A Primer for Pilgrims: Responding With Devotional Intelligence to Urgent Geospiritual Imperatives

July 26, 2014

By all scientific accounts we are in profound crisis on the physical plane. The Sixth Great Extinction is no longer a possibility, but has become a brutal unfolding reality as plants and animals become extinct at a mind-numbing rate 1,000 times faster than they did before humans walked the land; meanwhile the climate crisis steadily intensifies to the level of planetary emergency. On the land the most obvious causes and responses are physical, but as important are metaphysical causes and responses.

*PilgrimsfinalCoverIn recognition of this foundational truth, I am pleased to announce that I have authored and published a new Soul*Spark eBook: A Primer for Pilgrims. Pilgrimage can serve as yet another healthy response to the call of the land, in this case with devotional intelligence and action.

In a wealth of ways across a wide span of traditions and hundreds of generations, pilgrims have sought out holy places: forest groves, healing wells or springs, pyramids, mountains, churches, temples, stone circles or labyrinths. Millions of people have traveled for a host of reasons.

In the end, whether we go willingly or unwillingly, whether we regard ourselves as tourists, business agents, or sacred travelers, we are all, pilgrims. A pilgrimage is a journey, not only outward to a faraway place, but also, inevitably, inward toward spiritual understanding and growth. In our era pilgrimage can be as well a critical geospiritual deed to help maintain the balance of our land, our planet, our lives.

This eBook is an invaluable guide to personal spiritual growth, as well as to earth healing. It’s also a collection of riveting and beautifully told true stories about critical geospiritual actions in North America

This nonfiction eBook by veteran journalist Steven McFadden also acknowledges, honors, draws from and strives to integrate the many cultures and traditions which have streamed onto Turtle Island (North America) over the last 500 years or so.

Author Steven McFadden walks the labyrinth, circla 1998.

Author Steven McFadden walks the labyrinth.

We have long needed, and finally have begun to find ways to graft the far-flung traditions from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Asia, and beyond — onto the rootstock that is so deeply embedded here: Native ways. So many teachings make beautiful sense, in both the short and the long term, in ways both common and rare. We need all the wisdom we can summon to meet the challenges of our times, and native pilgrimage teachings offer a deep foundation.

The book offers a wealth of insight about the challenges that arise in pilgrimage and the profound good that such a spiritual exercise may bring – not just for the individual pilgrims, but also for the world at large.

Pilgrims may set out to do penance for past evils, to find answers to questions, to invoke blessings, to pursue spiritual ecstasy, or to seek a miracle for a friend or family member. Increasingly in our era, pilgrims also set out to help heal the earth.

In most mystical traditions it is said that the human soul itself, every human soul, is on a pilgrimage, consciously or unconsciously. He or she is bound for a holy place and therefore life is not just for enjoyment, but the soul also has dharma, a purpose or objective that must ever be kept in focus.

Now as you set out on the literary pilgrimage of reading this book, my hope as the author is that it will offer up useful compass points to help you maintain your bearings.

Journeys to luminous locations are often undertaken by people with scant understanding of what pilgrimage is and the principles that have been found to enhance it. Thus, they may see only what they have come to see, whereas intentional pilgrims may more readily open doors of perception, encounter revelation, and gain constructive power.

To the extent any or all of us are alienated by modern life from the natural world, a pilgrimage to a sacred place can help heal and restore this. The energetic atmosphere of sacred places can awaken a slumbering soul, providing not only renewal, but also a clearer sense of purpose. The energy can invigorate and promote balance — assisting human beings to realign through physical, mental, and emotional planes.

Pilgrim Marie McFadden

Pilgrim Marie McFadden

Just as I finished writing and prepared to publish this new eBook, my mother died. Marie Dolores Fitzsimmons McFadden was herself an inveterate pilgrim. Over the 92 1/2 years of her life she traveled to just about every region of the planet, and to an impressive number of sacred sites including Jerusalem, Rome, Fatima, Lourdes, El Santuario de Chimayo, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, and many other places. To honor her memory, this new book is dedicated to her, as well as to all of us who are “on the road” in an era when extreme circumstances call out for our presence and our intelligent healing participation.

 

A Primer for Pilgrims delivers nonfiction insight, excitement, inspiration, adventure, and more. It’s available in 10 different eBook and Smartphone formats through Smashwords, and also available for Kindle through Amazon.com and for all Apple devices such as iPad and iPhone in the Apple bookstore.

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#Amazon-buynow

 

 

 


Remembering an Epic Walk for the Earth

June 23, 2014
Walking under the sign of the Whirling Rainbow

Walking under the sign of the Whirling Rainbow

Nineteen years ago today – June 23, 1995 – a small band of pilgrims set out walking from the Atlantic to the Pacific on an epic journey that I have come to regard, and to write about, as the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

The saga of their journey is well worth knowing, for it remains critically relevant to the journey all of us are making now through an era of profound change upon our Earth.

As well as the tale of the pilgrims’ travels on foot across Turtle Island (North America), Odyssey of the 8th Fire is the essential story of their meetings with dozens of traditional, learned elders of North America. They gifted the pilgrims with messages to deliver to all the people.

