Category Archives: Resources

Model Modern Barn Raising: An All-American Community Project Aboard Spaceship Earth

“The only true and effective ‘operator’s manual for spaceship earth’ is not a book that any human will ever write; it is hundreds of thousands of local cultures.”  ― Wendell Berry, What are People For?

This structure will be re-habbed and 'raised' to serve anew as a community hub.

This barn will be ‘raised’ (rehabbed) to serve anew as a community hub. 

For over a century there has been a steady pulling back from the land in North America. People have been replaced by increasingly mechanized means as the industrial agriculture model, with its focus on profits rather than people, has proliferated. Social roots have been ripped out.

But as modeled by a ‘barn raising’ project at the Angelic Organics Farm in Caledonia, Illinois, it is time to bring local communities of human beings – the local cultures Wendell Berry speaks of — back into active relationship with the land that feeds them.

This is not an philosophical ideal or an armchair theory, but rather a crucial and present necessity brought on by stark social, environmental, and economic realities.

Farmer Trauger Groh of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm expressed the ideas eloquently over 20 years ago when we teamed up to write Farms of Tomorrow. Our book contained basic essays on new structures for community supported farms.

Driven by Tauger’s insights, those essays acknowledged that farming is not just a business like any other profit-making business, but a precondition of all human life on earth, and a precondition of all economic activity. As such, farming is everyone’s responsibility, and has likewise to be accessible for everyone. Community farms (CSA) are an increasingly useful and popular way to meet this responsibility.

By ‘raising’ a beautiful old barn to become an active community hub for their CSA and the local community at large, Angelic Organics is creating a model for deeper, more meaningful, and more practically powerful community involvement with the land and the farmers who tend it – their ambassadors to the earth.

The farm is home to the non-profit Angelic Organics Learning Center, a resource for adults and children seeking to connect to the land, and to renew our ecology, economy and culture. Many of the farm’s classes are held in the dairy barn and the corn crib that the farmers have begun to transform into majestic community spaces, filled with light and vibrant color and breathtaking panoramic views of the Midwestern prairie.

To finish the barn, the farm has launched a Kickstarter campaign (Barns are for People, Too) complete with a delightful and educational video clip. The video shows how they will complete the necessary construction and safety measures to convert the barn and corn crib into public spaces with a stage, fire escapes, emergency lighting and stairwells.

spaceship_earthThe improvements will transform the space into a beautifully crafted gathering place for children’s groups, beginner farmers, members of the farm’s successful CSA, and people who naturally yearn for a direct connection with the land that sustains them. It will also serve as a model, as Wendell Berry encourages, for agrarian initiatives in North America and around the world, thereby aiding local cultures to navigate wisely aboard spaceship earth.

The Emerging Social, Economic and Environmental Intelligence of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): A Global Phenomenon

Thanks to the recommendation of noted CSA author Elizabeth Henderson, I’ve been invited to address the 2nd Organic Farming Summit in Chengdu China (Nov. 17th~18th). Circumstances prevent me from traveling, and so instead I have prepared and sent the following remarks on CSA farms.

I send greetings and respect to all my relatives gathered together in China to exchange knowledge about organic agriculture – taking care of the Earth and each other. It is an honor to address the Organic Trade Union of China, and to offer some observations about our land, our farms, our times, and our many diverse communities of human beings around the world.

With its many variations and cultural adaptations, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a seed that has been steadily setting roots in various places around the globe for several decades. With the benefit of 30 years of involvement and observation, I have come to regard CSA as a 21st Century agrarian initiative with tremendous potential in different cultures to organize human beings – out of their free will choices – around the essential matter of a renewed relationship with the land that sustains them, as well as renewed relationships with each other.

CSA is emerging as an altogether necessary and wise response to the extreme state of our economies and our environment — the urgent call of our land which has been so severely challenged by reckless industrial impulses and  intensifying natural forces. Any person who chooses to can be part of a CSA, and that CSA will be part of a growing network of CSA nodes, as Elizabeth Henderson has noted, in China, the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Ireland, and other nations around our world.

In my land – the continent of North America – where over 6,000 CSA farms have come into being in recent decades — we are currently engaged with issues of identity. What does the ‘community’ part of CSA really mean?

CSA is at a decision point. Is it going to become just another “business model” based primarily on monetary transactions for food? Or will CSA fulfill its ideal potential to become a model for healthy cells of social well-being, environmental health, and economic justice?

