How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (2024)

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (1)

To achieve a sustainable and fair world for all, large-scale societal transformations are necessary. “That’s something everyone can agree on,” says Giuseppe Feola, Associate Professor of Social Change for Sustainability at Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development. “Destructive interaction with the natural environment is now recognized as a characterizing trait of modern capitalist societies, not simply an unfortunate side effect”.

Unmaking, a concept penned by Feola in 2019, describes processes that deliberately ‘make space’ for alternative ways of living, working and interacting with our environment that do not fit with how our current capitalist society is organized. This could be through directly confronting the system, or by finding ways to work outside of it. “The working hypothesis is that the unmaking of unsustainable practices is necessary to create sustainable, post-capitalist societies,” he explains.

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (2)

In 2019 Feola won an ERC Starting Grant and NWO Vidi to study the process of unmaking and learn from real-world examples to help understand how it could play a role in the large-scale social changes needed to reach a sustainability society. The UNMAKING project uses grassroots Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives across Europe—initiatives in which farmers and local communities work together, sharing risks and cutting out market exchanges and ensuring access to local, ecologically sustainable healthy food—to study this.

So how might unmaking help us break free from the modern, capitalist institutions and practices at the core of today’s societies? We asked the five PhD researchers on the project to give us a peek into their research.

Leonie Guerrero Lara – “Building alliances with other movements could help bring about societal change”

Leonie Guerrero Lara is trying to understand how social movements like CSAs become and function as political actors in the transformation to a society beyond capitalism. How are different identities, beliefs, actions and struggles negotiated within CSA movements and how does this influence their ability to produce political change?

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (3)

Her research in Italy and Germany highlights the diversity within CSA movements and how this influences their relationship toward capitalist institutions and practices. "Every CSA is different, which materialises in their everyday practices and ways of organising ,” explains Guerrero Lara. For example, some German CSAs explicitly question the capitalist system, while others shy away from experimenting with post-capitalist practices or rhetoric. “These different attitudes and practices make it difficult for the CSA movement as a whole to embrace an explicitly anti-capitalist stance,” she reflects.

“And while the CSA model offers small-scale farmers a way to survive within a capitalist agrifood system,” she continues, “initiatives struggle within capitalist societies and their structural constraints”. For instance, the CSA model is susceptible to co-optation by big food system players like supermarkets. In Germany, Guerrero Lara has seen the movement take steps to protect itself from this by trademarking the German term for CSA. “Next to this, building alliances with movements such as degrowth, which challenge the inherent flaws of capitalist society, could help CSA movements to flourish and bring about societal change”.

Laura van Oers – “Sustainability transitions require unlearning practices and beliefs around how we organise our food systems”

“There is increasing government action on phase-out and sustainability, says Laura van Oers. “However, it is also important to look at how we can transform the deeply ingrained ways we think and act”. Van Oers is exploring how unmaking works, and whether and how it makes space for alternatives. “A key concept in this is unlearning: letting go or relaxing the rigidities of previously held assumptions and beliefs”.

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (4)

Grassroots initiatives such as CSA are increasingly understood as spaces of possibilities where members learn about and within post-capitalism. “I propose that they also offer opportunities for unlearning,” she explains. Her research has traced the transition from consumer to CSA member and the processes of unlearning that are set in motion. What does membership entail? In what ways are individuals encouraged to challenge and let go of capitalist assumptions about payment schemes, third-party certification, or the relationship between consumer and producer?

“More than a study of what is unlearned, I am trying to conceptualise how processes of unlearning occur in these spaces,” she says. “Through unlearning we can break free from our emotional, financial, and cultural ties to things that are unsustainable and unfair”.

Jacob Smessaert – “Undemocratic farming leads to the exploitation of nature”

Capitalism structures organizations in a hierarchical way, putting power in the hands of a few individuals. These undemocratic aspects often lead to individualism and promote the exploitation of nature for profit. Jacob Smessaert’s research is looking at how grassroots agriculture collectives are developing new forms of democracy that resist the destruction of the environment and create more equal and just futures.

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (5)

“I use the term democratic praxis to describe different types of collective action that aim to replace capitalist power relations”, he explains. “This praxis not only covers new ways of decision-making and power distribution, but also resistance to ecological destruction.” In his research Smessaert mapped efforts within three farming collectives across Western Europe to build community and collectively deal with disagreements and internal conflict. “I also explored how they include non-human actors, such as soil and animals, in their decision-making processes”.

He finds the third point especially interesting. “I see many examples of collaborations between humans and non-humans in practice, for example in regenerative farms and holistic forest management. This goes against the idea that society is separate from nature, and that we must choose between protecting nature or exploiting it for profit,” he says. "It also makes us think about the different possibilities of creating new political communities that do not only comprise humans and their interests, but also those of other species and beings”.

