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 


Grange to Honor Farmers who Pioneered CSA

November 13, 2014

CSAceremonyA thoughtful Grange chapter plans to honor three farmers who helped pioneer the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) movement in the USA. The event is set for Sunday, November 23 at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, and it’s sponsored by the Peterborough Grange #35 in New Hampshire.

CSA has multiplied from just two USA farms in the late 1980s to as many as 10,000 CSA farms now according to some estimates, with many thousands of other CSAs in nations all across the globe.

In the early era of CSA, in parallel with efforts at Indian Line Farm in Western Massachusetts, the three New Hampshire farmers — Trauger Groh, Lincoln Geiger and Anthony Graham — initiated the Temple Wilton Community Farm.

Land for the Temple-Wilton Community farm is held in common by the community through a legal trust. Pictured founding members Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham, and Trauger Groh. Photo courtesy of Trauger Groh.

Land for the Temple-Wilton Community farm is held in common through a legal trust. Pictured circa 2006 are founders Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham, and Trauger Groh.

Their innovative CSA is still active and prosperous, and it continues to serve as a forward-looking model for successful community farms around the world– not simply because of the high quality of food they provide for member-owners of the farm, but also because of the profoundly sane environmental, educational, economic, social, and cultural benefits that have been developed as part of the model.

In 1985-86 when the Temple-Wilton CSA was initiated, I was the farm and garden columnist for The Monadnock Ledger. The pioneering efforts of the local farmers naturally drew my interest. Eventually, with Trauger Groh, I co-authored Farms of Tomorrow (1990), and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited (2007) to explore in print what CSA held as potential. Later I authored a two-part history of CSA for Rodale’s New Farm magazine. I’m FOTR copyhonored to have been invited to give a short keynote talk – by remote video — at the Grange-CSA event in New Hampshire, and to have an opportunity to try and place the creative efforts of these farmers in context.

This keynote honoring event will continue a developing association between The Grange, which has deep historic roots in North America, and the emerging model of CSA community farms.

GrLogoOrganizer Ron Lucas of Peterborough Grange #35 plans to video record the ceremony, and to produce a 15-minute segment that will be posted on public access sites such as Youtube and Vimeo. More on that later as details become available…

For further information contact Ron Lucas of the Peterborough Grange < flowerfarm2@gmail.com >

Temple news article-page-001


Big Bills and Big Chills for Honest Organic Inspector

September 19, 2013
Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm. One of two Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska, Common Good produces for their CSA and for the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Lunquist is an organic farmer and inspector, but he acted as a citizen in this case. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm in Nebraska. They produce for a CSA and the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

On December 7, 2011 the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) inadvertently violated its own policies and released the name of a Nebraska man who had accurately reported a farmer who was flouting the legally binding organic rules.

In so doing, the NOP unleashed upon Evrett Lunquist a multi-year plague of legal pleadings, and a barnload of  legal expenses to defend himself.

After his name was released in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the man who correctly reported the violations, Biodynamic farmer and part time inspector Evrett Lunquist, was sued for $7.6 million in a Nebraska Court by Paul A. Rosberg, the vengeful farmer who had violated organic rules. Later in the proceedings, International Certification Services was added as a defendant.

After more than 18 months of tedious hearings and a numbing cascade of motions filed by the plaintiff, Lancaster County Judge Paul D. Merritt finally in August 2013 issued a summary judgment dismissing the case.

not-organic-After the expensive ordeal of defending himself against the allegations unleashed by the NOP’s procedural error, Lunquist, who followed the letter of the law acting as a private citizen when he initially reported the violations, had racked up more than $43,000 in legal expenses. While he received no support or acknowledgement of responsibility from the NOP, he and his family did find generous support from their church and their community. I have previously reported on this case both here and here.

logoThis convoluted case calls into question the ability of the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP) to stand behind citizens and inspectors who report violations of organic standards. Consequently, the case has sent a palpable chill through America’s network of organic inspectors, and may thereby compromise consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA’s “Certified Organic” label. Meanwhile, another kind of food certification — Certified Naturally Grown — is emerging.

Through its Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supervises the organic program, the USDA said it was unable to comment on the case. AMS and NOP were also apparently unable to find a way to support Lunquist in this lawsuit, as requested by Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry at an Ag Appropriations subcommittee hearing April 18, 2013.

