Grafting the Food System to America’s Rootstock

As we are rocked by repeated waves of climate change, and sharp shifts in politics, economics, and society, something durable is called for – something strong, wise, rooted in the land, waiting at last to find a home in our souls.

The core native knowings that have been part of culture and agriculture on this land for 10,000 years or more can enhance our capacity to respond adroitly to the dissolving and shattering forces aroused in our era. For the sake of integrity and resilience, it’s time finally to consciously graft the variety of cultures that have come to roost on North America with the rootstock.

Grafting - wikipedia commons

Grafting – wikipedia commons

Grafting refers to the process by which a plant serves as the base (rootstock) onto which cuttings from other plants are joined (the scions). Grafting ensures a strong, healthy and productive crown, arising from a mature root system. It’s also a useful metaphor.

The rainbow array of cultural and agricultural ways that have entered onto the continent from Europe, Africa, Asia and southern latitudes, have never been grafted to the rootstock of Turtle Island (North America). Instead there has been an ongoing violent, systematic effort to annihilate rootstock ways through genocide, land theft, and treaty violations. That pattern has generated a massive energy field of karma, as yet unreckoned.

Now, in an era of pervasive change, it’s both an auspicious and a decisive time for the individuals, groups, states and nations of North America to face the historic and contemporary reality by learning more deeply about, respecting actively, and engaging more constructively with the cultural and agricultural rootstock of the land we now share.

As it happens, a grafting impulse is one of the unifying themes woven into the fabric of the upcoming North American Biodynamic Farming Conference* ~ Tierra Viva (Farming the Living Earth). The conference will draw together a multitude of the diverse cultural and agricultural wisdom streams that are part of modern life in the Americas. Come November the conference will create time and space for fusion on the high mountain plains – the altiplano if you will – of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The biodynamic farming and gardening movement is one of many natural scions available for grafting to North America’s cultural and agricultural rootstock. But I feel that biodynamics in particular is a propitious domain for such fusion. A forerunner of organics, biodynamics embraces metaphysical realities that organics chooses not to factor in, and strives to work intelligently with subtle forces. When biodynamics was germinating as an agricultural discipline back in the 1920s, teacher Rudolf Steiner encouraged farmers to make use of an ancient principle from the indigenous knowings native to Europe and elsewhere: “Spirit is never without matter, matter never without spirit.”

hoopNative peoples indigenous to the Americas have likewise long appreciated this foundational truth, and held it in the forefront as they refined a culture and agriculture particular to this place, North America, over 10,000 years or more. Rather than using abstract intellectual constructs such as quantum field theory or general relativity, native knowings are conveyed in elegant, tangible metaphors, such as the teaching of the Sacred Hoop (Circle of Life), or the teaching that we have a fundamental responsibility to take care of the earth, for she is indeed our mother (Tierra Madre, Pachamama).

With presenters from the four directions and a rich mix of cultures, grafting will be in the atmosphere at Tierra Viva. Among the farmers, gardeners and grafters whose voices will sound, Larry and Deborah Littlebird of Santo Domingo Pueblo, peacemaker Patricia Ann Davis of the Navajo/Dineh Nation, Emigdio Ballon of Tesuque Pueblo, Dr. Jose Ma Anguiano Cardenas from Nayarit, México, Karen Washington from Rise & Root farm in New York City, Helmy Abouleish from Egypt, Sally Fox of Verditas Farm, and author/chef Deborah Madison from Galisteo, New Mexico.

Cultural and Agricultural Wisdom of the Americas
The rootstock cultural and agricultural knowings of North America constitute basic understandings for long-term survival on this land. The knowings have been gained not over mere centuries, but over many thousands of years. In light of our present circumstances, these basic knowings are both relevant and essential.

