CSA is an economic model of agriculture which involves a more traditional, local form of exchange. The local community shares risk along with the farmer. Members provide money to the farmer. The farmer uses the money to buy what is necessary to sow and sustain her crop so that she can continue to be a farmer. At the end of the season, the crop is shared among the members and members are asked to contribute to sustain the farmer for another season. Money is not provided to the farmer for the goal of making profit, but to sustain a human need-- to eat.
When social groups formed and were able to produce more than enough food for the community, the division of labor became more complex giving rise to the traditional farmer. People were no longer required to share the role of providing the necessities to human life (food, water, and shelter). The farmer emerged to fulfill the social role of providing food to the community, giving the opportunity for the development of teachers and tool makers.
Whereas the toolmaker works with stone to make commodities such as arrows, the farmer works with nature to make the commodity of food. According to Marx (1867) a commodity is an object that satisfies a human want or need. A commodity has both use-value and exchange-value. The use-value is "the usefulness of a thing" (Marx 1867:126). This is the natural active form of a commodity, as it relates to what the commodity does- food provides nutrition humans need to survive.The exchange-value is the social relationship between two useful things-- how arrows are related to potatoes when exchanged. The exchange-value is the passive form of the commodity, as it does not relate to what the commodity does but how the commodity is associated with another. Both the use-value of the commodity and the exchange-value of the commodity make up the commodity's value.
Traditionally, food was exchanged between the farmer and the community through money. The money form is a form of common value. It makes up both the social relation between things and the material relation between things, which are what make up market exchange-- Toolmakers sell their tools in the market for a certain amount of money. Say the toolmaker uses stone to make an arrow and sells the arrow on the market. Then the toolmaker uses all the money he made from selling his arrow to buy a sack of potatoes from a farmer. So the toolmaker starts off with a commodity (his arrow) and exchanges it for money which represents the value of his commodity. He then uses his money to buy the farmer's commodity, creating a commodity-money-commodity circulation of exchange. The money the toolmaker obtained from selling his arrow was all used up on buying potatoes, so it can be said that the arrow he sold has the same exchange value as the potatoes he bought. Money was just the common value for two commodities that were exchanged.
Whereas the traditional agricultural model has a simple exchange circuit (commodity-money-commodity), the capitalist agricultural model is much more complex. The capitalist starts out with money (the money possibly comes through saving, but is usually obtained through credit) and uses that money to buy commodities-- the means of production (like land, tractors, seeds and water) and labor power (usually through wage labor). Whereas the traditional agricultural model aims to produce value (a.k.a. socially necessary labor time), the capitalist agricultural model uses labor to produce surplus value (a.k.a. profit). Surplus value can be produced by manipulating the work process to curtail necessary labor time (relative surplus value) or increasing the materials or time of production (absolute surplus value). In order for money to become capital, the capitalist most make more money than the amount spent on the means of production and labor power. To do this, the capitalist must extract surplus value during the labor process. In brief, the capitalist exchange circuit is as follows: money-commodity-product-money+surplus (Marx 1867). The capitalist must always produce surplus value, which is re-invested into the capitalist exchange circuit so that capital can be accumulated.
Capitalist agriculture is socially destructive in many ways, however, I will just discuss the following: (1) the exploitation of labor (2) the concentration and centralization of capital, (3) hiding social relations, (4) overproduction/overconsumption, and (5) dealing with natural disasters.
First of all, capitalist agriculture exploits agricultural labor. The degree of exploitation is equal to the amount of surplus labor divided by socially necessary labor time. Surplus labor can be achieved by either extending the length of the working day (the production of absolute surplus-value), or changing the process by which labor is organized (the production of relative surplus value). As a result of the coercive laws of competition, agricultural laborers work long days, completing continuous relative tasks under harsh conditions for minimal wages. The laws of competition are coercive because even though the individual capitalist may not want to put the worker in these conditions, due to competition, the capitalist must in order to survive (Marx 1867). Due to the nature of capitalist production, agricultural laborers within the capitalist system are exploited.
In addition, capitalist agriculture results in the concentration of capital. Since capitalists must accumulate capital, they are continuously increasing their portion of the nation's social wealth (Marx 1867). Competition between small and large firms (especially when interests compound during economic turmoil) results in the large firm taking over the small one. We see this in modern society-- No longer is farm production controlled by families. We are now dependent upon large-scale agribusiness.
Thirdly, capitalism hides the social relations inherent in the production process. What we see as an economic relationship (one sack of potatoes = one dollar) is really a social relationship (considering supply and demand are in equilibrium-- labor for one arrow = labor for one sack of potatoes). This delusion is what Marx calls commodity fetishism (Marx 1867). Commodity fetishism results in the concealment of the social relations of production. This is one of the reasons why rarely people think about the exploitation of agricultural labor (social relations), in capitalist society, the coercive laws of competition require people to focus on the price (economic relations). Not only does it conceal things like the exploitation of agricultural labor, but also allows for poor conditions for farm animals or for our food to be contaminated with chemicals and hormones (so that the capitalist can maximize profit). Since we are in a society that promotes people to focus on price, rather than social relations, communities become disjointed from their means of subsistence.
Capitalist agriculture also leads to overproduction and overconsumption. Capital requires the constant flow of money (Marx 1885). Money must be used to buy the means of production and wage labor in order to create surplus value in a product to be sold for profit (which will then again be used to buy the means of production and wage labor). As such, capitalism requires production capacity to continuously increase along with consumption patterns. As a result, under the capitalist agricultural system we see so much food being thrown away and other problematic cultural patterns such as overeating. Since capitalism requires consumer behavior to allow for expanding profits, we are faced with problems like overproduction and overconsumption.
Finally, capitalist agriculture does not provide an adequate solution to natural disasters. Money hoarding stagnates capital. Since capital must flow in order for surplus value to be generated, money hoarding becomes problematic for the capitalist system (Marx 1885). If the captialist farmer did not create a large enough money hoard and natural disaster strikes (like hail), in order to sustain production (and have the capacity to make surplus profit), the capitalist farmer must take out loans. However, the credit market has a tendency towards economic crises (Marx 1894). As a result, natural disasters further enhance the concentration and centralization of capital in the agricultural sphere of production. The farmer is no longer subservient to the needs of her community, but is instead subject to market demands.
CSA offers a great alternative to the capitalist agricultural structure. CSA reinstates the non-exploitative commodity-money-commodity relationship while reducing the economic risks involved with farming. By focusing on the production of socially necessary labor rather than surplus value, labor is not exploited. Additionally, CSA showcases the social relations inherent in the production process. Many CSAs invite members to visit the farm and maintain blogs explaining how the food is made. By ensuring members are aware of the labor costs associated with food production, consumers are more careful with their consumption patters. Finally, through CSA, the community shares the risk associated with food production. By sharing costs and benefits of a successful harvest, the community is strengthened. In conclusion, CSA is necessary to sustain human life in a socially and ecologically responsible way.
Marx, Karl. 1867. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 1. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Marx, Karl. 1885. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 2. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Marx, Karl. 1894. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. 3. New York, NY: Penguin Books.