AMS Administrator David Shipman responded at that hearing: “We made a mistake…It is really regrettable. I have looked at this case a number of times and sat with legal counsel trying to figure out how we can in some way help that individual…but the avenue to actually help in a financial way, I have not found a path forward on that yet. It is an extremely regrettable situation, and we aware of it.” Shipman has since retired.

A year earlier, as the case against Lunquist dragged on, organic program Administrator, Miles McEvoy published a policy statement on how the agency handles complaints about organic certification.

“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, IOIA

Posse Comitatus Rides Again?

Plaintiff Paul Rosberg represented himself pro se in this case, as he has represented himself often. According to court records, Rosberg has filed several dozens of lawsuits in Nebraska over the past 30 years.

Stack-of-foldersThe plaintiff’s legal attack in this case, and in others, closely parallels the philosophies and strategies of the Posse Comitatus, a loosely organized far-right social and survivalist movement. The movement has pioneered the use of false liens and other forms of paper terrorism.

After having been found to be out of compliance with organic standards, Rosberg threatened to bankrupt Lunquist. Then in a March 5, 2012 letter with an ominous subtext, Rosberg wrote: “Please let me assure you I WILL NOT do any physical damage to you or your family. I am a Christian and I have a wife and 16 children.”

As someone who has been involved in dozens of lawsuits, Rosberg proved adept at disruptive strategies. In pursuing Lunquist – who acted carefully within the law to protect the public from fraud — Rosberg filed over 30 pleadings, motions or objections, drastically dragging the case out over time before his complaint was finally dismissed this summer.

In an interview before one of the many hearings in Lancaster County Court, Rosberg told me that he owned 260 cows and 240-acres of farmland, and that he leased two thousand more acres of land for farming. “I’m a sharecropper,” he said.

Meanwhile Back at the Farm: Hiring a Hit Man

During the stretch when Rosberg was pressing his suit against Lunquist, he and his wife Kelly were indicted by a federal grand jury on a separate but related matter: six counts of fraud for selling misbranded meat through their company, Nebraska’s Finest Meats, to the Omaha Public Schools. If convicted they face fines and prison terms.

hitOn Friday the 13th of September, 2013, just days before yet another hearing to assess legal fees in the dismissed suit against Lunquist, Rosberg was arrested and taken into federal custody. He is incarcerated under contract at the Douglas County Jail in Omaha, Nebraska.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star Rosberg is accused of trying to hire two hit men to murder two witnesses in his federal meat trial. According to an affidavit, on Monday September 1, just one month out from the date of his trial for violations of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Rosberg asked a man and his brother if they would kill two government witnesses. The accuser, who had worked for Rosberg for six weeks, said Rosberg twice asked him to kill two witnesses scheduled to testify for the government at his federal trial.

Rosberg will be arraigned on charges of solicitation to commit a crime of violence.

The Big Chill

Because he was in jail, Rosberg did not appear in court on Monday, September 16 for yet another hearing, this one on assessing legal fees in the lawsuit he filed against Lunquist. The hearing involved a marked measure of paper shuffling and box checking by the judge, to insure his ruling would not be vulnerable to the appeals Rosberg had previously vowed he would file.

After processing the thick stack of exhibits and motions in order, the judge said he would look at everything, and then later rule on the matter of attorney fees. No matter how the judge rules, it seems unlikely Paul Rosberg will have the wherewithal or the inclination to pay Lunquist.

Realizing his situation, Evrett Lunquist long ago asked the NOP to make things right for him, since it was their mistake that brought on the lawsuit. The NOP declined to help with legal costs or to issue a public apology. Over the course of the lawsuit, the agency had been slow to provide documents needed by the defense, thereby driving up legal expenses. The NOP did, however, ultimately provide an official Declaration corroborating the validity and accuracy of Lunquist’s original complaint. At that time the agency stated it would take precautions to ensure this never happens again.

chillLunquist told me his motivation for filing a complaint in the first place 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 has been stupefying.”

In an interview after the September 16 hearing on attorney fees, Lunquist said that the lengthy legal ordeal had been not only expensive, but also nerve wracking. “It should have been a much shorter course of events,” he said.

