one has identified a clear line from teikei farms to CSA in the U.S. or elsewhere. The first two American CSA farms showed up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire in 1986, but they clearly reflect the influence of Germany and Austria.

Searching for their link to teikei “would be a good job for a graduate student,” Ms. Henderson suggested.

An interesting possibility emerged during one of the nightly dinner parties, however. Arthur Getz Escudero, of Heifer International, recalled bringing the teikei farm concept to a 1980 conference in New York sponsored by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements. Did it take six years for that seed of an idea to get to Massachusetts and New Hampshire and then sprout?

History aside, Ms. Henderson finds strength in the global nature of this movement.

“While it is too soon to announce the that the tide of multinational corporate globalization is starting to turn,” she asserted at the symposium, “alternative economic projects based on solidarity, fair trade, and social and economic justice are springing up in many places around the world.”

She also listed the various names that folks in different countries call their CSAs:

  • Community Supported Agriculture: U.S. and parts of Europe
  • Community Shared Agriculture: parts of Canada
  • Teikei: Japan
  • ASC (d’agriculture soutenue par la communauté or ‘of farming sustained by the community’): Quebec
  • AMAP (associations pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne or association for the maintenance of a peasant agriculture): France
  • Reciproco (literally, ‘I reciprocate’): Portugal
  • Voedselteam (food team): Belgium, the Netherlands

This is an impressive list, and it is a testament to the strength, resilience and regional variation on the CSA theme. Ms. Henderson concluded that this variety of forms is an “encouraging sign: once they seize upon the basic principles, farmers and citizen-consumers in each culture are adapting CSA to their local conditions.”

And, at least in Italy, some people are expanding these principles into a whole culture of cooperation. But that is another story.

Jim Sluyter leads the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Get Farming! project. He recently returned from Japan, where he attended the International Symposium on Community Supported Agriculture, produced by the international group URGENCI. Reach him at jimsluyter@mlui.org.

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