Three Overlooked Seeds at the Core of CSA Farms

December 26, 2014

Three seed ideas were among the many elements that underlie the actions of the first CSA farmers who in 1985-86 established new ways of farming in America. Those ways have emerged in subsequent seasons to yield as many as 10,000 contemporary community supported farms (CSAs) in cities, suburbs, towns, villages and churches across the land.

Photo: Maggie Mehaffey

Photo: Maggie Mehaffey

The CSA model has proven to be a natural for adaption and innovation. Many latter-day CSAs, however, have overlooked or bypassed some of the seed ideas as they have established a wide range of variations on the CSA theme. Yet the seeds of the initial CSAs remain viable, perhaps even more so in our era of profound global change. They are freely available to anyone who chooses to cultivate them.

Alice Bennett Groh is part of the founding group for the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, in New Hampshire. In November, 2014 when she spoke at a Peterborough Grange ceremony to honor CSA pioneers, she put her focus on three of the seed ideas that helped community farms to become established in the USA and to grow.

With eloquence and economy of language, she told of how her husband Trauger Markus Groh partnered with Anthony Graham and Lincoln Gieger to cultivate new thinking, and thereby to initiate their highly productive, economically sustainable, and environmentally radiant Biodynamic farm on rocky, rolling hills flanking the Souhegan River.

Alice Bennett Groh speaks to the overflow crowd at the Peterborough Historical Society during the Grange ceremony honoring the pioneers of CSA. Photo from the balcony by Patrick John Gillam.
Alice Bennett Groh speaks to an overflow crowd at the Peterborough Historical Society during the Grange ceremony honoring the pioneers of CSA. Photo from the balcony by Patrick John Gillam.

In conversations with me after the Grange-CSA event, Alice spoke further about those seed ideas:

1.  The first seed that Alice recalled has to do with the ownership and financing of community farms, questions Trauger Groh engaged early in his life while living in Germany, questions he engaged again with compatriots at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, and questions which he explored in his autobiography, Personal Recollections: Remembering My Life and Those Who Mean So Much to Me (2010).

The general agricultural situation in Germany in the 1960s, according to Trauger and Alice, was that most farms were economically dependent on using foreign workers and paying them low wages. This set up ensured that the farm workers would remain poor and have no stake in the land. Meanwhile, in comparison with conventional farms where production rose steeply with the addition of synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, the financial return from harvests was unsatisfactory for organic and Biodynamic farms.

watercolorpaintIn this economic and social environment, how could organic or Biodynamic farms survive and prosper into the future? At Buschberg Farm in the 1960s, Trauger and his farm colleagues of that era were all actively cultivating Anthroposophical and Biodynamic understandings. They recognized that new economic, social and agricultural forms were needed for the Farms of Tomorrow.

Understanding that isolated farms and isolated farmers had a dim future in the shadow of corporate-industrial agriculture, they strove to create a wider, village-like arrangement based on free-will associations of households with the farm. One great aim was to open the farms to the participation of many people, to share the responsibility of growing food and caring for the earth cooperatively. To make that possible, it was necessary to change the relationship of the ownership to the land, and to give up the conventional employer/employee wage relationship.

They formed a co-operative work group for the Buschberg Farm Agricultural Working Group. The group was composed of about 40 people, with three active farmers including Trauger. Together they bore responsibility for the farm and its risks.

They developed a co-operative property association to hold the farmland in trust, and to act as a co-operative credit guarantee company. Attorney Wilhelm Barkoff designed this risk-sharing arrangement in partnership with the Co-operative Bank in Bochum, near Dresden, Germany.

Nonfarmer community members worked alongside the active farmers in managing the farm, but did not interfere with it. They contributed to the farm from their own life experience. Each member of the work group was given a loan of 3,000 DM (Deutsche Mark) by their Community Bank. This functioned as a line of credit, which the nonfarmer members of the community could then assign to the active farmers to give them working capital and enable them to establish a farm budget. The financial and health needs of the active farmers themselves and their families were built into the budget for the farm. Withdrawals were deducted and income credited.

On this basis the active farmers went about their business. If they made a profit they turned it over to the members of whole farm community: if the farm had a loss then the farm community members agreed to make up the difference. They shared the risk. This approach to free-will community trust ownership of the land and shared risk was among the original CSA seed ideas.

2.  While speaking at the Grange ceremony for the pioneers of CSA, Alice told also of how in the 1970s Trauger came to know Peter Berg, a farmer in south Germany. Berg came up with an idea for a box scheme – a weekly box of Biodynamic vegetables for people who wanted them, an approach which he was able to extend to Dornach, across the nearby border with Switzerland.

The Sower - V. Van Gogh

The Sower – V. Van Gogh

As a member of the Board of Directors for Fondation la Bruyére Blanche and as an agricultural consultant, Trauger visited Dornach many times in the early 1970s, and learned about the approach Berg was taking. Then in the 1980s, an American named Jan Vander Tuin also learned of this approach while visiting in Switzerland. He became passionately enthusiastic. Later when Vander Tuin visited western Massachusetts in 1985, he told about the pre-paid box scheme to a core group of people including John Root, Sr., John Root Jr., Charlotte Zenecchia, Andrew Lorand, and Robyn Van En. They formed The CSA Garden at Great Barrington, later known as Indian Line Farm.

The two communities – Temple-Wilton CSA in New Hampshire and Indian Line CSA in Massachusetts – were less than 150 miles apart. They connected and communicated with each other before the first CSA planting season in America, 1986.

Rather than an agriculture that is supported by government subsidies, private profits, or martyrs to the cause, CSA pioneers strove to create organizational forms that provide direct, free will support for farm and farmers from the people who eat their food by receiving a share of the harvest they have made possible. This is a second seed idea at the core of CSA.

3.  Alice Bennett Groh concluded her talk for the Grange by telling of how in the early 1980s Trauger visited with a farmer named Asgar Elmquist and his wife, Mary. The Elmquists were houseparents at Camphill Village, Copake, NY, and Asgar was also actively farming.

logoCamphill Villages are set up as households, with food budgets. It was the agreed custom for housemothers to use thier budgets to purchase food for all the residents of the households. One option was to buy food for the households from local farmers, such as Asgar. The houseparents were in fact buying from him, but toward the end of each month as house budgets ran low, the housemothers would switch and shop supermarkets instead to save money. That was not working for Asgar because it invariably left him stuck with food that he had produced but could no longer sell while it was fresh.

“Wise fellow that he is,” Alice observed, Asgar proposed that the households pledge a certain amount of budgeted money up front each month to support his general farming efforts, to support the whole farm. In return he would agree to deliver produce to their doors throughout the entire month. That upfront agreement worked better for everyone.

Trauger Groh later wrote in his autobiography. “That farms flourish must be the concern of everyone, not just the individuals working as farmers.” The idea is for the community to support the whole farm, not just to be occasional consumers buying boxes of carrots, lettuce and squash. That way the farm is in a position to reciprocate and support the community. The community supports the farm out of free will association, and the farm supports the community out of the bounty of the land.

0Back in the day, Asgar told Trauger that after he changed over to this arrangement, everything on the farm began to grow better. He explained that the nature spirits, or elemental beings weaving their works in the farm fields, have no relationship to money and no conception of it. If a farmer looks over a row of carrots and principally calculates what money he can earn with them, the elementals cannot grasp this abstraction. But if a farmer is instead thinking about bringing the crop to its highest perfection to nourish human beings and livestock, the elementals can in their own manner comprehend and respond.

