Our classic book Farms of Tomorrow Revisited continues to support the development of healthy farm & food community linkages.
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With all that’s happening in the world in general, and to our farms and food in particular, I was happy to read this positive, edifying review of one of my books on the subject of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The book is titled Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.
I wrote this slender volume – a vision and a call to action – in 2015, immediately after my twin brother Michael died. I felt his spirit urging me to direct in a constructive way the maelstrom of feelings that swarmed me within and without. Awakening Community Intelligence is the result.
The substantive review appears in the current edition of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.
Here’s the review’s first paragraph: “In the slender volume Awakening Community Intelligence, journalist and long-time community supported agriculture (CSA) advocate Steven McFadden argues for the exponential expansion of CSAs. In the face of profound, disruptive challenges in the 21st century—climate change, resource depletion, geopolitical instability—McFadden believes CSAs have the potential to become “community cornerstones” that provide “key points of stability and orientation.” In ten very short chapters, McFadden unfolds his vision of this potential and issues a call to action…”
Friday evening at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe we heard Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Kolbert speak about her book, The Sixth Extinction. As expected, the realities she presented were super sobering. She named the five previous extinctions that have occurred on Earth, and their causes. Then she talked at length about the extinction currently well underway, an unprecedented biological annihilation that we human beings are wreaking upon our home planet. “This time,” Kolbert said, “we are the asteroids.”
Here’s a link to my book, Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.
~ Emigdio Ballón, Tesuque Pueblo Farm
My notes from the impressive Mountain West Seed Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico over March 3-4, 2017 – a gathering of seed savers, and people representing seed hubs and seed companies:
Belle Starr, co-founder of the hosting organization, the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, an organization started just three years ago: “We are working to build strong food hubs around the country. The local food movement is huge and growing. But how many are saving seeds? That part is missing.
“What is our duty? Diversity. I hope the thing we carry out of this summit is passion to empower and inspire. That’s how we are going to get diversity. This has to be a grassroots movement. The more people who save seeds, the more resilient the system we create…We hope this will go on for generations.”
Emigdio Ballón, a Quechua native from Bolivia, Agricultural Director for the Pueblo of Tesuque, NM: “The seeds are calling us. They are asking us to help them continue their evolution as they help ours.
“It’s very difficult for the seeds now. In 2011 we talked about seed security and its relation to food security. That’s when we started our seed bank to protect the seeds handed down to us from time immemorial. Now we are talking also about climate change, and how that is impacting us. How can the seeds sustain us, and our unborn? They need to be protected because of the corporations polluting the earth, and claiming patents over nature. Indigenous people care. Indigenous peoples are protectors.
Clayton Brascoupe, a Mohawk/Anishnabeg farmer, founder of the Traditional Native America Farmers Association: “What is a seed? Seed is life, mother, embryo, treasure, potential, possibility, relative, our child. All of those things. There is a fundamental, essential relationship that we have.
“We’ve been going along side by side with each other for thousands of years, and now we are in this present generation. We have a treaty, a covenant with the seeds. The seeds are a part of who we are. We have to take care of our relatives, the seeds, and they in turn will take care of us.
“Seeds are the first link in the food chain, and this link is now under threat. Our responsibility is to preserve them for forthcoming generations.”
In remarks to initiate day 2 of the Seed Summit, Bill McDorman, director of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke about the importance of developing Seed Hubs in parallel with Food Hubs and other local farm and food initiatives. “There’s a real need globally for many more regional operations. Seeds are the foundation not just of our food system, but of civilization itself…This can save us. Regional organizations are the key.”
Andrew Kimbrell, founder and director of the Center for Food Safety, gave a riveting keynote presentation. He began by mentioning that with the financial backing and technical expertise of entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, the Center is about to launch an international online network for seed savers.
He placed this forthcoming network, and the importance of seed saving, in the context of three pending corporate mergers: Bayer-Monsanto, Dupont-Dow, and ChemChina-Syngenta. These mergers, likely to get green-lighted by the Trump-Republican Administration, will place over 60% of the world’s remaining seeds in the corporate control of just three companies. They dominate.
