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Our Voices - International CSA Symposium 9Print

Food & Farming | March 8, 2010 | By Jim Sluyter

Andrea Calori, of Milan Polytechnic, told an international symposium that Italy’s approach to CSA’s is quite broad, and includes products that have little to do with farming.

Andrea Calori is a quietly passionate man. One of his passions is to rebuild the local economies in Italy. His tone is quiet and subdued. His message, which he brought to last month’s International Symposium on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), in Kobe, Japan, is bold and progressive.

In Italy, they call CSA Gruppo di Acquisto Solidale, or GAS (brush up on your Italian on your way to the Web site). That loosely translates as “agreements for group purchase”; GAS groups are forming all over Italy. My notes are a little sketchy on this, but I am pretty sure these groups started out concentrating on community supported agriculture, but have grown since then. In fact, when I typed the Italian phrase into Google translate (one of my Internet friends during this trip to Japan, along with another site, Free Translation.com) “community supported agriculture” popped out as the translation!

GAS takes community support and local economics to a whole new level, and Mr. Calori is one of its champions.

“Local partnerships care for the local dimension and reproduction of heritage,” Mr. Calori maintains. “‘Territorial added value’ leads to social, economic, and environmental self-sustainability.”

What he is suggesting is a re-ordering of local economies that do not look at territories (or, more broadly, the environment) as resources to be exploited, but as a cultural heritage to be maintained or rebuilt.

“Local is a way of thinking, not a geographical dimension,” Mr. Calori suggests, neatly sidestepping the whole discussion of just how big the local “circle” should be.  The most important step, he believes, is to empower people and networks within the community.

GAS groups link up 10 to 80 families into sort-of buying clubs. It may have started with food purchases, as through a CSA or other direct food-purchasing setups. But it did not take long for these groups to look at a wider spectrum of goods and services in the same way. GAS groups consider clothes, services, “ethical finance” (a broad range of small-scale, socially screened investment and financing opportunities), “time banks” (a sort of local barter based on time, not currency), and more as appropriate ways to support each other and the local economy.

The first GAS group appeared in 1994, and within a couple years a national network formed, giving these groups a loose organizational structure. Now the network recognizes over 600 GAS groups in Italy. Mr. Calori is convinced that there are hundreds more groups that are not quite cohesive enough to be counted.

I think it would be a really nifty thing for this to catch on back here in the U.S.A. sort of like CSA has.

Lots of CSA farms in the U.S. and elsewhere are finding ways to incorporate more food options into their share. Many are expanding the seasons they can provide produce. A few talk about other products. I think it would be really interesting to see what would happen if their members got together to buy other stuff.

Jim Sluyter leads the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Get Farming! project. He recently returned from Kobe, Japan, where he attended the International Symposium on Community Supported Agriculture, produced by the international group URGENCI. Reach him at jimsluyter@mlui.org.