Reading Odyssey of the 8th Fire online is a demanding quest. The story is exceedingly long. Because of this, and because many of the elders who are part of the story noted that their teachings take both time and attention to understand, I recommend this literary pilgrimage be undertaken step by step, over a span of eight months or so.

Odyssey consists of a lengthy Prologue, and then 225 accounts, one for each day of travel. Those journal entries are ordered chronologically.

By engaging this online account of the epic walk one day at a time, a reader can make a steady eight-month literary and spiritual pilgrimage from East to West across Turtle Island (North America). The journey proceeds place to place, elder to elder, teaching to teaching.

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“I ask you to listen not just with your minds. I ask you to listen with your hearts, because that is the only way you can receive what it is — what we are giving. These are the teachings of our hearts.

“This walk is going to take eight or nine months. There are lots of elders out there across Turtle Island, and they have many beautiful teachings, many teachings that all the people need now. It is our hope, it is our prayer that they will come forward now that the Eastern Door is open

“It is our prayer that they will meet us as we walk; that they will teach and share what they understand from their hearts. Be patient. Listen to the elders. You need patience to receive these teachings. It doesn’t all come at once. You need patience.”

- Frank Decontie, Algonquin
 – June 23, 1995
 – First Encounter Beach, Massachusetts


The Call of the Land now on all Apple devices

June 7, 2014

No matter what kind of digital device you have, you can now access and read in all digital formats the 2nd edition of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century.

The book has long been available in print and in a range of ebook formats through Amazon.com and other major retailers.

ibookNow The Call of the Land is also available in the whole range of digital devices from Apple: iPads, iPhones, and Mac computers.

Impending matters of finance, transport, oil supply, climate stability, water availability, and diet, necessitate—right now—a clear, visionary look at our relationship with our land and an immediate wholehearted response. The Call of the Land addresses these critical issues head on, and offers a broad range of creative, positive responses.

Worldwide, agricultural and financial systems are mutating at breakneck speed. More change is coming. That is certain in response to fundamental shifts in the global economy and environment. These changes impact not just food cost, but also food quality and food availability. This book has proven iteslf to be an valuable resource for those seeking wise pathways to respond.

Many of my other books are also now available from the iTunes and iBook online stores. To check out the possibilities, just follow this link.

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CSA Farm Book Goes Global

February 3, 2014

Höfe der ZukunftA pioneering book that helped spark the CSA farm movement in the United States has now been published in a German-language edition.

Farms of Tomorrow, the first book on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), authored by Trauger Groh and Steven McFadden back in 1989-90 when they were neighbors in New Hampshire, has just been published in a German translation, Hofe der Zukunft.

Journalist McFadden, a resident of Lincoln, Nebraska for the last several years, is the author of 12 other nonfiction titles including Profiles in Wisdom, and The Call of the Land. The various editions of the farm book he co-authored with farmer and philosopher Trauger Groh have helped to catalyze the development of CSA in America.

CSAs are farms and food distribution systems that directly unite farmers and consumers in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet. Consumer households invest in shares of a farm’s harvest in advance, and the farm reciprocates with weekly supplies of fresh, clean locally grown food.

By now there are well over 8,500 CSAs in the USA, and many thousands more in other nations, including Canada, France, Australia, Israel, and China. The steady growth and development of these new farms in the USA has come through an era beginning in the 1980s when traditional family farms have continued to decline for a host of reasons, and to be swallowed by increasingly larger operations.

farmscover.thumbFarms of Tomorrow was published by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association in English since 1990; the 2nd edition of the book, Farms of Tomorrow Revisited was published in 1998, with many new chapters including one by Marcie Ostrom on CSA coalitions. The book has also been published in Japanese, and Russian translations. Now, nearly a quarter century after the CSA farm book first came out, it’s available in a handsome new German translation, Hofe der Zukunft.

German farmer and scholar Wolfgang Stranz worked for over a year to translate Farms of Tomorrow, and to write a special new chapter for readers in Germany and Austria.

As Resurgence Magazine noted in a review, “it is rare to come across any practical farming guide that sets out, from its inception, a set of principles that embrace social, spiritual, and economic concerns on completely equal terms. The wisdom and clarity of philosophy are striking throughout.”  CSA is a dynamic movement at the heart of agricultural renewal.

The German-language edition of the book, Hofe der Zukunft, is available here.

The English-language edition of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited, published by the Biodynamic Association, is available on Amazon.com and through Steiner Books.

 


Farmer Geiger’s Thanksgiving Grace

November 16, 2013

tramplingI was there in New Hampshire a year ago in September 2012, just a few miles away when dairyman Lincoln Geiger was badly hurt by a trampling bull.  

That Sunday they airlifted him to a hospital in Boston to reckon with life-threatening injuries. But Lincoln’s spirit was strong and he moved through the wounds and the shock, and the many phases of recovery to come back to the land.

“I was given a new outlook on the world, Lincoln later explained, “by what I now call a form of initiation. My whole sense of reality shifted from an objective view of nature and the environmental movement, to a deeply caring heart-centered understanding.

