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Abstract

Alternative food networks (AFNs), and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in particular, are an example of sustainable farming practices. This paper focuses on regional cooperation and its consequences for food security by evaluating data from German field studies. Currently, the market share of CSA in Germany is marginal in absolute terms. However, there is great potential for increase as there is at least one CSA farm in almost every German region. The objective of this study is to assess the potential of CSA diffusion through regional cooperation and its impacts on the food sovereignty of a region. After elucidating the importance of food sovereignty as an indicator of food security and introducing the concept of CSA, we present an analytical framework for regional cooperation in CSA. Here we analyse (1) “Who cooperates”, (2) “Why does cooperation occur” and (3) “How does cooperation take place”. Our special focus is on the phenomenon of community supported cooperation (CSC) as the most collaborative form of cooperation to find within the CSA environment. Adopting a transdisciplinary approach, we consider the impacts of CSC on food production as well as on the overall resilience of a region using both theoretical tools and empirical sources. Finally, the differences and similarities as well as the replicability of regional cooperation in Germany are viewed in a global context by linking it to the numerous CSA projects worldwide.
Cooperate to transform? Regional co-
operation in Community Supported Ag-
riculture as a driver of resilient local
food systems
Marius Rommel, Dirk Posse, Moritz Wittkamp, Niko Paech
School of Economic Disciplines | Pluralist Economics
Research project nascent
University of Siegen, Germany
Abstract
Alternative food networks (AFNs), and Commu-
nity Supported Agriculture (CSA) in particular,
are an example of sustainable farming practices.
This paper focuses on regional cooperation and its
consequences for food security by evaluating data
from German field studies. Currently, the market
share of CSA in Germany is marginal in absolute
terms. However, there is great potential for in-
crease as there is at least one CSA farm in almost
every German region.
The objective of this study is to assess the
potential of CSA diffusion through regional coop-
eration and its impacts on the food sovereignty of
a region. After elucidating the importance of food
sovereignty as an indicator of food security and in-
troducing the concept of CSA, we present an ana-
lytical framework for regional cooperation in CSA.
Here we analyse (1) “Who cooperates?”, (2) “Why
does cooperation occur?” and (3) “How does co-
operation take place?”. Our special focus is on the
phenomenon of community supported cooperation
(CSC) as the most collaborative form of coopera-
tion found within the CSA environment.
Adopting a transdisciplinary approach, we
consider the impacts of CSC on food production as
well as on the overall resilience of a region using
both theoretical tools and empirical sources. Fi-
nally, the differences and similarities as well as the
replicability of regional cooperation in Germany
are viewed in a global context by linking it to the
numerous CSA projects worldwide.
Key words: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), re-
gional cooperation, organizational fields, entrepreneurial
ecosystems, inter-organizational relations, food sovereignty,
agricultural service providers (ASPs), alternative food net-
works (AFNs), local food systems (LFSs), community sup-
ported cooperation (CSC)
Introduction
The UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 calls for
action to end hunger, achieve food security and im-
proved nutrition, and promote sustainable agricul-
ture. Crucial ways of doing this are to “ensure sus-
tainable food production systems and implement
resilient agricultural practices” (General Assembly
of the UN 2015). However, the current global food
system is dominated by a different logic: it gener-
ates a quarter of anthropogenic greenhouse gas
emissions (not including non-food agriculture), is
responsible for three-quarters of eutrophication
worldwide and for a third of global terrestrial acid-
ification, while placing enormous demands on the
global stock of biological diversity and freshwater
resources (Poore and Nemecek 2018). Market con-
centration and the globalization of food production
are seen as major drivers of these phenomena,
given that the top one hundred companies account
for three-quarters of all packaged food sales world-
wide (Clapp and Scrinis 2017). Cooperation
among large transnational companies leads to ad-
verse welfare impacts which cartel authorities at-
tempt to contain; this fails systematically due to
market concentration. In fact, the opposite can be
observed: mergers (the ultimate form of coopera-
tion) and hostile takeovers (i.e. forced cooperation,
the ultimate form of competition) both contribute
to further market concentration. This dependency
on global players for seeds, pesticides, machinery
and crude oil leads to a systemic lack of food se-
curity worldwide.
A transformation toward sustainable, resil-
ient, healthy and socially valuable local food sys-
tems (LFSs) appears necessary (Hinrichs 2000;
Kropp et al. 2021; Mars and Schau 2017). A prom-
ising path toward this goal is proposed by La Via
Campesina, a worldwide organization of small-
holders that has developed the concept of food
sovereignty (Wittman et al. 2010). Greater self-de-
termination among farmers and the participation of
local actors help to mitigate the risks of depend-
ency on and exogenous disruptions to the industri-
alized food system. The concept of food sover-
eignty differs from that of food security by intro-
ducing qualitative aspects to what had previously
been viewed in primarily quantitative terms. Sim-
ilarly, alternative food networks (AFNs) (Barbera
and Dagnes 2016; Forssell and Lankoski 2015;
Opitz et al. 2017) “[aimed] at (re-) connecting food
producers with consumers have gained increased
attention in the arena of international policy and
research” (Opitz et al. 2019: 22). Both movements
have served to strengthen regional resilience, giv-
ing local food actors the ability to “[absorb] dis-
turbance while undergoing changes to retain es-
sentially the same functionality, structure and
identity” (Sage 2014: 257).
One significant innovation that has
emerged as part of the AFN movement is that of
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA
creates a direct relationship between producers and
consumers that facilitates greater social cohesion
(Bloemmen et al. 2015; Groh and McFadden
1997). Its basic feature is communal financing of
the farm’s budget. The members of a CSA jointly
cover the farm’s operating costs (including an ap-
propriate wage/salary for the farmers) for one sea-
son or year through regular (usually monthly) con-
tributions (Galt et al. 2019). In return, the members
receive a “proportional harvest share, typically on
a weekly basis” (Opitz et al. 2019: 23) which may
be subject to seasonal and weather-related fluctua-
tions. Thus, the members “share the risks and ben-
efits associated with the uncertainty of farming”
(Brehm and Eisenhauer 2008: 95) by adjusting
their consumption to the farm produce available.
Since this form of financing requires mutual trust
and dependable participation, farmers generally
disclose their cost structure as well as their stand-
ards of production, thus enabling a system of
transparent co-financing of farm operations”
(Carlson and Bitsch 2019: 3). Furthermore, oppor-
tunities for mutual exchange (meetings, farm fes-
tivals, practical and digital collaboration) enable
direct relationships between producers and con-
sumers as well as between consumers themselves,
serving to embed the activities of CSA farmers and
stakeholders in a set of shared social relations
(Hinrichs 2000; Opitz et al. 2019: 23; Venn et al.
2006). This mitigates the separation between pro-
ducers and consumers, the latter becoming
“prosumers” (Paech et al. 2021). The resulting so-
cial cohesion has proven to be a stabilizing factor
of CSAs (Antoni-Komar and Lenz 2021). Barriers
related to financial access are often reduced
through special pricing mechanisms based on sol-
idarity between prosumers. In so-called solidarity-
based financing or bidding rounds (Krcilkova et al.
2019), members decide on the amount of their in-
dividual contribution, considering their own
1
https://www.solidarische-landwirtschaft.org/solawis-finden/auf-
listung/solawis [01.04.2021]
personal needs as well as their willingness and
ability to pay (Blättel-Mink et al. 2017: 417). Indi-
viduals or households with higher incomes are in-
vited to ease the burden on financially disadvan-
taged members by paying a higher contribution. In
this way, costs are shared according to need and in
a spirit of solidarity (European CSA Research
Group 2016).
In view of the ongoing decline in the num-
ber of farms in Germany by 12% over the last 10
years and the resulting concentration of farmland
(Statistisches Bundesamt 2021), this paper elabo-
rates on German CSA-run farms as a promising
economic model that may reverse this trend. Many
studies have addressed the multifunctional effects
of CSA and its potential for transforming the food
system to achieve greater food security, food sov-
ereignty and regional resilience (Lamine 2015;
Matzembacher and Meira 2019; Worstell 2020).
CSA can “take different forms as farmers and
members shape it to their own needs and expecta-
tions” (Samoggia et al. 2019: 1). This results in
various locally adapted types and configurations
(Koretskaya and Feola 2020). In the 1980s the first
producer-led CSA in Germany was set up near
Hamburg. Subsequently a second type, consumer-
led CSA, has increasingly sprung up, especially
around urban areas. More recently, a third type of
CSA is emerging, where producers and consumers
are formally linked, often through the organiza-
tional form of a cooperative. Generally speaking,
the number of CSA-run farms in Germany has
been growing continuously for about ten years.
With currently 344 CSAs in Germany and another
80 initiatives in the course of formation,
1
the mar-
ket share of CSA is marginal in absolute terms.
However, there is considerable potential for in-
crease, as there is at least one CSA farm in almost
every German region (Paech et al. 2021; Rommel
et al. 2019).
We assume that small-scale economic
units such as CSAs can be strengthened by forms
of local cooperation, thus stimulating a transfor-
mation of the food system (Paech et al. 2021). By
operating with greater self-determination, food
businesses with a local or regional focus such as
CSAs can support local food sovereignty. Recent
studies have found that farmers who interact di-
rectly with consumers generally have a greater
need to cooperate on account of their typically
being geographically isolated and lacking either
the time or the skills to market their produce com-
pared to those who grow commodity crops (Che et
al. 2005). However, barriers such as the lack of in-
frastructure and of financial or institutional sup-
port inhibit cooperation (Vogt and Kaiser 2008).
To have an incentive to cooperate, “initiatives
need to know that the resources they expend will
ultimately provide beneficial outcomes that are
important to them” (Miller and McCole 2014: 73).
In this sense, the role of regional coopera-
tion between CSAs and other AFN-related actors
has not yet been comprehensively analysed. We
therefore analyse:
How does regional cooperation affect the
development and diffusion of CSA and
thus a potential shift toward more exten-
sive coverage of regional food supply?
