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globe logo     Caravan: Newsletter of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World
Number 3 May 1999

bulletFrom Readers
bulletThe Alliance in Motion
bulletAn Alliance? As Seen By
bulletOasis of the Alliance
 · Agriculture in Quebec
 · The Nuba of sudan
bulletIntercultural Dialogue
bulletCaravan Association
bulletNgecha Artists Ass'n
bulletReturn to ALLIANCE LIBRARY

Community Supported Agriculture in Quebec

Within this century, countries around the world have gone from relatively self-sufficiency in food becoming highly interdependent for their basic food needs. In North America, the produce on the plates travels an average of 2,400 kilometres from field to table. Certain actors, notably transnational corporations and their shareholders, benefit from the global marketplace because they can easily cross borders to manufacture products in countries with the lowest taxes, lowest salaries and least environmental and social regulations. The environmental and social impacts of the current globalised, industrialised food system are devastating: soil depletion, water table contamination, dependency of the South on the North, poverty of rural areas and urban migration, to name a few. But within and beside this system, local alternatives are being built, such as Community Shared Agriculture.

Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) projects link together urban neighborhoods with local organic farms directly, through a shareholding system: city people buy "shares" in advance from a local farmer (usually organic), receive a box of fresh vegetables each week and often, go to the farm occasionally to visit or help out. The farmer produces vegetable and fruit baskets and delivers them to a central point in the shareholders’ community each week during the season. Such projects enables consumers to get fresh, local and organic produce at a reduced price, since the intermediary players (distributors and stores) are cut out.

The farmer also benefits from CSA. With the money from shares paid in advance, he or she can plan the season, reduce the need for a credit margin and concentrate on growing crops with the harvest sold. The farmer generally uses minimal packaging and can benefit from a sharers’ "core group" for help with management and planning, publicity and communication. The direct contact between farmers and consumers promotes solidarity and builds community. CSAs also integrate important social and educational aspects, where the partners are invited to go to the farm and help out for a day or two. This enables city dwellers to understand farming and see where and how their food is produced.

The Quebec CSA network

ÉquiTerre’s experience with CSA projects began in the spring of 1995. The first year of the network’s existence, seven farms were listed on the promotional pamphlet. By 1998 there were 27 CSA member-farms, in addition to two "associated farms" which supply products (apples and honey) to other farms. There are about 50 drop-off points for an estimated 1300 shares, which means more than 2600 persons, as one share can supply between one and six people, depending on its size. There are drop-off points in Quebec communities from Hull to Rimouski, although the majority of farms deliver into Montreal.

ÉquiTerre’s experience indicates that there is an interest in CSA from a wide range of consumers, and that families with young children are particularly interested in the projects. CSA tends to be more accessible for people with medium or stable incomes because of the requirement for (at least partial) payment in advance and commitment to the season. However, several farms in the network have found ways to include more low-income people in their projects, with methods ranging from flexible payment schedules to work shares to subsidized shares.

The network has grown not only in quantity but also in quality over the years. The procedure for selecting and including new farms has been clarified and criterias made more rigorous:

  • organic agriculture: farms must be organic although not necessarily certified;

  • financial commitment: sharers make a financial commitment to their farm for the season;

  • local production: products in the baskets must be local and the majority must originate from one farm or a group of farms;

  • social interaction: there must be opportunities for social interaction, including contact between sharers and farmers.

Is Community Shared Agriculture viable?

The Quebec experience with CSA indicates that CSA is at least as viable as other forms of marketing for small vegetable producers, with additional advantages: predictability of income; direct interaction with clients; sharers acceptance of irregularities and variety in size and appearance; etc.

It is, however, important to note that CSA is not a viable option for all farmers, and that it also presents disadvantages and difficulties, notably the necessity of successfully growing a great variety of vegetables and the need to be open to social interaction with sharers. We must also recognize that CSA does not represent a panacea for the problems of small producers generally, problems that stem ultimately from larger forces including globalisation and market control by a few transnational corporations. To the extent that share prices are determined by comparing with the market or by trying to satisfy consumers who are used to cheap food rather than by an internal budget, revenue from shares will not necessarily cover the costs of production and give the producer a decent income. Education of consumers is therefore an essential step in making Community Shared Agriculture viable.

Policy change which would solve underlying difficulties of CSA are wide-ranging and include challenging free trade agreements and moving government support to agriculture away from export promotion and toward support (grants and low-interest loans) for small, local and organic farms, and providing funding for independent organizations to do research and public education on sustainable food systems.

While Community Shared Agriculture is still young in Quebec, our experience so far is very positive and we have high hopes for the future.

Elizabeth Hunter*, EquiTerre**

* Elizabeth Hunter is a founder and sharer of the Cadet Roussel Community Shared Agriculture project and general director of ÉquiTerre.

** ÉquiTerre (formerly known as A SEED) is a non-profit organization working for environmental sustainability and social justice in Montreal, Quebec (Canada). Research, public education and action are focused on two areas: ecological transportation and local as well as global food security. Food security projects include the A Just Coffee fair trade campaign, Together in the Green Zone (a project to put to use fallow agricultural land on the city limits of Montreal), and Community Shared Agriculture. Contact: ÉquiTerre, 2177 Masson, suite 317, Montréal, Québec H3H 1B1. (Tel: (514) 522-2000 - E-mail:

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Africanews: News and Views on Africa from Africa

Africanews is the initiative of a group of African Lay Christians, known as Koinonia Community, whose member Michael Owiso is coordinator of the Alliance Youth workshop for the region and member Michael O'Chieng, Caravan correspondant for East Africa.

Africanews is published monthly since April 1996. It wants to be a Christian and African presence in the media world, professionally able and spiritually free to express the longing for justice, peace and respect for creation present in the African soul. All news and their analysis are given from the perspective of the African grassroots people, their struggle for freedom, dignity and justice. It has 30 regular correspondents based in various African countries.

Contact: Clement Njoroge, Editor
P.O. Box 8034, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel. +254.2.577892; Fax. +254.2.576175
E-mail: (Clement Njoroge) and (Fr. Kizito)

Wajibu: A Journal of Social and Religious Concerns

Wajibu, a journal of social and religious concerns, is quarterly published since 1985 by Gerald J. Wanjohi, a devoted partner of the Alliance in Kenya who has recently translated the Platform for a responsible and united world in Ki-Swahili.

Wajibu is intended for everyone who is concerned about keeping the African traditions alive and adapting them to the modern way of life. It offers the possibility of a dialogue between people of different backgrounds, traditions and religiouns for the promotion of peace and understanding and in order to overcome prejudice, narrowness of outlook and intolerance.

Contact: G. Wakuraya Wanjohi, Chief Editor
Likoni Lane, P.O. Box 32440, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel. 254.2.720400

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© 2000 Alliance for a Responsible and United World. All rights reserved. Last updated January 30, 2000.