For some time healthy natural grafting processes have been progressing in the array of agroecological movements toward clean, wholesome land, water and food, such as good food, slow food, organic food, food justice, food sovereignty, and a variety of First Nations initiatives. These are all positive and promising, but just a fraction of the food system.

tree+rootsWhere grafting is acutely needed is in the industrialized, chemicalized, genetically manipulated and patented realms of corporate culture and agriculture. They dominate our food system. And that food system has become one of the most ecologically destructive forces on our planet, a leading contributor to climate chaos. The agriculture system’s dependence on dense, lifeless minerals and an array of poisons, exists in parasitic parallel with an increasingly dense and sick culture at large.

The structure of the dominant food system has origins that extend back through history at least to genocide of native people and theft of their land, to slavery on farms and plantations, to the corporate forces which have driven hundreds of thousands of farm families off the land, to our current wholesale dependence upon, and exploitation of farm workers. All that has to be faced, reckoned with, and resolved, or it remains toxic – toxic in a turbulent era.

But the potential is there for the dominant food system to begin intelligently and skillfully grafting its culture and agriculture to the rootstock.  A good starting point would be embracing the teaching of the Seventh Generation –  to take into consideration the impact that every corporate project or action will have on our children’s children’s children unto the seventh generation. When a person or a corporation is sure decisions and actions will not harm, but rather will bring benefit to that seventh generation, then it’s time to act.  What a profound difference that simple graft could make if taken sincerely.

The healing proposition of grafting has for centuries been eloquently told through the hemisphere-wide saga of The Condor and the Eagle as they are joined via the agency of the Quetzal. It’s an uplifting story, and it expresses a core understanding held by many traditional people in North, South and Central America. Simply hearing the story and paying attention to it creates a healthy bond of understanding.

In keeping with both traditional and emerging understandings, the North American Biodynamic conference in Santa Fe holds promise for further cultural and agricultural grafting progress.

~ END ~

*Note: I‘m a member of the Biodynamic Association, and also one of the presenters at the upcoming Tierra Viva conference. Having had years of involvement with CSA farms and food coops, as well as having had the opportunity to walk thousands miles with native wisdom keepers, I’m strongly drawn to exploration of the cultural and agricultural grafting theme. At the conference I’ll facilitate a workshop titled CSA Farms: Awakening Community Intelligence. ~ S.M.

R.I.P. Trauger Groh, Agrarian Adept

July 27, 2016 – With sorrow, I note the death this morning of my friend and colleague Trauger Groh, 83, of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, one of the oldest continuously operating CSAs in the USA. Trauger is survived by his wife, Alice, and their two adult children, Nicola and Theo, by his daughters in Germany (Daniela, Brigida, Christina, and Patricia), seven grand children, and five great grandchildren. Trauger is also survived by the community farm, still thriving and poised to go forward on the paths he helped to lay out over 30 years ago.

To honor Trauger (1932-2016) and his many contributions to the world at large and in particular to farm communities around the world, I offer the following appreciation. It’s something I wrote earlier this year for the Biodynamic Association.

Trauger Groh, Agrarian Adept

In the late 1980s I had the good fortune to meet Trauger Groh in New Hampshire, and to engage wholeheartedly with him on the subject of farms and the fundamental role they play in human existence. It took only an hour or two for me to recognize that I was associating with an Agrarian Adept.

Trauger Groh

Trauger Groh

The word adept derives from Latin, adeptus, meaning one who has attained the highest level of knowledge and skill in a field of endeavor. In olden times the term was applied to accomplished alchemists, or in a general metaphysical sense to an initiate who had mastered the Mysteries.

To me it seems altogether natural and fitting to attach adept as an epithet to convey respect to both Trauger and his wife Alice Bennett Groh, and to his longtime agrarian compatriots, Anthony Graham and Lincoln Geiger. Together they helped initiate a profound form of healing for land, plants, animals and people: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). This form will endure, I feel, to benefit future generations.