“Elemental beings want what is good, healthy and right for the soil and the situation,” Alice told me. “If a farmer can be freed from the economic stress of counting rows of carrots to calculate how many rows he needs to make how much money, then the farmer can think instead of what the soil, the plants, the farm, and the farm community need. With these thoughts about concrete matters such as food and eating, rather than thoughts about the relatively abstract and artificial concept of money, everything grows better.”

“We can’t see the forces of nature,” original Indian Line CSA farmer Hugh Ratcliffe once told me, “but we can see the effects of working consciously with them.” Careful observation of nature, and intelligent cooperation with it, are among the great contributions of Biodynamics. And that’s how CSA pioneers approached it in the USA.

Considered through the lens of economics, CSA was not originated as some new, improved way to sell vegetables, milk and meat, nor was it thought of in any way as a “marketing scheme.” The seed efforts of CSA pioneers were aimed at the basic economy of finding ways to free farmers to do the tasks that are right for the farm, the people, and the earth. This intention represents a third seed at the core of the original CSA impulse.

The Temple-Wilton Community Farm in particular has taken up these seed ideas from the beginning. With effort it has cultivated and refined the seeds over 28 growing seasons: shared ownership and risk, free-will participation as members of the community, and intelligent partnership with nature rather than brute efforts at domination and control.

As Alice observed in the aftermath of the Peterborough Grange-CSA honoring ceremony, “it is unusual, to say the least, maybe even miraculous, that in these times of great social struggle that something that we approached with idealism and dedication has prospered and has had such a profound effect in the world.”

– Steven McFadden, December 2014

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Grange to Honor Farmers who Pioneered CSA

November 13, 2014

CSAceremonyA thoughtful Grange chapter plans to honor three farmers who helped pioneer the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in the USA. The event is set for Sunday, November 23 at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, and it’s sponsored by the Peterborough Grange #35 in New Hampshire.

CSA has multiplied from just two USA farms in the late 1980s to as many as 10,000 CSA farms now according to some estimates, with many thousands of other CSAs in nations all across the globe.

In the early era of CSA, in parallel with efforts at Indian Line Farm in Western Massachusetts, the three New Hampshire farmers — Trauger Groh, Lincoln Geiger and Anthony Graham — initiated the Temple Wilton Community Farm.

Land for the Temple-Wilton Community farm is held in common by the community through a legal trust. Pictured founding members Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham, and Trauger Groh. Photo courtesy of Trauger Groh.

Land for the Temple-Wilton Community farm is held in common through a legal trust. Pictured circa 2006 are founders Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham, and Trauger Groh.

Their innovative CSA is still active and prosperous, and it continues to serve as a forward-looking model for successful community farms around the world– not simply because of the high quality of food they provide for member-owners of the farm, but also because of the profoundly sane environmental, educational, economic, social, and cultural benefits that have been developed as part of the model.

In 1985-86 when the Temple-Wilton CSA was initiated, I was the farm and garden columnist for The Monadnock Ledger. The pioneering efforts of the local farmers naturally drew my interest. Eventually, with Trauger Groh, I co-authored Farms of Tomorrow (1990), and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited (2007) to explore in print what CSA held as potential. Later I authored a two-part history of CSA for Rodale’s New Farm magazine. I’m FOTR copyhonored to have been invited to give a short keynote talk – by remote video — at the Grange-CSA event in New Hampshire, and to have an opportunity to try and place the creative efforts of these farmers in context.

This keynote honoring event will continue a developing association between The Grange, which has deep historic roots in North America, and the emerging model of CSA community farms.

GrLogoOrganizer Ron Lucas of Peterborough Grange #35 plans to video record the ceremony, and to produce a 15-minute segment that will be posted on public access sites such as Youtube and Vimeo. More on that later as details become available…

For further information contact Ron Lucas of the Peterborough Grange < flowerfarm2@gmail.com >

Temple news article-page-001


Historic Pivot Point for Food Democracy

April 24, 2014
Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, from Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Vandana Shiva. Photo by Dominik Hundhammer, Wikimedia Commons.

“Something is happening at this point in history,” Katherine Kelly said as she brought to conclusion an April 17 lecture by international farm activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. “We are at a point in time where we can make an important change. Dr. Shiva is helping to lead the way. The rest is up to us.”

Kelly, the Executive Director of Cultivate Kansas City, articulated an overarching context for Shiva’s acute critique of the food system as well as her inspirational entreaties.

The context of Shiva’s presentation was further framed by three signal events. National Geographic had just published a cover story focused on the increasingly pertinent “New Food Revolution.” Meanwhile, more significantly, US merchandizing behemoth Walmart announced a program to create an industrialized organic food production system that they intend to use to “drive down the price of organic food.” The same week merchandizing rival Target Corp. also announced it was increasing its offerings of “natural, organic and sustainable” food.

Love Window CROPPED and STRAIGHTENEDIn counterpoint to these industrial-scale, profit-focused initiatives, when Dr. Shiva took the stage at Unity Temple in Kansas City, she swept her arm back, gesturing to a stained-glass window with a star burst and the word love spelled out. “That’s it,” she said. “Love. Love is the altar. It’s all about love, about bestowing attention, fostering, cherishing, honoring, tending, guarding, and loving the Earth which provides our food. The only way we can cultivate that essential ingredient of love is with community and diversity.”

The 61-year-old physicist, ecologist and author from Delhi, India then served up a penetrating deconstruction of the mechanistic mindset and the industrial food system it has spawned. This is the same mindset Walmart and Target now intend to apply to organic food.

“For a short time,” Shiva said, “the mechanistic mind has projected onto the world the false idea that food production is and must be of necessity an industrial activity. That’s a world view that is in profound error.”

“When food becomes a commodity it loses its quality, its taste, and its capacity to provide true nutrition,” she said. Industrial agriculture turns the earth into units of production, farmers into high-tech sharecroppers, and is the single biggest contributor to our declining environment. She said industrial agriculture distorts the proper relationship between humans and the natural world.

* * * * * * * *

A physicist by training, Dr. Shiva became an activist for small-scale, decentralized sustainable agriculture in 1987. That’s when she acquired insight into the motivation behind industrial farming and genetic engineering. She attended a conference on biotechnology and heard representatives of chemical corporations say that they must do genetic engineering on crops because it is a way to start claiming ownership over life.

“If we can claim ownership,” the corporate representatives reasoned according to Shiva, “then we can then collect rent or royalties on the seeds’ capacity to reproduce themselves.”

Shiva argued that it is absurd that corporations are allowed to codify life as a patentable and profitable form. “GMO,” she said, “has come to mean ‘God Move Over.’ It violates the rights of the Earth, the rights of the farmers, and the rights of the people who need to eat food to live. The patenting of life violates every principle of law and ethics and morality.”

278187This kind of one-dimensional, profit-based thinking is the core of what Shiva wrote about in her seminal 1993 book, Monocultures of the Mind. Coming at the subject from her mastery of particle physics and her understanding of the fundamental inseparability of all facets of life, she concluded that “issues about environment, economics and politics are inter-related through the way humans interact with their surroundings and with each other.”