To analyse the relevance of CSA-specific regional
cooperation in transforming LFSs we (1) use trans-
disciplinary methods to elaborate a systematic
framework that draws on the theory of (a) organi-
zational fields (DiMaggio and Powell 1983) and
entrepreneurial ecosystems (Cohen 2006; Mars
2020) to answer the question Who cooperates?”;
we use (b) a multi-level approach (Geels 2002) to
gather knowledge about Why does cooperation
occur?”; and we draw on (c) the theory of inter-
organizational relations (Phillips et al. 2000), sup-
ply chain collaboration (Matopoulos et al. 2007)
and transaction cost economics (TCE) (William-
son 1991) to account for How does cooperation
take place?”. We then (2) examine the various
forms of regional cooperation regarding their po-
tential for promoting the diffusion of CSA by con-
ducting several interviews with experts and practi-
tioners of German CSA organizations.
Theoretical Background
Understanding inter-organizational relations
within LFSs in which CSAs are embedded re-
quires that we look at (a) the actors: who interacts
with whom; (b) their respective intentions: why
this interaction is being pursued; and (c) how the
specific interactions occur.
(a) The relevant actors can be identified by
applying the theory of entrepreneurial ecosystems.
This concept describes “a diverse set of inter-de-
pendent actors within a geographic region that in-
fluence the formation and eventual trajectory of
the entire group of actors and the economy as a
whole” (Cohen 2006: 2). It is generally used to
“identify and illustrate the implications of connec-
tions between the various organization-types (e.g.
businesses, government agencies, community-
based and non-government organizations) that
compose entrepreneurial systems” (Mars 2020:
55). At the centre of this approach lies social capi-
tal (Bourdieu 1986), as it “brings greater structural
durability to entrepreneurial ecosystems and the
clusters within, by nurturing shared identities, cul-
tures, and support networks between entrepreneurs,
ventures, and other relevant actors and organiza-
tions” (Mars 2020: 56).
A similar approach is taken in the theory of
organizational fields. An organizational field is a
set of organizations “that, in the aggregate, consti-
tute a recognized area of institutional life: key sup-
pliers, resource and product consumers, regulatory
agencies, and other organisations that produce
similar services or products” (DiMaggio and Pow-
ell 1983: 148). Organizational fields are thus com-
posed of competing and cooperating organizations
that offer similar products and services on the hor-
izontal axis as well as organizations upstream
(suppliers) and downstream (processors/consum-
ers) in the value chain on the vertical axis. We de-
fine horizontal cooperation as "an agreement or
concerted practice […] entered into between com-
panies operating at the same level(s) in the market"
(European Union 2001: 2). A third type of actors
are formal and non-formal agencies, hereafter
named agricultural service providers (ASPs), that
monitor and influence the actions of these organi-
zations (Mars and Schau 2017: 408). CSA-related
organizational fields require “that coordination,
communication, planning, negotiation, and recon-
ciliation occur between actors and groups” (Mars
and Schau 2017: 408).
(b) Cooperative endeavours in the CSA
context are usually built on shared ideals, with the
participants jointly tackling broader objectives
such as overcoming industrial agricultural struc-
tures that perform poorly in terms of sustainability.
Based on Geels (2002) multi-level evolutionary
framework of niche activities, socio-technical re-
gimes and global trends for emerging system inno-
vations, Loorbach (2004) develops a cyclic man-
agement model of four components to govern sys-
temic transitions: “(i) problem structuring, estab-
lishment of the transition arena and envisioning; (ii)
developing coalitions and transition agendas
(transition images and related transition paths); (iii)
establishing and carrying out transition experi-
ments and mobilizing the resulting transition net-
works; (iv) monitoring, evaluating and learning
lessons from the transition experiments and, based
on these, adjusting the vision, agenda and coali-
tions” (Loorbach 2010: 172). Drawing on such a
transition agenda for LFSs, CSA projects benefit
from multi-actor relations as they are able to incu-
bate change while enabling their transformative
operations. Moreover, the cyclic management that
guides a system innovation out of a niche implies
stabilization and continuous development (of CSA)
as necessary requirements for the actor constella-
tions (Geels 2002).
(c) While many CSAs have built up a self-
contained chain of value and distribution, thus
functioning more or less independently, others
face the challenge of diversifying their output.
Some are simply not capable of supplying a suffi-
ciently diverse range of products due to constraints
in the production facility, while others risk over-
burdening their members with high production
costs when expanding on-farm production be-
comes overly expensive due to the inability to ex-
ploit economies of scale (Galt et al. 2019). The un-
derlying conflict comes back to the issue of “make,
buy, or cooperate” as Williamson (1991) argued in
his Theory of Transaction Cost Economics (TCE).
TCE defines an optimum organizational govern-
ance structure that “achieves economic efficiency
by minimizing the costs of exchange” (Young
2013: 2497). These depend mainly on the specific
assets involved and the degree of uncertainty of the
transaction (Ciliberti et al. 2020). Minimizing
transaction costs appears to be crucial in terms of
a CSA’s decision to either enable on-farm produc-
tion, to outsource production and buy in products
from the “market”, or to find a hybrid cooperative
form. All these forms result in transaction costs,
either internally or externally, always in addition
to production costs. This makes it necessary to
weigh up the overall costs of diversifying the prod-
uct range, whether this is done via on-farm produc-
tion, external market supply or cooperation. Thus,
the specific mode of inter-organizational interac-
tions often arises from the necessity or motivation
to expand the product range. The motivation for
inter-organizational relations also arises from
other sources, such as working together toward
and lobbying for shared (political) goals, or reduc-
ing costs by sharing machinery and experience.
It turns out that inter-organizational relations
differ in terms of context, intensity and the charac-
teristics of the relationship between the partners.
Contrary to competition, cooperation links actors
over the longer term by way of contracts, agree-
ments and regular meetings. Cooperation that
highlights the congruence of values and goals,
such as a non-market approach, is more specifi-
cally considered a collaborative relation and, “con-
sequently, is governed by some negotiated alterna-
tive to the price mechanism” (Phillips et al. 2000:
24). Collaboration describes “a co-operative rela-
tionship among organizations that rely on neither
market nor hierarchical mechanisms of control”
(Phillips et al. 2000: 74) in order to advance a
shared mission or purpose concerning local agri-
culture and food” (Miller and McCole 2014: 75).
On this basis, we consider every inter-organi-
zational relation that goes beyond a mere exchange
of goods and services as cooperation, while collab-
oration goes even further, referring to concrete ac-
tions taken together.
Research Design
Following the concept of transformative research
(Jahn et al. 2012; Levkoe et al. 2019; Schäpke et
al. 2018), we see our study as a contribution to the
co-creation of applied knowledge together with
stakeholders.
Data & Methods
In order to deepen our understanding of regional
cooperation in CSA in Germany we applied a
range of empirical methods. We examined existing
approaches to the analysis of cooperation strate-
gies in the sphere of CSA. In addition, we gathered
and analysed our own empirical data. To obtain
well-grounded knowledge we used a two-stage ap-
proach to data collection based on self-selection as
a sampling method (Sharma 2017):
(1) The majority of all German CSA-run farms are
members of Germany’s CSA network, which or-
ganizes a network meeting twice a year and offers
a representative picture of the German CSA move-
ment. An empirical method for three of these bi-
annual network meetings was co-designed with the
network, consisting of two presentations, four par-
ticipant observation sessions (Czarniawska 2014)
at workshops, and two transdisciplinary work-
shops, one of which used a participatory approach
to stakeholder mapping in the setting of a “world
café”
2
(Löhr et al. 2020) on the topic of ASPs. Two
further conference meetings organized by ASPs
3
,
which were similar in character to the CSA net-
work gatherings, were used for additional data col-
lection: one presentation, two transdisciplinary
workshops and five participant observation ses-
sions at workshops. We recorded our observations
at these meetings (general perceptions and plenary
discussions) in research diaries.
(2) Based on this data, we identified specific CSA
projects engaged in various forms of cooperation.
In four cases, we conducted additional expert in-
terviews (Bogner et al. 2009) with representatives
of the CSA projects and corresponding ASPs. In a
fifth case we co-designed (with a practitioner) a
presentation on horizontal and vertical cooperation,
using the method of social learning in communi-
ties of practice (Wenger et al. 2002). This was car-
ried out as a webinar with question-and-answer
sections. In total, our data collection consists of
twenty empirical studies conducted with partici-
pants from approximately 90 CSA farms.
Apart from two events in the spring of 2020,
the events and interviews in 2020 and 2021 were
conducted online due to the CoViD-19 pandemic.
However, we assume no bias effects on the process
of data collection.
Analytical Framework
The three dimensions already outlined will now be
further specified for the CSA context (Fig. 1):
1) Who: Who is involved as an actor?
2) Why: What are the functions of the inter-or-
ganizational relation?
3) How: What forms of inter-organizational rela-
tions are involved?
(1) Inter-organizational relations occur either ver-
tically along the regional value chain
4
between
CSAs and suppliers (upstream) and consumers
(downstream), or horizontally between CSA pro-
jects and other food producers in a region
2
The aim to create a café ambience for an open but intimate discus-
sion is what gives the “world café” method its name. It is a partici-
patory approach that "accesses the views and knowledge present
within a larger group of people" Löhr et al. (2020: 1).
3
One conference of the formal German rural development organi-
zation dvs (Deutsche Vernetzungsstelle Ländliche Räume) and
(organized either as a CSA or as an ordinary pro-
ducer). Apart from vertical or horizontal interac-
tions, recent research has assigned ASPs a signifi-
cant role in advocating for and supporting CSA
(Paech et al. 2021). ASPs act as change agents
(Rogers 2003), incubators, intermediaries, cata-
lysts or mediators, and support CSAs with specific
services such as consulting, networking or access
to financial capital. ASPs can be either formal in-
stitutions in politics and administration, especially
at the local level, or informal initiatives from the
NGO sector or civil society, as well as businesses.
(2) The present study focuses on three functions
performed by inter-organizational relations be-
tween CSA and other actors.
a) Enabling | Procurement of resources: For CSA
actors looking to offset the economic disad-
vantages of a transformative economy, cooper-
ation, respectively external support is a viable
option. Resources can help a farm business to
acquire acreage, capital, skills, a public profile,
and other factors of production. This function is
particularly important in start-up processes.
b) Stabilizing | Stabilization of operations: The
survival of CSA farms depends on mastering a
specific situation involving three potentially
conflicting goals. The first of these is to survive
economically in the face of size and technol-
ogy-related cost disadvantages. The second is
to safeguard the social stability of the construct,
especially since non-hierarchical structures and
the need to coordinate informal workers can be
very time consuming, which reduces productiv-
ity. This problem increases with the number of
people to be coordinated, i.e., the size of the
CSA, which consequently cannot exceed a cer-
tain size. This in turn means that the minimum
size required to cover costs may not be achieved.