“I now feel that the way to engage people to improve our world is with an intelligence that emanates through the heart. We need to ensoul nature and all its creatures and feel like guests, friends, or part of the familywhen in the presence of the forest or the garden or the herd. That is the attitude that comes from the warmth of the soul through the wisdom of the heart.”

From the very beginning Lincoln has been one of the core farmers at the remarkable Temple-Wilton Community Farm. One of the first two Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs) in America, it is still growing strong nearing thirty growing seasons.

In a blog post recounting his recent visit to the farm, Robert Karp of the Biodynamic Association noted that the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, “keeps showing the way” for thousands of other CSA farms across the nation and around the world.

Fawn - photo by Elfer courtesy of Creative Commons.

Fawn – photo by Elfer courtesy of Creative Commons.

A day-and-a-half before his fateful encounter with the bull, Lincoln came and sat beside me in the barn loft at Stonewall Farm Center, just west of Keene. He shared a grace with our conference of people talking about implementing greater food security for the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire.

Lincoln sat as part of a circle of 40 of us or so — all Twentyfirst Century agrarians alive with a sense of doing something foundationally important in the world. After dinner, to offer a blessing, he talked with us for about ten minutes.

He began by telling the story of how on a spring day he had climbed aboard the farm’s tractor and set about mowing the high fields. He never noticed the place in the deep grasses where a fawn lay hidden, and so to his dismay and anguish he found that the blades of his mower had badly injured the fawn.

Within two weeks he had hit four fawns and felt the deer were trying to teach him something monumental. “The day I hit the last fawn I was super alert to make sure there would be no accident.  I stood on the tractor platform the whole time I was mowing. About a third into the 10-acre field I saw a deer standing about 200 feet from me. I stopped the tractor, got off and noticed that the deer was looking at me and then looked down and then back at me.

“I felt right away that she was standing by her fawn. I turned off the tractor and headed straight towards the deer. She ran away, I kept walking and soon there in front of me lay a beautiful fawn. I just stood with it for a while, then I called my dairy partner Andrew and our apprentice Sara to come to the field with a cage or something to hold the fawn while I finished mowing.

“I picked up the fawn, it was totally calm and carried it to the bottom of the field. Andrew and Sara came but had no cage, they brought it into the Forrest and let it go. I kept on mowing and just as I was finishing the last couple of swaths, as I look back, there it is with its hoof cut off an inch up. I cried out loud, turned off the tractor and picked it up in my arms again. My heart was broken so bad I can’t tell you. I brought my little friend into the forest, I knew it would never make it. I laid it on a large stone and crushed its beautiful head with a rock.

“Then I cracked open inside and screamed loudly for the world to hear our pain and our love,” Lincoln told us. Time went by. To bring some light and healing to all that arose with the death of the fawns, to respond by giving some beauty back to the world, Lincoln wrote graces.

A year ago Lincoln spoke one of his graces aloud for the circle gathered at Stonewall Farm, just west of The Grand Monadnock:


Thank you Earth so soft and strong

Thank you meadow filled with song

Thank you mountain, forest and stream

By you we rest and find our dream

 

Thank you creatures wild and tame

Your trust we love and hope to gain

Thank you for your milk and fleece

And for your meat that we may eat

 

Thank you root and leaf and seed

We’ll not forget your wondrous deed

You hold the earth

You catch the rain

You fill the world with air again

 

Thank you wind for bringing rain

Please help our friends who are in pain

For us who thirst and cry from hunger

Please bring hope, life and wonder

 

Thank you moon for guidance and grace

For heart bent flowers

With dew drop lace

 

Thank you sun as day begins

For golden light

By angel wings

 

With thankful hearts

and open hands

     We ask to share your loving lands.

- Lincoln Geiger, Temple-Wilton Farm

As of Thanksgiving 2013, Lincoln writes: “I am well and full of living.” The Temple-Wilton Community Farm is also well and full of living, as attested to by yet another article about the farm’s place in the history and the destiny of the CSA movement, complete with some wonderful photos. The story – The First CSAs – is published on page 10 of the John Deere company magazine, The Furrow.

 


How We Must Be to Influence the Future

October 30, 2013
Grandfather Leo Secatero

Grandfather Leon Secatero

The late Navajo elder Leon Secatero once told me that he saw the Wind Walkers take corn pollen in their mouths to bless their words before they spoke to him.

“The elders talked about positive things, focusing on the positive to make things happen, to bring in good energy so that life will continue. They said to use song, prayer, dance to focus on positive thought, and to help us go forward on the path to the future in a good way, in a sacred way.”

“What I was shown,” Grandfather Leon told me, “was the way we should be, how we must be to influence the future, and also to influence all the plants, the animals, the waters, the air and the fire.

“It’s important. I came to a knowing that the only way you can have the power, is through the color and the light of positive thought and energy. Put all your concentration on this, not other things.

“Put your concentration on the positive. That’s how it’s done.”

