Amid Abrupt Economic and Environmental Changes CSA Farms Emerge as a Resourceful Strategy

rowsveggiesAs the economic and natural worlds abruptly mutate around us, food and farms are also, inevitably, in the ongoing thrall of this blitzkrieg of change. Consider the factors in motion: finance, employment, transport, climate, oil, agrochemical and water supplies, human health, and the genetics of our food chain. All of the above, and more, underscore the need for individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities to take steps now to cultivate food security.

Big corporate farms depend absolutely on bank credit, oil, and agrochemicals — all precariously vulnerable factors. Thus, the industrial agriculture model which at present brings us most of our food, will have to reckon with the wildly shifting financial climate. We must mobilize our will, intelligence, and strength on the essential matter of producing clean food for ourselves in a way that stabilizes and heals the land. This is a basic and inescapable idea of 21st century agrarianism.

While there is no one solution to this deepening complex of crises, there are many workable pathways that lead to increased food security and also healing for our land. I regard Community Supported Agriculture (CSA farms) as one of these workable pathways through the swirls of change. In its many adaptations and permutations, CSA offers models and pathways of positive response. And as recent statistics show, the CSA movement is coming on strong in both the USA and in Canada.

For the first time ever, the USDA counted CSA farms in the 2007 Census of Agriculture (released February, 2009). They tallied some 12,549 CSA farms in the USA. The actual number is probably higher, because some CSA farms prefer to remain below public notice. The development of CSA farms in Canada is also swift; many thousands of CSA farms have taken root there.

In an era when the credit system of finance is collapsing, and jobs are evaporating, money is generally hard to come by. But money is not the essential answer to meeting a basic necessity of life: food. The essentials are land, seeds, labor and water. In changing times, in severely pinched times, those elements can generally be mustered with resourcefulness, rather than cash. People with determination can find a way to produce the food they need.

The CSA movement began slowly in the USA, with just two farms pioneering the model in 1986. As the Organic Outlook columnist for The Mondanock Ledger back then, I had the opportunity to write about it as it was starting.

Then in 1982 I collaborated with Trauger Groh of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm to write the first two books on CSA — Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. I documented all the history and the promise of CSA in a two-part story for Rodale’s online magazine, The New Farm.

The increasing number of CSA farms, and the varied models of CSA, can bring people together to form a basic association around land, water, and food. Many resources have been developed, including The Community Farm Newsletter, Local Harvest, the CSA Toolbox, and many others accessible through the Links page for this blog.

CSA farmers often see their micro-operations as a wave of the future, part of  a range of clean, practical alternatives to an industrial agriculture system riddled with problems of oil cost, pollution, and the financial credit and mortgage systems.

As CSA farms continue to multiply and to respond to the economic and food quality crises, participants would do well to remember that the name CSA (community supported agriculture) can be somewhat misleading. It implies that the problem is special support for agriculture. That support is necessary and important, but it is secondary. The primary need is not for the farm to be supported by the community, but rather for communities to support themselves through farming. This is an essential of existence – and as the economy and environment go through wrenching upheavals – the reality of this will become increasingly vivid.

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