Having worked most closely with Trauger over the years, I want to bring forward some words of appreciation for him and his contributions. He has been an important teacher for me, and for thousands of other people. A biodynamic farmer for over 40 years, Trauger has also lectured worldwide on farm-related issues, biodynamics, and Anthroposophy. His presentations have informed and inspired people in beneficially enduring ways.

Beginning his career in Northern Germany at Buschberg Farm in the 1960s, Trauger studied thoroughly the concepts of biodynamic farming and community co-op programs. In concert with his farm colleagues of that era, he actively cultivated anthroposophic and biodynamic understandings. Together they recognized that new economic, social and agricultural forms were essential. Under the intensifying shadow of corporate industrial agriculture, they strove to create a wider, village-like arrangement based on free-will associations of households with the farm.

Trauger then brought his experience, insight and leadership to the USA in the 1980s, where he made his contributions to the founding of CSA in North America. It’s now 30 growing seasons since Trauger, Anthony, Lincoln and community initiated the biodynamic Temple-Wilton Community Farm in Southern New Hampshire.

CSA arose in the world in response what might be termed a community supported impulse, something that, as Lincoln Geiger once observed, was in the ethers 30 and 40 years ago. Many people were sensing and responding to that impulse with creative innovation. Trauger was among the first and most eloquent exponents of the emerging CSA concepts.

farms.of_.TAs I entered into a series of deep and far-ranging conversations with him, Trauger gradually articulated the core ideas that found expression not only in CSA farms, but also in the books we eventually co-authored: Farms of Tomorrow in 1990, and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited in 1998. Trauger insisted that both of those editions include the lengthy, but essential subtitle: Community Supported Farms, Farm Supported Communities. He wanted to emphasize the absolute importance of that reciprocal relationship.

Because so many of the ideas articulated by Trauger made a deep and lasting impression on me, and on the wider world as well, I want to rearticulate a few of them in capsule form. They are ideas likely to continue informing the world for years to come.

  • Our relationship with nature and the ways that we use the land will determine the future of the earth.
  • Farming is not just a business like any other profit-making business, but a precondition of human life on earth. As such, farming is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is not just another new and clever approach to marketing. Rather, CSA is about the necessary renewal of agriculture through its healthy linkage with the human community that depends on farming for survival.
  • CSA is also about the necessary stewardship of soil, plants, and animals: the essential capital of human cultures.

As Trauger later wrote in his autobiography (Personal Recollections: Remembering My Life and Those Who Mean So Much to Me, 2010), “That farms flourish must be the concern of everyone, not just the individuals working as farmers.”

The idea was for the community to support the whole farm, not just to be occasional consumers buying sacks of carrots, or lettuce or squash. Rather than an agriculture supported by government subsidies, private profits, or martyrs to the cause, CSA pioneers strove to create organizational forms that would provide direct, free will support for farm and farmers from the people who eat their food. That way the farm is in a position to reciprocate and to support the community.

The 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 remains a lofty ideal that many farms and communities of today continue to reach toward, but it’s a concept often overlooked by groups promoting CSA as a “marketing strategy.”

Temple Wilton Community Farm

Temple Wilton Community Farm

As Trauger recognized early on, there is fundamental goodness inherent in the coming together of human beings in community and bonded together by a group will to reckon intelligently with the great challenges before us: climate change, environmental degradation, economic instability, and social upheaval. Thanks to Trauger’s articulate expression of the key ideas, many people came to recognize in biodyanmics and CSA forms of agriculture that reach beyond the cultivation of pesticide-free crops, and which reckon also with the challenges of inner development. It is a service to humanity and to the earth.

In his teaching and writing over the years, Trauger elucidated and amplified Rudolf Steiner’s observations concerning modern food lacking the forces that human beings need to develop moral impulses fitting for this era of history and for what lies ahead.

As biodynamic farmers understand, Steiner’s statements asserted that moral impulses are fundamental in human nature. He saw that a foundation of morality and goodness lies at the core of the human soul, but that over the course of evolution human beings have diverged from an instinctual foundation of goodness, allowing what is wrong, hurtful, immoral and evil to be expressed.

