Changing our relationship to food and our local economy through Community Supported Agriculture?
Cloughjordan Community Farm, in County Tipperary, Ireland, was established in 2009 by a diverse group of people who felt passionately about growing their own food. Many of them had moved to the area to build their homes in Cloughjordan Ecovillage, a pioneering project committed to ‘building sustainable community’.
“We called a town meeting and invited everyone who was interested to come along and look at ‘could we do this, could we make this farm happen’,” says Wendy Bailey, a musician and primary school teacher who has been involved since the beginning.
“The initial motivation was wanting to grow our own food, not wanting it to come from miles across the world. Also having a connection with the people who grow our food, to have control over saving seeds, and providing local employment.”
It is Ireland’s largest example of a CSA farm. CSA is an alternative socioeconomic model of agriculture and food distribution that allows the producers and wider community to share the risks of farming and to secure local access to healthy, organic food.
Finding land and a suitable farmer, and raising capital funds were some of the initial challenges faced by the group.
“Initially we had 40 households who each paid €20 per week for a year. We didn’t have vegetables at that stage so it was used for buying equipment and seeds and getting land. At first, we rented a 12-hectare farm 2 km out of town,” explains Wendy. The group also secured a loan from an ethical bank.
Later on, land in the ecovillage was made available and after a number of years managing two sites, the Community Farm moved solely to the ecovillage land.
The Farm now has over 90 members, each subscribing €15 per week. It employs two farmers and two volunteer coordinators who manage eight long term volunteers as part of the European ERASMUS+ programme. There’s a monthly farm coordination meeting to set overall strategy and ensure cohesion between different areas of activity.
These are the problems CCF are responding to:
Environmental impact of industrialised food systems
Social disconnection and lack of rural jobs
Poor health – due to poor access to healthy food
Vulnerability of long supply chains – lack of local food security
The land is farmed according to organic principles and agroecology with the goal of providing nutritionally rich food, grown in healthy, nutrient rich soil that conserves water and minimises carbon emissions. The Farm also supports the creation of other land-based livelihoods and provides educational opportunities in sustainable food production, healthy and seasonal eating and the place of regenerative agriculture in local communities.
“It’s all about getting together, working together and supporting each other – creating the future that you want,” says Wendy.
We have recently developed the GROW Hub, a new education and social farming area where an education programme is delivered and where we facilitate marginal groups in CCF’s social farming programme – bringing the experience of food production to marginalised social sectors.
At the annual ‘Feeding Ourselves’ conference the CCF organized with Cultivate just a week before the COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020, we introduced the Open Food Network, a digital platform that allows small producers to maintain and grow markets while also giving people ways to source their food directly from growers, farmers, and producers. With other farms, markets and cooperatives we have now progressed setting up OFN in Ireland and are developing a local hub in Cloughjordan as a model Open Market in North Tipperary.