Consilience Enhances Resilience

December 15, 2015

My essay on this word play and its significance for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is now posted at Mother Earth News.

Consilience


Coming soon: My new book on CSA Farms

May 5, 2015

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

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

CSA book cover

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

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

 


Three Overlooked Seeds at the Core of CSA Farms

December 26, 2014

Three seed ideas were among the many elements that underlie the actions of the first CSA farmers who in 1985-86 established new ways of farming in America. Those ways have emerged in subsequent seasons to yield as many as 10,000 contemporary community supported farms (CSAs) in cities, suburbs, towns, villages and churches across the land.

Photo: Maggie Mehaffey

Photo: Maggie Mehaffey

The CSA model has proven to be a natural for adaption and innovation. Many latter-day CSAs, however, have overlooked or bypassed some of the seed ideas as they have established a wide range of variations on the CSA theme. Yet the seeds of the initial CSAs remain viable, perhaps even more so in our era of profound global change. They are freely available to anyone who chooses to cultivate them.

Alice Bennett Groh is part of the founding group for the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, in New Hampshire. In November, 2014 when she spoke at a Peterborough Grange ceremony to honor CSA pioneers, she put her focus on three of the seed ideas that helped community farms to become established in the USA and to grow.

With eloquence and economy of language, she told of how her husband Trauger Markus Groh partnered with Anthony Graham and Lincoln Gieger to cultivate new thinking, and thereby to initiate their highly productive, economically sustainable, and environmentally radiant Biodynamic farm on rocky, rolling hills flanking the Souhegan River.

Alice Bennett Groh speaks to the overflow crowd at the Peterborough Historical Society during the Grange ceremony honoring the pioneers of CSA. Photo from the balcony by Patrick John Gillam.
Alice Bennett Groh speaks to an overflow crowd at the Peterborough Historical Society during the Grange ceremony honoring the pioneers of CSA. Photo from the balcony by Patrick John Gillam.

In conversations with me after the Grange-CSA event, Alice spoke further about those seed ideas:

1.  The first seed that Alice recalled has to do with the ownership and financing of community farms, questions Trauger Groh engaged early in his life while living in Germany, questions he engaged again with compatriots at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm, and questions which he explored in his autobiography, Personal Recollections: Remembering My Life and Those Who Mean So Much to Me (2010).

The general agricultural situation in Germany in the 1960s, according to Trauger and Alice, was that most farms were economically dependent on using foreign workers and paying them low wages. This set up ensured that the farm workers would remain poor and have no stake in the land. Meanwhile, in comparison with conventional farms where production rose steeply with the addition of synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, the financial return from harvests was unsatisfactory for organic and Biodynamic farms.

watercolorpaintIn this economic and social environment, how could organic or Biodynamic farms survive and prosper into the future? At Buschberg Farm in the 1960s, Trauger and his farm colleagues of that era were all actively cultivating Anthroposophical and Biodynamic understandings. They recognized that new economic, social and agricultural forms were needed for the Farms of Tomorrow.

Understanding that isolated farms and isolated farmers had a dim future in the shadow of corporate-industrial agriculture, they strove to create a wider, village-like arrangement based on free-will associations of households with the farm. One great aim was to open the farms to the participation of many people, to share the responsibility of growing food and caring for the earth cooperatively. To make that possible, it was necessary to change the relationship of the ownership to the land, and to give up the conventional employer/employee wage relationship.

They formed a co-operative work group for the Buschberg Farm Agricultural Working Group. The group was composed of about 40 people, with three active farmers including Trauger. Together they bore responsibility for the farm and its risks.

They developed a co-operative property association to hold the farmland in trust, and to act as a co-operative credit guarantee company. Attorney Wilhelm Barkoff designed this risk-sharing arrangement in partnership with the Co-operative Bank in Bochum, near Dresden, Germany.

Nonfarmer community members worked alongside the active farmers in managing the farm, but did not interfere with it. They contributed to the farm from their own life experience. Each member of the work group was given a loan of 3,000 DM (Deutsche Mark) by their Community Bank. This functioned as a line of credit, which the nonfarmer members of the community could then assign to the active farmers to give them working capital and enable them to establish a farm budget. The financial and health needs of the active farmers themselves and their families were built into the budget for the farm. Withdrawals were deducted and income credited.

On this basis the active farmers went about their business. If they made a profit they turned it over to the members of whole farm community: if the farm had a loss then the farm community members agreed to make up the difference. They shared the risk. This approach to free-will community trust ownership of the land and shared risk was among the original CSA seed ideas.

2.  While speaking at the Grange ceremony for the pioneers of CSA, Alice told also of how in the 1970s Trauger came to know Peter Berg, a farmer in south Germany. Berg came up with an idea for a box scheme – a weekly box of Biodynamic vegetables for people who wanted them, an approach which he was able to extend to Dornach, across the nearby border with Switzerland.

The Sower - V. Van Gogh

The Sower – V. Van Gogh

As a member of the Board of Directors for Fondation la Bruyére Blanche and as an agricultural consultant, Trauger visited Dornach many times in the early 1970s, and learned about the approach Berg was taking. Then in the 1980s, an American named Jan Vander Tuin also learned of this approach while visiting in Switzerland. He became passionately enthusiastic. Later when Vander Tuin visited western Massachusetts in 1985, he told about the pre-paid box scheme to a core group of people including John Root, Sr., John Root Jr., Charlotte Zenecchia, Andrew Lorand, and Robyn Van En. They formed The CSA Garden at Great Barrington, later known as Indian Line Farm.

The two communities – Temple-Wilton CSA in New Hampshire and Indian Line CSA in Massachusetts – were less than 150 miles apart. They connected and communicated with each other before the first CSA planting season in America, 1986.

Rather than an agriculture that is supported by government subsidies, private profits, or martyrs to the cause, CSA pioneers strove to create organizational forms that provide direct, free will support for farm and farmers from the people who eat their food by receiving a share of the harvest they have made possible. This is a second seed idea at the core of CSA.

3.  Alice Bennett Groh concluded her talk for the Grange by telling of how in the early 1980s Trauger visited with a farmer named Asgar Elmquist and his wife, Mary. The Elmquists were houseparents at Camphill Village, Copake, NY, and Asgar was also actively farming.

logoCamphill Villages are set up as households, with food budgets. It was the agreed custom for housemothers to use thier budgets to purchase food for all the residents of the households. One option was to buy food for the households from local farmers, such as Asgar. The houseparents were in fact buying from him, but toward the end of each month as house budgets ran low, the housemothers would switch and shop supermarkets instead to save money. That was not working for Asgar because it invariably left him stuck with food that he had produced but could no longer sell while it was fresh.

“Wise fellow that he is,” Alice observed, Asgar proposed that the households pledge a certain amount of budgeted money up front each month to support his general farming efforts, to support the whole farm. In return he would agree to deliver produce to their doors throughout the entire month. That upfront agreement worked better for everyone.

Trauger Groh later wrote in his autobiography. “That farms flourish must be the concern of everyone, not just the individuals working as farmers.” The idea is for the community to support the whole farm, not just to be occasional consumers buying boxes of carrots, lettuce and squash. That way the farm is in a position to reciprocate and support the community. The community supports the farm out of free will association, and the farm supports the community out of the bounty of the land.

0Back in the day, Asgar told Trauger that after he changed over to this arrangement, everything on the farm began to grow better. He explained that the nature spirits, or elemental beings weaving their works in the farm fields, have no relationship to money and no conception of it. If a farmer looks over a row of carrots and principally calculates what money he can earn with them, the elementals cannot grasp this abstraction. But if a farmer is instead thinking about bringing the crop to its highest perfection to nourish human beings and livestock, the elementals can in their own manner comprehend and respond.

“Elemental beings want what is good, healthy and right for the soil and the situation,” Alice told me. “If a farmer can be freed from the economic stress of counting rows of carrots to calculate how many rows he needs to make how much money, then the farmer can think instead of what the soil, the plants, the farm, and the farm community need. With these thoughts about concrete matters such as food and eating, rather than thoughts about the relatively abstract and artificial concept of money, everything grows better.”

“We can’t see the forces of nature,” original Indian Line CSA farmer Hugh Ratcliffe once told me, “but we can see the effects of working consciously with them.” Careful observation of nature, and intelligent cooperation with it, are among the great contributions of Biodynamics. And that’s how CSA pioneers approached it in the USA.

Considered through the lens of economics, CSA was not originated as some new, improved way to sell vegetables, milk and meat, nor was it thought of in any way as a “marketing scheme.” The seed efforts of CSA pioneers were aimed at the basic economy of finding ways to free farmers to do the tasks that are right for the farm, the people, and the earth. This intention represents a third seed at the core of the original CSA impulse.

