Historic CSA Farm Charter set for USA & Canada

February 10, 2017

I’m pleased to share this press release, just developed by a community of people who recognize the importance of community farms (CSAs), and who see the potential for enhancing our environment, improving our diets, supporting our local farmers, and cooperating for mutual benefit with our neighbors. ~ SM

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms across the United States and Canada are setting roots more deeply in the land as they unite this year under a community-developed Charter for CSAs that provides a clear definition of what CSA farms are all about.

charter-logo-color-1

CSA Charter logo by Ruth Blackwell

After just 30 years of development, over 7,500 healthy, sustainable community farms have been established in the US, and many thousands more in Canada. These sustainable farms are directly networked with hundreds of thousands of households in the towns and cities where they are based and provide weekly shares of fresh, healthy, locally-grown food.

Together, regional networks and independent CSAs in the USA and Canada are banding together to launch an innovative and strengthening Charter for CSAs. The Charter will be inaugurated on CSA Sign-up Day, February 24, 2017.

CSAs that endorse the Charter are making a public commitment to uphold the principles and practices delineated in the Charter. It will provide a window of transparency for member households and for farmers, helping define and clarify what CSA farms are all about.

In the words of Elizabeth Henderson, CSA farmer and author of Sharing the Harvest, “CSA is a tremendously flexible concept for consumer-farmer connections. It’s an alternative system of distribution based on community values. The economics of direct sales make this a win-win solution for farmers and farm members. The farmer gets a decent price and the member pays less, since there is no middleman.”

“For the farmer,” she added, “CSA offers the possibility of a broad support group. Those groups are composed of local people who know about the farm, who genuinely care about it’s survival, and who are willing to share the farmer’s risks and rewards.

“In reciprocity, CSA farm members have the opportunity to eat fresh, healthy food, to connect with the earth, to know and trust in the people who grow their food, to deepen their understanding of seasonal eating, to support the local economy, and to take an empowered stance of accepting responsibility for one of our most basic needs.”

Anthony Graham, a farmer for 30 years at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, said, “When we started the Temple Wilton Community Farm, we were interested in community and in the ‘culture’ of agriculture. What we were attempting to set up was a way for a community of people to support the existence of a farm through good times and bad by making pledges of financial support over the course of one year. By agreeing to support the existence of the farm our members became co-farmers.”

You can find the full Charter for CSAs in the USA and Canada here, along with background information and a list of the CSAs that endorse it. For more information, contact Elizabeth Henderson, elizabethhenderson13@gmail.com.


This Changes Everything: CSA Farms & Climate Change

June 30, 2015

“Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews. Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.” ~  Naomi Klein

Author Naomi Klein has stepped forward once again with a book – This Changes Everything – that is compelling, momentous, consequential. Her work weaves economics, ethics, environmental realities, science, geopolitics and activism to sound a sane yet urgent call to action.

In this context, farms and food are keys to the challenges that require action, and keys also to the solutions.

naomi kleinOur current global economic models, Klein writes, are waging war against life on earth. This economic war has unleashed pervasive and accelerating climate chaos. This does indeed change everything.

Confronting this reality is no longer about recycling paper bags and changing the light bulbs. It’s about changing the world before the world changes so drastically that no one is safe.

”Either we leap,” Klein writes, “or we sink.”

It is with increasingly sharp appreciation of these realities, and with full respect for the enormity of the challenge we face for ourselves and our children, that I undertook this year the task of writing Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.  

CSA book coverMy book is also a manifesto, though of a narrower scope. Awakening Community Intelligence is a call to households, communities, and organizations of all kinds to directly and actively engage with farms to establish hundreds of thousands of CSAs around the world. This might not change everything. But it would change a lot and in so doing it could make a big, positive difference.

Community farms in their many possible permutations represent new thinking. They hold tremendous potential for economics, the environment, human health, and social well being. CSA farms – on a far more widespread and innovative national and global scale – have potential to serve as stabilizing community cornerstones in our era of raucous transition.

The imperative matters concerning our life on planet earth will be brought into sharp relief this week when the nearly one-billion member Roman Catholic Church hosts ‘People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course.’

Klein has been invited to play a key role in this landmark conference, which will focus on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on Ecology.

The thrust of the conference is toward economies and lifestyles that work in justice and balance for people and planet. CSA farms, I submit, can play an increasingly important role as we go forward.


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 


Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices

March 14, 2014

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a major new two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices (Macmillan). My chapter on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is among the many elements of this comprehensive resource.

Achieving Sustainability coverSustainable development is essential to our future.

Designed to increase understanding, inform actions, enrich academic assignments, and enhance research, Macmillan’s Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, And Practices is a reference work intended to meet the needs of students and educators in high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges, as well as the interested layperson.

Aimed at readers who are not experts in the field, the material is relevant to courses in natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

This title presents and analyzes the underpinnings of the multi-disciplinary concept of sustainability. A two-volume encyclopedia containing more than 130 signed entries, Achieving Sustainability covers economic and environmental ideas, as well as governance, demographic, and socio-cultural aspects of the concept.


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.

 


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.


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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