“This,” Steiner taught, “is a problem of nutrition. Nutrition as it is today does not supply the strength necessary for manifesting the spirit in physical life. A bridge can no longer be built from thinking to will and action. Food plants no longer contain the forces people need for this.”

Taking this up as a part of his life work, Trauger engaged the issue with resolve: “How can our diet support not only our physical health, but also the development of our spiritual faculties so that they function in the best way?” Farmers have the potential to bridge earth and sky since they can influence the drawing down of cosmic forces and the drawing up of earth forces. Biodynamics strives to engage this interaction intelligently.

Trauger actively and adroitly advanced the case of biodynamic agriculture, and helped greatly in the striving to re-establish the concept of agriculture serving to cultivate a world permeated by life and a life-giving spirit.

By now, 30 years after beginning in Europe, Japan, the USA and elsewhere, CSA farms are in every part of the world. The books I co-authored with Trauger (Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited) have been translated into German, Russian, Japanese, Korean and other languages. This year they are also being translated into Mandarin (Chinese) thanks to the efforts of Waldorf and Biodynamic communities in Taiwan. Much more lies ahead.

When I spoke with Alice Bennett Groh in the aftermath of a 2014 honoring ceremony for the Temple-Wilton Community farmers sponsored by the Peterborough Grange in New Hampshire, she made an important observation about the work of Trauger, his agrarian colleagues, and their community: “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.”

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Trauger Groh, his agrarian compatriots, and thousands of farm communities, those profound effects will continue to resonate basic goodness for many years to come.    ~ Steven McFadden

– END –

In lieu of flowers the Groh family requests that gifts be made to High Mowing School, Pine Hill Waldorf School, and the Temple-Wilton Community Farm.

CSA Farms are a Righteous Response to Climate Emergency & Food-System Shock

Right around the start of the year climate scientists began to use a new phrase to talk about the condition of our Earth. Climate emergency, they began to say. In so doing they were giving voice to the hard truth that, in the view of many climatologists, we’ve already tipped the scales past a point of no return. We are living out the early stages of massive, planet-wide climate upheaval.

tornadClimate distortion has been speeding up year after year and the distortions are continuing to accelerate according to NASA. Earth has just endured seven straight months of record-shattering heat. Thus, in 2016 we are on track to experience the largest increase ever in global temperature.

Just before climate scientists began uttering the phrase “climate emergency,” the prestigious international insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, issued a formal report titled Food System Shock. The report spoke bluntly of acute disruptions to the global food supply. Meanwhile, 30 of the world’s largest insurance companies, known for their conservative approach in all matters, established a formal coalition (SmarterSafer) to sound the alarm about our extreme circumstances. Climate chaos is happening, and it’s going to be increasingly costly and perilous for everyone.

There is an urgent need to reckon with the impact to our environment and our food, an ominous message being articulated by many learned groups, including The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

It’s dangerous to remain distracted or asleep about these hard realities. It’s past time to wake up. We are well underway in an era of profound changes in our climate and economics as well as our health and social well-being.

With respect to this, I’m sounding a call for the establishment of hundreds of thousands more sustainable farms on the model of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). There is much to be gained for everyone.

Farmers cannot do this alone, especially not if CSA is pursued as some kind of a “marketing model.”  To thrive in our extreme era, CSA cannot be downgraded to a competitive selling system dependent on “customers.”  CSA was never intended for that purpose. CSA embodies the potential for a new way of life upon the land for farm, farmers and supporting community. The economics are associative, rather than competitive or exploitive. Some progress has been made in that direction, and much more is possible.

The wide array of community based initiatives to increase local food production that have emerged over the last 30 years (ranging from farm-to-school lunch programs and farmer’s markets, to reward programs for restaurants that buy food locally, and beyond) are all of tremendous value and importance.