- Excerpt from a forthcoming Soul*Sparks ebook
by author Steven McFadden


Sacred Land: 400th Anniversary of 1st Treaty

July 30, 2013

Our ancestors made this great agreement on our behalf 400 years ago. Now is the time for us to think about the people living in the next 400 years.”   – Hickory Edwards (Onondaga Nation)

The Two-Row Wampum Belt.

The Two-Row Wampum Belt.

Long ago when the colonial peoples were seizing possession of the land they would come to call North America, they entered into sworn agreements with the human beings who already occupied the land. The Two Row Treaty, the first of those solemn agreements, is as of 2013 now 400 years old.

To serve as a permanent record of the treaty, the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people wove a belt of beads from wampum sea shells, their traditional way of recording sacred agreements, a means more elegant and enduring than the fragile sheets of paper marked with ink that the colonial settlers used.

Commemoration of that treaty is reaching a crescendo late this summer with an elaborate series of lectures, concerts, celebrations, historic enactments, and collaborations planned by The Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign.

The intention is to polish this centuries-old covenant chain of friendship, to protect our shared environmental inheritance, and to build support for resolution of various land rights actions.

The call to honor the treaty comes in the context of perfect faithlessness. The USA has broken or violated every single one of the nearly 500 legally binding treaties it has entered into with various Native nations.

Thus, the Two Row Wampum campaign has resounding karmic implications for peace, friendship, environmental responsibility and justice.

In recent years, Native peoples have increasingly emphasized that ecological stewardship is a fundamental necessity for this continuing friendship, for a more just peace between peoples, and for a sustainable, shared future in parallel on the land we inhabit together.


Humane Husbandry: Nebraska Tries to Blaze a Trail

July 22, 2013

“Nebraska leads the nation in organic livestock numbers and is one of the leading producers of grass-fed beef. In time we will lead the nation in producing and marketing humanely raised livestock.”

- Kevin Fulton, rancher

Out of the smoldering rhetorical and legislative rubble of recent years, a band of farmers – the Nebraska Farmers Union – has stepped forward in a joint venture with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in an effort to blaze new, cooperative market trails that lead to increased opportunities for small and mid-size farmers, as well as to more humane livestock care.

Photo © 2013 by Heather Blanchette

Photo © 2013 by Like a Cup of Tea

Most Americans eat meat of one kind or another (96% of us). Questions about where our meat came from, how the animals were treated when alive, and how they were killed and prepared for our tables, are fundamental. They matter a lot, and in a lot of ways. Thus this joint venture between two groups that might well stand in opposition to each other is a model of national and perhaps international significance.

Nine billion animals are raised for the table each year in the USA. The experience the animals live out on a farm or endure in mass, industrial confinement has economic, environmental, health and moral ramifications.

Meat has of late been engulfed in ferocious conflicts of law and rhetoric, pitting livestock producers head on with animal welfare and animal rights groups. As one of America’s premier meat-producing states, Nebraska is a critical forum for these debates to play out.

sowGestcrate1For over a decade HSUS had been waging a general campaign to get livestock and poultry producers to abandon various industrial-scale livestock management practices that they consider inhumane. In particular, HSUS helped push successful ballot measures in several states to restrict or prohibit sow gestation crates – enclosures that keep female pigs pregnant and all but immobile.

Pretty much all HSUS needed to do was show pictures of the sow gestation crates to the public. The pictures told the story, no narrative necessary. People did not like what they saw. Thus, ballot initiatives prohibiting sow gestation crates were being enacted into law in states around the nation. This engendered rancor among many livestock producers. They felt the crates were safe and efficient, and that science and economics were on their side.

 “Our American Way of Life”

While HSUS was advancing legislatively and in the court of public opinion, industrial agriculture was, and is, coming on strong in state after state with so-called Ag Gag laws, which make it a crime to photograph or film how livestock is managed in industrial settings.

The moral stance of HSUS — the idea that it regards itself as working toward a civil society that “triumphs over ignorance, convenience, and archaic tradition” — was rubbing salt in the wounds of frustrated livestock industry movers and shakers.

Several years ago HSUS considered Nebraska as a possible state for another effort to render sow gestation crates illegal. Because HSUS already had a winning track record in other states, the Nebraska animal agriculture establishment was on red alert. Several large producer and insurance organizations formed a trade organization, We Support Agriculture, to promote their point of view and – pointedly — to thwart HSUS initiatives.

A November 2010 town hall meeting in the capital city of Lincoln to discuss animal welfare wound up as a heated confrontation that produced less than a wisp of understanding on the core issues around livestock-meat. Hot words continued to fly in the aftermath.

americanwayThen about 18 months ago things went nuclear when Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman (R) blasted HSUS from a national stage near Washington, DC. He spoke before a conference of lawmakers who chair agriculture committees in their respective states. Heineman, a West Point graduate and a former Army Ranger, sought to rally the troops. He called on lawmakers from across the country to join him in fighting HSUS.

Echoing the position of We Support Agriculture, Heinemann said he did not trust the Humane Society. He described it as an organization bent on destruction of Nebraska’s top economic engine, agriculture.

Then he dropped a bomb: “This is about our American way of life,” he said, “and HSUS wants to destroy the American dream for America’s farmers and ranchers. This is about jobs for American families, and HSUS wants to destroy job opportunities for our sons and our daughters and our grandkids.”