The Temple-Wilton Community Farm in particular has taken up these seed ideas from the beginning. With effort it has cultivated and refined the seeds over 28 growing seasons: shared ownership and risk, free-will participation as members of the community, and intelligent partnership with nature rather than brute efforts at domination and control.

As Alice observed in the aftermath of the Peterborough Grange-CSA honoring ceremony, “it is unusual, to say the least, maybe even miraculous, that in these times of great social struggle that something that we approached with idealism and dedication has prospered and has had such a profound effect in the world.”

– Steven McFadden, December 2014

farmm 


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.

ibook

#Amazon-buynow

 

 

 


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.

col2

BackCover


The Future of CSA Farms: Podcast Conversation

March 4, 2014

pcastCommunity Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an agrarian movement that arose in America starting in the 1980s. In an era of general farm consolidation and industrialization CSA has continued to develop. By now there are many thousands of farms and many hundreds of thousands of households networked directly with local farms.

The initial vision of CSA arose in the context of wide recognition of the necessity for renewal of agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival. The vision united farmers and consumers in an agrarian relationship for the health of people and planet, and explicitly recognized the necessary stewardship of soil, plants, and animals: the essential capital of human cultures. CSA emerged as a web of relationships.

Recently I had an opportunity to engage in conversation about the movement and its future with two renowned CSA farmers: Jean Paul Courtens of Roxbury Farm in New York, and Allan Balliett of Fresh and Local CSA in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

My thanks to Allan for creating and hosting BDnow Podcast 017 – The Future of CSA, and to Jean Paul for sharing his experience and insight.

As it happens, I must demur on the matter of “foremost…philosopher,” which is a descriptor applied to me in the podcast. CSA farms arose as a community supported concept. “The idea of CSA was in the air in the late 1980s.” Many different people were contributing to the thoughts and practices, including Jan Vander Tuin, John Root, Jr., Andrew Lorand, Robyn Van En, Elizabeth Henderson, Anthony Graham, Lincoln Geiger, and Alice Groh. Trauger Groh – my coauthor on Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited – had a profound and eloquent grasp of farming and of the budding CSA vision.  My role with CSA in those days, and ongoingly, has been not to philosophize, but rather to listen closely and then to write about what I learn.

Farmland,_Stokenchurch_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1013299

#csa #organicfarmers #organic #agrarian


The Future of Food is Local

November 19, 2013

Michael Brownlee in Lincoln (author photo)

Michael Brownlee in Lincoln
(author photo)

Michael Brownlee stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska on Monday evening and gave a talk about local food. Detailing the systemic weaknesses in the juggernaut of industrial agriculture, which now provides about 98% of our food, he commented: ”food is the one area where we are all most vulnerable, and where the need is most urgent.”

Brownlee and his partners at Local Food Shift are out to catalyze the national movement in local food helping to take it to the next level — from a culture of consumers, to a culture of contributors. He considers their efforts in the Front Range of Colorado to be a Whole Systems Demonstration Project.

“The way we feed ourselves is the most important social, environmental, health and economic undertaking of our times,” he said. “Food is going to come soon to the forefront of emerging human calamities.”

Brownlee cited the draft report leaked earlier this month from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In blunt language, that report spells out the trend: “climate change will seriously damage the world’s ability to feed itself in the coming decades. The report confirms previous studies’ findings that climate change could exacerbate poverty, strain water supplies, make extreme weather more common and increase conflict around the world.

Local food is a core response to impending catastrophes, accentuated by climate change. The world’s agricultural areas will shift, causing an overall decline in agricultural production. The movement toward local food comes at the juncture of a troubling array of global environmental and economic crises, he said, and responds to them in a healthy and positive way.

The Local Food Shift campaign is designed to empower communities to marshal their efforts in beginning to shift their food systems towards the local. They are creating and making available tools and processes to empower the local food movement.

“The global food system is now teetering on the edge of collapse,” Brownlee asserted. “The future of food is local – as close to home as possible. Local food production helps to reverse the wide spiral of damage caused by industrial agriculture and the industrial growth society.”

Brownlee concluded his talk with a quote from economist Herman Daly, author of several books, including For the Common Good (1994).  “If economics is reconceived in the service of community, it will begin with a concern for agriculture and specifically for the production of food. This is because a healthy community will be a relatively self-sufficient one…The most fundamental requirement for survival is food. Hence, how and where food is grown is foundational to an economics for community.”


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