But in my view, among all the initiatives and innovations, CSA stands out as a promising model for many millions of people and hundreds of thousands of communities. It’s a way for people to respond intelligently and strategically to our intensifying climate dilemma. CSA does not leave the great challenges of our era in the lap of farmers alone. At its intended potential, CSA draws upon the strength, intelligence and resources of all the people who of their free-will choice depend upon the farm.

Over the last three decades hundreds of thousands of people in the US and all parts of the world (URGENCI) have come to recognize in CSA a vehicle for approaching land, food, labor, environment, and community in a healthier way. The movement has made some noteworthy progress. Much more is necessary. Now we need many millions more to awaken to similar basic realizations about climate problems and CSA potentials.

CSAs are a righteous response to our unfolding climate emergency. They are resilient, egalitarian, and a fundamentally healthy foundation for the high-speed, high-tech digital culture emerging so dynamically in our world. CSAs have an established track record in America, Canada, Europe, Japan and around the world from east to west. The model has been tested and refined. It’s not government, and it’s not corporate. It’s a choice and a free will association with a farm and a farmer. Thousands of people have applied their intelligence and experience to create and cultivate the CSA model over the last 30 years.

Right now we need hundreds of thousands more communities to see the need and the potential, and to swiftly establish CSA farms.

CSA farms amplify food security. They involve diverse communities of people (from neighborhoods, churches and businesses) in sustainable farming activities that increase food security and quality, while at the same time building clean, healthy soil to trap greenhouse gases.

Right now one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions come from industrial agriculture, as reported in Nature, the international weekly journal of science. Reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is crucial to limiting climate change. CSA farms employ the principles of agroecology, which provides a robust set of solutions to environmental pressures and crises. Virtually all CSA farms are either organic or biodynamic. They sequester greenhouse gases, and help stabilize the earth’s climate. Hundreds of thousands of CSA farms around the world could help to make a difference.

In our era with increasing shadows of climate, environmental and social complications, 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 our radically changing circumstances.

Community farms, in their many variations, can be key models for shifting our reality toward healthy.

Sounding a call for hundreds of thousands more CSA Farms


Would you rather participate in a nightmare or a vision? The nightmare is here and intensifying: climate chaos. Each person, each family, and each community has to reckon with it some way. Community farms (CSAs) are a clean, intelligent and strategic response.

As daily news reports awaken public awareness of profound changes in our climate, economics as well as in our environmental and social well-being, I’m sounding a call for the establishment of hundreds of thousands more sustainable farms on the model of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Over the last three decades hundreds of thousands of people in the US and all parts of the world have come to recognize in CSA a vehicle for approaching land, food, labor, environment, and community in a healthier way.

CSA farms amplify food security, and involve diverse communities of people (from neighborhoods, churches and businesses) in sustainable farming activities that increase food security while building healthy soil to trap greenhouse gases.

According to the USDA, as many as 12,000 new CSA farms have been established in the USA since 1986, directly linking people with the farmers who grow their food. Many thousands more CSA farms have taken root internationally.

I’ve been writing about CSA farms since their inception in the USA in the late 1980s. With Trauger Groh, I’m co-author of the first two books on CSA farms (Farms of Tomorrow in 1990, and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited in 1998). I’m also the author of The Call of the Land: An Agrarian Primer, and Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.

2016 biodynamic conference - horizontal bannerIn late 2015 I was honored to be the keynote speaker at the Midwest CSA Conference. Later this year I’ll present a workshop on CSA farms at the upcoming Tierra Viva (Farming the Living Earth) conference of the Biodynamic Association, to be held at the Santa Fe Convention Center, November 16-20, 2016). My intention is to keep sounding the call both near and far.

As I’ve reported, “In an era with increasing shadows of climate, environmental and social complications, 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.”

Memes – Thought Awakeners – for Community Well-being

In recognition of the many personal, community and global benefits that arise from Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), I’ve created a series of memes to help awaken thought on the potentials that can be realized.

