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.

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Bowl of BioPhotons or Crock of Corporate Life Forms?

April 20, 2013

cherrykirilian

What would you like for breakfast: a bowl of fresh, clean organic food naturally radiating the golden goodness of the Sun (aka biophotons), or a crock bulging with lab-engineered, genetically-modified, profit-patented, corporately-owned, food product (aka “novel life forms”)?

Unbidden, this queer question came to the forefront for me last week when two stories arrived all but simultaneously in my email in-box. One story was about novel genetically engineered life forms, and the other was about biophotons. I found the distinctions starkly dismaying.

First I read news from The Cornucopia Institute that Monsanto and DSM Nutritional Products are soon likely to be constructing even more “novel life forms” such as genetically engineered algae, processed with synthetic petrochemical-based solvents, then incorporating these substances, more or less surreptitiously, into “food products.”

If they follow what has so far been their standard corporate operating procedure, these concocted substances will be disseminated without labels or any other way for people to understand what they are ingesting.

In this unsettling, unknowable manner is the industrial food chain being relentlessly infiltrated with “novel life forms” generated in laboratories away from the light of the sun, and owned not by nature, but by corporations. For this I have no appetite.

Then I read about biophotons. Turns out that’s a word for describing the smallest known units of light. Biophotons are sparks of life within biological systems, and best explained by quantum mechanics: subatomic phenomena that exhibit properties of both waves and particles.

Biophotons are used by and stored in all organisms, including the food we eat, the water we drink, and our bodies. When our food is vibrant with high-quality life energy (biophotons), that energy – not just the material substance of vitamins and minerals — is absorbed into our bodies.

The existence and the importance of this basic life force has been known for centuries in China where it is spoken of as chi, in Japan where it is known as ki, in India where the ancient Sanskrit term is prana, and by various terms among many of the native peoples of the Americas.

In recent decades, the reality of the animating life force has been increasingly recognized in Western science. Physicist Fritz-Albert Popp, Ph.D., of Marburg University, researched and named this phenomenon as biophotons – particles of light that infuse life.

Dr. Popp was among the first Western investigators to indicate that this light must come, at least in part, from the foods we eat. The more light a food is able to store, the more nutritious it is.

plant-kirilianNaturally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, for example, are rich in biophotons. It’s obvious. You need not be a mystic who can see auras to understand. The reality of light waves, or biophoton energy, is obvious to any receptive and discerning eye.

Biophotons elevate the organism – such as your physical body – to a higher oscillation. As I read that, basically, if you eat fresh, clean food grown on healthy natural land, you support your body at a higher, healthier vibe.

Our bodies are made up not just of organs, tissue, and blood vessels, but are also composed of light. Biophotons enliven, order and regulate living organisms.

The greater your supply of light force from fresh, clean foods, the greater the vitality of your overall electromagnetic field (aura), and consequently the more energy available for maintaining optimal health. In matters biophotonic, quality as much as quantity is key.

Physicist Popp theorizes that the biophoton light emissions of healthy people follow biological rhythms, and that those rhythms are connected to the measureable biorhythms of the earth. There is a direct correlation and an active resonance amidst land, food, and people.

Clean, healthy land tended organically or Biodynamically gives rise to clean healthy food rich in biophotons (chi, ki, prana, life energy). It’s that simple. Starkly simple.


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.


Cornucopia Condemns Corruption: Accuses USDA of Complicity in ‘Organic Watergate’ Scandal

May 21, 2012


The Cornucopia Institute, a watchdog organization safeguarding organic farms and food, has charged that there is a conspiracy between corporate agribusiness interests and the USDA that is undermining the integrity of US-certified organic farms and food.

Since 1990 when the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was established, the US government has for all intents and purposes owned the word organic. With possession of that word, the government also laid claim to the trust of citizens who want food free of industrial chemicals and genetic modification. That trust has been steadily eroded, the Institute alleges, as multinational agribusiness corporations have climbed into bed with the NOSB.

In a 72-page white paper, Organic Watergate, Cornucopia details violations of federal law and a pattern of callous disregard for congressional intent, that has created a climate of regulatory abuse.

Cornucopia’s white paper charges that the NOSB has been stacked with agribusiness operatives. This stacking is a steadily complicating and corrupting influence that violates the spirit of the organic movement and undermines the integrity of the organic standard.

The report underscores the need for people to step forward and restore the integrity of the organic label so that it will mean something sure, steady, clean and strengthening. The report also plants relevant seeds of doubt in the minds of consumers, and may motivate more households to secure food directly from local producers via CSAs and farmers markets and other emerging models.

Cornucopia’s challenge of NOSB ethics and standards will reach a cresendo this week (May 22-25, 2012) at the meeting of the NOSB  in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

FULL DISCOLOSURE: My wife Elizabeth Wolf is an employee of The Cornucopia Institute.


Cereal Crimes: the Bottom of the Breakfast Bowl

October 18, 2011

Parents, children, anyone who routinely sits down to eat a bowl of breakfast cereal, will want to take a look at the new report on ‘Cereal Crimes‘ released by the Cornucopia Institute.

The report makes plain the sharp and important difference between cereals that are actually grown and produced with clean, sustainable, organic methods and materials, and those cereals marketed with the vague and often misleading label ‘natural.’

The term ‘natural’ on a food product should, at this point, simply raise questions for consumers, who will want to read the product label more carefully. What is really in it?

In the USA there are no restrictions whatsoever for foods labeled “natural.” According to Cornucopia, the term often denotes little more than marketing hype from companies seeking to exploit consumer desire for clean food produced in a genuinely sustainable manner. So called ‘natural’ products may well be grown with chemicals and include genetically engineered grains or other ingredients.

If you eat cereal, or if your children do, you will want to check Cornucopia’s online Cereal Scorecard to see how your favorite brands have been rated.


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