Shiva argues in her book and in her lectures that a mechanical monocultural mindset has led to vicious circle of injurious impacts in the realms of farms, food and the environment.

“A monoculture of the mind in the economic system is what has led to corporate globalization,” she said in her Kansas City talk. “A monoculture of the mind makes it appear as if the only market that there is, is the globalized market controlled by the global giants, whereas the real market, and the real economy, are the economies of nature. That is where local food movements and systems are becoming the solution to the multiple crises created by the monoculture monopoly system.”

Our mainstream food system is designed by corporate entities having a responsibility to shareholders, investors, and private owners, she said. The bottom line is the almighty dollar. But in maximizing certain kinds of production, we are systematically ‘weeding out’ other kinds of life.

Through the monoculture of the mind we have been establishing what Shiva termed an “Empire of Man” over the earth and lesser creatures (which for people immersed in the monoculture of the mind also includes women and indigenous peoples). It constitutes an attempt at a mechanistic takeover of the universe.

“Diversity has everything to do with food,” Shiva said. “In fact, any system that is not a diversified agriculture system is something else. It’s an industrial system that is producing non-food, food that is unworthy of being eaten and that is creating huge problems in health. Real food provides the diversity of nutrients that our body needs – the trace elements, the micronutrients…Diversity creates decentralization, and decentralization creates democracy.”

Having greater diversity of seeds and of local, smaller-scale farms and food processing operations creates a wealth of options, Shiva said. “We need to intensify diversity and biology, and we can do that only through love.”

Diversity loves diversity, because it is freedom. This, she has said, is a political act, a kind of revolution. To further that revolution, and to save seeds in her home nation of India, Shiva founded Navdanya, a nonprofit organization named for the nine crops that provide food security in India.

* * * * * * * *

With Dr. Shiva’s analysis in mind, one cannot help but question the impact and outcome of Walmart’s and Target’s announced intentions to aggressively exploit what Wall Street financial analysts have branded as “the hot organic market.”

Doubtless some good will arise from increasing the number of farms using chemical-free growing practices, and the wider availability of food with decreased chemical contaminants. But the entry of such large-scale corporate players into a traditionally modest-scale and decentralized endeavor is a game changer. It’s also representative of the industrial mindset that Vandana Shiva – and advocates of food democracy – regard as profoundly troubling.

The burgeoning interest of people in clean, local food, and the accelerated entry of Walmart and Target into the realm of organic food and sustainable agriculture, establishes a critical pivot point for the food democracy movement.

As farmer John Peterson of Angelic Organics recently explained to me, farmers get beat in to the ground when they work for prices set by wholesalers, and must struggle to make their mortgage, equipment and labor payments and all the rest.

When retailers and wholesalers are in command – as they are in industrial-scale operations – efficiency and profitability become the dominant values. Farmers are contracted under these values and thereby relegated to the role of corporate vassals, laboring in servitude to fulfill the terms of contract on quantity, quality, timing, and pricing – all factors that have little to do with nature or with the rising spirit of the food democracy movement.

“You cannot have the stewards of the land struggling under that much pressure,” farmer Peterson told me. “A farm is not just an economic unit to produce food. It’s also a living social, environmental and educational organism. It cannot be thought of as just a unit of economic production. That just commodifies the farms and farmers, as food is commodified also.”

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

Cultivate KC Director Katherine Kelly and Dr. Shiva.

This is one of the key points Vandana Shiva strove to get across in her Kansas City visit. We have arrived at a pivot point for the food democracy movement. We need a fundamental transformation in the way we regard and relate to farms and food. An industrial-scale monoculture of the mind, and a monoculture of putative organic farms and food, are unlikely to fulfill this ideal. Instead they present a complex range of potentially corrupting possibilities.

“We need to cultivate freedom, to cultivate hope, to cultivate diversity,” Shiva told the Kansas City audience. “We need to build the direct relationship between those who grow the food and those who eat it. Care for people has to be the guiding force for how we produce, process, and distribute our food.”

“We need to shift the paradigm of economics to measure the well being of people,” she said, “not the profits of the oligarchs.”

Shiva spoke about the drastic climate changes underway, and also the corporate hegemony at work around the world. “Our responses must be quick, but not desperate, and also simple,” she said. “Simplicity is the highest order – the simplicity of good food, safe food, and food produced and consumed in love. This can only come out of community. Cultivate compassion, love and food democracy. Food democracy is about action, changing the way we eat every time we take a bite. It’s about people learning, engaging and acting in our food systems.”

“Every movement for human freedom throughout history has needed people to lead, people who stand for love and for higher law. That’s the challenge we face now,” Shiva said. “That is what we need.”

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.

The Kansas City audience of about 1,200 people gave Dr. Shiva a standing ovation.


CSA in the USA: The Next Quarter Century

November 22, 2013

“For whatever reason, whether it’s the economy or the availability of oil, or how crops are grown and where, 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.”       —Erin Barnett, LocalHarvest

CSA Harvest - photo by thisischile.cl courtesy of Creative Commons

CSA Harvest – photo by thisischile.cl courtesy of Creative Commons

Twenty-eight growing seasons ago our forefarmers brought forth on this continent a new way of living in relationship with the people who eat the food they grow and with the land that sustains us all.

Conceived in community, the approach was rooted in the best of agrarian traditions — not just of Europe, Asia, and Africa, but also from the essential ethos of this our native land, Turtle Island (North America). From the outset, this new farm way has been favorably engaged with the digital, high-tech culture emerging so dynamically in the world.

This relationship with land, with neighbors, and with plants and animals came to be known as CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture.

Now that 28 growing seasons have come and gone we have well over 8,500 CSA farms in the USA, extrapolating from national databases. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is serving hundreds of thousands of families and households in urban and suburban communities, and also in some rural locales. Many thousands more such community farms are at work in Canada and globally, weaving people together with the land and their food.

Yet across the US, many rural regions are “food deserts” where production ag reigns supreme, and fresh local food and supermarkets are scarce. In this context, CSAs in general (and also collaborative CSAs, a.k.a. cCSAs, and CSAs in partnership with co-ops) have potential to meet many profound needs.

But before CSA will make a significant, rural impact, the movement will need to reckon with a paradox: many farmers and shareholders identify community as a weak part of CSA. They say it’s just not happening as theorized.

farmingaloneIn their  article Farming Alone? What’s Up with the ‘C’ in Community Supported Agriculture? scholars Antoinette Pole and Margaret Gray tell of how they learned through an extensive survey that few people say they consciously join CSA to build community or meet like-minded people. The majority say they sign up for the fresh, local, organic produce.

Anthropologists Cynthia Abbott Cone and Ann Kakaliouras set out a contrasting view in their equally thoughtful paper, CSA: Building Moral Community or an Alternative Consumer Choice? Identifying CSA as a social movement, the authors observe that many participants express their commitment in moral terms, and see themselves as nurturing soil, family and the larger community.

Beyond paradox, there is a revealing reality: many CSAs have dismal renewal rates. A study undertaken with LocalHarvest, the nation’s leading online directory of organic and local food, reported that sustaining membership is one of the most difficult aspects of running a CSA. In many areas of the country, the public has a number of CSA options, including aggregators, which may eschew community to follow a “business model.” Aggregators source products from several farms to sell to buyers; some advertise themselves as CSAs.

