By Kirra Grimes
LOCAL sheep and beef farmer Sally Ruljancich is pioneering a new model of farming in Australia, with the creation of the country’s first Community Supported Agriculture Network.
Sally, who runs a certified organic sheep and beef farm at Dollar with her husband Colin Trudgen, recently co-founded the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Network Australia New Zealand to support existing and emerging CSA farms, and make it easy for consumers to find them.
“There have been CSAs in Australia for a number of years, some very successful, and we [Sally and CSA Network co-founder Joel Orchard] thought it was the right time in the local food movement in our region to bring together the people who are perhaps operating in isolation to other small-scale producers.
“If we speak with one voice, we can really champion the model of Community Supported Agriculture.
“The network can also be an educational platform to increase the customer base of CSAs,” says Sally, whose own farm adopted the CSA model in January 2017.
Since then, two other local farms – Amber Creek Farm and Sawmill, and Mirboo Pastured Poultry – have followed suit.
But if you’ve never heard of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), you’re not alone.
Originating in North America in the 1980s, the movement has only just started to take off in Australia.
It’s is essentially a business model where customers buy shares in a season or harvest. Customers pay an upfront subscription fee, which helps cover farmers’ costs over the year, and in return receive a share of the produce.
The CSA model means customers take part in the risks and rewards of farming: in a bad year, they’ll receive less produce, but in a good year they’ll get more for no extra cost.
So far, there are 26 Australian farms registered with the newly launched network (plus two in New Zealand), and with more and more people becoming interested in ‘conscientious consumption’, that number is expected to grow.
“For the community of conscientious consumers of food, this is one of the best ways to know where and how their food is grown,” says Sally.
Sally says there are many benefits of CSA farming, including surety of sales, regular income, increased security to plan for crops/harvests/breeding, and a community of consumers who have committed to take part of the harvest of your farm.
“Buying direct from a farmer is wonderful, but with a CSA commitment, those consumers really feel like they are farming with you, and sharing some of the risks and rewards of the harvest,” she says.
“It connects consumers, more fully, to their food, and fosters appreciation for just what it takes, socially, environmentally, physically, for an item of produce to go from your farm, to their fork.
“For me, through Colin and Sally’s Organic Lamb and Beef, it has brought us closer to our customer base, freed me up from marketing our product, and created a steadier flow of income from our farm.”
Tracey Ingham bought a small share in lamb from Colin and Sally last year, and has increased that share this year, as well as buying a share in pork from Amber Creek Farm.
“I want to know where my food’s coming from, and this way, I know who my farmers are, I can talk to them… And especially with what’s been happening with live export, I know that the wellbeing of the animals that I’m going to eat has been a priority to these farmers.
“They’re healthy animals, they’re well cared for. If we’re going to eat animals, I want it to be as ethical as it possibly can.”
Tracey says it’s an easy way to shop, and she also appreciates the ‘whole-animal’ approach to butchery taken by many CSA farmers – including Colin and Sally, and Amelia Bright at Amber Creek – with everything from to rib-eye to the bones structured into the CSA offerings to the consumer, meaning there is no waste.