As a longtime CSA writer, I’ve hypothesized that in an era of economic and environmental stress, CSA social networks would assume increasing importance. That’s because through CSA human beings, households, and farmers have direct opportunity to form a wide constellation of relationships. They can feed each other on a lot of levels. They are linked not just by theories of the ideal, but also by matters that are inescapably real: land, food, and farms, as well as personal, family, and community health.

Yet as I have observed, and as I have read about in Farming Alone, many farmers and CSA shareholders identify community as a weak part of CSA. They say that it just is not happening as theorized. The realm of the ideal has had a hard reckoning with the realm of the real.

Increasingly over the last ten years, more and more farms have embraced CSA as a “marketing approach” or “marketing tool.” Yet that is a digression from what CSA started out to become, and what it still has the potential to become.

As made boldface plain by Robyn Van En long ago with her initial video It’s Not Just About Vegetables, CSA was in no way conceived of as a new way to buy and sell vegetables. The core ideas — the sparks that illumined and defined CSA and made it so immediately understandable and appealing for people all around the world — were both practical and idealistic. The concept was supporting a whole farm, and having the whole farm support and nourish the web of people who support it. In my view, these concepts remain integral. They are what make a CSA a CSA.

Anthropologists Cynthia Abbott Cone and Ann Kakaliouras, among others, have identified CSA as a social movement, as expressed in Building Moral Community or an Alternative Consumer Choice. Many CSA farmers and shareholders do recognize their commitment to CSA in moral terms. They see themselves as nurturing not just soil and family well being, but also the larger community and  environment of which they are part.

When these dimensions are actively cultivated, CSA farms have potential for re-embedding  (grounding) people in time and place by linking them to a specific piece of land and to an awareness of the seasons. From this the environment is not only protected, but also organically cultivated to a higher, healthier state of vitality that radiates outward from the land and animals of the farm to the surrounding communities.

To me — someone who has participated in and written about CSA since 1986 — these social, economic, and environmental dimensions of CSA appear as acutely important.

China’s Organic Summit

Creating a Sustainable Future Together

This is a moment in time when more people are looking to become active in creating a sustainable future. CSA is a proven vehicle for doing that.

CSA is, in and of itself, a community supported concept. No one person conceived of the whole of CSA. Rather, many pioneering people from many places around the world birthed the concept and nurtured it.  As CSA pioneers conceived of it — and as it is still being practiced at many farms — CSA is not just another new and clever approach to marketing. Rather, community farming is about the necessary renewal of agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival. It’s also about the necessary stewardship of soil, plants, and animals: the essential capital of human cultures.

Trauger Groh and I wrote Farms of Tomorrow (1990) and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited (1997) to suggest some possibilities. We also wanted to serve a need that was explicit then, and that has become even more urgent now: the need to share the experience of farming with everyone who understands that our relationship with nature and the ways that we use the land will determine the future of the earth.

The problems of agriculture and the environment belong not just to farmers, but are the common problems of all people. CSA is a pathway to link human beings and their communities directly in free-will association with Earth Ambassadors — the nearby farmers who touch the earth on their behalf to bring forth its bounty in the form of food, fiber, and flowers.

As author Gary Lamb observed in his landmark 1994 paper, Community Supported Agriculture: Can it Become the Basis for a New Associative Economy?, the community farm movement does indeed embody elements of a new associative economy that is fundamentally different from the ruling market economy.

“The market economy is driven by the self-interest of every participant,” Lamb wrote. “In an associative economy, we associate with our partners — active farmers among themselves, active farmers with all the member households, farm communities with other farm communities. The prevailing attitude is a striving to learn the real needs of our partners, and the ways we can meet them.”

Associative economy means that all participants in the economic process try to listen to the needs of all other partners in the process. On this basis they proceed. The key economic question for a CSA that is expressing associative economics, either explicitly or implicitly, is not “How can we make greater monetary profit?”  Rather the questions are “What does the farm need? What do the farmers need? What do the shareholders need?”  In response to these questions, the community proceeds in its work.

Awakening Social Intelligence

The element of community – and the environmental and health dimensions of CSA — are just as important as the practical and economic arrangements that take place in a CSA.

Because CSA possesses so many inherently beneficial dimensions, I continue to regard CSAs as a way of building a clean, stable agrarian foundation for the fast emerging high-tech digital-wave culture. The digital culture can in reciprocity connect, network and sustain the agrarian initiatives which give it roots.