In analyzing data from the 850 farms in the LocalHarvest study, researchers identified two things that CSA farmers can do to remedy membership turnover: host special events on the farm and consciously build personal relationships with members. But that’s asking a lot of farmers and their families: to grow the food and also to grow the community around it.

That’s why the CSA core group concept — a group of committed volunteers who serve and advise the farm — has been key in helping many CSAs sustain themselves. No doubt core groups could also play a crucial role in helping CSAs reckon with the FDA’s impending and ill-conceived Food Safety Modernization Act, which seems designed to ensnare small, organic farms in red tape and added expense.

blaz-L-7As CSA pioneers conceived of it 28 growing seasons ago — and as it is still being practiced at many community farms — CSA is not just another clever approach to marketing. Rather, community farming is about the necessary cultivation of earth-renewing 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.

If the ideals are kept in mind over the next quarter century and community does engage, then in addition to all it has already accomplished in our cities and suburbs, CSA can continue to metamorphose and do far more, and also make an emphatically healthy difference in rural America.

Note: A version of this essay was first published in The Cultivator, newsletter of The Cornucopia Institute.

I had an opportunity to give a 3-minute Quick Pitch talk on this theme — CSA in the USA — at the national Rural Futures Conference held Nov. 4, 2013 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here’s a link to a Youtube video clip of the talk.


Big Bills and Big Chills for Honest Organic Inspector

September 19, 2013
Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm. One of two Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska, Common Good produces for their CSA and for the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Lunquist is an organic farmer and inspector, but he acted as a citizen in this case. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm in Nebraska. They produce for a CSA and the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

On December 7, 2011 the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) inadvertently violated its own policies and released the name of a Nebraska man who had accurately reported a farmer who was flouting the legally binding organic rules.

In so doing, the NOP unleashed upon Evrett Lunquist a multi-year plague of legal pleadings, and a barnload of  legal expenses to defend himself.

After his name was released in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the man who correctly reported the violations, Biodynamic farmer and part time inspector Evrett Lunquist, was sued for $7.6 million in a Nebraska Court by Paul A. Rosberg, the vengeful farmer who had violated organic rules. Later in the proceedings, International Certification Services was added as a defendant.

After more than 18 months of tedious hearings and a numbing cascade of motions filed by the plaintiff, Lancaster County Judge Paul D. Merritt finally in August 2013 issued a summary judgment dismissing the case.

not-organic-After the expensive ordeal of defending himself against the allegations unleashed by the NOP’s procedural error, Lunquist, who followed the letter of the law acting as a private citizen when he initially reported the violations, had racked up more than $43,000 in legal expenses. While he received no support or acknowledgement of responsibility from the NOP, he and his family did find generous support from their church and their community. I have previously reported on this case both here and here.

logoThis convoluted case calls into question the ability of the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP) to stand behind citizens and inspectors who report violations of organic standards. Consequently, the case has sent a palpable chill through America’s network of organic inspectors, and may thereby compromise consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA’s “Certified Organic” label. Meanwhile, another kind of food certification — Certified Naturally Grown — is emerging.

Through its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supervises the organic program, the USDA said it was unable to comment on the case. AMS and NOP were also apparently unable to find a way to support Lunquist in this lawsuit, as requested by Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry at an Ag Appropriations subcommittee hearing April 18, 2013.

AMS Administrator David Shipman responded at that hearing: “We made a mistake…It is really regrettable. I have looked at this case a number of times and sat with legal counsel trying to figure out how we can in some way help that individual…but the avenue to actually help in a financial way, I have not found a path forward on that yet. It is an extremely regrettable situation, and we aware of it.” Shipman has since retired.

A year earlier, as the case against Lunquist dragged on, organic program Administrator, Miles McEvoy published a policy statement on how the agency handles complaints about organic certification.

“Organic integrity relies on the ability of inspectors to register complaints without fear of reprisal. A ‘chilling effect’ from the threat of disclosure and retaliation could make it much less likely that individuals will report to the NOP suspected fraud, misconduct, or other actions that undermine organic integrity.”  — Margaret Scoles, IOIA

Posse Comitatus Rides Again?

Plaintiff Paul Rosberg represented himself pro se in this case, as he has represented himself often. According to court records, Rosberg has filed several dozens of lawsuits in Nebraska over the past 30 years.

Stack-of-foldersThe plaintiff’s legal attack in this case, and in others, closely parallels the philosophies and strategies of the Posse Comitatus, a loosely organized far-right social and survivalist movement. The movement has pioneered the use of false liens and other forms of paper terrorism.

After having been found to be out of compliance with organic standards, Rosberg threatened to bankrupt Lunquist. Then in a March 5, 2012 letter with an ominous subtext, Rosberg wrote: “Please let me assure you I WILL NOT do any physical damage to you or your family. I am a Christian and I have a wife and 16 children.”

As someone who has been involved in dozens of lawsuits, Rosberg proved adept at disruptive strategies. In pursuing Lunquist – who acted carefully within the law to protect the public from fraud — Rosberg filed over 30 pleadings, motions or objections, drastically dragging the case out over time before his complaint was finally dismissed this summer.

In an interview before one of the many hearings in Lancaster County Court, Rosberg told me that he owned 260 cows and 240-acres of farmland, and that he leased two thousand more acres of land for farming. “I’m a sharecropper,” he said.

Meanwhile Back at the Farm: Hiring a Hit Man

During the stretch when Rosberg was pressing his suit against Lunquist, he and his wife Kelly were indicted by a federal grand jury on a separate but related matter: six counts of fraud for selling misbranded meat through their company, Nebraska’s Finest Meats, to the Omaha Public Schools. If convicted they face fines and prison terms.

hitOn Friday the 13th of September, 2013, just days before yet another hearing to assess legal fees in the dismissed suit against Lunquist, Rosberg was arrested and taken into federal custody. He is incarcerated under contract at the Douglas County Jail in Omaha, Nebraska.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star Rosberg is accused of trying to hire two hit men to murder two witnesses in his federal meat trial. According to an affidavit, on Monday September 1, just one month out from the date of his trial for violations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Rosberg asked a man and his brother if they would kill two government witnesses. The accuser, who had worked for Rosberg for six weeks, said Rosberg twice asked him to kill two witnesses scheduled to testify for the government at his federal trial.

Rosberg will be arraigned on charges of solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

The Big Chill

Because he was in jail, Rosberg did not appear in court on Monday, September 16 for yet another hearing, this one on assessing legal fees in the lawsuit he filed against Lunquist. The hearing involved a marked measure of paper shuffling and box checking by the judge, to insure his ruling would not be vulnerable to the appeals Rosberg had previously vowed he would file.

After processing the thick stack of exhibits and motions in order, the judge said he would look at everything, and then later rule on the matter of attorney fees. No matter how the judge rules, it seems unlikely Paul Rosberg will have the wherewithal or the inclination to pay Lunquist.

Realizing his situation, Evrett Lunquist long ago asked the NOP to make things right for him, since it was their mistake that brought on the lawsuit. The NOP declined to help with legal costs or to issue a public apology. Over the course of the lawsuit, the agency had been slow to provide documents needed by the defense, thereby driving up legal expenses. The NOP did, however, ultimately provide an official Declaration corroborating the validity and accuracy of Lunquist’s original complaint. At that time the agency stated it would take precautions to ensure this never happens again.

chillLunquist told me his motivation for filing a complaint in the first place was to preserve organic integrity. “If people run roughshod over it,” he said, “then organic will have no meaning. In my mind I was doing the right thing by submitting information. This turn of events has been stupefying.”

