Our classic book Farms of Tomorrow Revisited continues to support the development of healthy farm & food community linkages.
My wife Elizabeth and I went to watch Inconvenient Sequel the other night in a sparsely populated movie theater. It’s a stunning film. We walked out of the theater feeling exceedingly sober, and with renewed determination to support clean, non-polluting technologies which are elements of an imperative, intelligent response.
The new film is a sequel to Inconvenient Truths, both films produced by Al Gore, and both reporting the hard reality of what climate change is actually doing to our planetary support systems. The acceleration in the number of and frequency of documented, climate-related, ultra-extreme weather events is dramatic. The charts showing the rate of temperature change in polar regions and the world’s primary farming areas is stunning.
With all that’s going on in the world through the summer of 2017, I suppose climate change can seem like mere background noise. But of course it’s not. It’s real, it’s here, it’s intensifying, and we and our children and grandchildren will contend with the impact for decades to come. Climate chaos right now is a driving force behind the breakup of the North and South Poles, sea-level shifts, massive flooding events, droughts, resource wars, widespread migration of insect pests and diseases, massive waves of human refugees, and more.
After the first film came out in 2006 cadres of corporate-backed climate change deniers accused Mr. Gore of being “hysterical.” But now 10 years later everything that he, and more than 97% of the world’s leading climate scientists projected would happen has in fact already happened. More climate chaos is on the close horizon.
The consequences of ignoring the changes are obvious to all excepting the willfully ignorant. The Sanskrit word vidya means wisdom or knowledge. The prefix “a” signifies a lack or an absence. Adding the prefix to vidya establishes the word avidya, which denotes a fundamental blindness about reality, a refusal to acknowledge and deal with what is happening. Obviously there is a group of determined avidyans among us. Motivated by self-serving contrarian interests, they have poisoned our politics and thereby crippled our ability to respond to this crisis. But as the new film asserts, no lie can live forever.
Around the world most nations have been forced to face the harsh realities that are impacting them. It’s inspiring to see how are responding vigorously by shifting to solar and wind power, and aggressively taking natural and technological steps to mitigate the situation, and to reduce human activities which make extreme climate-change related events increasingly common. Here in the US, however, our politics have been hacked, and we remain crippled in our collective response. For now, individuals and associations must respond on their own, while the government attempts to bury everyone’s brains deep in the muck of illusion.
Knowing that industrial agricultural systems are among the leading causes of pollution and the greenhouse gases that exacerbate climate chaos, I am renewed in my determination to advocate for and to support organic, biodynamic and other agroecological food-production systems that heal the land and that can help mitigate the dangerously intensifying changes. It’s common sense. It’s essential common sense.
The choice is between right and wrong, Mr. Gore asserts toward the end of Inconvenient Sequel. It’s right to protect and defend the natural systems of the earth that make our lives possible. It’s wrong to ignore reality, or to pollute and poison the natural systems and to make the problems worse. It’s wrong to destroy the very things that make our lives possible.
“Fight like your world depends upon it,” Mr. Gore concludes, “because it does.”
It was a blessed relief to hear the quietly passionate oration of organic farmer Don Bustos as he stood upon the land for 20 minutes to speak amid shifting rays of softening sunlight on an early August evening in Santa Fe, New Mexico. With dignity, he stood for clean food, for community food, and for food sovereignty.
Earlier on this crossquarter day the outpouring of farm news had been grim. We learned that the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico caused by fertilizer and chemical runoff from industrial farming has swollen to an area larger than the state of New Jersey. We learned that despite scientific warnings the EPA declined to ban chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic farm pesticide known to interfere with human hormones, and to diminish IQ in children. We learned of serious labor shortages in the farm fields as immigration officials drive farm workers away from US lands. We learned that dramatic changes for industrial agriculture are essential now to reckon with the intensifying impact of climate change. We learned also that the suicide rate among US farmers is higher than that of the overall US workforce.
Without referencing any of these specific news items, Bustos acknowledged the larger system of which these developments are part. He mentioned the corporate industrial “militarization” of agriculture. Then with clarity and conviction he said that’s not the way to go. “We must grow food with respect. We must grow it in a way that acknowledges Creator and the spirit in the land.”
The acequia-watered Santa Cruz Farm in Española, New Mexico that Bustos now tends has been in his family since the 1600s. Speaking broadly to encompass all of agriculture, he said that his big goal is “to make it possible that our children can farm on the land for the next 400 years.”
Nowadays Bustos cultivates about 70 crops on 3 ½ acres. At that scale, he’s developed an economic approach that enables him to give attention to the wider world. He trains young people to work the land, and to keep alive the centuries-old traditions of family farming in New Mexico. He’s a champion for community food sovereignty and for food justice at local, state and national levels. In 2015 he received the James Beard Foundation Leadership Award, specifically honored for his work “in support of farmers’ rights and education, and his efforts to include farmers of color in the national food movement.”
When he spoke in Santa Fe this week Bustos said that in his farming he’s guided by three keys: the traditional rituals and practices of northern New Mexico farmers, modern organic cultivation practices, and the Biodynamic Calendar.
