Back in October 2008, I wrote about Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) organic box schemes, and the possibility that we might have our very own one right here in the Cape.

And it seems that things are coming together at last!

I’ve just heard that Slow Food Cape Town, in conjunction with the Ethical Co-Op and the Sustainability Institute, will be running a CSA Box Scheme from February to the end of April 2009.

They sent me all the details, which you can also download here.

WHAT IS A CSA?
A CSA is a partnership between an agricultural or artisan producer and a group of consumers. The consumers sponsor the production of a specific crop or product at the beginning of the CSA, and during the season, the producer responds with frequent reports on that crop’s development and growth, and the consumers can visit the producer to learn more about how crop is grown, and even help with the harvest. The harvest is divided between all the members during the course of the season. Possible CSA products could include vegetables, fruit trees or grassfed beef from an entire steer. This summer, we are establishing a mixed organic vegetable CSA, grown by farmer Eric Swarts, which will be divided among all participants in box scheme format (i.e. every week during the season you receive a box of mixed vegetables).

The point of running a CSA (and a cornerstone of the Slow Food ethos) is to reconnect consumers with agricultural producers, and make urban dwellers aware of the lifecycles implicit in growing and producing the food we eat.

In a nutshell, what this means is that we organic food fans have the opportunity not only to support local community agriculture, but to get our fix of organic produce at the same time.

WHAT VEGETABLES WOULD BE GROWN?
Eric grows a variety of vegetables, including fancy lettuce, carrots, beetroot, cucumber, beans, sweetcorn, onions, butternut, spring onions and sweet melons. Every week participants will receive a variety of vegetables, depending on what is ripe and ready for picking at the farm. Each box will contain seven items (one item is a bunch of carrots, a bag of lettuce, etc), and will cost R55.

The difference between this and any normal organic box scheme is that it’s not pay-as-you-go. Instead, to give the grower the security he needs to get things going (farming requires substantial inputs), you pay upfront – a kind of investment that returns freshly grown vegetables and a stake in something that builds community.

WHY MUST I PAY IN ADVANCE?
In order to grow enough crops for a group of people, a farmer needs to buy inputs at the beginning of the growing season, such as labour, seeds, mulch, etc. and all of these are a major expense. A CSA gives a farmer something very unusual in agriculture: certainty. He or she knows there is a market for the crops before they are grown, and exactly how many people need to be fed. And requiring payment upfront is one way to determine how much must be planted and harvested to meet the needs of the participants.

WHY CAN’T I BUY INTO JUST ONE MONTH OF THE HARVEST?
The point of the CSA is to allow participants to get a better sense of what is involved in growing food for a living. A farmer cannot just walk away from his crop in the middle of the growing season, and so if you wish to take advantage of the CSA, you need to sign up for the whole journey, too.

Of course, harvests are susceptible to the weather, but that’s part of farming, and they’ve given that consideration.

WILL I GET ALL OF THE VARIETIES OF VEGETABLES THE FARMER GROWS? WHAT HAPPENS IF CROPS FAIL?
As all farmers know, sometimes crops fail. And even with experienced farmers like Eric, unreliable weather, pests and diseases and other acts of nature mean there is no guarantee that every crop planted will grow perfectly through to harvest. And participants of a CSA are partners with the farmer, so they must share the risk, too. But this doesn’t mean you will pay in advance and then receive no vegetables – just that, if a crop fails (and we will let you know if this unfortunately does happen!), you might receive more of another type of vegetable, or maybe slightly less of that type of vegetable, in your weekly box.

If you sign up, you’ll also be invited to visit the farm throughout the growing season, to see how it’s done, and where your food comes from. And you’ll be kept in the loop as to how the crops are doing, giving you a much closer connection to the food that will eventually end up on your plate.

WHEN DO I GET TO VISIT THE FARM AND MEET THE FARMER WHO IS GROWING THE VEGETABLES? DO I HAVE TO GO ON EVERY OUTING?
Slow Food Cape Town will be arranging visits to Eric’s farm throughout the growing season, where he will show us his farm and answer questions. These outings will be on weekends, and your family is welcome to attend. These outings are not obligatory! All CSA participants will also receive email updates during the season, letting you know how the crops are doing

The Ethical Coop will be handling deliveries of the CSA produce, so you’ll be able to pick your weekly box up from one of their many distribution points, or even have it delivered to your door.

HOW DO I PICK UP MY BOX? DO YOU DELIVER?
The Ethical Co-Op will be handling deliveries. So if you are not already a member, in order to get onto their delivery system, you will need to join the Ethical Co-Op. This doesn’t cost anything, and if you choose to pick up your weekly share of the harvest from one of their pick-up points, delivery is free. If you would like to have your box delivered to your home and you live within the Ethical Co-Op’s home delivery area, you can select this service for their standard home delivery fee.

And so, down to the nitty gritty:

HOW DO I PAY FOR MY BOX, AND HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
The CSA will run from February through April, for a total of thirteen weeks. Each weekly box costs R55, so the total for 13 weeks of vegetables is R715. To reserve a spot in the CSA and make your payment, please send an email to kateschrire@gmail.com, and we will send you a reservation code and our banking information for EFT.

And, in case you’re wondering who all these groups are who’re getting involved:

WHO/WHAT IS THE ETHICAL CO-OP/THE SUSTAINABILITY INSTITUTE/SLOW FOOD CAPE TOWN?
The Ethical Co-Op is an online cooperative which sells ethically produced food and household products. www.ethical.org.za

The Sustainability Institute is a non-profit trust and living and learning centre, focusing on studies and experience in ecology, community and spirit. www.sustainabilityinstitute.net

Slow Food Cape Town is a volunteer-run branch of the international Slow Food movement, which promotes sustainable, ethical food production, traditional and artisan food cultures, and consumer taste education. www.slowfoodcapetown.co.za

They need 50 members to get this thing going, and I certainly plan to be one of them.

Not only because I believe what they’re doing will hopefully spark the arrival of more CSA’s (which create opportunity for local farmers to produce organic food), but because I’m uber uber keen to go and see the farm and the food I’m going to be eating!

See you at harvest time!

Just to recap: to reserve a spot in the CSA and make your payment, please send an email to kateschrire@gmail.com

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