New Book: Awakening Community Intelligence

May 9, 2015

CSA book coverI’m pleased to announce publication of my new book, Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as Community Cornerstones. Both print and ebook editions are now available via Amazon.com.

Over the last decades many thousands of people in all parts of the world have come to recognize in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) a vehicle for approaching land, food, labor, environment and community in a healthier way. Now – in an era with increasing shadows of environmental catastrophe – it’s time to expand exponentially the CSA vision and reality.

The opportunity is before us to establish hundreds of thousands of CSA farms in nations around the world, and to thereby employ a proven, egalitarian model to address the radically changing circumstances in our environment, climate, economics, and social relationships. This book lays out the vision.

By way of background: as a journalist I’ve been writing about CSA since its inception in the USA in the late 1980s. With Trauger Groh, I’m co-author of the first books on CSA: Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. My other books include The Call of the Land, Profiles in Wisdom, Classical Considerations, and the epic nonfiction saga of contemporary America, Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

Awakening Community Intelligence sets out the vision and sounds is a call to action.

The book is available now in both print and ebook formats from Amazon.com. It’s also in wide range of eBook and Smartphone formats from Smashwords.com, and for all Mac devices in the iBookstore.

Amazon-buynow

iBookstore_Badge


Coming soon: My new book on CSA Farms

May 5, 2015

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finished writing a new book, and that it’s coming soon. All the details will be announced on this blog.

Over the last decades many thousands of people in all parts of the world have come to recognize in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) a vehicle for approaching land, food, labor, environment and community in a healthier way. Now – in an era with increasing shadows of environmental catastrophe – it’s time to expand exponentially the CSA vision and reality.

CSA book cover

The opportunity is before us to establish hundreds of thousands of CSA farms in nations around the world, and to thereby employ a proven, egalitarian model to address the radically changing circumstances in our environment, climate, economics, and social relationships.  This book lays out the vision eloquently.

As a journalist I’ve been writing about CSA since its inception in the USA in the late 1970s. This new book is a visionary call to action.

 


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

farmm 


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.

* * * * * * * * 

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


%d bloggers like this: