CSA Farms and Aggregators: Threshing Things Out

July 7, 2015

rodale_logoRodale’s New Farm magazine has published my article on CSA Farms and Aggregators in it’s Summer, 2015 edition. A few short excerpts:

“Community is not a warm and cuddly marketing concept attached to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). It is, rather, a defining element. Yet in the past few years, some middleman food businesses have appropriated the term “CSA” to describe what they are doing, without involving community. This practice is leading to confusion and concern….

“…In the context of this trend, the term CSA is in danger of following the word “natural” down a mushy pathway to the realm of meaninglessness…

“The food industry has just scratched the surface of “locally grown” as a business concept, but seems intent on digging deeper. As the business aspect of local food grows in size and strength, will the community dimension of CSA continue to wither? That question will be answered not just by farmers, but also by the individual human beings who constitute the community….”

For the full article follow this link.


This Changes Everything: CSA Farms & Climate Change

June 30, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


News from Mother Earth News

June 18, 2015

motherearthlogoAbout a month ago the editors of Mother Earth News responded to my press release for Awakening Community Intelligence with an invitation to blog on the subject a bit for their renowned publication. I was happy to accept their invitation.

Here’s a link to my first blog post for Mother Earth News. That post as you will see is an explanatory excerpt from the Introduction to Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.

 

 


New Book: Awakening Community Intelligence

May 9, 2015

CSA book coverI’m pleased to announce publication of my new book, Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as Community Cornerstones. Both print and ebook editions are now available via Amazon.com.

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.

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.

By way of background: as a journalist I’ve been writing about CSA since its inception in the USA in the late 1980s. With Trauger Groh, I’m co-author of the first books on CSA: Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. My other books include The Call of the Land, Profiles in Wisdom, Classical Considerations, and the epic nonfiction saga of contemporary America, Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

Awakening Community Intelligence sets out the vision and sounds is a call to action.

The book is available now in both print and ebook formats from Amazon.com. It’s also in wide range of eBook and Smartphone formats from Smashwords.com, and for all Mac devices in the iBookstore.

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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.

 


Our Responsibilities to the Animals We Eat

February 8, 2015

animalsweeatlEach year more than nine billion animals go to slaughterhouses in the USA to be killed, processed, and packaged into the beef, pork, lamb and chicken that eventually find their way onto our dinner plates. It is an industrial process on a staggeringly vast scale, and it has some fundamental problems.

While the number of animals fated to pass through industrial processes has continued to grow in recent decades, the number of independent family farmers who care for them has continued to decline due to high-efficiency corporate mechanical processes and confinement strategies that optimize profit. The animals have been relegated to “units of production.” The population of human beings in our rural regions in the heartland of America has, meanwhile, been decimated as family farmers have steadily fallen victim to vertical integration and the relentless economic demands of corporate bottom lines.

On Friday of last week I journeyed to Omaha – Gateway to the West – to be part of the annual conference of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS). The primary emphasis of the gathering was on local, sustainable community food systems. But the conference also featured a keynote address from Wayne Pacelle, the director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Mr. Pacelle is regarded with fear and loathing among industrial livestock titans who, with their mammoth Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have made Nebraska into a dominant force providing meat for our tables.

In this context over the last few years, HSUS and NSAS, partnering with the Nebraska Farmers Union, have established an innovative Ag Council to promote humane husbandry of farm animals. While Nebraska was the pioneer in this progressive action, eight other states have now formed similar Ag Councils, and more are coming.

So perturbed are corporate livestock barons about the specter of humane animal husbandry, that they’ve established phony “public interest” front groups to wage a proxy campaign against HSUS. According to many observers, that animus has also been reflected in the actions of Nebraska’s Land Grant University. UNL has by and large cast its lot with industrial chemical agriculture and corporate livestock monoliths* while severing ties with NSAS because of its partnership with HSUS. As critics have noted, land grant universities in general have since the 1980s become less oriented to serving the human beings who are citizens of their states, and progressively more dedicated to serving the corporations that do business in their states. That’s where the money is.

Wayne Pacelle at the NSAS conference. "Farmers should be leading the way in the humane treatment of the animals we eat. (Author photo)

Wayne Pacelle at the NSAS conference. “Farmers should be leading the way in the humane treatment of animals.” (Author photo)

“Animal welfare should not be a controversial subject,” Pacelle told the conference. “It’s a natural thing. We have been in relation with animals for millennia.”

“It’s not about animal rights, but rather it’s about our human responsibility to our animal relatives. We have duties,” Pacelle said. “Animal life does not exist solely for our exploitation. How do we handle that responsibility? Ultimately there is no escaping the moral issue. Farmers should be leaders in fulfilling our basic human responsibility to the animals who give up their lives that we may eat.”

Billions of animals suffer needlessly in confinement because they are bound up in corporate economic activity. The economics of industrial efficiency have spawned what might be termed a race to the bottom, not just for the animals, but also for the underpaid human beings – the farm workers and packing-house employees – who are charged with managing them.

As NSAS Board member Kevin Fulton noted during the conference, “There’s a direct correlation between moving the animals off the land and into the vertical integration of industrial confinement operations, and the socially destructive process of moving people off the land. We need fewer animals, and more farmers.”

If industrial food-production corporations continue to regard animals as just dull, dumb commodities – units of production to be fattened with genetically modified grains grown in oceans of glyphosate and pumped up beyond natural reason with hormones and antibiotics – then we are failing at our basic responsibility to be in right relationship with them.

* The University of Missouri has calculated the share of production held by just four firms in different sectors. In total beef production, for example, the share of the top four firms (Cargill, Tyson, JGF, and National Beef) increased from 69 percent in 1990 to 82 percent in 2012. The story is the same in poultry, pork, flour milling, and other sectors. Fewer firms control bigger and bigger shares of total production, making it progressively harder for other farmers to get fair prices or earn a living from their production.


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


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