In an interview after the September 16 hearing on attorney fees, Lunquist said that the lengthy legal ordeal had been not only expensive, but also nerve wracking. “It should have been a much shorter course of events,” he said.

Last March Lunquist and his attorneys, Gene Summerlin and Marie Jensen, traveled to California to participate in a training conference of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), the professional organization of organic inspectors. Lunquist’s attorneys spoke at a workshop on managing the legal risks faced by official inspectors and by private citizens.

IOIAA main point that came across at the meeting is that if you file a complaint outside of the government mandated responsibilities of an inspector, maintaining your anonymity scrupulously is the only way you can assure your name is not released. If your name is released, you are thereby exposed — vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled farmers and processors accused of violating the rules. That harsh reality is true whether you are an official organic inspector or an independent citizen, as Lunquist was in this instance.

The USDA said that it was unable to comment on the judge’s dismissal of Rosberg’s suit against Lunquist. While Lunquist has had to defend himself, he has had strong backing from family, church and community.

Onward to Higher Ground

This apparent vulnerability to personal lawsuits has had a chilling effect through the community of organic inspectors, and it threatens to undermine consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA “organic certification.”

Participants at the inspectors training program earlier this year generally agreed that it is naive to think that your name and contact information will remain confidential if you file a complaint. Almost anything can be ferreted out by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and by data mining strategies as made apparent this year through the extensive revelations about government or business intrusions into private communications.

Anything submitted to the government can – and very well may be – released. The NOP was legally bound to release a copy of the complaint to Rosberg, but it should have redacted Lunquist’s name, contact, and other identifying information.

Lunquist acknowledged that many observers regard his legal travails as part of pattern that has created the chilling effect for organic inspectors. He told me that several inspectors approached him at the meeting and said they have filed similar complaints, and might well have gotten caught up in similar costly lawsuits.

Lunquist said there was general agreement on the need to act within the USDA mandate for organic inspectors, or to protect your anonymity if you are not acting in that role. If organic inspectors and citizens want to remain private, they must take pains to remain anonymous.

Demeter-USAThe farmers of Common Good have established a website to keep people informed about the case, and to try and raise money to cover the cost of Lunquist’s legal defense. “We have received donations amounting to about half of our legal bills,” Ruth Chantry told me. “That support from our church, our community, and many wonderful people has meant a lot to us.”

Evrett Lunquist and Ruth Chantry’s stories are told in Higher Ground, a documentary film about their Common Good Farm, one of only two Demeter Certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska. The documentary, produced by Open Harvest Co-op, is posted on Youtube.

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AUTHOR’S DISCLOSURE: I serve on the board of the consumer-owned Open Harvest Co-op in Lincoln, Nebraska. Common Good Farm is among 110+ local farms that do business with our co-op. The co-op has donated money to help cover the cost of Lunquist’s defense.

wheat-for-harvest


Organic Entanglements: Costly Case with a Big Chill

January 17, 2013

*entanglementsAt a court hearing in Lincoln, Nebraska this week, a judge granted a continuance, again pushing back the date for resolving a controversial legal matter that is having an ongoing chilling impact upon US organic inspectors. The first case of its kind, it involves an organic farm inspector and a farm claiming to be organic.

The plaintiff claims the organic inspector conspired with the US government and the inspection company to prevent his business from having a valued organic certification.

Plaintiff farmer Paul A. Rosberg is suing organic inspector Evrett Lunquist (and International Certification Services, Inc.) for $7.6 million. Judge Paul D. Merritt of Lancaster County Court set March 20, 2013 as the date for a hearing on summary judgment of this entangled matter. A summary judgment could end the case without a full trial.

Judge Merritt had no choice but to grant the continuance and postpone. The plaintiff will be on trial in a criminal case scheduled to start January 28, and would likely be unable to appear in Merritt’s court on January 29 for the hearing that had been scheduled for that date. Rosberg’s criminal case involves federal grand jury indictments on six counts stemming from his alleged sale of non-inspected meat to the Omaha Public Schools.

Defendant Lunquist and attorney have filed motions requesting summary judgment dating back to May, 2012 and again in October.  But a steady flow of motions filed by Rosberg has kept the matter unsettled, and the meter running on Lunquist’s attorney. As the case drags on into its second year – and the severe drought gripping The Great Plains intensifies — Lunquist’s legal bills continue to mount. The latest entanglements in the case have driven the defense costs over $30,000.

My original story on this case, with background details, can be found here.

At the hearing in Lancaster County Court on January 15, the judge read off a numbingly long list of motions in the case, including Rosberg’s latest motions asking for sanctions on the defendant’s attorney, and for further delay in resolving his case against the inspector.

Rosberg, who represents himself pro se, has been involved in dozens of lawsuits over the past 28 years.  He said his impending federal case in Omaha will involve 70 witnesses. If the federal judge allows that many witnesses, that criminal case could drag on for weeks and thus Rosberg would be unavailable to press his latest lawsuits.

This $7.6 million lawsuit in Nebraska is sending a piercing legal chill through the nation’s network of organic inspectors. The case calls into question the willingness of the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP) to stand behind inspectors.  After inspector Lunquist acted independently and notified NOP of his concerns, the NOP investigated and found that Rosberg’s operation indeed failed to qualify for organic certification. Lunquist’s complaint should have been kept confidential under NOP policy. But they inadvertently released his identity, leading directly to this lawsuit.

Although the NOP has provided a Declaration corroborating the accuracy of Lunquist’s original complaint, they have declined to help with Lunquist’s ballooning legal costs or to issue a public apology.

Judge Merritt granted plaintiff Rosberg a continuance until March 20, but said this was the last delay. In the interim, he allowed Rosberg to compel inspector Lunquist to provide further documentation, an action that will inevitably drive the defense legal bill even higher.

Lunquist, himself a Biodynamic CSA farmer with his wife and family at Common Good Farm, has established a website to keep people informed and to try and raise money to cover the cost of his legal defense

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AUTHOR’S DISCLOSURE: I serve on the board of Open Harvest Co-op in Lincoln, Nebraska. Common Good Farm is among 110+ local vendors that do business with our co-op. The coop has been helping to raise funds to cover the cost of Lunquist’s defense.


Organic Justice: An Update for the Common Good

November 25, 2012

The Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., has announced that on January 10, 2013 it will hear the appeal in a landmark legal case of critical importance to all who eat organic food: Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto.

This case is also, notably, of direct relevance to Evrett Lunquist, who was the subject of my November 14 report – America’s Organic Inspectors Chilled by Libel Case. In addition to that precedent-seting libel case, Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry of Common Good Farm in Raymond, Nebraska are also among the coalition of organic farms and organizations which have banded together to press the class-action lawsuit against Monsanto.

The Organic Seed Grower’s lawsuit challenges the validity of Monsanto’s transgenic seed patents, and seeks preemptive court protection for farmers when Monsanto’s genetically engineered seed trespasses onto their farms and contaminates their natural, organic crops.

The plaintiff community of organic farmers asserts that this case is not just an academic dispute of patent law. Rather it is a critical issue affecting family farmers across the USA, with implications of global significance.