Should those involved consider implementing
processes of professionalization to resolve this
trade-off, the transformative character of the
CSA farm is in danger, because professionali-
zation usually means a return to hierarchical
another conference of the non-formal actor CSX network, which
seeks to transfer CSA ideas to other business sectors.
4
Being a multifunctional actor, CSAs’ value chains incorporate not
only food but also other “products”, such as education, as when
CSAs intentionally serve as a place of learning. In this case, schools
or other educational institutions can also be regarded as regional
partners in the value chain.
structures and a traditional business logic. Co-
operation can overcome this conflict by ena-
bling not just experiences to be shared but also
the procurement of otherwise cost-intensive ad-
visory services.
c) Developing | Development and innovation: The
joint development of new farm products as well
as the optimization of farming processes also
highlights the advantages of cooperation be-
tween CSAs and other transformative forms of
business. This can also mean establishing per-
manent regional supply networks based on the
presence of food providers and processors
whose activities complement one another mu-
tually. Joint public relations campaigns could
be another measure for a supply strategy to
strengthen organizational resilience. This also
requires those involved to join forces in favour
of radical transition in the agricultural sector.
(3) The form and degree of inter-organizational re-
lations may differ due to the concrete relationship
of the participating members, the amount of infor-
mation sharing, and the overall level of involve-
ment (Mittal et al. 2017). In contrast to market in-
teraction, long-term agreements involve direct re-
lationships, long-term and stable forms of interac-
tion, and a continuous process of direct communi-
cation (e.g. agreements about quality and fair pric-
ing for organic seed production and long-term sup-
ply).
Against this backdrop we propose the term
community supported cooperation (CSC) to refer
to a level of collaboration which may fully circum-
vent the market’s price mechanism. The actors in-
volved remain independent and do not pay for a
specific product, but jointly finance production
and also share the associated risks. We assume that
this kind of cooperation has the greatest transform-
ative potential for enacting the shift toward re-
gional resilience and food security. For this reason,
our study focuses especially on CSC relations by
presenting examples that are organized in this way.
Results
In the following, we analyse empirical observa-
tions within the organizational field of CSA. Alt-
hough cooperation is not yet a dominant strategy,
it is certainly an emerging phenomenon. We found
cases of vertical and horizontal cooperation be-
tween CSAs as well as cooperation between CSAs
and ASPs.
Vertical cooperation
Most CSA farms buy seeds from specialized trad-
ers with organic standards. Depending on the plant
type, many CSA farms (such as some in the federal
state of Hesse and some near Bremen) also manage
their own seed stock by producing seeds from the
previous generation of crops. In addition to these
common seed procurement methods of either
Fig. 1 The organizational field of CSA (authors’ illustration)
market interaction or individual seed production,
the German CSA network is in the process of set-
ting up a seed sharing system, organized as CSC
by and for the participating CSA projects. This po-
tentially lowers production costs and places a key
emphasis on greater sovereignty in farming. As
well as enabling farms to operate autonomously
from the seeds market, seed share systems are po-
tential hubs for higher levels of biodiversity in that
they encourage growers to conserve old varieties
and acquire seed production skills to develop new
CSA practices. Seed saving and sharing can be a
means to disseminate CSA principles along the
value chain, as the example of “community-based
plant breeding”, a form of open source seed pro-
duction, shows (Kotschi et al. 2020).
Another significant input to the value chain,
labour, is related to a further CSC model: several
CSA farms have formed regional networks that
provide self-organized, independent training in
vegetable growing. The trainees work on cooper-
ating farms and form annual training groups to
conduct modular seminars and exchange
knowledge. Conducted in cooperation with the na-
tional CSA network in Germany, this training is
organized by the trainees themselves in response
to a high demand for CSA qualified staff and ena-
bles the general development and diffusion of
CSA. Downstream operations in the value chain,
such as the processing or manufacturing of prod-
ucts, serve to diversify the range of products, to
preserve food for the off-season and to manage the
occasional case of over-production. Varieties of
pesto, jam and salsa are typically produced within
CSAs. In terms of inter-organizational relations,
bakery operations, for example, remain an excep-
tion. A farm in the Palatinate region that has be-
come a CSA already had its own bakery, which is
still partly separated from the CSA. This is neces-
sary because there is too much grain to supply
CSA members exclusively. Therefore, the bakery
additionally sells its products directly to consum-
ers. However, this apparently pure market ap-
proach has been slightly adapted by integrating
certain CSA-derived elements, namely, the bakery
provides bread exclusively on a pre-order basis
with specified weekly pick-up days. Thus, in addi-
tion to influencing the customers’ consumption be-
haviour, the bakery reduces its own operating costs
by being able to predict the required production
and by employing fewer staff.
