CSA conference 2013 in Stroud
After meeting many inspirational CSAs (Community-Supported Agriculture projects) at my visit to the Eastern Region CSA gathering in June I was excited about the prospect of catching up with some familiar faces as well as a whole bunch of other projects at the National Conference in December, so me and Helen booked ourselves tickets to the conference and the train to Stroud, a place neither of us had visited before.
A whole bunch of kind Stroudians had offered homestays, and after a few phone calls we managed to get rooms with Aulani, a lovely Hawaiian lady and her family (and puppy!- see below).
Aulani’s husband Simon works for Stroud-based green electricity company Ecotricity, so our first stop was their office in the centre of town to meet up with him, our fellow lodger Noemi from Romania.
Noemi and ourselves decided to cook dinner for our hosts as a small thank-you, with our very own tasty CropShare veg of course:
A few weeks before the conference Ben Raskin from the Soil Association asked us whether we’d like to speak at his workshop called Volunteers – how to catch, keep and inspire them, which we happily obliged to.
Of course we didn’t manage to finish our presentation until the morning of the conference, so we decided to put the finishing touches on the presentation over breakfast at the lovely Star Anise Cafe, one of two vegetarian (well, technically pescetarian) cafés in Stroud.
After coffee, tea and a welcome speech by the conference’s chair Phil Haughton (Better Food Company), science writer and broadcaster Colin Tudge gave a passionate and inspiring talk about resilience, the ‘Agrarian Renaissance‘ and why agriculture needs community support:
Next up was Rupert Dunn of the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens to officially launch the brand new Community Supported Agriculture UK Network- exciting stuff! This will link together all existing UK CSA projects and provide support for up and coming projects too. See Tony Little’s (see him at the laptop controls in the photo below!) blog on the network launch here.
We then had Traci Lewis, Soil Association and Jade Bashford, Community Land Advisory Service to help us as a whole group think about how we could grow the CSA UK movement. Its pretty exciting to be involved at this stage – were getting the ball rolling!
We then heard great stories from 3 very different UK CSAs…
Our mate Joanne Mudhar, Oak Tree Low Carbon Farm talked about the importance of community and companionship in a CSA. Oh and fishermen’s gloves. (Neoprene gloves are the warmest when harvesting in a cold winter!)
It was great to hear from Nikki Giles of FlintShare how their CSA had won the fight against bracken and were planning to inspire and train many more CSAs in their area of Wales.
Vegetable-based entertainment came next! Really funny pair of jugglers plus vegetables – a winner!
Naturally, when they asked for a volunteer, Helen was right in there. Little did she know that they would swap the leeks for real knives! Judging by the jugglers faces they didn’t seem too sure this was a good idea either, but brave Helen carried on smiling in the face of death or worse!
Luckily neither the leeks or Helen were harmed, although the former didn’t have much time to rejoice as it was just about time for lunch, so they shared the fate of their numerous other vegetable brethren.
After lunch there was a live Skype link-up with Paula Lukats from Just Food NYC, who provide a link between CSAs, farmers’ markets and box schemes on a much larger scale. Sadly I only caught half of it, as we had to prepare for our workshop, which was due to start next.
See our power point here.
It was great to present with Ben Raskin and the whole room had a lively discussion on that key part of CSAs – our members. We learnt lots!
The evening saw us chilling out at the conference social at Stroud Brewery. We were lucky enough to have a tour of their site with Greg Pilling and scoff stone-baked sourdough pizza in their outdoor covered beer garden, absolutely great 🙂
And look what we came home to…. our homestay’s gorgeous fox terrier puppy Lono -AWWWWW!
Day 2 started with a much anticipated tour of Stroud Community Agriculture at their Hawkwood College site. This is one of two sites, and has lovely free draining Cotswold brash land over limestone in contrast to their more heavy clay soil down the hill at their other site which caused trouble for their 2012 potato harvest. Poor guys! CropShare have it pretty lucky on our relatively quick draining Cambridgeshire fenland.
Stroud CSA have winter polytunnel salad growing pretty much sussed. Plenty of tasty and unusual (Sea plantain anyone? yum yes please!) leaves, all healthy looking and green and upright keeping the pizazz in members veg boxes from now right through the hungry gap. Although established initially with irrigation, now in December all seep hoses had been removed and plants will survive the winter having gotten good roots down into the chalky soil, and not get too lush or carried away to encourage disease and pests. Very cool and inspiring for us!
Then on to what we’d all been waiting for… tasting some of the mighty fine veg cooked up into a delicious lunch. What a treat- thanks very much Stroud CSA and Hawkwood College!
We also came across the Stroud Pound, the local currency! Wish we could get a Cambridge pound and buy local organic veg with it…anyone?
Sadly it was then time to say bye to our new pals and head to the train station for the journey home, stopping only briefly to pose with the street drinking law sign and a bottle of Stroud Brewery’s finest.
Massive thanks to Rachel Harries and all who organised a fantastic conference. Roll on CSA UK Network and the 2014 conference!
See more on the 2013 conference here, including more links and info http://www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture/conference/agenda