Guilherme Raj – “Unbalanced power relations are at the foundation of unsustainable agriculture”

“Like most of my colleagues, I investigate real-life attempts to unmake capitalism in grassroots community-supported agriculture initiatives,” says Guilherme Raj. CSA initiatives provide possibilities for farm owners, employees, and consumer-members to do things differently and negotiate their own, often less hierarchical internal organization and operations. “These micro-politics can help us understand the potential of grassroots action to reconfigure unbalanced power relations at the foundation of unsustainable capitalist agri-food systems—such as unequal decision-making power prescribed to those who work and those who own the land”.

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (6)

One of the focal points of Raj’s PhD has been how power influences the way post-capitalist work relations are formed in three CSA initiatives in Portugal. "These initiatives create, or make various ways of working between farm owners, employees and consumer-members”. Examples include participatory mechanisms to collectively negotiate and organise task distribution and creating synergies between members and the farm to enhance the quality of volunteer work.

Raj has found that as they currently stand, CSAs unmake to only a limited extent the hierarchal, exploitative, and discriminatory ways of working that exist in the capitalist organisation of the farming sector. “Remarkably, the power to decentralise responsibilities and hold members accountable for CSA operations is often centralised on farm owners,” he explains. “The Portuguese CSA initiatives I studied insufficiently problematize this centralisation of decision-making power, which has in turn reinforced hierarchal ties and hindered the empowerment of those who financially support and work on, but not owned the land.”

Julia Spanier – “Agricultural grassroots action can shape a different kind of countryside”

Julia Spanier investigates the impact of CSA initiatives on the countryside and city-countryside relations. “Researching CSA initiatives in different rural areas in Germany, I see how they have the potential to stimulate and reinforce changes in the villages in which they are based: changes within, but also beyond the agricultural realm that at times unmake predominant capitalist and conservative institutions,” she explains. “For instance, they sometimes revive non-capitalist convivial practices that used to exist in villages, like shared orchards and non-monetary exchange. Or they fight racism and exclusionary structures in the countryside, such as by struggling against the far-right.”

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (7)

However, Spanier has found that not all CSAs engage so deeply with their rural surroundings. “They are just one actor attempting to shape rural areas, sometimes at odds with the intentions of other rural dwellers”, she observes. “In one of my case-studies I saw how the creation of a CSA initiative challenged perceptions of how a village is supposed to look. The CSA’s plot of land was considered an embarrassment to the village. It was not neat enough.” For Spanier this is not surprising: “Capitalism has slowly expelled small-scale farming from the life of the average rural dweller and has instead created few, large-scale agricultural businesses and transformed many villages into mere commuter towns or sanitized rural idylls.” And yet, this is where she identifies the disruptive potential of CSAs: “They can disrupt this process and create another kind of rurality”.

Unmaking for sustainability

So is capitalism already being unmade by grassroots CSA initiatives, and do they hold the potential to lead societal transformation? For Feola, these collective initiatives are charting new territory by putting into practice and politicising ‘alternative’ ways of organising society that challenge the traditional capitalist system. “While societal change in CSA initiatives is most often tentative, imperfect, and fragile, they concretely show how the relationship between humans and nature can be rearticulated to regenerate as well as sustain human and non-human life on this planet”.

Further reading

Guerrero Lara, L., van Oers, L., Smessaert, J., Spanier, J., Raj, G., Feola, G., (2023).Degrowth and Agri-Food Systems: A Research Agenda for the Critical Social Sciences.Sustainability Science.

Feola, G., Koretskaya, O., Moore, D., 2021.(Un)making in sustainability transformation beyond capitalism.Global Environmental Change69, 102290.

Feola, G., 2020.Capitalism in sustainability transitions research: Time for a critical turn?Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions35, 241-250.

Feola., G., 2019.Degrowth and the unmaking of capitalism: beyond ‘decolonization of the imaginary’ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies18(4), 977-997.

Koretskaya, O., Feola, G., 2020.A framework for recognizing diversity beyond capitalism in agri-food systems.Journal of Rural Studies20, 302-313.

Van Oers, L., Feola, G., Moors, E., Runhaar, H., 2021.The Politics of Deliberate Destabilisation for Sustainability Transitions.Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions40, 159-171.

Van Oers, L., Feola, G., Runhaar, H., Moors, E., 2023.Unlearning in sustainability transitions: Insight from two Dutch community-supported agriculture farms.Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions46, 100693.

Raj, G., Feola, G., Hajer, M., Runhaar, H., 2022.Power and empowerment of grassroots innovations for sustainability transitions: A review.Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions43, 375-392.

