When Community-Supported Agriculture and Idealism Intersect
We began the day with a presentation focused on the development of Garden Cooperative Freiburg, a CSA located in the Rhein Valley which sets as its primary goal the farming of organic produce for stakeholders. Each family is given the same level of influence and voice regardless of how many shares they possess, representing a departure from more conventional shareholder models. We learned how the cooperative began, how it has grown, logistics behind its current operations, and challenges faced along the way.
The Garden Cooperative seeks to provide for its members a wide variety of organic produce, and this entails beginning from pure, unhybridized seeds. This is crucial as, even though the latter possess more attractive features for a traditional market setting (pest-resistance, homogeneity, drought resistance), the former are often tastier and more enjoyably consumed. With this in mind, the Cooperative accepts that some crops will fail, and take each failure in stride as an organization. Just as failures are shared, in times of bounty produce is shared evenly amongst members without preference being given to more financially solvent individuals.
Farmers are the most vital element to the success of a farm, and Garden Cooperative Freiburg was very lucky when it came to farming talent. Many youth who grew up in the valley had a wealth of knowledge concerning the maintenance of a farm, but did not think they would ever be able to afford land themselves. These were some of the founding members of the Cooperative, which needed talented and hardworking individuals to get it off of the ground.
Another integral element to the Cooperative’s model is the mandated work which each stakeholder must do on the farm each year. For each share, the shareholder(s) have to volunteer five times throughout the year. If the shareholder is a family with multiple people in it, each individual can fulfill one of those commitments. For instance, if your family has five able-bodied members, they may all head down to the farm one weekend and knock out the entire year’s worth of work then and there. While much of the more skilled labor is still performed by the full-time employees, these volunteers are shown around the area where their food is grown, instructed on how to go about basic tasks and put to work for several hours. Older people who may not be physically capable of completing manual labor may work in the kitchens to cook the communal lunch.
Being competitive in the market has never been an aim of the Garden Cooperative Freiburg. Their business model is inherently placed outside of normal capitalist exchanges, with the entire cycle of production and consumption regulated by a group of private stakeholders who are all held as equals in the eyes of the Cooperative. This model may be difficult to scale up, but it was never intended to. Unlike other solutions we have seen in Germany, this CSA is not looking to solve the world’s problems. They are merely trying to supplement their diets with healthy produce while simultaneously lessening their ecological footprint.