In the aftermath of this verbal nuke, the state of affairs vis a vis livestock-animal welfare-meat appeared intractable, a heavily mined legal, economic, environmental and ethical battlefield. Matters seemed destined for an ugly finish. At just about that time, though, the market asserted itself in the debate.

The Market Speaks

Bowing to overwhelming public opinion many food industry giants — McDonald’s, Burger King, Krogers, Johnstown Sausages, ConAgra, Smithfield Foods, and leading Canadian retailers — began notifying their pork suppliers that they wanted sow gestation crates phased out. The market proved swifter, more powerful and more effective than any political resolution

As the market reality was emerging, HSUS abandoned any consideration of a ballot initiative in Nebraska, or elsewhere. The issue of sow gestation crates was becoming moot.

trailTrying to turn a negative into a positive, the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) began to talk with HSUS about ways to collaborate, to look for a trail forward, and to develop new, profitable, consumer-driven markets for livestock producers, rather than pursuing various statewide ballot issues to regulate livestock production.

“Statewide ballot campaigns polarize the situation,” explained John K. Hansen, President of  NeFU. “The campaigns are designed to get a visceral reaction. When that happens, and people on both sides are getting hit in the gut, then folks are not open to changing their positions.”

Hansen has held the elected office of President since 1989. Although he encountered  resistance from fellow Union members in state and around the country, he stuck his neck out and agreed to sit down with HSUS and talk. After exploring the possibilities, together in a joint venture they created the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS.

In a phone interview, Hansen explained: “In other states HSUS was getting into bruising battles with groups representing ag producers. I called the Farmers Union presidents in all of the states that had dealt with ballot issues on livestock, and I talked with them about this. They told me it had been a very painful process for them and their states. The livestock debates were extremely polarizing and creating long-term damage in the industries that produce the various meats most Americans eat.

“The battles were deeply destructive for everyone, especially livestock producers, and that’s not good. So that’s when Nebraska Farmer’s Union agreed to talk with the Humane Society to see if we could move things forward.”

Confab at the Cornhusker

Regarding livestock animal-welfare issues as crucial and Nebraska as pivotal, the President and CEO of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, returned to the state a second time early this summer to represent his 11-million member organization, and to participate in a second public forum concerning HSUS’s joint venture with the Farmers Union — the Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS.

chPacelle visited the Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in the capital city of Lincoln, the night of June 27, 2013 to help articulate the ideas behind the initiative.

As noted by the Lincoln Journal-Star, when Pacelle made a public appearance in Lincoln three years ago “the mood was tense…” and the proceedings were contentious. This time, knowing the vehement opposition that had characterized Pacelle’s visit to Nebraska in 2010 a contingent of security guards was posted at the door. They warily inspected everyone approaching the conference room.

This time there was no opposition. Opponents chose, at least publically, to ignore the Nebraska Agriculture Council. Thus, the forum was quiet, orderly, sparsely attended.

With 6,200 farm families as members, the Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) is the largest family farm and ranch group in the state. The union was formed 100 years ago in 1913, when Nebraska farmers perceived that independently they were consistently at a disadvantage. They banded together to stand up against monopolies that controlled the railroads, agricultural processing, farm supplies, and large grocery businesses. Over the last century the Farmers Union helped found 436 farm cooperatives across Nebraska.

At the Cornhusker forum, after farmers and union members spoke, HSUS’s Pacelle took a turn at the podium. “The history of this country is an expanding sphere of moral consideration,” he declared. “That sphere is now expanding to include the animals who are part of our lives, and who so many of us depend upon for food.”

“We are here to celebrate forward-thinking farmers who make animal welfare a priority and to appeal to the increasing share of consumers concerned about the values of humane treatment and sustainability,” he said.

The Nebraska Agriculture Council of the HSUS is the first of it’s kind in any state, but is a model that will be replicated elsewhere.

A Good Business Partnership

A Nebraska native, Farmers Union President John Hansen told the forum he wants to create opportunities for people to return to animal agriculture, and for family farmers to make a living. He said he wants to see farmers moving product through supply chains.

NeFU.logo“Instead of continuing a knock-down, drag-out fight, we have to find a way to move forward,” Hansen said. “We have to find a way to reward people in the market for improving their standards of livestock care. We want to create new opportunities for new producers. We want to do value-added to create a premium product that will reward farmers and ranchers in the market for the ethical treatment of their animals.”

“This is a good business partnership.” Hansen said. “American agriculture can produce quality products with high standards of livestock care, and then be rewarded in the marketplace. The key to this is being open and transparent. We believe the market will reward us for doing the right thing in the right way.”

“Before this approach came forward,” Hansen said, “we were basically in a shin-kicking contest, and those contests were tending to go in favor of the pet owners, who are in the majority. Two-thirds of Americans own pets – and that majority tends to apply their own pet ethics and pet standards to livestock.

“That’s where the trouble starts. The two – pets and livestock – are related but different. In these conflicts ag producers are going to lose most of time because they are outnumbered by consumers, and that’s not good. We need them to live and they need us to make a living.”

