By Jyotsna Ram
So often we have heard that the industrial food system is defunct. At the UK Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) network launch in Stroud earlier this month, I heard Colin Tudge call not for a Revolution but a Renaissance. The case made is this. Revolutions are messy, violent and unpredictable. Renaissance, on the other hand, is a metamorphosis, a peaceful but not a painless struggle to a better world.
A Food Renaissance involves ordinary people growing, selling and eating food differently than in the industrial food system. A Renaissance is already happening in the UK (and around the world) and nowhere was this more apparent than at the CSA launch.
At its heart, a CSA is a trading arrangement within which producers and consumers share the rewards and responsibilities of growing ecological food. The basic structure involves consumers buying shares in a local (usually organic or biodynamic) farm in exchange for weekly produce. Some CSAs expect consumers to volunteer a few hours every month. Labour is part of the exchange – in my previous blog I wrote about the importance of non monetary trade for the provision of ecological food. Some CSAs do not pre-pack the consumers’ veg boxes. Instead consumers are expected to visit the farm and weigh their own veg every week. Others may deliver the veg boxes to local collection points. CSAs are diverse in their management structures but they all share a common purpose: to foster a close relationship between producers and consumers, and to build community support for a local ethical food business.
And that’s what CSAs are: local ethical food businesses. While I support and partake in civil disobedience and other forms of protest, I am a big advocate of practical forms of direct action. I consider ethical businesses that contribute to environmentally positive and socially just economies as those types of practical direct action that are building the world civil disobedience fights for.
It is imperative we move away from the petrochemicals reliant, monoculture, industrial food system. In addition to the many environmentally destructive impacts, the industrial food system is fragile and vulnerable to a changing climate. If we want to meet the challenge of feeding the world’s population in the years and decades to come, the solution is not to simply produce more but to produce and trade differently i.e. produce ecological food and trade in ways that respect producers and consumers. Approaches like GM are not the solution as GM is part of the industrial food system paradigm and meeting the challenge of climate change means changing the paradigm of our food system. In the words of Colin Tudge, an ecological food system is “enlightened agriculture” i.e. the system is diverse (and therefore resilient), integrated, has low input in terms of petrochemicals, and requires highly skilled labour (vs. slave labour prevalent in the industrial food system).
The two day conference was a whirlwind of knowledge exchange, a local brewery tour, tasty pizzas, a tour of a very successful biodynamic farm, vegetable jugglers (really), and great conversations. The energy amongst the growers, eaters, entrepreneurs, researchers, and activists who attended the launch was humbling. It is clear that the Food Renaissance has started. Now the task at hand is to transform this fledgling movement into a way of life.
Jyotsna Ram is an environmental researcher, writer, and activist.