My first example of this tendency towards participation in food is in the Orto Loco project in Zurich (see also this blog post). This Farm is a community supported agriculture scheme (CSA) based on an organic farm. Although a small farm it is very diverse with a broad range of enterprises – fruit, vegetables as well as animal production and just on the edge of Zurich. The farmer felt that his future was limited without involving others and so formed a CSA around his farm.
Most CSAs ask for a financial stake in the harvest. Originally this was to pay for a share of the harvest, your stake being about enough to feed your family. This approach removed the risk from the grower, as they had a known market and also didn’t need to spend a lot of time in selling their produce. Recently hybrids of this have into being, with community share ownership running alongside box schemes, such as with The Community Farm in the UK. Often there is a social element as part of CSAs and it is often possible to offer to pay at least part of your share in labour, but mostly it is participation through payment.
Orto Loco takes the CSA a step further by requiring you to work as pay. You have to contribute to the labour of the farm – preparing the soil, harvesting, boxing the veg, running the website but you have to work and if you don’t then they’ll ask you to leave.
Obviously, this farm is on the edge of one of the planet’s wealthiest cities, so money alone is not a problem for many but not all of its residents. The requirement to contribute in person and not in kind moves this CSA to a more challenging position. At a time when many people find that the limits of their social activism is retweeting then it points both back to a time when physical commitment went alongside civic activism but also to a new way of managing the food system.
Of course, this approach discriminates – most social institutions do in one way or another it is a matter of the way in which that happens, the consequences of it and how aware people are of it when it is happending.