Thus, CSA farms have the potential to bridge the gap between the personal and the global. They are contributing not just to their family and community health and well being as adapted to their chosen culture and lifeways, but also having a larger global impact through the emerging network of associations both in-person and virtual.

The dynamic of farmers and consumers in free will association via community farms creates the potential for the kind of phenomenon that Rudolf Steiner termed “social intelligence.” In the particular case of CSA, I feel that construct can naturally be extended to include economic and environmental intelligence as well.

In my view, CSA carries potential to express the very essence of social, economic, and environmental intelligence, and to do so on a global scale.

Cracks in the Land

“Our farmers and ranchers have never faced as many problems as they do today with drought, range fires, high gas prices…”
– Michael McCau

My cracked lawn.

The land is dry and cracking across the heart of America. Drought is the natural cracker, shriveling everything up till there are gaps that demand radical shifts for underground pipes and construction footings, doubtless as well for all forms of subterranean life.  Then there are mournful, moanful cracks in the land from the massively arrogant and suicidal impulse of industrial-scale fracking in a time of profound earth changes. Foundational cracks abound on planes both inner and outer.

Each day as I open my back door and step out into the world I see this inescapably. I’m confronted with a crazy quilt pattern of cracked land where once had been a lawn. It’s a troubling sight. Here at home all 93 of Nebraska’s vast, sprawling counties have been declared disaster areas because of the drought. Late August now, and the forecasters say we may not get substantial rain until Halloween.

Our U.S. Midwestern drought — impacting over 62% of the entire nation — is having and will have  global consequences: “People in wealthy industrialized countries spend between 10 to 20 per cent of their income on food. Those in the developing world pay between 50 to 80 per cent of their income. According to Oxfam, a one per cent jump in the price of food results in 16 million more people crashing into poverty — accelerating what global agriculture ministers call The Spiral of Hunger.

Meanwhile, with at least one more long month of melting to go for the Arctic Sea Ice, the pace of heat-driven destruction to our North is staggering in proportion. Behold this brief composite animation. It’s a must see. Just about every record has been shattered, with a month more of melting to come.

Watching the world’s larger patterns unfold like this is profoundly unsettling, and can be unbalancing as well without some active, creative initiative to respond to the urgent call of the land.

Proactive response is a key element of 21st Century Agrarianism, and thousands upon thousands of people and communities are responding dynamically, helping to establish healthy new footings and foundations on the land as ballast and complement to the surging waves of digital culture. What is needed now — in this extreme state — is positive creative response from millions upon millions of people.

If you are among those who will no longer ignore the call of the land, then here is one place to initiate a response: to become informed, to find ways to cultivate the land to restore its health and beauty, as well to grow clean food for yourself, your family, and your community. Check out the possibilities.

Food Coops 2012 Growing Strong

Coop members march the streets of Philadelphia on the way to the first ever public reading of the Declaration of Rights for America’s Food Coops. Photo by S. McFadden

As the summer Sun began scorching in earnest, I traveled to Philadelphia for the 56th annual conference of  the Consumer Cooperative Management Association (CCMA). That’s the group that networks 128 of America’s food coops.

Owned independently by their local citizens in cities and towns across the nation, food coops are a major web of market nodes in the overall good food movement. For decades, food coops have provided a principal connection between families who want clean, chemical-free food and the stalwart network of sustainable organic farmers who provide it.

In mid-June representatives from the independent coops gathered together to talk, to walk, and to make a declaration concerning coops, corporations, and the context of our era. Here are some of my notes from the gathering.

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Marion Nestle, long-time nutrition activist and author of several influential books including Food Politics, gave a keynote address on the final day of the conference. “There is a global food crisis right now,” Nestle told  us, “with one in seven people on the earth already hungry.” It looks as if the global food crisis will continue to intensify in the years immediately ahead. She said we would likely see the crisis play out not just with overseas famines, but also domestically in cost, volatility, availability.

The mounting clouds of the global food crisis that Nestle pointed out to us have been becoming increasingly evident in news stories, such as this July example from Bloomberg Business Week: Drought Stalks the Global Food Supply.

“Hunger and malnutrition are social problems,” Nestle told us, “and that is one of the reasons why food coops are so important. Coops are a viable alternative to Big Food. Because coops are both community-based and value based, they make a point of selling clean, healthy, nutritious food.”