In the region of Freiburg in the southwest-
ern corner of Germany, a CSA farm has imple-
mented CSC with a local community-supported
bakery, which provides a weekly share of bread to
their members. The CSA produces various types
of grain for the bakery at a fixed amount on an
agreed area, accounting for 80% of the CSA’s crop
production. Through this CSC the bakery can state
its preferences to the farmers regarding the types
of grain to be grown. In addition to gaining a reli-
able trading partner, the CSA farm benefits from
an additional element of financial security in the
case of crop failure. The community-supported
bakery benefits to some extent from the pick-up
point structures of CSAs in the region. In addition,
some of those involved work in both community-
supported organizations. This demonstrates the
synergy of actors and the potential of CSC within
local value chains and AFNs.
Horizontal cooperation
The spectrum of inter-organizational relations in
CSA ranges from market-based solutions to long-
term contracting and CSC endeavours such as
multi-farm CSA set-ups.
The rising number of CSAs in Germany
highlights the potential for expanding a CSA’s
product range by engaging in new forms of re-
gional cooperation. Many of these forms of coop-
eration fall short of our definition of CSC but
nonetheless use pragmatic ways of establishing
long-term agreements. Although there is still
hardly any cooperation in the area of production
among CSAs located near one another, we were
able to find one example. Here, two farms share
their machinery and food crates as well as, in some
cases, their workers without financial compensa-
tion and thus mutually strengthen their organiza-
tional resilience. A more common practice con-
sists in directing those interested in becoming a
member of one CSA to the neighbouring CSA if
the first one is unable to offer them membership.
This cooperative practice stabilizes the economic
viability of both CSA farms. In contrast to the prin-
ciples of solidarity found in CSAs, competitive re-
lations may also occur between them. One exam-
ple was a potential conflict in a part of northern
Germany in which a comparatively large CSA felt
threatened by a CSA start-up that intended to be-
come similarly large or even larger.
To illustrate multi-farm CSA set-ups, we
present two examples of CSC between several
farms forming a CSA, one near Kiel (northern Ger-
many) and one near Nuremberg (south-eastern
Germany). In the Kiel case, members receive a
range of products from several farms. The joint op-
erations of these farms are financed by a single
common solidarity-based pricing mechanism that
includes all the members. In the Nuremberg case,
the members themselves decide which products
they would like to receive in return for their finan-
cial contribution. The CSA merely provides the or-
ganizational framework in the form of an online
platform via which several local farmers offer their
products to the CSA community on the basis of
different partnership models.
After the initial start-up phase, the issue of
extending a CSA’s product range through cooper-
ation becomes increasingly relevant. In addition to
receiving their weekly share of the harvest, it is
common for several members of a CSA to jointly
order specific products such as coffee, cooking oils,
or even non-regional fruit through direct purchase
or via CSC. In the case of the CSA near Nurem-
berg, members can order products such as animal
skins or asparagus from specific local farmers and
citrus fruits from an Italian CSA. These orders
generally follow a market-based logic. However,
regular interaction and personal contact to the pro-
ducers reduces both sides’ dependency on fluctu-
ating market mechanisms. In addition to these spe-
cific purchases, the CSA has established a sub-
scription model for bread products by cooperating
with a local bakery. This demonstrates that CSA
does not rule out selective market interactions.
One of the organizers justifies this combination of
marked-based relations and a separate community-
supported structure in terms of the partnership be-
tween a CSA farm and a non-CSA business having
the potential to spread CSA principles more
widely.
Another CSA project near Stuttgart has im-
plemented a food co-op in the form of an online
shop exclusively for its members, involving a
long-term agreement between local farms and the
CSA members. In addition to the regular range of
vegetables they receive, all the CSA’s members
can buy additional products such as cereals, bread,
lamb meat or herbal teas from certain local farms
on a quarterly or monthly basis. In order to share
the risk collectively with the cooperating farmers,
additional products need to be ordered beforehand
and are available through the pick-up point struc-
ture on a specific date. Even though the
cooperating farmers do not distribute their prod-
ucts exclusively via this channel, they benefit
nonetheless from certain CSA principles: a more
stable income and a steadier demand that makes
production planning easier. This form of coopera-
tion through networking also helps CSA principles
to be diffused throughout the region.
Agricultural Service Providers (ASPs)
A third level of relevant interaction is the support
of institutions that can be described as agricultural
service providers, or ASPs. Our studies revealed a
broad range of ASPs that either serve or (from
the CSA practitioners’ point of view) should serve
CSAs. We highlight just a few of them as exam-
ples.