“It’s pretty clear what local consumers want,” Hansen said. “They want meat from animals that are free of growth hormones and non-essential antibiotics. They want animals that have been properly and respectfully cared for, and allowed to express their basic animal nature.”

Building a More Humane Economy

When he took his turn speaking at the Cornhusker forum, Kevin Fulton said “animal welfare” outranks “organic” and “local” as an issue of concern for consumers. Fulton is a founder of the new council, and also the operator of Fulton Farms in Litchfield, Nebraska, a 2,800-acre diverse, multispecies livestock grazing operation for grass-fed beef, lamb, and pastured poultry.

“Farmers and ranchers should be at the forefront of the animal welfare issue, Fulton said. “Animals are not production units, but living creatures.”

Fulton cited a 2011 poll by the University of Nebraska. The poll shows that most rural Nebraskans (69%) agree that animal welfare means more than providing adequate food, water and shelter; but also includes adequate exercise, space and social activities for the animals.

As Fulton interprets the results, an overwhelming majority of people – these are rural Nebraska people, not seaboard city dwellers – are of the opinion that animals should be in an environment where they can express their natural behaviors.

“If they have legs they should at least be able to walk and turn around,” he said, “and if they have wings they should be able to flap them.”

Farm to Fitness

One component of the NAC marketing effort is a variation on the by now well-developed array of “farm-to” models. The US and farm2fitlogoCanada already have many farm-to-school, farm-to-church, farm-to-hospital, farm-to-office, programs, and more. As of late 2012, Farm to Fitness adds to the array of possibilities by using gyms as a focal point for connecting health-minded consumers with local producers of nutritious, humanely-raised meat, poultry and other foods to support their fitness goals.

According to Ben Gotschall, who hails from a cattle ranch in Nebraska’s Sand Hills and is Market Development Coordinator for the Nebraska Farmer’s Union: “The idea is for gyms to promote local livestock to their members, and to provide a distribution point for humanely raised and cooperatively purchased food orders.”

“I think this partnership is progress in the right direction,” Gotschall said. “Legislation can only get you so far. If you try to legislate problems away you run into other problems. The arguments we were having were not really getting anyone anywhere. The fight was demonizing producers and villainizing HSUS in the eyes of the agricultural community, and not really changing the way animals are treated in industrial systems.

“Taking a market approach is more constructive. That’s the nature of the problem anyway, because the marketplace dictates the system. Now with the new technologies, the market has the potential to take livestock care in a different direction, to make it better for animals, producers and consumers.”

“There is consumer demand, for sure, but that’s not a market,” Gotschall said. “You need a market system with production, processing, distribution, and so forth. That’s all been destroyed in the last 30 to 40 years. There is no way to go back to how it was. But that’s OK. It’s a different time and a different world.”

“We need to create a better world. Small-scale and mid-size farmers and ranchers now have the Internet, smartphones, and other information tools. The whole concept of knowing your farmer and where your food comes from is a lot more nuanced. It’s not the same as a first-person visit to the farm and farmers, but it is a connection and it works. We have many exciting new technologies.” Those technologies make it simpler for people in a supply chain to communicate and do business.”

Local, sustainable, value-added producers have the facts on their side, Gotschall asserted. “The research shows their product is healthier for people,” he said. To support his claim, he emailed me an Excel spreadsheet listing 58 relevant studies, including this sample.

Moral Evolution

Nebraska’s Governor proffered some incendiary rhetoric when he identified the matters of livestock and meat as a core issue, and then condemned the Humane Society as attempting to destroy the American way of life. Yet the “American way” the Governor so ferociously attempted to defend has, alas, long ago been generally overwhelmed.

Farmer’s Union President John Hansen laid out the familiar, grim facts: “Because of vertical integration and consolidation, in the years since 1980 we have lost 91% of independent hog producers, 80% of all dairy producers, and 40% of all beef producers. That is a massive shift. It shoved a lot of farm people out the door. They didn’t want to go. They were pushed out. No wonder we now are down to just 1% of the population farming today.”

“No animal welfare group drove these farm families out of business. It was, rather, a market dominated by vertically integrated multinational food corporations with mass industrial approaches, and little if any transparency about what they are actually doing.”

The population and character of Nebraska — and many other places in rural America — began altering markedly in the shadow of the relentlessly efficient advance of industrial models of food production and livestock management.

Even before the Governor’s damning words about HSUS ceased reverberating, his premise about the “American way of life” was further assaulted. Shuanghui International, a colossal Chinese conglomerate, surged forward in 2013 in an effort to purchase Smithfield, the world’s largest hog producer and pork packer. With three large ham and sausage plants in Nebraska, Smithfield is a major-league player.

Meanwhile, JBS Swift & Company, which also has a substantial presence in Nebraska, has for years been a wholly owned subsidiary of another multinational, a corporation based in Brazil.

Neither of these foreign entities – or the other multinational corporations behind industrial feedlots and confinement operations across America – necessarily match the down-home, patriotic profile conjured by the Governor’s volley. They are, for better or for worse, global institutions in an era of global commerce and communication. Multinational corporations, with their pluses and minuses, are but the latest permutation of the very forces that have so profoundly impacted, and continue to impact Nebraska and American farm families.