Smessaert, J., Feola, G., (2023).Beyond statism and deliberation: questioning ecological democracy through eco-anarchism and cosmopolitics.Environmental Values.

Spanier, J., Feola,G.2022.Nurturing the post-growth city: bringing the rural back in.In: Savini, F., Ferreria, A., von Schönfeld, K. C. (Eds.) Post-Growth Planning:cities beyond themarketeconomy. Routledge, 159-172.

How Community Supported Agriculture unmakes capitalism: from grassroots action to societal change (2024)


How does community supported agriculture affect agriculture? ›

CSA helps community farmers earn more for their crops, as more food is being produced and purchased locally within the community. Local farmers also have the long-term opportunity to expand their market and sell their crops regionally.

What is the community supported agriculture social movement? ›

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), one type of direct marketing, consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits ...

How did the development of agriculture bring change to human society? ›

The development of agricultural about 12,000 years ago changed the way humans lived. They switched from nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles to permanent settlements and farming.

What is an example of community supported agriculture? ›

Producers offer baskets with the farm's produce to any interested consumer (consumers are not organized, but have individual contracts with the farmer). The baskets with vegetables and/or fruits are delivered to consumers on a regular basis.

What are the cons of community supported agriculture? ›

Con: You have to spend it all at once.

Unfortunately, there is no refund for missed weeks at most CSAs, so if your schedule is unpredictable, you could lose out a lot. Appoint a neighbor or friend to take produce in your place, especially if you're away on vacation - they don't have to show ID to eat your food.

What are the impacts of agriculture to the society? ›

Agriculture impacts society in many ways, including: supporting livelihoods through food, habitat, and jobs; providing raw materials for food and other products; and building strong economies through trade.

What are three societal effects agricultural practice has on society? ›

Societal effects of agricultural practices include changing diets, role of women in agricultural production, and economic purpose.

Which best describes a community supported agriculture program? ›

AI-generated answer

The statement that best describes Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is "D. local farms that sell produce directly to subscribed consumers."Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a system of farming that connects consumers directly to local farmers.

What are the origins of community supported agriculture? ›

The U.S. impulse came from Europe, and specifically from the biodynamic agricultural tradition. The ideas that informed the first two American CSAs were articulated in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), and then actively cultivated in post-WW II Europe in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

What important social impact did the rise of agriculture have? ›

When early humans began farming, they were able to produce enough food that they no longer had to migrate to their food source. This meant they could build permanent structures, and develop villages, towns, and eventually even cities. Closely connected to the rise of settled societies was an increase in population.

What are three major changes that the Agricultural Revolution brought to human society? ›

The agricultural revolutions affected how people worked and got their food. The first caused people to grow crops and raise animals for food. The second caused people to move into cities and work in factories. The third led to an increase in human population.

How did the Agricultural Revolution impact society and change lives? ›

The agricultural revolution had a variety of consequences for humans. It has been linked to everything from societal inequality—a result of humans' increased dependence on the land and fears of scarcity—to a decline in nutrition and a rise in infectious diseases contracted from domesticated animals.

Why is community-supported agriculture important? ›

CSA programs may help strengthen and improve local and regional food systems and contribute to greater food system sustainability20. CSA programs offering sustainably produced, seasonal food may reduce emissions from fossil fuels used to produce, process, and transport food21, 22, 23.

What are examples of community agriculture? ›

Community gardens, rooftop farms, hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic facilities, and vertical production, are all examples of urban agriculture. Tribal communities and small towns may also be included.

What are the trends in community supported agriculture? ›

New products, season extension, multi-farm collaborations, new shareholder groups, marketing collaborations with different organizations, innovative aggregation and delivery strategies, new urban production connections, and health and wellness alliances are among the current trends reshaping the CSA business.

What is the importance of community in agriculture? ›

Communities are places where the farmers can connect, offer and seek support, and enhance their sense of belongingness. This is especially important in helping farmers endure environmental and economic hardships.

What are the environmental benefits of CSA? ›

There are a lot of environmental benefits of CSA programs. You can lower CO2 emissions by limiting transport and long distance refrigeration, plus local farms will almost always produce less groundwater pollution. Removing the middle-man also allows eliminates packaging needs.

How do CSAs influence our access to healthy food? ›

CSA programs provide members with a box or a “share” of goods including fresh, local produce and other farm products. A mobile market serves as a consolidated farmers market that can be transported in a vehicle to food deserts, low-income communities, and areas with limited fresh, healthy food options.

How does agriculture affect the local communities? ›

Investing in sustainable agriculture has several positive social impacts. It supports local communities by creating employment opportunities and improving livelihoods. It also promotes food security by ensuring access to nutritious food.

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