Direct marketing is a great thing. The produce and products grown and made at the community supported biodynamic farm where I work go directly to our customers. The beauty of this system is that production can be narrowly tailored to need, thereby minimizing waste. The focus of this and similar farms is on healthy soils, which is the foundation of keeping ourselves and our planet healthy as well. 

One would think, and hope, that such enterprises are well-supported through agricultural policy programs at the EU level. Not so. Most of the funds of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is and continues to be awarded to big landowners. Even though the goals of CAP are expressed to be “biodiversity and strong rural communities”, the fact that there is no example of support for CSA initiatives through CAP speaks otherwise.This absence is attributed in general to a lack of political will to support their own goals. The fact that CSA initiatives are successful anyway, is testimony to the sustainability of this economic strategy. 

The farm, where I turn milk into cheese, is a great example. Recently the farm turned 25, and since its early days it has experienced enormous growth, not always smooth, but many foundational principles are still in place: Primarily, to maintain a closed-loop system, in which all nutrients and organic matter are recycled back to the soil.

Community Supported in Agriculture generally means that operation is financially driven by members (non-farmers) who in return receive a proportional share of the crop. This farm is supported by the community in other ways as well. Most of the land that is cultivated is not owned by the farm, but on loan, so to speak. Many small landowners, who for different reasons, no longer work their land, can benefit from having their land become rich organic soil, a win-win situation and community building strategy. 

But is the farm victim of its own success? The number of members has increased rapidly over the past year, and although it may be relatively easy to plant more vegetables on added fields, expanding yields in other areas is not so easy. Growing the cow herd not only needs more fields, but also bigger barns for milking and winter housing. Hence the stress I mentioned last week, a cheese shortage.  Complicating our situation is that we are edging toward winter, milk yield is decreasing naturally, while member numbers are still increasing, way over 500, primarily hailing from the urban and sub-urban Hamburg region. We hear voices of complaint, of members being dissatisfied with the amount and types of products they receive. But these voices are channeled through employees who work in farm’s Hamburg stores, through which the produce and product are distributed. The direct connection with its member base is separated through another layer. It raises an important question, at least in my curious mind. 

Can a direct marketing, closed-loop system grow TOO BIG, thereby overshooting its objectives? In other words is there a – context specific –  optimal size range to balance all components in the system, the number of animals, the soil, but also direct communication with its member base?

And if this is so, is there room for a number of CSA’s to service a specific region. Possibly so Could we make that happen, is the next question. Distributing healthy food, while tending our soils. 

For the time being the tactic here may shift toward delivering more vegetables to make up for ‘lost’ milk. Not so bad actually. Colorful abundance, kale, cabbage, carrots, pumpkin, leek, radicchio. In fact, a plant-rich diet is the way to go forward, in order to meet our carbon emission targets for keeping global warming in check.

Still, it would be better, milk or not,  if the EU and beyond, would recognize the urgency to support CSA to grow the soils in which we can thrive.  Moreover, I believe direct marketing of CSA is a wonderful tool to educate and engage the member base about what is going on in the land. It is time to take LAND-BASED knowledge seriously.