CSA farms are continuing to develop in nations around the world. They are arising not as initiatives of corporations or governments, but rather directly out of the intelligence and active free-will choices of individuals and communities (neighborhoods, regions, churches, workplaces, etc.). They see the challenges and opportunities, of our era, and they choose to respond with wisdom.

You are welcome to copy or download any or all of the following five memes, and to use them in any way (social media, etc.) that may help promote and advance your CSA farm or community food project, or help you to get one underway.  ~ Steven McFadden





The Intensifying Impulse toward Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

For your consideration:
A meme I created this morning with a short quote from the books I co-authored with Trauger Groh:


History is made by people who do things now.

Elizabeth and I went to the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico last night to hear Winona LaDuke and Mililani Trask speak as part of the Lannan Foundation’s programs on cultural freedom. Among the many insightful and rousing remarks they shared with the audience, one seemed to me particularly well suited for a meme:


True Saga Commemorates an Epic American Spiritual Quest

Twenty years have come and gone, and thus I am moved to acknowledge and commemorate a great adventure for our era, and the telling of the true tale of that adventure as Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

The 8th Fire saga tells the real story of a great, long prayer walk in 1995-96 from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The story arises from the deepest roots of our land, but takes place in the present and the future. In it, circles upon circles, spiritual elders make a great and generous giveaway of the teachings they carry.

The actual writing of this epic-length, nonfiction story of the 2,500 mile prayer pilgrimage for the earth took place some 11 years after the final steps of the walk. I wrote Odyssey of the 8th Fire over the course of 225 consecutive days beginning in early summer 2007 and finishing in the deep of winter 2008.


Elizabeth- 2015

At the time my wife Elizabeth Wolf and I were living on Calle Contento in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Over those intensely demanding 225 days, Elizabeth provided intellectual, emotional, creative and spiritual support in a thousand ways, and thereby made possible the writing and online publication of the epic, nonfiction saga Odyssey of the 8th Fire. While holding down a fulltime job at Blessingway Authors Services, she remained close to this project as my Muse, critic, and companion from the first word through the last. Her multitude of contributions made an enormous and enduring difference.

Thank you darling Elizabeth for making it possible to spin out in words this ambitious spiritual saga along the Beauty Way, and to make of it a great giveaway for the people. ~ S.M.

Here’s just a short take from the 8th Fire account of the final day of the long Walk for the Earth:

Day 225 – TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY – February 2, 1996 – Odyssey of the 8th Fire

“We are a part of all that we have met. Yet, experience is an arch wherethro gleams that untravl’d world whose margin fades forever and forever when we move.” ~ Odysseus to Athena, at the end of The Odyssey


Whirling Rainbow Skysign & Sandpainting

…Evelyn Commanda, representing the Algonquin peoples, held one end of the Seven Fires Wampum Belt, and Liz Dominguez, representing Chumash peoples, held the other end. Together, slowly and solemnly, they walked the belt out into the Pacific Ocean, where in a sacred manner they washed it with the waves…

…we were a circle of nearly 80 people representing all the colors of humanity, and many of its spiritual traditions.

We began to express ourselves, to pray. One of the things we gave thanks for on the beach was the tremendous support we enjoyed as we walked. So many wonderful people stopped, or went out of their way somehow to ensure that we succeeded as best we could. So many people responded, and helped us along.

Some people became very interested in the depth and specificity of the prophecies we carried, while others didn’t care very much about that kind of information at all. They just felt we were doing something worthwhile by walking, and that’s all they needed to know. They acted out of basic human goodness. Now in our final ceremony, we sent our gratitude and good feelings to Creator and all the helpers with our song and prayer for all…

Link to the full account of Day 225 of the Odyssey of the 8th Fire.

McFadden: Farms can be cornerstones for communities

The Country Today, a newspaper based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, published a nice story this week about the keynote talk I gave there in Early December. My talk was titled “Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.” Here’s a link to the story.