As a non-formal ASP, the German CSA net-
work offers largely free management consultancy,
arranges support in the case of specific challenges,
and facilitates contacts to longstanding pioneering
CSAs for the purpose of exchanging information
and gaining inspiration. Food policy councils are
also helpful partners when it comes to providing
coordination, networking, lobbying and initiating
services: they can facilitate dialogue and offer a
platform through which AFN-related actors such
as CSA farms gain greater publicity and attract
new members or consumers. We found a promis-
ing example of an ASP in western Germany,
known as Regionalwert, or “local value”. This or-
ganization promotes regional and organic busi-
nesses, mediating between local food initiatives
and ethically-oriented investors. It cooperates with
several CSAs in the region, supporting them in
various ways. With regard to the procurement of
resources, for example, Regionalwert organiza-
tions have become involved in (a) investment in
and leasing of land, (b) the provision of capital for
farm buildings or smaller investments such as
greenhouses, (c) support with staff recruitment,
and (d) the facilitation of pick-up points for mem-
bers. These measures, along with the dissemina-
tion of information through the Regionalwert net-
work, help to stabilize CSA operations. When a
CSA has harvest surpluses, the network is used to
advertise for new members. It serves as an inter-
mediary that sounds out potential partners for ver-
tical or horizontal cooperation. CSAs also benefit
from the public relations work done by Regional-
wert, which seeks to increase demand and to im-
prove regulatory conditions for local food provi-
sion. In terms of development and innovation, one
local Regionalwert organized a start-up process in
which an existing farm was reorganized to become
a CSA farm. This farm was supported through an
intensive consultation process. Holistic ap-
proaches of local ASPs such as Regionalwert are
still an exception. Nonetheless, they serve to man-
ifest the potential of co-creating entire regional
AFNs.
Discussion
In our study we assessed the potential of regional
cooperation to support the stabilization, diffusion
and development of CSA, assuming that this leads
in consequence to a greater degree of regional re-
silience, food security and food sovereignty. Our
findings show that there are significant and in-
creasing efforts among German CSAs to engage in
cooperative relations with other actors in their re-
gion. This finding is similar to those of other stud-
ies that have looked at the development of CSA in
other countries. Naturally, our study entailed a
number of methodological restrictions that need to
be discussed and considered when designing fur-
ther research.
Effects of regional cooperation
Our findings support previous research (Galt et al.
2012), namely, that inter-organizational exchange
enables a more comprehensive supply of food
products within CSA projects, making them more
attractive to (potential) members. Regarding prod-
uct diversification, on-farm production depends on
the CSA members’ willingness to cover the addi-
tional costs or engage in voluntary work. However,
the latter option generates internal transaction
costs (whether financial or otherwise) due to the
need for coordination. Our findings imply that
these additional transaction costs should not out-
weigh the cost savings of volunteer labour.
When a CSA farm cannot produce a sufficient
range of products for its members, sourcing prod-
ucts on the market is usually done only as a last
resort, because it is generally seen as contradictory
to the aim of overcoming market mechanisms. Co-
operation with other AFN-related producers there-
fore seems an obvious solution. Yet our study
shows that in many cases market-based relation-
ships still seem necessary. Further research is
needed to assess whether CSA members think this
corrupts the idea of CSA and should be avoided or
whether they see it as a “necessary evil” that helps
farms to survive.
Regarding the unique institutional arrange-
ments of CSAs, economic risks are shared among
the CSA’s members, whose financial contributions
(the farms’ revenue) are pledged in advance and
serve to secure the farms’ financial situation. Re-
markably, the same goes for CSC with other part-
ners along the value chain. This proves that risk-
sharing in the context of CSA occurs not only in
B2C but also in B2B partnerships.
Our findings also indicate that long-term
agreements tend to convert into CSC over time,
generating the most striking resilience-related im-
pact of regional cooperation. CSC enables produc-
tion that would otherwise be uncompetitive in the
free market. This applies, for example, to seed pro-
duction and traditional bakeries that source their
grain from local farms and are systematically dis-
placed by convenience bakeries supplied from out-
side the region. When CSC is not possible, the sec-
ond-best option seems to be some other way of
working together or even sourcing products from
the market, provided that this is done in a way that
does not fundamentally contradict the CSA con-
cept or alienate the members (some of whom may
cancel their membership).
It is possible to identify various functions of
ASPs in the CSA context: ASPs enable CSAs to
become established by providing land, capital,
(material) infrastructure, knowledge and public re-
lations support. They also help CSAs to handle is-
sues of organizational stability and to develop
themselves further by initiating dialogue within a
wider network. They also offer professional con-
sultation. However, it turns out that the ASPs (es-
pecially formally constituted ones) potentially
most suited to take on these roles do not yet do so.
Our findings indicate that support from formal
ASPs could potentially lift CSA out of its niche.
CSA cooperation outside Germany
Looking to the international context, examples of
regional cooperation through CSA are found in
many countries (European CSA Research Group
2016). At a time when the German CSA network
had not even been founded, the development of
CSA in the United States had advanced so far that
cooperation between several CSAs was widely
practised. A handbook for multi-farm CSAs was
published in 2010 to provide producers with the
“how-to’s and nuts and bolts of setting up and
operating a cooperative CSA” (Perry and
Franzblau 2010: 1). A historical view suggests that
regional cooperation is part of the core of the CSA
concept, as “[b]oth of the founding U.S. CSAs
were multifarmer operations, with several growers
working together on a shared piece of land” (Perry
and Franzblau 2010: 17). A 2012 study of horizon-
tal cooperation between several CSAs lists a vari-
ety of positive impacts: the ability to better meet
consumer needs, to stabilize farms, to foster re-
gional social cohesion and organic quality (Flora
and Bregendahl 2012). A more recent study of
CSA in the US shows that cooperation potentially
increases the distance between producers and con-
sumers (Woods et al. 2017). Finding ways to pre-
vent this loss of direct connection seems essential
for CSA farms engaging in regional cooperation.