With the defeat of the GMO labeling proposition in California earlier this month, the OSGATA suit against Monsanto takes center stage in the national debate about genetically engineered food.

While the GMO invasion matter is being contested in court, this November the final report of the USDA’s Advisory Committee on Biotechnology & 21st Century Agriculture threw another hatchet at the roots of organic farming and food. The committee formally recommended that organic farmers be obliged to pay money to self-insure themselves against unwanted GMO contamination. The National Organic Coalition immediately issued a statement of opposition to this measure.

If the USDA implements such a requirement, it would be tantamount to  a mob “protection plan” — forcing farmers to pay protection money to insure that they are not ruined financially by the full-scale onslaught of the GMO Industrial Complex, Inc.

No amount of insurance, however, will protect the land, the farmers themselves, or the food they produce, from GMO contamination.

Rather than protecting clean land and farms, this recommended policy would place full cost and full responsibility for contamination not on the perpetrators, but instead on the farmers whose land and crops have been transgressed. It would, in effect, turn the common-sense understanding of justice on its head. In no way would such a policy serve the common good.


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

November 2, 2012

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.


Left Behind: Unraptured by the Transgenic Tsunami

January 24, 2012

When Stewart Brand spoke at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in mid-January, he broadcast a vision of a Genetically Modified (GM) future toward which he felt we should all be charging with bright-eyed enthusiasm. “Get out there where it’s getting weird,” he exhorted, “and get weird with it.”

As I sat and listened to Brand talk of the future, I was carried in reverie not forward but backward to 1964. That’s the year my mom took my sister, my brothers and me to the New York City World’s Fair where we made a pilgrimage through the most celebrated exhibit of all, Futurama. Sponsored by another GM (General Motors), the exhibit offered a glimpse into what life would be like in the future — as GM engineers wanted to conceive of it. Of course, the future materialized its own way, not in accordance with immaculately engineered visions.

Likewise, Stewart Brand’s exhilarating vision of a corporately-owned, genetically-modified World of Tomorrow — a world subsisting on a diet of what he calls ‘Green Ag BioTech’ — seems to me unlikely and ill advised.

Stewart Brand

Founder of the famously countercultural Whole Earth Catalog back in 1968, Brand now styles himself as an “ecopragmatist.” He said that three global dynamics – climate change, urbanization and biotechnology – are causing people like himself to reverse long-held opinions and to embrace nuclear power and genetically modified food.

Brand is vivid and likeable on the stage, and his talk was expansive and entertaining. Because he is such a prominent convert to biotech, his philosophical reincarnation as an ecopragmatist advocate for nuclear power and GMO food might well have a measure of influence. But not with me.

His talk left me unconvinced and unraptured by the whole vast global laboratory experiment on nature and our food that is currently being executed with slam-bam systemic speed. I just don’t hear the call of the land as a plea for more industrially created, corporately owned genes and the petrochemicals necessary to sustain them. What I hear instead is a full-throated call for natural respect. Same as it ever was.

Special Pleading

Brand told the story of how on his way to Nebraska to speak he had flown over the Sierras. While in the air he saw that there was no snow pack at all on the mountains this year. This kind of ominous drought, he said, has not occurred since the 1880s. Climate change is catastrophically real, he then affirmed, saying it was a central motivating force for the work he does in the world.

In the context of our unfolding climate calamity, Brand asked rhetorically, “What is moral and ethical?” He answered his own question in the same breath, saying that nuclear power, genetically modified plants and animals, and geo-engineering are all essential ways to the future, and that we — corporations, universities, governments and amateurs — ought to go full steam ahead into a more fully nuclear-powered, genetically modified world.

Brand said that at this point in history environmentalists have only hand wringing to contribute to the future. He derided “enviros,” saying they are people caught up in a web of suspicions and superstitions. They are just “sad reactionaries,” he lamented.

A man of signal accomplishments, Brand at one point shifted and began declaiming. Aflame with the scripture of material technology, he allowed his rap to devolve and issued a disheartening damnation of unbelievers. In the years to come, Brand warned from his pulpit on stage, the leading edge of biotech will not be here in America but rather far afield in China, Africa and the Third World. Those places lack opposition, and have minimal regulation. In places like America where there is opposition to these thrusts, he warned, people such as organic and sustainable farmers and their supporters will be “left behind.” Organic farming will be more expensive and will yield food with less nutritional value than patented transgenic crops. Organics will become irrelevant.

Brand tossed off several ad hominem slams to imply that opposition to a GM future arises not from authentic, evidence- and ethics-based concerns, but rather from irrational fear. In that sense his presentation was a special pleading: a form of argumentation where a person excludes facts or details that would upend the case they are attempting to make. Enraptured with his subject, Brand stuck to sweeping generalizations, and neither acknowledged nor refuted the substantial body of legitimate concerns about GM corporate industrial farms and food. This struck me as a disservice to the debate.

Likewise, Brand said nothing about the ramifications of corporate ownership and monopoly over various life forms. He said nothing about informed choice or human free will, absolutely massive aspects of the GM miasma. He said nothing about the mounting studies and literature reviews documenting concern about the impact of GMOs on human health and the natural world over time. He said nothing of the Precautionary Principle. And he said not a word about the suicides in India of hundreds of thousands of farmers — the largest wave of suicides in human history — in consequence of the debt and suffering incurred by becoming involved with corporate biotech.

These matters – scientific concerns about GMOs, the free will of human beings, and a saddening, stupefying wave of suicides — must be addressed in any discussion of corporate industrial agriculture and GM seeds and food. To ignore them, or to gloss them over, creates a dangerous distortion of reality.

Sans Spectrum

At one point Brand showed a PowerPoint slide with a double-headed arrow to illustrate the spectrum of opinion on climate change: from total denial to full acceptance. But he made no allowance for a justifiable spectrum of opinion on GM food. In his view, at least as I heard him express it, there are only two stances: sanguine acceptance of corporate genetic manipulation of the food chain, or pitiful irrational fear of the future.

There are millions of people who, for sound ethical and scientific reasons, oppose GM farms and food. And there is a mounting library of research that should give any thoughtful person pause.

The health consequences of eating genetically modified organisms are still largely unknown. GMOs just have not been proven to be safe over the long term. Increasingly, studies are suggesting that grave health problems — for plants, animals and humans — may well be caused by GMOs. We’re all still guinea pigs. Make no mistake: the jury is still out.

Consider. Nearly 50 countries — including Brazil, China, South Korea and the European Union—already ban many genetically engineered foods altogether. They also generally require labeling of GMO products so their people will know what they are eating.

As expressed by UC Berkeley professor of microbial ecology, Ignacio Chapela, “…the fundamental truth stands that over the decades no real benefit has offset the proven harm caused by GMOs.”

Most Americans, however, are every day ingesting plate loads of lab-created DNA while having absolutely no idea about what they are doing, and no choice in the matter. There are no labels. Our free will has been rendered inconsequential, even though surveys show overwhelmingly (93%) that Americans do want labels. More than half a million people have already signed a petition to the FDA asking for the basic information and protection of labels.

For these and other reasons I have written about, I am altogether at peace with the idea of being left behind by the corporate GM onslaught. I remain unraptured. I’ll take my stand for the future on clean, organic land and food. Same as it ever was.

