Organic Justice: An Update for the Common Good

November 25, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Organic Inspectors Chilled by Libel Case

November 14, 2012

Click here for an update – November 25 ,2012

“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, International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA).

A $7.6 million lawsuit against Evrett Lunquist, an organic certification inspector, and International Certification Services (ICS), is sending a penetrating legal chill through the nation’s network of individuals tasked with ensuring that the organic label has a trusted meaning.

The case, the first known brought against an organic inspector by a farmer, calls into question the willingness of the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP) to stand behind inspectors.

For the last 11 years, Lunquist, 42, has earned extra income working part time as an inspector of farms seeking USDA organic certification. He was acting on his own when, in 2008, he notified the NOP of suspicions about Paul Rosberg’s farm, near Wausau, Nebraska. Lunquist says he felt honor bound by the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) Code of Ethics to report suspected fraud.

The NOP investigated independently, finding Rosberg’s operation indeed failed to qualify for organic certification. Lunquist’s complaint should have been kept confidential under NOP policy. But his identity was inadvertently released, leading directly to the lawsuit. “In my mind this is so simple,” Lunquist said. “I reported something I was concerned about. NOP looked at it and found everything to be true. My defense is to assert what is true and factual.”

Rosberg is representing himself, pro se, in the case. According to court records, the farmer has been involved in dozens of lawsuits in Nebraska the past 28 years. While pressing his suit against Lunquist, Rosberg and his wife have meantime been indicted by a federal grand jury on six counts of fraud for selling misbranded meat to Omaha Public Schools. They face fines and prison terms if convicted. That trial was set for November 26, but has been re-scheduled for federal court in Omaha on January 28, 2013 — just one day before the next scheduled hearing in the Rosberg-Lunquist libel case in Lancaster County Court (January 29).

The Lancaster County Court, however, granted Rosberg’s motion to amend his complaint against Lunquist, adding ICS and also “John and Jane Does 1-100” as defendants, alleging that they conspired together to deny him certification. The next hearing date in the case is January 29, 2013.

As Lunquist’s case drags on, his legal bills continue to mount—to over $27,500, as of October 2012.

Since the NOP violated their own confidentiality policy by releasing his name, Lunquist, with the support of the IOIA, asked the NOP to make things right. The NOP declined to help with legal costs or to issue a public apology, and was slow to provide documents needed for his defense, thereby driving up legal expenses. However, the NOP ultimately provided a Declaration corroborating Lunquist’s complaint. The agency stated it is taking precautions to ensure this never happens again.

Lunquist said his motivation for filing a complaint 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 is stupefying.”

For more information, or to make a donation, visit lunquistlegalfund.org  Of note: Evrett Lunquist, his wife Ruth Chantry, and Common Good Farm are featured in a new documentary film — Higher Ground — being produced by Open Harvest natural foods coop.

Evrett Lunquist at work in the field. With his wife, Ruth Chantry, and their children, Lunquist owns and operates Common Good Farm. They produce free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, pork, herbs, and vegetables. It is one of two Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska. Photo by Michael Thurber.

AUTHOR’S DISCLOSURE: I serve on the board of Open Harvest Co-op in Lincoln, Nebraska. Common Good Farm is among 110+ local vendors that do business with the co-op.  This story also appears in The Cultivator, newsletter of The Cornucopia Institute.


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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