Last March Lunquist and his attorneys, Gene Summerlin and Marie Jensen, traveled to California to participate in a training conference of the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA), the professional organization of organic inspectors. Lunquist’s attorneys spoke at a workshop on managing the legal risks faced by official inspectors and by private citizens.

IOIAA main point that came across at the meeting is that if you file a complaint outside of the government mandated responsibilities of an inspector, maintaining your anonymity scrupulously is the only way you can assure your name is not released. If your name is released, you are thereby exposed — vulnerable to lawsuits from disgruntled farmers and processors accused of violating the rules. That harsh reality is true whether you are an official organic inspector or an independent citizen, as Lunquist was in this instance.

The USDA said that it was unable to comment on the judge’s dismissal of Rosberg’s suit against Lunquist. While Lunquist has had to defend himself, he has had strong backing from family, church and community.

Onward to Higher Ground

This apparent vulnerability to personal lawsuits has had a chilling effect through the community of organic inspectors, and it threatens to undermine consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA “organic certification.”

Participants at the inspectors training program earlier this year generally agreed that it is naive to think that your name and contact information will remain confidential if you file a complaint. Almost anything can be ferreted out by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and by data mining strategies as made apparent this year through the extensive revelations about government or business intrusions into private communications.

Anything submitted to the government can – and very well may be – released. The NOP was legally bound to release a copy of the complaint to Rosberg, but it should have redacted Lunquist’s name, contact, and other identifying information.

Lunquist acknowledged that many observers regard his legal travails as part of pattern that has created the chilling effect for organic inspectors. He told me that several inspectors approached him at the meeting and said they have filed similar complaints, and might well have gotten caught up in similar costly lawsuits.

Lunquist said there was general agreement on the need to act within the USDA mandate for organic inspectors, or to protect your anonymity if you are not acting in that role. If organic inspectors and citizens want to remain private, they must take pains to remain anonymous.

Demeter-USAThe farmers of Common Good have established a website to keep people informed about the case, and to try and raise money to cover the cost of Lunquist’s legal defense. “We have received donations amounting to about half of our legal bills,” Ruth Chantry told me. “That support from our church, our community, and many wonderful people has meant a lot to us.”

Evrett Lunquist and Ruth Chantry’s stories are told in Higher Ground, a documentary film about their Common Good Farm, one of only two Demeter Certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska. The documentary, produced by Open Harvest Co-op, is posted on Youtube.

* * * * * * * * 

AUTHOR’S DISCLOSURE: I serve on the board of the consumer-owned Open Harvest Co-op in Lincoln, Nebraska. Common Good Farm is among 110+ local farms that do business with our co-op. The co-op has donated money to help cover the cost of Lunquist’s defense.

wheat-for-harvest


The Call Becomes a Howl

February 7, 2011

~ Food Plans Require Action Now ~

The call of the land is amping up into a howl sounded around the world, a howl that is beginning to echo down the aisles of food markets and within empty bellies, far and near.

World food prices hit a record high in January. They have continued their sharp rise through early February. By a convincing majority, observers of the global food scene expect supply to continue being pinched, and for prices to climb relentlessly upward, perhaps as much as another 40% in the Americas over the next two years, and even higher elsewhere.

“The world is now in an era where it has to be very serious about food supply.” – Josette Sheeran, director, UN World Food Program

Now is the time for action. We’re in a global danger zone. Ultimately, the Americas are entwined with all that unfolds in the realm of farms and food around the world. The UN’s acute concern is that the latest spikes in prices will spark a repeat of the deadly food riots that broke out in 2008 in Haiti, Kenya and Somalia. Just since the start of 2011, surging food prices have helped fuel the ongoing rage of citizens in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.

The UN expects to see more hunger and famine, and consequently more rebellion in the year ahead. For farms, food, and famine, three powerful forces are at work:

  • Speculators are heedlessly active for profit, snapping up commodities and thereby impelling food prices upward. UN reports show that up to 70% of business on commodity markets is speculation rather than trade.
  • Economist Paul Krugman writing in The New York Times points to another monster factor, climate change:  “While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production…”
  • The third driving factor is Peak Oil. World food prices follow oil prices (93% correlation since 2000). The vast enterprise of industrial agriculture rests on the supply of oil for fuel, fertilizer, and chemicals. Fossil fuel prices are spiking upward again in earnest, boosting food prices with them

The global food situation is morphing rapidly. The potential for various levels of chaos is palpable. This critical reality calls for smart, swift response.