Governor Heinemann’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

the-thinker-224x300Through a sophisticated focus on efficiency and profit, large operations tend to spawn coldly rational mechanistic systems and dynamics that are well suited to machines, but not — as HSUS sees it — to living beings such as cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys. Here lies an enormous philosophical divide.

“What we are seeing is a major consumer reaction that was predicted back in the 1960s,” Hansen explained in our phone interview. “It was known even back then that when the corporations took over the farms, as has happened, that then the system would become less competitive and more homogenous. All of this stuff, it was known. They are reaping the harvest of what they sowed.”

“As I see it all of the things the Humane Society has been responding to are directly tied into the vertically integrated, industrialized corporate agriculture,” Hansen said. “It all comes out of this. The corporate takeover of livestock production has resulted in these conditions.

“The reason HSUS has influence in the debate,” Hansen said, “is because they are giving voice to legitimate consumer concerns. What do consumers want? You have to listen to that and respond. How do we create a value-added market that responds to this desire and expands the possibilities? The answers to those questions are the way forward.”

Leading a ‘Hungry Army’ along a Market Trail

It appears in the aftermath of the rhetorical battles and tectonic market shifts that have taken place around animal welfare, the troops that rose up in response to the Nebraska Governor’s call to arms included not just legislators wielding meat cleavers on the public’s right to know, but also consumers wielding forks, knives and authentic marketplace clout.

As the Lincoln Journal Star put it in an editorial, the “hungry army” that has been aroused is a growing network of consumers who want meat that is more humanely raised, that does not pollute the environment, that is healthy, and that is free of synthetic hormones, and chemicals.

humane,logoNext that “hungry army” may march on growth hormones, or excessive antibiotics, or any number of industrial practices that hold the stage as issues of common concern. Most citizens feel that the basic right of knowledge and choice is theirs and should remain theirs, an essential element of the American and Nebraskan democratic tradition.

The agriculture industry group We Support Agriculture apparently remains distrustful of HSUS. They did not respond to a request for comment. According to press releases on their website, they remain convinced that  animal welfare groups intend ultimately to terminate all livestock husbandry, and to convert everyone to vegetarianism.

In talking with members of the Nebraska Agriculture Council, I heard no one speak about eliminating animal agriculture. They spoke rather about creating more opportunities for small and mid-size farmers. I heard them speak, also, about their cooperative effort to pioneer a way forward with healthy, local humane husbandry using a robust and sophisticated network of 21st century technologies to help blaze the trail.

Jocelyn Nickerson, HSUS state director for Nebraska, had this to say: “This is all about protecting family farms, and that extends well beyond Nebraska. Nebraska is a tough state, but we’ve made strides in relationship building, in getting our message out about protecting family farms, and in improving conditions for animals on the farms. That’s a good thing, no two ways about it.

“Our ultimate goal is not to stop livestock production, but to promote humanely and sustainably raised products. We’re doing it because it’s important, because it’s the right thing to do, and because that’s what consumers are demanding.”

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Author’s Note: Along with several producer coops, Open Harvest consumer coop grocery in Lincoln is a partner in the newly formed Nebraska Agriculture Council. I serve on the Board for Open Harvest, which does business with over 110 Nebraska farms. I’m also on the Advisory Board for Buy Fresh Buy Local Nebraska, and a member of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society.


Big Doings at Big Mountain

May 29, 2013
Big Mountain montage by Jetsonorama and the "No Reservations Required" crew.

Big Mountain montage by Jetsonorama & No Reservations Required crew.

For most Americans the Four Corners is just a curiosity on the map where the survey lines that define four states come together and form a classic cross: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. But for many native peoples, Four Corners is a broad and austerely beautiful region bounded by four sacred mountains.* navmap Four Corners is appreciated as an exquisitely sensitive and foundationally important feminine holy place on the land, a place that serves as an earthly anchoring point for the spiritual heart of North America (Turtle Island).

Today, as has been true for over 50 years, Four Corners is under assault. Today also, as has been true for millennia, Four Corners is under the watch of human beings who have accepted their role as protectors of the land and the life that depends upon the land.

Within the Mountain boundaries of the Four Corners lies the sweeping, majestic prominence of Black Mesa in northeast Arizona. Upon the mesa, in simplicity and humility, stands Big Mountain, a geomantic ground zero. As held in traditional knowings, Four Corners in general and Black Mesa and Big Mountain in particular are understood to represent what we might conceive of as a microcosmic holograph of our entire planet — a subtle, supersensible phenomenon of the region possibly grasped only through legend, direct perception, or quantum mechanics.

What happens in the Four Corners does not stay in the Four Corners, but through the web of life and relationship resonates consequences across and within all of the Earth Mother.

coal_plant_on_mesaOver the last decades of our era, traditional native peoples at Black Mesa have lived in resistance. Strip-mines have ripped apart the sacred lands, coal-burning power plants have befouled the desert air to send electricity to the Las Vegas Strip, and elsewhere, and mining corporations have dug up the toxic ‘cledge’ (uranium). According to various Creation stories, native peoples were explicitly warned to leave the cledge unmolested; digging yellowcake up, the traditions related, would cause it to arise in the world as nayee, a monster.