All these multinational corporations are intent on continuing to patent life forms, and to sell allied chemicals as essential, expensive, and polluting inputs to the industrial agriculture system.
The accelerating pace of global climate change and corporate seed and chemical control underscore the imperative need to establish non-corporate seed-saving networks, he said. “We don’t know what seeds we are going to need. But the network will be a key. These are dark times.”
Drawing from some of the material in the well-known book he edited (Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture) he outlined a history of seeds and agriculture in the USA. “Remember the robber barons of the gilded age?” he asked. “We are in the second phase of that.” A century ago the robber barons made their fortunes in railroads, coal, steel, and oil. As succeeding generations of billionaire barons sought further pots of gold, their gaze fixed upon agriculture.
With hybrid plants, poison chemicals (biocides) and patents, robber barons and their corporations over time mutated the meaning and the reality of seeds. Instead of being a commons that united people in ancient and sacred community traditions of caring for a foundational source of life, seeds became a commercial commodity.
Farmers became trapped on technology treadmills: functionaries basically serving as corporate pass-through operations for commercial seeds, chemicals, machinery, oil and gas. Corporations took culture out of agriculture, and substituted industry. For farmers, indebtedness ruled. Whereas just over a century ago as many as 40% of the population was involved in caring for the land and the seed that everything depends upon, only about 1% of the population now has this connection.
Consider where we are now, he said. Via monoculture and intensive chemical use, we continue to deaden and to lose soil. The nitrogen fertilizer of industrial ag leaches out to waterways, creating massive dead zones in our oceans. We’ve lost 90% of our seed diversity. The Center for Food Safety estimates that 35 to 45 percent of greenhouse gases are generated from industrial ag. Thus, the essential elements of farms and food (soil, water, seeds, industrial livestock, etc.) have become zombies.
This system is already dead, Kimbrell said. “It’s a zombie walking. But it’s still unbelievably dangerous. It’s steadily destroying the planet.”
“We are the future. Sometimes we look at these dominant forces, and wonder how can we possibly overcome? But the zombie system is already dead.”
Corporations used to wallow in hubris, believing that nature was no match for biotechnology. But it turns out that biotech is no match for nature. The idea that you are going to control the traits of living things is false.
The answer Kimbrell argued, is for our economy to transform into a wholly owned subsidiary of ecology. “We can only use things to the extent that they regenerate themselves.” We have to go local, biodiverse, humane, and socially just, he said.
Fundamental to all of this transformation is seed. None of it makes sense without seed. Seed is the center that we need.
While stating that he sees organics as a floor for the future of agriculture, he reminded the audience that it’s under attack. The Freedom Caucus (about 30 hard-right Republican members of Congress) has targeted the National Organic Program for destruction.
In response to a question from the audience, Kimbrell commented on the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. “If Dante were alive today,” he said, “The Inferno would be about the farm bill.” He said we need to get environmental groups together with farm groups right now, in 2017. “Unless we get ahead of the game,” he commented, “we are lost.”
Three times during his talk Kimbrell quoted the late Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. One example: “I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society. I believe that whenever we substitute something man-made and artificial for a natural feature of the earth, we have retarded some part of man’s spiritual growth.”
Echoing this insight toward the end of his talk as an encouragement to seed savers and to others working to build a just, healthy and equitable farm and food system, Kimbrell said: “We face the spiritual challenge of moving from a culture of death to a culture of life.”
~ END ~
I’ve written this message often before, and I shall write it again. Community Farms (CSAs) are a sober and intelligent response to accelerating political and climate turbulence. Economic turbulence may follow. Time to act.
Regarding our overall situation as urgent, I’ve reported extensively about the ominously active factors bearing upon us all & the potentials of positive community action in collaboration with local farms. I’ve also recorded a ½-hour narrated slide show on these issues for Youtube (Awakening Community Intelligence) freely available to all for personal or community education.
Now at the start of February, we are just a few weeks away from national CSA Signup Day, Friday, February 24. It is a golden opportunity for existing CSA farms to expand the community that supports what they are doing: clean land, clean food, enhanced local food security.