Thousands of pioneering households and communities, churches, and companies have already devised working, healthy, sustainable responses, and established models for taking care of the land, for producing an abundance of clean food, and of finding ways to knit themselves together around something foundational: our food and how we grow it. Those models stand out as intelligent and worthy responses to the howl of the times and of the land.

To portray a broad array of these positive, proactive models for households and communities, I teamed up with my partner Elizabeth Wolf and the skillful publishing trio at NorLightsPress.com to do something more comprehensive  as a guide for people. We wanted to offer readers an even wider and richer range of possibilities for creative responses to the urgent howl of the land. We accomplished our goal. We have completed our work assembling a greatly expanded 2nd edition of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer for the 21st Century. You can check it out here.

Our hope is that the 2nd edition of The Call of the Land will serve as a rough guide for many as we navigate this era of change. We feel that farms, farmers markets, CSAs, schools, companies, and many other constellations of humanity will find it to be a good tool for teaching, and especially for building wider community support.

We have scheduled the official publication date of this 2nd edition of the book for April. However, owing to the global food crisis, we felt it important to make it available now.

– 30 –


CSA Farms Taking Root in China

January 24, 2011
China rice field with farmer. Photographer: Markus Raab, licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons.

USA Today has published a noteworthy story about the development of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in China. Having reported about CSA since its inception in the USA in 1986 (Farms of Tomorrow), I was heartened to learn how far and wide the concept has spread. Much more lies ahead.

Correspondents Calum MacLeod and Sunny Yang report: “Almost 70% of China’s consumers feel insecure about food safety, according to a survey released recently by Insight China Magazine and the Tsinghua University Media Survey Lab.

“Now some individuals and companies are taking action to ensure the produce on their dining tables, or in work canteens, is fit to eat. A small but growing number of people are starting or joining organic farms that abide by the community-supported agriculture (CSA) model being used in the USA.”

I very much appreciated this next paragraph from their story, because it underscores core ideas about the purpose of CSA that often are obscured:

“At the Little Donkey Farm, which she opened in 2009 in Beijing’s semi-rural suburbs, Shi hears from other people planning similar projects. “Their first question is usually ‘Can I make money from this?’ ” Shi says. “The purpose is not making money, but sustaining farmers on the land, and teaching city people the importance of protecting our planet and the soil.”

These core CSA economic and environmental elements are likely to come forward even more distinctly in the years ahead — not just in China, but in the USA, Canada, and the rest of the world — as the call of our changing economy and climate mandate wiser responses from us.


New Year’s Reminder for the Journey Ahead

December 27, 2010

Farmers and gardeners, in regions they say, walked their land in the nights that deepened at the turn of the year. Under the sparkling canopy of winter stars, they would actively imagine how their fields, gardens and herds would appear in the fullness of the growing season, and also at harvest. Nice New Year’s custom.

Grandfather Leon Secatero

With that thought in mind as 2010 closes out, I’m prompted to repost a brief message spoken by the late Leon Secatero. Among many other things, until his death in 2008 Grandfather Leon was Headman in service to the Canoncito Band of Navajo in To’Hajiilee, just west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. We got to be friends over the years; lots of shared interests. Because Leon’s message was so essentially centering, it merits repeating as we all now make inner preparations for the fields, gardens, and projects that will flower in our lives through 2011. Leon’s message is strengthening and centering. It bears repeating.

“The journey we are beginning now is for the next 500 years. What will be the sacred path that people will walk over the next 500 years? Even in the midst of all the changes taking place and all the things falling apart, we are building that foundation now. That’s something important for us to remember and to focus on. If we don’t do it, no one else will.

“To move ahead into the next 500 years we must leave some things behind or they will contaminate or even eliminate the future. We cannot go forward if we keep destroying the earth. But we must also ask, what is good and healthy and helpful? Those good things can be part of our foundation, part of our pathway into the next 500 years…”

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