Japanese CSA groups (known as teikei
farms) offer a surprising example of the possibili-
ties for horizontal cooperation. In the face of the
2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, teikei farms
found a way to “handle radiation risks through co-
operation from teikei partner farmers” (Kondoh
2015: 151).
Regarding the role of ASPs, the case of Aus-
tria provides an interesting example: “Since 2014
there is cooperation between the organic farmers’
association, Bio-Austria, and the federal govern-
ment of upper Austria to actively inform farmers
and consumers about alternative food networks
like foodcoops and CSAs” (European CSA
Research Group 2016: 14).
Limitations
Our research is subject to limitations. Qualitative
research provides no robust basis for fully repre-
sentative findings. Furthermore, we did not cap-
ture the entirety of CSAs in Germany, which fur-
ther reduces representativeness. In addition, our
sampling method of self-selection has the disad-
vantage that it only targets certain people and thus
does not allow for variance maximization (Patton
2002). However, it can be assumed that the large
number of surveys conducted in different contexts
sufficiently reduces this bias. Supplementary stud-
ies have already started, in particular a comprehen-
sive quantitative survey of all CSAs in collabora-
tion with the German CSA network. An additional
evaluation of the finalized framework by practi-
tioners is planned as well.
Finally, further research could usefully ex-
plore whether the inter-organizational
relationships we have examined can also be ap-
plied to cooperation with ASPs. Our research sug-
gests that inter-organizational cooperation pro-
motes greater regional resilience. It makes sense to
test this supposition by means of a quantitative
study of the ecological, social and economic ef-
fects of regional cooperation. The importance of
CSC should not be overestimated given that on-
farm production, regular buyer-seller relationships,
and long-term agreements are typically used to es-
tablish an acceptable range of products. Although
our research was less focused on continuing com-
petitive relationships, these are still relevant. Fur-
ther research based on studies in the US (Galt et al.
2016) could usefully supplement our analytical
framework.
Conclusion
Our analysis suggests that regional cooperation af-
fects the development and diffusion of CSA. It
promotes 1. its stabilization, 2. its diffusion, and 3.
a more extensive coverage of regional food supply.
In this way it contributes systematically to an in-
crease in regional resilience generally (considering
its effects on awareness-raising, social cohesion,
etc.) while specifically promoting food sover-
eignty in a qualitative sense and food security in a
quantitative sense.
Beyond normative orientations in terms of
ecology, social integrity, resilience and democratic
participation, the cooperative relationships in the
area of procurement highlighted in the present ar-
ticle open up two further economic perspectives.
At least in the food sector, a return to small and
decentralized structures of production seems pos-
sible. These have previously been associated with
models of perfect and atomistic competition. In the
context of the market economy, such cooperative
relationships have been ascribed a high welfare-in-
creasing impact based on the benchmark of effi-
ciency. Oligopolistic or monopoly markets, on the
other hand, have been said to have welfare-reduc-
ing tendencies due to cooperation (in particular
price and quantity agreements) being used to exer-
cise market power. Surprisingly, this dichotomy of
welfare and competition theory is turned on its
head twice by CSA: small production units are sys-
tematically predestined to establish cooperation in
order to survive, and at the same time this gener-
ates the highest conceivable welfare effects. Is it
possible that CSA constitutes a decentralized and
sustainable model of food provision that is not
only viable (despite its small production units) but
can also defy competitors by enabling cooperation
that acts as a substitute for economies of scale?
Thus, mutual cooperation as part of a network
could enable entrepreneurial “Davids” to success-
fully confront overpowering “Goliaths”. The fact
that more and more examples of CSC exist can in-
spire the emergence of new CSAs as well as closer
cooperation. This strategy is reproducible, yet de-
pends on idealistic individuals or groups capable
of putting the concept into practice despite the dif-
ficulties involved.
In addition, ASPs could act as promoters of
both the development of CSA and their mutual co-
operation. Chambers of Agriculture and similar
authorities could act as change agents to promote
emergence and diffusion processes, not only of
CSA in particular, but of AFNs in general. If (Eu-
ropean) agricultural policy were to focus on such a
strategy of small units, for example by financing a
network of ASPs, a resilient and sustainable food
supply might possibly be achieved with a fraction
of the current budget.
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Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter is about community building in sustainable food initiatives. As a key aspect of their visions, strategies and practices, transformative enterprises and initiatives, such as community-supported agriculture, urban gardening projects and food cooperatives, focusing on sustainable food production and consumption, have a strong interest in changing the anonymous role of the consumer into participatory involvement. This contribution underlines the importance of community building as a driving force in the transformation of the food system. To analyze the significance of community in local food enterprises, theoretical concepts such as the approach of post-traditional communities, the strategies-as-practice approach of strategic management and approaches of solidarity economics are used. Empirical data was collected (semi-structured interviews, participant observation, action research) and workshops conducted in collaboration with 27 practitioners from local food enterprises and initiatives in Germany. The interviews were subject to computer-aided qualitative text analysis while quantitative data was gathered from surveys of the members and customers of the enterprises. The findings point out how participation in transformative enterprises is based on new forms of creative doing and collaboration and which barriers and opportunities lay within them.
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