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Michael Sansolo, a marketing consultant, also gave a keynote address. Sansolo said that conventional markets see that the movement now and over the next 30 years is toward organic, sustainable foods. Food coops have led the way for the last 40 years, but now profit-focused food corporations are in the mix and bringing their values to bear. As the NY Times reports, organic food has become “a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store.”

The theme of Sansolo’s talk was that there are, in his view, three central challenges now faced by everyone who is involved with the market for food: economics, demographics, and technology.

During the Q & A session after Sansolo’s talk a man rose to urge that he add a fourth challenge to his presentation: the natural environment. The environment is changing fast, the man said. Along with economics, demographics, and technology, coops had best take that that reality into account.

In his remarks Sansolo said that the notion of community has changed radically with technology in recent years. The face of America is shifting. It is already way more diverse. Also, we are seeing in all economic sectors the rise of women.  Women are stepping into leadership roles, especially in the food sector.  He advised that food coops and other initiatives actively reach out to a younger, multicultural base. “That’s where the future is,” he said.

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A coop member dressed as Ben Franklin reads the coop declaration of rights.

Ben Franklin initiated the first coop in America back in 1752 right in Philadelphia, the city where we had gathered 260 years later to size things up, and make plans for going forward cooperatively toward meeting a triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and social benefit.

A common experience for participants in the coop conference, and one I certainly experienced this year, is the realization that my local coop in Lincoln, Nebraska — Open Harvest — is but one node in a wide and growing network of food coops in North America and around the world — continuing to make creative progress as ethics-based businesses.

Another strong wave of coop development is currently underway. At the conference we heard that about 300 new food coops that are trying to get it together this year. However, Marilyn Scholl, a consultant with the CDS Consulting Coop, told me that if 20-30 of these new coop initiatives make it and actually establish themselves, that will be a strong outcome.

Colombia University professor Dr. Gary Dorrien has defined cooperatives as the foundation of economic democracy. They “extend the values & rights of democracy into the economic sphere…and create environmentally sustainable economies.”

Paul Hazen, former President and CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association and now ED of the Overseas Coop Development Council, commented that we are at a moment of profound consumer unrest and searching.

“Many are recognizing,” Hazen said, “that coops are a better kind of corporation…Right now the ‘free market’ is not meeting the needs of the people for clean, healthy, affordable food. That is where coops fill an important niche, because coops are value-led businesses. The economic and political momentum is swinging in our direction…Coops are a key to attaining food security.”

Food Coop Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia

With a fife and drum corps leading the way, representatives of over 350 of America’s food coops will march through the streets of Philadelphia on Friday, June 15, 2012.

When the marchers arrive at the Liberty Bell, a representative of the Cooperative Constitutional Convention dressed as Benjamin Franklin will speak about the founding of the first American cooperative.

Then will come the first ever public reading of a Declaration of Rights for America’s Food Cooperatives.

The proposed coop declaration — intended as a historic break from hierarchical business practices that are destructive of the land and human beings — echoes the original US Declaration of Independence throughout, but articulates the seven key coop principles along the way.

The US food coop declaration begins “… We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and that, central to that happiness, is citizen engagement, economic empowerment, access to healthy foods and good health…”

Coming as it does in the context of the UN’s 2012 International Year of the Coop, the Declaration of Rights by US Food Coops may resonate widely.  The US food coops — owned by their local members in cities and towns across the nation — are a major network of market nodes in the overall good food movement.  That’s significant

Representing Open Harvest Natural Foods Cooperative in Lincoln, Nebraska, my colleague Michael Henry and I will be on the scene in Philadelphia. We will bring back the good food news.

The Howl of the Land

Listening by Amy Lehr Miller

The land is well beyond calling. It’s howling. Howling so loud it cannot be ignored. Around the world.

This ear-ringing reality came to the forefront today on the pages of The New York Times in a story headlined, “When the ground goes bump in the night.”

The story reports on events taking place in Clintonville, Wisconsin. “Police here have received hundreds of calls this week from citizens awakened by noises that they said seem to be coming from under the earth.

“At times,” the Times reported, the nocturnal noise is “like someone banging on the pipes in the basement, while at other times it was so loud that windows rattled and the ground jolted.”

“There’s something radically wrong with this earth,” Verda Shultz, 47, told the Times.

