Article by Monika Onyszkiewicz, Fundacja Ekorozwoju

The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept came to Poland exactly 16 years ago, in February 2009 with a trio of emissaries sent to the Eastern Bloc countries by URGENCI Network. The group travelled from Poland (Wrocław), through the Czech Republic (Prague), then Hungary and Romania. Their task was to share their experiences with the people they met, to convey how such communities work in practice and the benefits they bring to farmers and consumers.

I had the pleasure of organizing such a meeting in the city of Wrocław. At that time, Fundacja Ekorozwoju (FER/ eng.Foundation for Sustainable Development) had been organising open-air EcoFairs twice a year, since 2001 and a group of people eager for regular access to good quality food and to get to know the face of the farmer was ready.

But what about the farmers? Farmers’ participation was lower than our appetite was ready for (we the “eaters») and, although the concept of risk sharing appealed, the openness in cooperation and openness to the group (finances, number of crops) it was difficult for them to understand it, let alone accept it. At that time, we decided – the eaters together with the farmers – that we would organize a Bazaar called ‘Short Distance’ every fortnight. This was the best solution! Εveryone had what they needed. The eaters-regular access to food and a relationship with the farmers, and the farmers independence, keeping their data in their own hands (how much was earned/ how much was lost/ how much was produced). The bazaar is still running today and is a wonderful community that we could talk about at length!

Today, after several years, we can admit that the CSA model is much better known, but the number of CSAs still fluctuates around 15 groups using the name. Not enough for so many years of spreading the word and the model all over Europe and especially in Central Europe.  If the groups that were formed and then closed after a season or two are to be counted , we would reach around 25 initiatives.

Is this a cause for concern? It is difficult to say, because, on the one hand, the situation is similar in neighbouring countries – Hungary, Romania or the Czech Republic. There is therefore a historical impediment to entering groups where trust is the basis. On the other hand, each group has a unique story. There is a long-established CSA, where the rotation from season to season is about 30% newcomers, 70% the existing ones. The oldest group is now starting its 10th season, while this year the CSA established at Wrocław University of Life Sciences will begin its third season. There, the farmer is the employer itself, as the university has its own fields and the crops are distributed to the employees. Another CSA delivers to a group of almost 500 families every week! These are the true pioneers of the solidarity economy in practice, although the operating formulas and the degree of involvement of members also vary. Certainly, the issue of solidarity, of inclusivity for those with different financial means, is a topic for the future, although there is hope – two groups are using a bidding round to shape the price for the weekly delivery.

Certainly, there is still much more demand from “eaters” than the offer from the farmers, however, my current conversations with farmers running CSA groups indicate that the most important thing now is to focus on supporting farmers and professionals – agricultural advisors are needed as well as working with experts in education so that the next generation of farmers comes out with up-to-date knowledge regarding agriculture, agroecology, different food distribution models such as the aforementioned CSA model.  With this intention, in 2021, together with the Ecological Folks School in Grzybów, we co-authored an application to the Ministry of Labour to establish a new professional qualification as a CSA group advisor. Everything is on track, initially the application has been well evaluated. In the future, the new qualification will make it possible to enter the formal curriculum in technical (for farmers) schools, Universities (economics or life sciences) with a food distribution model where the aspect of attentiveness to the community and relationships is at the forefront. Wasting no time, we are already organising, together with the Folk’s School, a course for CSA group advisor: the first edition was in November 2022 and the second in February 2024. The participants are courageous individuals ready to bring change to their community. After the first edition the new CSA pop-up and today starts the second season.

Although the Polish path of CSA development seems modest in numbers and historically, we have had an uphill struggle and believe me, we are full of  strength and hope for the future!

Information about dissemination project led by URGENCI in 2008-2009:
Report on the 1st CSA advisory training in Poland: (in Polish)
Ecological Folks High School: