We need to grow our sense of connection to, and reimagine our relationship with our natural environment to enable a more sustainable future, argues Imre van Kraalingen in a masters thesis written for the Shareon project.
Historically, people have been strongly connected to community food production and their food consumption was limited to what was grown locally and in season. Today’s globalized food production systems have in many ways created a disconnect between people and the food they consume as the long distances products travel and large-scale food production has decreased people’s awareness of where their food comes from and how it is produced.
As a result, we expect to get Avocados from Chile for the Friday tacos and know very little about the carbon footprint of the food we buy and eat. As agriculture and food consumption is responsible for a significant amount of climate gas emissions, there is a need to look into models of food production and consumption that are more sustainable.
And new forms of food production based on more consumer involvement have popped up recent years, such as farmers markets, food boxes, REKO-ringen and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) (andelslandbruk in Norwegian).
A timely question is whether consumers’ involvement in local food production will result in climate-friendly food habits and production? This is a question we explore in the CICERO led project ShareOn, which look at how sharing economy and collaborative consumption can nudge people’s behaviour and habits in a more climate-friendly direction. In the ShareOn project we look specifically at the CSA farming model where people can become ‘farmers’ or shareholders in a farm. Through paying a fixed fee and providing a few hours of labour the shareholders can harvest a portion of the yield in return.
The CSA farming model has many benefits; the farmer receives a fair wage as the shareholders take some of the risks (by paying a fixed fee), food items are locally produced, the production is land-intensive, the products are often ecological and the products are more focused on vegetables than meat and dairy production. In addition, the CSA farms are also social environments where people can meet, learn about food production and share their experiences and knowledge of food.
Imre van Kraalingen is part of the ShareOn project and has explored how participation in local biodynamic food production can reconnect people with their food, but also with one another, the local community and with nature. As stated by one of her interviewees:
‘My appreciation of the CSA is the way it brings people closer to the farm, because there haven’t been thousands of miles between me and the food, and there haven’t been numerous modifications, labelling and patenting placed on the ingredient or food source between the time that it left its branch and arrived onto our dinner plate.’
Farming practices like sowing, gardening and harvesting, provide experiences of a connection with nature. This connection can modify people’s perception and practices when it comes to food consumption ‘through people’s efforts to mimic nature’s life cycles, work according to the rhythms of nature and create regenerative agricultural systems’.
Van Kraalingen’s thesis also highlights the importance of active participation of the community in farming and the farm as a social arena. Mutual learning and knowledge sharing are important in raising awareness on the challenges of sustainable food production and consumption. Closeness to the farm is also important for how a sharing scheme like CSA can function in practice.
However, in some cases CSA farms do not engage shareholders directly, but rather have decided to not have obligatory hours of shareholder participation in sowing and harvesting. Several also distribute the share of the yield in weekly boxes for pick up or house delivery. This might be an important incentive to attract and keep shareholders who are in a ‘time-squeeze’, however, it also decreases the personal contact and experience of farming as described by one of the interviewed below:
‘I think the CSA is a great concept! I don't have to do the work myself, I just pick up a box of fresh and clean veggies, and I spend way less time in the grocery store. The thing is, that I would actually like to visit the farm, but with the convenience of the pick-up system and the general busy-ness of daily life, I am less likely to make time to go there. I think personal contact with the farmer can be a valuable part of the CSA model, but in today's society convenience is often a winning factor.’
In her thesis, van Kraalingen argues that we need to grow our sense of connection to, and reimagine our relationship with our natural environment to enable a more sustainable future. If a transition in food consumption practice is desired, the farming models based on sharing and involvement has significant potential to increase consumer awareness on how food is grown, and share knowledge on sustainable behaviour. Getting consumers involved in food production may also challenge industrial thinking that assumes a dichotomy between humans and nature and allows the reaping of nature and natural resources for economic benefits. In this light, the CSA provides a possible solution where the relationship between the farmer and the consumers is personalised and food is locally provided. Hopefully, a reconnection with food production and nature will foster an ethic of care for both the resources we share on this planet.
- Master Thesis: van Kraalingen, Imre (2019). Cultivating Embodied Connections in Biodynamic Agriculture: A comparative study of local meaning-making at Earth Haven Farm in Canada and Nordgard Aukrust in Norway. University of Oslo.