The unexplained noise in Wisconsin is just one of many such occurrences in recent news. The Huffington Post published a report on several other notable cases from around the world. In that report speculation on the cause of the noise ranged from UFOs to tectonic earth shifts to UFOs, to hoaxes, to widespread industrial-scale  hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which the US Geological Survey has confirmed absolutely causes earthquakes, to possibly the USA’s ongoing, provocatively pulsating HAARP project as it is situated in the north direction. Across the Internet, a  swelling mass of webpages and YouTube videos echo the disturbing sounds that are being heard around the globe.

As I hear the noise — whether it originates from the distress in the earth or from the distress in human souls operating occult technology —  the call of the land has attained an extreme level. It’s howling. The land — our earth — requires our intelligent, respectful, heartfelt and ongoing responses.

Renowned Mayan elder and Daykeeper Don Alejandro Cirilo Perez long ago shared his view concerning foundational native understandings for calendar year 2012 and the general tenor of our era: “Big changes are coming in this frame of time. That’s why it’s important to talk now and tell people to respect Mother Earth, and to stop destroying the water, air, and mountains…”

Unraveling the CSA Number Conundrum

In the beginning it was easy to count. The year was 1986, and there were only two Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives in the USA: Indian Line Farm in western Massachusetts, and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in southern New Hampshire. But not long after that, as the CSA concept spread across America and around the world, the number of farms became a bit of an enigma.

No one was ever quite sure how many CSAs there were. The federal government didn’t track the number; at the same time, for a variety of reasons, many CSAs wanted little to do with government or larger systems.

Now however, thanks to several sources, it’s possible to gain a fair idea. Estimating conservatively, there are currently over 6,000 CSAs in the US, possibly as many as 6,500. Meanwhile, the trend of growth continues onward and upward.

I arrived at this estimate after contacts with a range of knowledgeable sources, including Erin Barnett of LocalHarvest, CSA author Elizabeth Henderson, Professor Ryan Galt at UC-Davis, Jill Auburn, Senior Advisor for the USDA’s Ag Systems, and others. No one specifically cited the 6-6,500 number — but after considering all the expert input alongside my own observations, it’s a number that seems about right.

CSA farms and the networks they establish are in so many ways a positive, creative response to the swift and fundamental changes taking place in the world, in our food, and in the way the land is held and treated. CSAs are becoming a significant alternative to the industrial agrifood system. For many reasons, their steady proliferation over the last 26 years is noteworthy.

Alternative Visions

Back in 2006 I had an opportunity to speak at the Kettunen Center in Michigan at a conference marking the first 20 years of CSA in the US. As part of the talk I offered alternative visions of the next 20 years.

On the hopeful side it was possible to envision CSAs prospering in virtually every town and city: providing people with clean food, enabling dignified work for growers, building healthy community relationships, and establishing oases of environmental health.

On the shadow side it was possible to envision a totalitarian ordering and tightening coming about in all sorts of systems. Clean food and direct farmer-household connections might well be encumbered with harsh, unreasonable rules, requirements and regulations, and thereby quietly, steadily marginalized. I could picture a time when industrial processed food was the only “officially safe and allowable” option, and the good food movement had been demonized, strangled and driven underground.

Back in 2006, even I had to wonder whether I wasn’t stretching my nightmare vision a bit too far into the realm of paranoid hyperbole. But now in 2012, in the light of ongoing trends and events, it no longer seems so far-fetched.

Within this context, one of the many intriguing aspects of CSA came home to me again when I reflected on a passage from Chapter 13 of Michael Pollan’s, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He notes therein that the Soviet state foundered on the issue of food. The government sacrificed millions of small farms and farmers to the dream of a vast system of collectivized industrial agriculture. But the state’s imperious industrial ag plans soured and foundered.

“By the time of its collapse,” Pollan wrote, “more than half of the food consumed in the Soviet Union was being produced by small farmers and home gardeners operating without official sanction, on private plots…”

He goes on to report what he heard while interviewing American farmer George Naylor: “…during our conversations about industrial agriculture, he [Naylor] likened the rise of alternative food chains in America to ‘the last days of Soviet agriculture.’ The centralized food system wasn’t serving the people’s needs, so they went around it. The rise of farmer’s markets and CSA is sending the same signal today.”

CSA Waves

An estimated 60 CSAs had come into being in the USA by 1990. That’s the year the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association (BDA) published the first book on the subject, Farms of Tomorrow: Community Supported Farms, Farm Supported Communities by Trauger Groh and me. The activity of the BDA, the book, and the advocacy of Robyn Van En, helped spur growth through the 1990s so that by the year 2000 the number of CSA in the US was perhaps 1,000.

In the latter part of the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium, the impetus from the developing local food movement and from economic uncertainties helped grow the number of CSAs. Two other factors played an important role: the publication of Sharing the Harvest in 1998, and the establishment of LocalHarvest.com, a website hub for local food.

Sharing the Harvest: A Guide to Community Supported Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En brought the story of CSA to a diverse audience, and inspired many to take a step in a new direction economically, environmentally, and socially. The book was widely acclaimed and eventually translated into several languages, including Japanese and Chinese. For an increasing number of households, CSA was being recognized as an effective response to the globalization of the food supply.

Shortly thereafter the website LocalHarvest went online in 2000 and became a key resource for the buy local movement. The website is a searchable directory of CSAs, farmers markets, and other local food sources.

Eventually, in 2007 the federal government took a crack at a national count of CSAs through a question on the Agricultural Census. They came up with the number of 12,549. That stunned most observers. It was more than three times greater than anyone had imagined.

Ryan Galt, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Agricultural Sustainability and Society at UC-Davis, was among those surprised by the USDA estimate. He noted a wide discrepancy between CSA counts by LocalHarvest, the internet hub with the most comprehensive CSA listing (2,932 at the time) and the ag census number (12,549). He set out to study the matter using a critical cartography/GIS approach and multiple CSA data sets.

His research in this and related matters led to a couple of well researched and highly informative papers on CSA. Galt observed that significant overcounting of CSAs by the 2007 ag census likely occurred because of ambiguity in the relevant question. The ag census, as read by many, seemed to be asking how many farms are, to one extent or another, involved with CSA, rather than how many farms are in fact actual CSAs.

After applying his analytical tools, Galt arrived at an estimate of 3,637 CSAs nationally for the year 2009. While he reckoned that this was a more reliable estimate than the census data, he noted that his number was based on extrapolating from California to the nation. This could be problematic, he cautions readers, because of differences in land rent, structure, political orientations, and other factors.

By now, of course it’s 2012, not 2009. By all accounts, CSA has continued to proliferate. The growth has been spurred by a deepening crisis of confidence in Big Ag, Big Food and Big Chem, by a sharper sense of economic and environmental uncertainty, and as always by ideals, including a deeply rooted desire to eat clean and healthy, and to do something positive for the earth.

According to director Erin Barnett, as of January 2012 LocalHarvest had 4,571 active CSAs listed in their directory. With ten years experience observing the scene, she estimates that the LocalHarvest listings include about 65-70% of all the CSAs in the US. She and her colleagues also feel that their directory’s growth rate over the years has tended to mirror the growth rate of CSAs in general.

If one accepts the 4,571 active listings on LocalHarvest as representing approximately 70% of the total number of CSAs, then it could be posited that there are, in fact, well over 6,500 active CSAs. But allowing for unknowable fudge factors, and because I prefer to choose an estimate on the conservative side, I am — till further informed — going with the 6-6,500 range.

 CSA Prospects

In his research papers Professor Galt writes convincingly that he sees the likelihood that CSA will continue to grow and develop. “Community supported agriculture (CSA) stands as an important social invention to address many of the problems of industrial agriculture,” he notes. He describes CSA is a bright spot in the current economy.

Jill Auburn, the former director of SARE, currently the USDA’s Senior Advisor for Ag Systems and Acting Director Office of the Chief Scientist, observes that in general CSAs are continuing to grow and develop. “I’ve not studied the numbers,” she said, “but looking through the lens of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program, we see that local and regional markets overall are continuing to grow…We see lots of increasing interest.”

Author Elizabeth Henderson also sees growth, and not just in the US. In 2010 she gave a talk entitled “The World of CSA” at a conference held in Kobe, Japan. She said that what she sees globally is that in some countries CSA is catching on at breathtaking rate. She notes that CSA has found acceptance in Canada, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Italy, England, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and China. She also noted that in Japan, CSA (Teikei) has become a mature movement with millions of members.

The conference Henderson spoke at was organized by URGENCI, an international network of participants focused on community supported agriculture. They provide informational resources for CSA initiatives worldwide with the intention of contributing to the food sovereignty movement. Henderson notes that URGENCI has brought CSA to Eastern Europe and North Africa, notably Mali and Morocco.