A Titanic Transgenic Courtroom Clash

The debate about GM food will amp up considerably this year, starting on January 31. That’s the day that the courts will hold a preliminary hearing on the lawsuit the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA), and others have brought against Monsanto. The hearing will determine whether this landmark case goes forward.

Along with 83 family farmers and organic ag groups — a group totaling over 300,000 members — OSGTA is challenging Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed.  The plaintiffs are carrying a banner in a crucial courtroom stance for everyone concerned about GM transgenic food.

The 300,000 member plaintiff group will set their case out in opening remarks at the hearing: “Society stands on the precipice of forever being bound to transgenic agriculture and transgenic food. Coexistence between transgenic seed and organic seed is impossible because transgenic seed contaminates and eventually overcomes organic seed.”

The Plaintiffs say they are seeking relief from the court because organic, biodynamic, and other farmers need legal protection against contamination by Monsanto’s transgenic crops. They will present evidence to show transgenic food does not serve the public interest, nutritionally, environmentally, agronomically, or genetically.

This case is of resounding significance not just for farmers but also for consumers. There are far-reaching potential health consequences of transgenic food, particularly for future generations of plants, animals, and people. All this and more will arise for courtroom debate.

Futurama – GM at the 1964 World’s Fair


Sacred Tobacco Teachings Illuminate Bee Colony Collapse Catastrophe

April 23, 2011

© 2011 – by Steven McFadden

Poster by Meghan Stratham for a screening of 'Queen of the Sun' - Ross Theater, Lincoln, Nebraska.

In bleakly immense numbers, billions of bees, birds and bats continue to perish. These massive, mysterious pollinator exterminations are steadily stinging our food supply and the whole of the natural world.

One out of every three bites of food that we consume is directly linked to pollinators. Thus, as the bees go, so go we.

While the precise cause of bee colony collapse is still argued, clues continue to emerge. Suspects still include mites, viruses, funguses, chemicals, genetically modified plants and associated pathogens, as well as EMF radiation from wireless technology.

According to a widely noted paper in the journal PLoS One, an active part of the problem is a tag-team consisting of a virus and a fungus. Exactly how these micro-entities kill bees remains uncertain. However, researchers did confirm that both the virus and the fungus have their impact in the bee gut. Somehow, the bees’ guts are being rendered vulnerable; then the virus and fungus have their fatal impact.

As for beekeepers, they are increasingly convinced that an underlying cause of this gut-weakening, global death plague is a family of insecticides called neonicotinoids. They are chemicals which mimic the form and function of nicotine, the naturally occurring alkaloid in tobacco. In synthetic, chemical form the neonicotinoids are sprayed on seeds or crops to keep them clear of marauding insects.

By now the neonicotinoids, in combination with a ‘chemical soup‘ of other substances, are widely believed to be a major player in losses being described collectively as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). (See recent comments on this from the USDA top bee scientist.)

Note well the tobacco aspect of this story. It may prove key to a multitude of mysteries. For thousands of years tobacco has been recognized in native North America as chief of the plant world. It is the first and most important plant.

As chief of the plant realm, tobacco can be employed for great good, or for great harm. This has been understood for generations. In this context, the widespread, commercial use of manufactured, synthetic, chemical tobacco — a substance reduced to a base material form — appears as a matter of resounding agricultural and spiritual significance.

Subtle Mysteries

Mystery lives in the hive. Bees emerging from the hexagonal form of their homes, guided by the position of the Sun, are drawn into engagement with life via the colors and fragrances of flowers. From the exquisite forms of the flowers they draw the dew-moistened essences of nectar and pollen. This they refine within their bodies into the warming, golden, hive-filling elixir that is honey, a sublime food.

Queen of the Sun, a new film opening May 13 in Lincoln — and on other dates around North America this spring — explores the bee, hive, honey, and pollination mysteries with art and intelligence. The film is being widely praised for its nature cinematography, and for serving up insights both scientific and esoteric.

Queen of the Sun explores how our natural, rhythmic relationship with bees has been fundamentally altered by mechanized, chemicalized, and edgily efficient industrial practices. The film explores also the possibilities and pathways of human beings responding intelligently and helpfully to the death murmurings of the bees by restoring our lands to full, natural, organic health and vitality, while also reorienting bee-keeping practices.

The bee mysteries explored in the film, in combination with the suspected role of neonicotinoids in the collapse of the bees, put me strongly in mind of traditional Native teachings about tobacco. Having traveled and studied with Native elders for nearly 40 years, I am aware of some of the core cultural and spiritual understandings about tobacco, and I regard them as significant.

Because tobacco is understood to play such a key role in the natural world and in human life, and because the derangement and collapse of the bee colonies is so important to our survival, the subject merits both physical and metaphysical study.

The Four Sacred Medicines

As held in the millennia-old teachings of Turtle Island (North America), tobacco is appreciated as the first plant that Creator gave to the human beings. Tobacco, part of the nightshade family of plants, has a special role, and is chief among the plants — the most significant medicine. Three other plants, sage, cedar and sweetgrass, follow tobacco. Together, since antiquity, they have been spoken of as the four sacred medicines.

As the ancient teachings maintain, tobacco was given to human beings so people could communicate with the spirit world. Said to be powerful beyond contemporary reckoning, tobacco opens the portal allowing that communication to take place in a safe, conscious, and wholesome manner. Traditional people say “always through tobacco.” Tobacco is always first, used as an offering for most everything and in every ceremony.

Tobacco has been used for many generations as offerings of gratitude, for planting, for harvesting, for healings and for acknowledgments. Tobacco pathways streaming prayerful thoughts have characteristic qualities of respect, protection and healing. Tobacco is Big Medicine, Chief Medicine, the main activator of all the plant relatives.

In the past, the naturally occurring alkaloid of nicotine from the tobacco plant was used as an insecticide. In our era a synthetic form of nicotine — the neonicotinoid family of chemical insecticides — has come into wide use. Those commercially sold nicotine analogs bear names such as clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, and thiamethoxam.

Using tobacco with wisdom brings protection and communication; using tobacco without wisdom is exceedingly dangerous. Most people are aware of how habitually smoking and inhaling the plant leads to acute health problems, often to cancerous death.

Correspondingly, using a reductionist synthetic form of tobacco as an agricultural or backyard insecticide can lead — and many beekeepers believe is leading — to sickness and death for our essential bee relatives.

Correspondences

Queen Bee

Queen of the Sun notes that the pollinator catastrophe of today was foreseen as early as 1923. That’s when, in a series of lectures entitled “The Bees,” Rudolf Steiner stated that within 80 to 100 years we would see the consequences of our tendency to mechanize the hive forces that had previously operated organically.

Born in Austria (1861–1925), Steiner made his mark as a literary and philosophical scholar credited with dozens of important observations and initiatives. He gave the starting impulse for the biodynamic approach to agriculture. He indicated that as a consequence of meddling with hives, manipulating the queen bees (Queens of the Sun), and a generally mechanistic approach to the otherwise healthy, natural rhythms of the colonies, we would create conditions causing the mass disappearance of the bees. So it has come to pass.

One of Steiner’s related ideas was that an essential spiritual requirement of the modern age is to be aware of the increasingly powerful influence of regressive, materialistic impulses which tend to numb or deaden the living spirit. He cautioned that if mechanical strategies of efficiency were imposed upon the hives, they would wither and fail. With the widespread  use of chemicals, and mechanistic processes such as interrupting brood production, artificial insemination of queens, and clipping queens’ wings, the complex masterpiece of the hive has been tamed into its modern condition.