In resistance of this ongoing exploitation, there will be a gathering on Black Mesa the week of June 3-9, 2013. The gathering will include workshops and conversations among the Big Mountain/Black Mesa community and other frontline resistance communities from around North America. They will participate in a native youth caucus, cultural sharing, work parties, an elders’ circle, community meals, and concerts with hip hop artists.

This June gathering is being organized by Black Mesa Indigenous Support (BMIS), an all-volunteer, non-native collective committed to long-term, relationship-based, request-based solidarity with the native communities of Black Mesa.

This is not the first such gathering in support of Black Mesa/Big Mountain and surely will not be the last. Thousands of people have learned of Big Mountain over the last 40 years, and hundreds of gatherings have been held in support. This particular gathering is a “big doing” not so much in the sense of size, but rather in the overall context of extreme planetary imbalance or earth changes, and overall patterns of spiritual awakening.

Sovereignty Summer

The Black Mesa gathering in early June happens toward the beginnings of  Sovereignty Summer, and thus can be appreciated as a node in a network of awakenings now underway onward through 2013. What is “big” in the ultimate realm of possibilities, is the potential for good that may come from Big Mountain, from Ottawa, and from hundreds of other gatherings and non-violent actions across Turtle Island (North America).

nativeart041What unfolds on Black Mesa is part of a social movement, a people-powered uprising for a healthy planet liberated from fossil fuel extraction, exploitative economies, racism, and oppression.

The BMIS collective sets out their ideal by echoing a statement from Honor the Earth: “We believe a sustainable world is predicated on transforming economic, social, and political relationships that have been based on systems of conquest toward systems based on just relationships with each other and with the natural world. We are committed to restoring a paradigm that recognizes our collective humanity and our joint dependence on the Earth.”

General Geomantics

Occupying a spiritual axis for North America, Black Mesa is home to one of the world’s largest and richest coal mines. A site long considered sacred by traditional Hopi and Dine’ (Navajo), the mesa is also home to profitable deposits of gas, petroleum, and uranium.

As understood for millennia, Black Mesa and Big Mountain are inherently, energetically feminine. Yang, masculine digging and drilling for monetary profit and environmental ruin constitute a direct assault on this yin feminine holy center of the land we live on, North America.

In that sense Black Mesa/Big Mountain represent a microcosmic mirror of the deranged yang-masculine dominance, and the ongoing determined debasement of feminine, life-sustaining peoples, persons, substances and ways — as is evidenced all over the planet.

The native elders and the traditional families of Black Mesa appreciate coal as a substance that serves as the liver of the Sacred Female Mountain. When coal is taken from the ground, it no longer can absorb and neutralize impurities in the air and water, the arising thoughts and feelings that circulate in the atmosphere of our planet home.

Even in the face of genocide and ongoing persecution, native peoples have faithfully perpetuated ceremonies intended to give back appreciation and the primal energies of thought, feeling, song and dance to help maintain the balance of natural forces of sunlight, rain and winds, and further to reaffirm respect for all life and trust in the Great Spirit. This is how they express it. This is what they do. This is the nature of the call they are sounding, the support they seek.

Igniting a Spiritual Fire

Sovereignty Summer is a term that originated in Canada, arising through the indigenous movement Idle No More.  The movement demands sustainable development as well restoration of integrity to sworn treaties. “We believe in healthy, just, equitable and sustainable communities,” the movement reasons, “and (we) have a vision and plan of how to build them. Please join us in creating this vision.”

idleIdle No More has ignited a spiritual fire in the hearts of thousands of human beings to address a range of core matters, including the fundamental issue of protecting the earth that sustains us so life may endure and we may all go forward. They intend to keep striking sparks.

The human beings who sparked Idle No More have networked with Defenders of the Land to make a declaration: “We are in a critical time,” they write, “where lives, lands, waters and Creation are at-risk and they must be protected.” They call the attention of people to the potential of Sovereignty Summer. Meanwhile, in Alberta earlier this month, many native peoples gathered to create and then to sign a historic document, the Turtle Lodge Treaty. Of this treaty we are likely to hear more in the years to come.

Big Medicine is afoot. There is a spiritual energy stirring and a larger awakening is on the horizon as we transition to Sovereignty Summer. The gathering at Big Mountain is one facet or node of this ongoing awakening.

The gathering space at Black Mesa is already full this year. Organizers cannot accommodate anyone else coming. But there are other ways to support the effort to maintain Big Mountain, Black Mesa and the Four Corners, and to support the whole of the earth in a sacred manner. That is the idea animating Sovereignty Summer: to come together not in one particular place, but to establish a spiritually respectful stance where you are called upon the land.

* The four sacred mountains: Mount Blanca in Colorado, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, San Francisco Peaks in Arizona, and Mount Hesperus in Utah.

rsz_blan


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.


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