“For whatever reason,” LocalHarvest’s Erin Barnett told me, “whether it’s the economy or the availability of oil, how crops are grown and where, or whatever, people will very likely be turning to their neighbors for a network of support. That’s where CSA stands right now as a wise response.”

In the overall context of 2012, of the burgeoning Occupy movement, and of the ongoing emergence of CSA, some words that Trauger Groh and I wrote in Farms of Tomorrow back in 1990 still resonate. “CSA is not just another clever, new approach to marketing for farmers,” we wrote. “Rather, community farming is about the necessary renewal of agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends upon farming for survival. From experience we also see the potential of community farming as the basis for a renewal of the human relationship with the earth.”

A Multitude of Postive Pathways

This morning I’ve been emailing press releases with variations on this sentence leading the way: “In the context of an unstable economy, a storm-wracked environment, and accelerating food and fuel prices, many people will be inspired to practical action in the world by the 2nd edition of  The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century.

Arising from my memory of observations expressed elsewhere, I feel the impulse this first day of December to repeat emphatically the following messages about the call of the land, and our opportunities to respond:

“The call of the land is exceedingly loud and urgent. In response to the call, we have the possibility of manifesting a renewed agrarian foundation for our global human culture  that is rooted in experience, adapted to the specific, contemporary needs of our earth, oriented to the future, and capable of integrating high-tech, sustainable energy, tools, and practices. This is the basic vision articulated in The Call of the Land.

“The transition to a food system free of fossil fuels is in no way a utopian reverie. It is, rather, an immediate, immense, and unavoidable challenge that calls for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society. While there is no single remedy for the many problems affecting our farms and our food, there are many positive paths and possibilities.”

From Land Grab to Land Trust

Farmland – Photo by Sam Beebe, Ecotrust.

The cost of farmland — and food – continues to spiral upward. The global land grab is in full swing, and the consequences of this grab are just beginning to emerge. In that context, it is important to reconsider the whole basis of the matter: our relationship to land.

I encourage everyone involved with food and farming to weigh the matter carefully, for there is a world to gain from the steady, ongoing establishment of community farm trusts to hold farm land and make it available to qualified farmers with provisions for equity. To me that seems the wisest course of action over the long term for so many of the community agrarian initiatives active now in North America.

Back in 1988-89, when Trauger Groh and I were writing the first book about CSAs (Farms of Tomorrow: Community Supported Farms, Farm Supported Communities) we could not help but recognize the matter of land as a key point.

Land — and the way we relate to it — has been the crucial issue for centuries, and will remain so. From a long discussion in Chapter 2 of the book,  here are a few relevant passages advocating the development of community farms and land trusts in this context:

“For the farms of tomorrow, land cannot be used as a commodity or a tradeable good, like a car or a pair of shoes that are produced, sold, used, resold, and finally used up…the farms of tomorrow must be based on a new approach to land. The land can no longer be used as collateral for debt. It should no longer be mortgaged. It must be free to serve its original purpose: the basis of the physical existence of humanity…

“…The land has to be liberated out of the insight and actions of citizens who recognize the essential need. Specifically, local land suitable for agriculture must be gradually protected by land trusts. To do this, every piece of farmland has to be purchased for the last time, and then, out of the free initiative of local people, be placed into forms of trust that will protect it from ever again being mortgaged or sold for the sake of private profit…”

“Non-profit land trusts may then make the land available to qualified people who want to take it into ecologically sound uses. Such arrangements will give the right of land use to individuals or groups, either for the time they are willing or capable of using it, or in a lifelong contract…

“…This is something that cannot be legislated or otherwise imposed in any way upon humanity. Every step of progress will have to arise out of the insights and the free initiative of the people.”

snip…

Everybody in the Food Pool – Innovative Concept for Neighborhoods

Earlier this year Andrew Sigal launched FoodPool, an innovative concept for strengthening and stabilizing neighborhoods while feeding people clean, fresh food in communities of all sizes.

As a new and as of yet unincorporated non-profit, Food Pool’s mission is to create small, local groups to gather backyard garden produce and deliver it to food banks and food pantries. These “FoodPools” are modeled on carpools – neighborhood based, easy to set up, and easy to run. “By creating numerous small, local groups,” the Food Pool website states, “we feed our neighbors while strengthening our communities.”

Food Pool offers a free Guide to Starting a FoodPool in their FoodPool starter kit.