Community Circle Develops Dynamic Vision for CSA Farms

vvvvvOur community circle existed in time for just 91 minutes during Tierra Viva (Farming the Living Earth), the hemisphere-wide conference that was summoned into being by the Biodynamic Association. But over those 91 minutes the 30+ people in the workshop circle brainstormed a resourceful vision for CSA farms going forward.

Our Community CSA Circle took up three challenge questions:

What healthy impulses are trying to emerge related to CSA farms?
How can we cultivate those impulses?
How do communities become awakened to CSA necessities and possibilities?

Overall, the Tierra Viva conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico successfully bridged agrarian wisdom ways of Europe with the indigenous wisdom traditions and innovations of all the Americas. Within the time allotted during the conference, our brief workshop circle successfully conceived of and expressed necessary visionary elements for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

In facilitating the CSA workshop I had skilled support from my wife, Elizabeth Wolf. We began by handing out copies of the European CSA Declaration, and also Elizabeth Henderson’s draft proposal for a Community CSA Charter for the USA. Then I offered talk with slides to explore the history, motivation, context, status, and possibilities for CSA (click here for a narrated Youtube version of the educational slide show).

In my talk I emphasized the extreme conditions we all face regarding climate, economics, industrial agriculture, and politics. These are the hard realities in which CSA farms will either bloom or wither. Finally, the workshop circle of more than 30 people got to work. Via structured group process they developed the following visionary responses to the challenge questions.

 1. – What healthy impulses are trying to emerge?

  • People want transparency regarding where their food comes from and how it was produced, and they have a fundamental human right to that knowledge. CSA meets that need, which is increasingly recognized by the public.
  • Considering the radical changes in climate, economics and politics, and the swelling diet-related epidemics of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer and so forth, it’s a practical necessity to establish many sources of clean, unadulterated food. CSA farms are effective not just in terms of increasing healthy food sources, but also for increasing food sovereignty, food security, and opportunities for farm and food justice. These are all healthy impulses, imbued with proven wisdom and practical common sense.
  • CSA farms promote human health because the food grown is fresher, healthier. Belonging to a CSA naturally leads to a healthier diet.
  • Physical, rowspractical and spiritual benefits arise for participants in CSA farming. CSA puts shareholders in greater tune with nature. This instinctual impulse to connect with the earth that sustains us is inherent in healthy people; consequently farming and gardening are healing and stabilizing for human beings, and of critical importance as we continue to face extreme and intensifying conditions in our digital era. Biodynamic principles and practices support and enhance all of this.
  • Collaborative decision-making is another emergent impulse. The matrix of roles and responsibilities necessary within a community farm are generally too much for one person, or even one couple, and so there is growing recognition that CSA farms can benefit from greater community involvement and collaboration.
  • The land needs to be healed, as do our bodies. Many people feel the essential rhythm of this impulse. Farming and food consumption are keys, because agriculture is the most basic and essential way human beings interact with the earth, and food is the building block of personal and social well being.

2. – How can we cultivate these impulses?

Encourage opportunities for people to feel they belong to their CSA farm. Let people know they’re not just customers or subscribers, but rather shareholders with an essential stake in the farm. This requires that people actually come to the farm; some of the most successful CSAs (those with a high retention rates) have physical pick-up of shares at the farm or opportunities for members to work at the farm or otherwise engage with the farm.

  • Designate CSA participants as members or shareholders, rather than as customers or consumers, to make their role clear. In a true CSA – as opposed to a customer-food subscription business – people are not “buying boxes of food,” they are providing direct support to a whole farm or farms, and then partaking in a share of the harvest. This is a key distinction as it moves CSA out of the commercial marketplace, where it was never intended to be, and into the realm of free-will community association, which is a fundamental CSA concept.
  • Establish circle2“core groups” to create a strong and reliable network of farm support, similar to the way volunteer Boards of Directors serve food coops. While the CSA core group concept hasn’t been popular in CSAs in recent years, it does “take a village” to make a CSA work at the highest possible level. Considering the radically changing circumstances in climate, politics and economics, the core group model – drawing on collective intelligence and resources – is well worth re-considering.
  • Help farmers with the tremendous number of roles and responsibilities they fulfill for a CSA above and beyond their work on the land. For example, via the agency of a core group or otherwise, shareholder volunteers could help with communications, marketing, and event planning.
  • Enhanceconsilience community awareness of environmental issues. CSAs connect people to the earth viscerally. Through that connection people become more firmly rooted in the places where they live and in the natural world, which supports life. Food is a binding impulse that can transcend political orientation. Food is an effective way to invite people into a real community conversation, and to combine their skills and resources to become more effectively and skillfully resilient in the face of the great challenges.
  • Recognize that CSA farms can unite the community regardless of individual political affiliations. CSA members experience the farm as a way to build community.
  • Involve shareholders as “CSA ambassadors” to recruit new community members and to educate people on the costs and benefits of CSA farms.
  • Involve CSA members in the farm’s budget process. Set the budget pre-season, and then ask the community to step up and support the farm by funding the budget.
  • Cultivate healthy CSA impulses through education. It is a powerful idea and practice for schools to be allied with a farm, to get kids involved in growing and cooking food early on. It is effective to arrange many food-related activities on the farm, such as educational workshops and festivals.
  • Modeling a way of life and demonstrating the benefits of CSA helps to cultivate healthy impulses.
  • Establish networks of communication among the farms in a geographic region so that CSAs can readily cooperate with each other.
  • Advocate the idea of land as a community resource, rather than as a means of monetary profit. What use and model will best preserve and enrich the land and also benefit the community?
  • Provide space for gatherings. Share food, have regular pizza nights or potlucks that bring shareholders and friends to the farm regularly.
  • Organize festivals, such as annual planting or harvest get-togethers, to draw people to the farm. These activities are often best organized by the farm’s shareholders, since the farmers themselves are busy planting, cultivating and harvesting.
  • Engage older CSA farmers as mentors for younger farmers, especially older farmers who are getting ready to retire or to assume a different role in the farm. Plan for succession.
  1. How do communities become awakened?
  • Cobolothunderbirdmmunities often awaken late because of direct crisis, but they can also awaken from intelligent pursuit of  models and opportunities.  Dialogue can be a big factor in this; thus, it’s important to continue to articulate not just the economic and health dimensions of CSA farms, but also the social and ecological benefits.
  • Build “on-farm education” into the structure of the CSA. Educate about the benefits beyond the dollar value by showing the quantitative and qualitative benefits of a community farm for people, animals, land, economy and climate.
  • The CSA workshop circle was most united in recognizing that the strongest way to awaken community is by having people engage with the farm itself.
  • Farms themselves demonstrate collaboration among plants, animals, and human beings, so observation of the farm can provide a model of collaboration for human communities. (Consilience Enhances Resilience)
  • “Share Fairs” held before spring planting have proven themselves as effective recruitment tools for CSA. One recent share fair in Oregon drew 2,500 to 3,000 people. Many more such fairs around the country can help to educate the public and recruit new CSA farm shareholders.
  • Low-income communities and other disenfranchised groups can benefit greatly from CSA involvement, and it is very much worthwhile to reach out to them.
  • Dialogue can make a powerful and positive impact on awakening individuals, households and communities. Look for opportunities to dialogue with others beyond the community of active shareholders. In this it’s important to include hands-on education to supplement the conceptual.
  • Partnerships with businesses, churches, neighborhood, village and homeowners associations can build awareness of CSA.awaken

* Tierra Viva (Farming the Living Earth) was the North American conference of the Biodynamic Association, November 16-20, 2016 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.

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