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.

 


Do you have the wisdom necessary for the journey?

April 5, 2015

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the start of the great multicultural pilgrimage from the Atlantic to the Pacific in 1995 under guidance of traditional native wisdom keepers. The journey was — and is — the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

As the meme below attests, I’m moved this year to continue letting people know about the epic saga I authored back in 2007 to tell the tale. As time passes the story becomes increasingly relevant.

Odyssey of the 8th Fire


Begin the journey: Odyssey of the 8th Fire

March 21, 2015

The year 2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of a great journey that took place over the course of 8 months as a band of pilgrims guided by traditional elders of North America walked from the Atlantic to the Pacific under the sky sign of the Whirling Rainbow. This journey was a response to the urgent call of the land.

To help commemorate that walk across the land, I’m creating a series of memes letting people know where they can learn the whole of of the true, epic saga Odyssey of the 8th Fire. Here’s is one sample meme that I plan send out on it’s own digital odyssey:

BeginTheJourney

I invite you also to begin the journey. Explore what the odyssey of the 8th fire is about, and consider making an 8-month spiritual-literary journey, reading one journal entry each day from the start of the odyssey onward.

With respect, SM


The Walk Humanity is Taking

March 15, 2015

SunbowMeme


CSA Farms: Actual Farm-Community Alliance or Alternative Marketing Strategy?

January 27, 2015

vegetablesAgrarians often remark in one context or another that they feel farming went off course when people started trying to run farms as a business instead of as a way of life. At that point they say farming was no longer a culture of the land, but rather a business of the land — a business that has metastasized over decades to become the modern, chemically-fueled behemoth of industrial agribusiness.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has been planted and cultivated in the context of the increasing dominance of industrial agriculture and the ongoing decline of the traditional family farm. Over the last 28 years many thousands of people have recognized in CSA a vehicle for approaching food, land, environment and community in a different way. But there is a creeping risk that CSA could be diverted down a course more devotedly focused on monetary profit and business efficiency in service to profit. In so doing the movement risks losing its bearings on the matters of  agricultural, social and environmental renewal that were intrinsic to the original concept.

Increasingly over the last decade, as more and more businesses have seen a marketing opportunity and begun to describe themselves as CSAs, extension services and educators have also advanced the idea of CSA as a “marketing approach” or “marketing tool.” Yet an emphasis on marketing is in many respects the antithesis of what CSA started out to become, and what it still has the potential to become. CSA was not initiated as a way to sell food. It was about communities of people directly supporting specific farms, and in reciprocity farms directly supporting specific people in specific communities.

Many agricultural initiatives claiming the status of CSA do in fact approach it as simply a marketing strategy — just another way for a farm to sell vegetables and to earn money. Such initiatives fill a true need, no doubt. But they veer from the core ideas of CSA, ideas which are eminently worthy of recollection. In my view, the agricultural, environmental, social and health ideals are still very much worth striving for.

When a “CSA” puts its central focus on profit, by that very act it modifies or mutates the spirit of the movement and fundamentally becomes something else – ‘Genetically Modified CSA,’ you might say. That something else may be a fabulous business idea that is doing an effective job of fulfilling a real need for consumers. That’s admirable. But the business is not a CSA, and the use of CSA as a descriptor for such businesses undermines the efforts of true community supported farms.

Profit-centered enterprises have over time eroded the integrity of the term “natural” so that it has little relevant meaning in the marketplace. No one trusts the label “natural” anymore because it can mean anything the labeler wants it to mean. Likewise, the meaning of words like “green” and “sustainable” has mutated over the decades. Those terms have been deliberately compromised to cover an ever-widening range of  ideas and tools, and in some cases the terms have been distorted to describe extreme industrial technological “solutions” for environmental problems, such as adding chemicals to the ocean to control pollution, or salting the atmosphere with microscopic metal particles in an attempt to prevent global climate change

Similarly, the term ‘CSA” may have its definition eroded. As Angelic Organics CSA farmer John Peterson told me last year, “A farm is not just an economic unit to produce food. It’s also a living social, environmental and educational organism…

THE-CALL-OF-THE-LAND-The“A CSA cannot be thought of as just a unit of economic production. That just commodifies the farms and farmers, as food is commodified also…You can’t have farmers beat into the ground working for prices set by wholesalers, trying to make mortgage and equipment payments and all the rest. You cannot have the stewards of the land struggling under that much pressure.”

As I hear it, the call of the land in regard to CSA farms has far more to do with communities of people coming together in creative, positive response to the agricultural, environmental, climatological, social and health challenges of our era than it does with retailing.

– by Steven McFadden


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 


Our Ancient & Worthy Responsibility

December 18, 2014

THE-CALL-OF-THE-LAND-The


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