CSA Signup Day is also a golden opportunity for communities – neighborhoods, workplaces, churches and temples, suburbs, and so forth – to get busy building community farms right now, by the hundreds of thousands. It takes time to get a community farm together, but they can make a big stabilizing difference.
In conjunction with CSA Signup Day, February 24 will be marked by the launch of a CSA Charter, which will set out the principles and practices that guide CSA farms in the USA and Canada. In my view, that’s a big step forward for evolving the community farm web in North America, in a time when big steps are immediately needed.
About a month ago the editors of Mother Earth News responded to my press release for Awakening Community Intelligence with an invitation to blog on the subject a bit for their renowned publication. I was happy to accept their invitation.
Here’s a link to my first blog post for Mother Earth News. That post as you will see is an explanatory excerpt from the Introduction to Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.
Each year more than nine billion animals go to slaughterhouses in the USA to be killed, processed, and packaged into the beef, pork, lamb and chicken that eventually find their way onto our dinner plates. It is an industrial process on a staggeringly vast scale, and it has some fundamental problems.
While the number of animals fated to pass through industrial processes has continued to grow in recent decades, the number of independent family farmers who care for them has continued to decline due to high-efficiency corporate mechanical processes and confinement strategies that optimize profit. The animals have been relegated to “units of production.” The population of human beings in our rural regions in the heartland of America has, meanwhile, been decimated as family farmers have steadily fallen victim to vertical integration and the relentless economic demands of corporate bottom lines.
On Friday of last week I journeyed to Omaha – Gateway to the West – to be part of the annual conference of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS). The primary emphasis of the gathering was on local, sustainable community food systems. But the conference also featured a keynote address from Wayne Pacelle, the director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Mr. Pacelle is regarded with fear and loathing among industrial livestock titans who, with their mammoth Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have made Nebraska into a dominant force providing meat for our tables.
In this context over the last few years, HSUS and NSAS, partnering with the Nebraska Farmers Union, have established an innovative Ag Council to promote humane husbandry of farm animals. While Nebraska was the pioneer in this progressive action, eight other states have now formed similar Ag Councils, and more are coming.
So perturbed are corporate livestock barons about the specter of humane animal husbandry, that they’ve established phony “public interest” front groups to wage a proxy campaign against HSUS. According to many observers, that animus has also been reflected in the actions of Nebraska’s Land Grant University. UNL has by and large cast its lot with industrial chemical agriculture and corporate livestock monoliths* while severing ties with NSAS because of its partnership with HSUS. As critics have noted, land grant universities in general have since the 1980s become less oriented to serving the human beings who are citizens of their states, and progressively more dedicated to serving the corporations that do business in their states. That’s where the money is.
“Animal welfare should not be a controversial subject,” Pacelle told the conference. “It’s a natural thing. We have been in relation with animals for millennia.”
“It’s not about animal rights, but rather it’s about our human responsibility to our animal relatives. We have duties,” Pacelle said. “Animal life does not exist solely for our exploitation. How do we handle that responsibility? Ultimately there is no escaping the moral issue. Farmers should be leaders in fulfilling our basic human responsibility to the animals who give up their lives that we may eat.”
Billions of animals suffer needlessly in confinement because they are bound up in corporate economic activity. The economics of industrial efficiency have spawned what might be termed a race to the bottom, not just for the animals, but also for the underpaid human beings – the farm workers and packing-house employees – who are charged with managing them.
As NSAS Board member Kevin Fulton noted during the conference, “There’s a direct correlation between moving the animals off the land and into the vertical integration of industrial confinement operations, and the socially destructive process of moving people off the land. We need fewer animals, and more farmers.”
If industrial food-production corporations continue to regard animals as just dull, dumb commodities – units of production to be fattened with genetically modified grains grown in oceans of glyphosate and pumped up beyond natural reason with hormones and antibiotics – then we are failing at our basic responsibility to be in right relationship with them.
* The University of Missouri has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors. Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it progressively harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.
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