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Community Supported Agriculture and Agri-Food Networks: Growing Food, Community and Sustainability?

posted on 2023-05-22, 14:08 authored by Robin KrabbeRobin Krabbe

Doubts are increasingly being expressed about the capacity of current sociopolitical arrangements to sustain humans and ecosystems, to deal with increasing dissatisfaction with political systems (Brodie 2003), and ultimately to overcome the crises inherent in the capitalist system of production. In short, world capitalism has been exposed as a fl awed system of governance in terms of this failure to provide for basic human needs and preserve the ecosystems on which we depend (Brodie 2003 ).

The development of world capitalism in fact owes much of its success to agriculture and the production of ‘cheap food’ (Moore 2010; Wood 2000). From the sixteenth century, technological development within agriculture resulted in ever-increasing yields and food surpluses (Moore 2010). For the first time however, agriculture across the globe is failing to generate increases in yields, therefore it cannot generate the conditions for a ‘new systemic cycle of accumulation’ (McMichael 2003; Moore 2010), despite the hopes invested in new agricultural innovations, such as biotechnology (Moore 2010). It is argued that capitalism has now reached the limit of its capacity for generating the conditions needed for human prosperity, based in part on the prediction of the end of cheap food and cheap oil (Weis 2010), and environmental problems and social issues, including the deepening financial crises around the world (Speth 2008).

The creation of sustainable agri-food systems is vital for the sustainability of wider socio-ecological systems (Risku-Norjaa 2007). This is in accordance with the belief that sustainability resides in the large overlaps between social systems and ecosystems (Graymore et al. 2010), and that ‘growing and eating food is our most direct and vital link’ to the ecosystems on which we depend (DeLind and Ferguson 1999: p 191). When considering the need for sustainable agri-food systems, Koc and Dahlberg (1999) note that one of the reasons why the structure of capitalist agriculture is so problematic is that it tends to decrease the integrity of local and traditional systems that in the past provided efficient and accessible food production and distribution. In doing so, future options for food provision are reduced. Both ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ countries are affected by the spread of capitalist agriculture not only by a reduction in cultural and biological diversity, but also by increased dependence on large external institutions (Koc and Dahlberg 1999). As Geels (2010: p 495) notes, these large agri-food systems become entrenched by lock-in mechanisms relating to ‘sunk investments, behavioural patterns, vested interests, infrastructure, favourable subsidies and regulations’.

Part of the problem is that agri-food systems suffer, as do most other sectors of society, from strategies of depoliticization. That control of agri-food systems is increasingly in the hands of corporate players (Windfuhr and Jonsén 2005) is one important example of how the dominating logic of neoliberalism can override the right of people to have a say in processes that affect them, such as the food system.

The motivation by the state to engage in depoliticization strategies relates to the desire to reduce conflict, speed up decision-making, enhance accumulation and in general, increase the effectiveness of the delivery of policy (Blühdorn 2006). These strategies purportedly tend to reduce complexity and increase the efficiency of societal systems and processes by decreasing the number of people involved in their governance (Blühdorn 2006). However one result is that people tend to become disconnected from socio-ecological systems, perpetuating degradation of socioecological life support systems. For instance when the interests of capital rather than the broader population are paramount in how natural resources are treated, these resources may be overconsumed.

Significant forms of action are nevertheless emerging in response to depoliticization and which more generally attempt to improve the condition of socio-ecological systems. This chapter focuses on one element of this new paradigm emerging in particular from social science, socio-ecological theories and complexity theory, and based on the idea that food security and food sovereignty provide an important opportunity to build sustainable agri-food systems. It aims to investigate the potential of community supported agriculture (CSA) combined with agri-food networks to contribute to this vision. The main hypothesis is that CSA can offer an opportunity for re-politicization, in terms of re-engaging people in negotiating the fundamental question of how we can live together in a sustainable way. The evidence that CSA is beginning to link with broader agri-food networks that attempt to engage at the policy level adds signi fi cantly to the further hypothesis that agri-food is an area with huge potential to work towards socio-ecological change.

This chapter is structured as follows. First the concepts of food security, food sovereignty and community food security will be discussed. CSA will then be analysed— the most fundamental bene fi t of CSA being its potential to progress towards food security at the community level. Two Australian examples of CSA will be mentioned, the signi fi cance of which are their links to broader food security and food sovereignty networks. Some aspects of socio-ecological theory will then be discussed, and the emerging concept of networks. Finally the Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance (AFSA) will be highlighted as a vehicle for re-politicization which builds on the principles of local food and CSA.


Publication title

Food Security in Australia: Challenges and Prospects for the Future


Q Farmar-Bowers, V Higgins, J Millar






School of Social Sciences



Place of publication

New York



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