Supermarket shelves have looked a little rarer than usual in the last few weeks. With a shortage of seasonal workers to pick our fruits and vegetables and restrictions on the borders, there is great tension on the supply chains that feed the EU.
To try and fill the gaps in our weekly store, many use unexpected free time to reevaluate their own gardens as a potential food source. During locking, interest in ‘developing your own’ has increased click on the page that offers advice on the topic more than doubled on the Royal Horticultural Society’s website.
Growing your own vegetables is good, but not all of us have the time or space to do it. For those confined to flats in the center of the city, local efforts are limited to balcony projects and small windows. A lack of green space can make us feel detached from the natural processes that help fill our refrigerators with fresh fruits and vegetables. However, that doesn’t have to mean limiting our choices to what’s left in the aisle of fresh produce.
This necessity has increased our awareness of options that place us in closer relations with farmers in our community, which means that a pandemic can offer radical opportunities for change. The Food Foundation found that Sale of vegetable boxes every week has increased 111 percent in the last few weeks produced around 3.5 million boxes shipped in the UK alone. With increasing interest in locally produced food, the post-COVID future is likely to discourage consumers from returning to their original state.
Vegetable boxes are only one part of something called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This is loosely defined as a partnership that shares the responsibilities, risks and benefits of growing food between farmers and consumers. Groups that organize to democratize production and bring small farms to all types of communities use CSA as a way to make fresh food grown sustainably accessible to everyone. Even those without privileges have their own green space.
Fresh fruits and vegetables straight to your door
Usually operating at a very local scale, community-supported agricultural projects produce most of the fruit and vegetables – but some also provide milk, honey and meat directly from farmers. For most people, participating can mean anything, from working on a shared plot of land to registering to a subscription box or taking part in a community-owned farm.
Often, exactly how the CSA scheme works is determined by the culture of the community on which it is based, with all kinds of interesting operations popping up all over Europe. There is tremendous flexibility in what the project can be but the main goal is to erase the many steps between agriculture and dishes that come from the practices of modern industrial agriculture.
Eight years ago in the UK, CSA Network was launched to support a scheme that helped bring farmers and their communities together. Now, two-thirds of members in the UK are supplied with all or almost all of their vegetables by these projects and more than 70 percent of the people involved reported that it improved their quality of life, changing their cooking and eating habits for the better.
Perhaps the most striking benefit, especially during a global crisis, is that local agriculture is often more reliable than the industrial food chain. By avoiding all the packaging and processing that brings imported food from warehouses to supermarket shelves, placing food directly into consumers’ hands means less impact on availability when an event such as an international pandemic occurs.
One farm in Cambridge brings people together
Existing programs have experienced a boom during the health crisis but some have started specifically to use the motivation of newly discovered people to get involved with growing food. David Walston runs a 900 hectares of agriculture south of Cambridge, England, and starting CoVeg just as distancing social measures took place in Britain as a way to combat potential food shortages during a pandemic.
“I have been thinking of doing something similar for a number of years, this is just the kick I need,” Walston told Living Europe. “Also, as soon as I came up with a name I thought it would be embarrassing not to use it!”
Walston added that as a farmer he has specific assets that are not available to most people. “As we all strive to unite at this point in time, I think that if I contribute in these fields, it will give good praise to the community by providing the time needed, the end result will be positive for all involved. “
At present, there are two sites, one of which operates more conventionally with different plants in a separate area and ‘Chaos Park’. Here a variety of plants are planted together to be harvested when ready, allowing the plot to develop throughout the season with various plants taking over at different times. Increased biodiversity encourages pollinating insects to visit and can even help prevent pests that can destroy plants. This is also a good way to use leftover seeds.
“We are trying to get local people involved in understanding food production,” he explained, “hopefully producing a surplus that can be distributed to those in need in the surrounding area.” Like most community agriculture projects, CoVeg operates on a very small scale and food output is likely not too large. However, there are other, more “subtle” benefits, such as getting people out, teaching new skills and being involved in stimulating work.
“It also doesn’t hurt to make more people aware of what goes into producing food, and has an appreciation for the problems and awards associated with it.”
Walston farmers hope that the interest in volunteering for this project will continue in the future. With limited time and energy, he wants to be independent in the future.
“I would like to think that CoVeg will succeed and people will want to continue after the COVID threat disappears. I have no specific expectations for this program, besides I want people to take something positive from it, and have the desire to keep going. “