In metaphysics, the doctrine of analogy and correspondence is the classic approach for exploring the relationship between natural and spiritual realms. The doctrine posits that as the whole of existence is one, all parts are in relationship with all other parts, and different levels (realms or worlds) have correspondences. The parts of the whole are in relationship with one another, and we can learn something about a given realm by examining the corresponding part in another realm.

The ancient Hermetic teachings expressed this doctrine of correspondence in the familiar maxim, “As above, so below; as below, so above.”

In this context, consider the synthetic forms of nicotine-tobacco, the neonicotinoids. They are created in a manufacturing plant as a chemical that mimics some of the properties of natural, sacred tobacco, and then used to protect plants by killing insects.

Head - Hive

Neonicotinoids act as neurotoxins. Bees exposed to them — especially in the context of the modern day ‘chemical soup’ in the environment — exhibit symptoms similar to humans afflicted with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. They become deranged: normal mind and body functions are disturbed. Derangement leads to progressive paralysis which leads to death.

As derangement and colony collapse surge in the realm of the bees, we can meanwhile observe a corresponding surge — of staggering proportions — in the realm of human beings afflicted with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

As with the bees being negatively impacted by chemicals, a mounting list of studies shows the connection between other chemicals and the soaring rates of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

These observations stand as no absolute, physical scientific proof of a connection. But as apparent correspondences, they absolutely merit metaphysical consideration.

Stark Realities

The whole picture of bee colony collapse was cast in the light of stark reality on March 11. That’s when the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report entitled Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insects. According to that report, “The increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, including systemic insecticides and those used to coat seeds, is being found to be damaging or toxic to bees.”

This decline of bee populations, the UNEP report adds, has serious consequences for global food security. Beekeeper Gunther Hauk, who is featured in Queen of the Sun, observes that “colony collapse disorder and the decline of the honeybee is more important even than global warming. Without pollinators doing their tireless work, we wouldn’t have our flowering world, nor 40% of the food we eat and drink.”

Despite numerous red flags, the droning rattle of bee death may grow louder yet this year as farm fields are planted in North America. Despite UN warnings, despite outright bans in Europe, and despite beekeeper protests in the USA, the EPA is again allowing the use of neonicotinoids in 2011.

Late in 2010, thanks to an internal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) memo that came to light via Wikileaks, beekeepers learned that EPA scientists were reporting that a crucial study for the insecticide clothianidin — one of the most widely used neonicotinoids — had been downgraded from “acceptable” to “supplemental.”

The memo stated: “[S]tudies to honey bees show that clothianidin is highly toxic on both a contact and an oral basis….When bees consume guttation (dew drops) collected from plants grown from neonicotinoid-coated seeds they encounter death within a few minutes.”

The leaked EPA memo recommended that a new field study be undertaken along with at least one other study to ensure that the clothianidin, now widely used on crops in the country’s agricultural centers, is not harmful to pollinators.

The memo also made it apparent that the EPA had allowed the neonicotinoid to stay on the market while the crucial study on the subject had been deemed inadequate. Of note, that study had been submitted to the EPA by Bayer, the multinational corporation that is both the maker and the marketer of the insecticide.

In December, right after the leak of the EPA memo, a coalition of beekeeping groups sent a letter urging the agency to issue a stop use order immediately. “Our nation cannot afford, and the environment cannot tolerate, another growing season of clothianidin use,” the letter read.

The letter to the EPA was signed by a host of heavy hitters from the realm of the bees: the National Honey Bee Advisory Board, American Honey Producers Association, American Beekeeping Federation, Pesticide Action Network of North America, Center for Biological Diversity, and Beyond Pesticides.

The groups received the EPA response to their letter on February 18, 2011. Basically, the EPA asserted that “insufficient data exists” to make a conclusive case. “Based on the EPA’s thorough review of the scientific information,” the letter reads, “EPA does not intend at this time to initiate suspension or cancellation actions against the registered used of clothianidin.”

The letter went on to say that “given the concern about the neonicotinoid class of pesticides and protection of bees, the Agency has also accelerated scheduling the comprehensive re-valuation of these pesticides…”

The die is cast for 2011 in North America. Throughout the growing season across the land, the synthetic tobacco that has aroused so much concern – even among EPA scientists — will be in full and widespread use.

Our Cumulative Power

“Who knows what losses the earth has suffered? One who, with sounds that nonetheless praise, can sing the heart born into the whole. “ – Rainer Maria Rilke

As suggested poetically by Rilke and as taught by Steiner, a first step in addressing the realm of nature is to deepen our understanding of the whole, and the web of corresponding relationships that constitute the whole. We have much to gain from penetrating the mysteries via science and intuition, and much to contribute in response if we authentically engage the call of the bees as one key chorus in the overall call of the land.

In this matter as in so many others that characterize our era, it appears that individuals of good conscience must make their own determinations, set their will, and take their own positive actions.

Toward that end, here are some suggestions for steps one might take on the path toward penetrating the mysteries and establishing conditions which allow the bees and other pollinators to prosper in good health, that we human beings may in turn prosper in good health.

  • Educate yourself about bees and the food chain. Read a book or see the film Queen of the Sun.
  • Provide habitat by planting bee-friendly flowers in your yard such as Black-Eyed Susan, Buttercups, Clematis, and Dhalias. Gardens with 10 or more bee-friendly plants support the most apian visitors.
  • Respect plants typically identified as ‘weeds.’ Plants such as dandelions and clover are popular with bees. Consider letting some of these weeds come to flower, then pull them up after they’ve gone to seed.
  • Reduce or eliminate lawn chemicals. Many lawn and garden chemicals are lethal to bees, while others may weaken their immune systems. Consider switching to integrated pest management for lawns, or using natural, organic fertilizers and biological controls.

  • Join the community of beekeepers in urging the EPA to fulfill it’s core responsibilities to protect us against toxins, derangement, and death and thereby to safeguard the nation.  Sign the petition for a National Honey Bee Day. You can print out copies of the petition if you want to seek further signatures at local garden clubs, coops, farmers markets, CSAs, and so forth.
  • Support local organic farms. They are oases of environmental health and thus sanctuaries for bees. Support local beekeepers by buying their honey.
  • Consider becoming a beekeeper yourself.  As a simple search will reveal, the Net is loaded with resources for learning.
  • Grow a tobacco plant (Nicotiana rustica)  in your yard or in a pot.  Contemplate the plant’s form and qualities
  • Offer a pinch of dried tobacco leaf to the land if it meshes with your spiritual practice. Offer, then relax and listen. Tobacco is said to help to open a path of communication, but it is not a one-way path for broadcasting thoughts and desires. We have with this practice a chance to listen to the call of the land and the creatures such as the bees, and thereby to be informed on a necessary level of relationship.
  • Check out the resources on the links page for The Call of the Land. Some of the models listed there may help you find a way to add some positive energy in response to the diminishing buzz of the bees and other pollinators.

These may all appear to be small, insignificant steps. They are not. Consider how small is the packet of pollen and nectar that an individual bee carries to the hive. In combination with the efforts of all the other bees, quarts of golden honey flow forth. Likewise, the individual and shared efforts of people to heal our relationship with the land and the hives brings a cumulative, healing power more fully into the world.

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