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Community Supported Agriculture and Community Land Trusts

4 years ago, when the Soil Association began the Making Local Food Work Programme to develop a CSA movement in the UK, there were 3 trading CSAs. There are now 80 trading, with thousands of members and over a hundred schemes in development. Perhaps even more encouragingly, the term and concept has become well known and progressive farms are thinking about how to share the risks and rewards of farming in new ways.

Very few of these new CSAs however are farming on land owned by community land trusts. Over half operate on rented land, often with insecure tenancies that limit investment. Over 80% have tenancies of less than 10 years. In the US, where the CSA movement is more established, it is more common for CSAs to farm on community land trust farms. One of the original CSA farms, Indian Line Farm, is held by a local land trust, for example

If community farm land trusts are to proliferate in the UK, there are several reasons why the young CSA movement is likely to be an engine house for progress.

CSAs have engaged a large number of active and capable people, who are setting up innovative social enterprises. They are already redefining how they deal with money and trust – for example 85% of the CSAs take all payments in advance. They are well linked in to supportive networks and resourceful communities around their farms, including many people who are motivated by a desire to connect with land.

There are discussions underway already about community finance to raise capital amongst CSAs, both as loans and as shares. Many CSAs need more capital. The Plunkett Foundation, Co-ops UK and the Soil Association have been proactive and provide expertise about community finance to the CSA movement. Some pioneer CSAs, notably Plaw Hatch and Tablehurst Community Farm in Sussex and The Community Farm near Bristol, are raising significant sums through share issues. If interest is maintained in this theme, it is possible to envisage a stronger move towards community land trusts for CSAs in the future.

One of the original CSAs, Earthshare, has recently closed and cites as a contributing factor that, “The Company failed to secure a long-term tenancy on its current location … and this has impeded its ability to attract support from grant-awarding agencies upon which its long-term survival depended’’.

However, another of the original CSAs in this country is the impressive Tablehurst and Plaw Hatch Community Farm, which leases most of its land from a local charitable community asset body, St Anthony’s Trust. On 10 September 2011, The Biodynamic Land Trust launched a community share offer to buy 37 hectares of hitherto privately owned rented land, to then long lease to Tablehurst.

There will be a Workshop on 3 November in Preston about community land trusts and community investment for CSAs and for biodynamic farms. For details of this and other CSA information see www.soilassociation.org/csa.aspx

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