“The strongest connection with Creator comes,” he said, “when you have your hands, feet and knees on the soil, and you are working with plants.” “Nature will tell you. You will understand signs so that you know you are on the right path.”
“I still grow and save seeds from our crops to plant the next year,” he said. “Saving open-pollinated, heirloom seeds is really important, but it’s not a silver bullet to solve the problems of agriculture.”
“Food should be grown in healthy soil with healthy water by people who are healthy. Then you have right relationship to the earth. The silver bullet is for everyone to take responsibility for their food by growing it, or supporting the people in their community who grow it for them. That connection to the Earth,” Bustos emphasized, “is important for everyone. It’s one of the Pillars of Food Sovereignty.”
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has this month published a report titled Community Supported Agriculture: New Models for Changing Markets. The report highlights changes – from the 1980s to the present – in what the USDA refers to as the “business model” of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).
But the report moves me to articulate once again what I consider to be an essential point: CSA was not developed as a marketing strategy. Obviously, some companies and farms choose to approach CSA that way, as is their right. Equally obvious, there is of necessity somewhat of a marketing element involved in most CSAs.
But to assert the idea that CSA is a marketing strategy – as the USDA and many land grant institutions routinely do – is to alter the core ideas of CSA. Even though “business model” and “marketing strategy” have become widespread approaches to CSA, in my view emphasizing those concepts shifts the focus from where it needs to be.
CSA farms will likely always be at a disadvantage in the “market” in the realms of price, consumer choice, and convenience. But that’s not what the CSA model was developed to address. CSA was developed by a wide community of people as a way to renew our relationship with the land, with the people who grow our food, and with each other.
Asserting this view now, in light of the trend to define or frame CSA as a business model, will likely be regarded by some people as either anachronistic, or as dewy-eyed idealism. I’m among those who think otherwise. I think it’s essential to keep the focus and the framing of CSA on the core ideas. CSA is not structured to be part of a competitive commercial marketplace, where market forces will always be the determining factor, rather than farm needs, farmer needs, and community needs. It is, after all, not just community supported agriculture, but also agriculture supported communities.
The steady morphing of CSA from a farm-and-community collaboration to a marketing strategy is, in my view and the view of others, off the mark and ultimately inadequate to the challenges of intensifying political and climate turbulence. Something different is required, and that difference has been the ideal and overlighting spirit of CSA: communities and farmers working together on the land to create new ways of living in relation with each other and the natural world which we all depend upon for survival. Ideals, of course, exist in the realm of the mind, and in practice the best we can do is strive toward them.
To survive and perhaps prosper in an era of climate and political turbulence, CSA needs to remain the realm of mutually beneficial community association. That’s a fundamental CSA concept that gets sidelined or obscured when CSA is treated as a marketing strategy.
Some of this understanding has found expression in the Community CSA Charter that was developed earlier this year by an ad hoc community initiated by CSA author Elizabeth Henderson.
In a community e-mail discussion of various charter drafts, Anthony Graham (a CSA farmer for 30 years at the Temple-Wilton Community Farm in NH) made this point eloquently: “Our farm members are just that – members who support the farm. We make it clear to them from the start that they are supporting a farm and receiving the produce as a consequence of that support. They are never seen as or referred to as customers and especially not as consumers. Instead the community aspect of our farm lives here very strongly – almost everyone feels some ownership and willingness to share the risk of crop failures as well as the bounty that can allow them to process extra food for the winter.”
He concluded, “Our farmers have always felt that it is important that we have regarded our farm as a community and not as a business – we always try to aim at agriCULTURE rather than agriBUSINESS.”
To endure and perhaps thrive in our extreme era, CSA cannot be redefined to a competitive selling system dependent on “customers.” CSA was never intended for that purpose.
In a CSA working toward the principles embodied in the CSA Charter (as opposed to a customer-food subscription business) people are not “buying boxes of food.” The people who comprise the community (whether a city neighborhood, a town, a workplace or place of worship) are providing direct support to a whole farm or network of farms, and then partaking in a share of the harvest. This is a key distinction.
CSA embodies the potential for a new way of life upon the land for farm, farmers and supporting community. The economic impulses are associative, rather than competitive or exploitive, the impulses that have impelled industrial agriculture to become such a destructive force nationally and globally.
Some progress has been made in the direction of CSA as a new form of economics and relationship with the land, the farmers, and the people who as a community become part of a farm. Much more is possible. And I think much more is necessary.
I’ve written this message often before, and I shall write it again. Community Farms (CSAs) are a sober and intelligent response to accelerating political and climate turbulence. Economic turbulence may follow. Time to act.
Regarding our overall situation as urgent, I’ve reported extensively about the ominously active factors bearing upon us all & the potentials of positive community action in collaboration with local farms. I’ve also recorded a ½-hour narrated slide show on these issues for Youtube (Awakening Community Intelligence) freely available to all for personal or community education.
Early every year in both the USA and Canada, CSA Signup Day creates an opportunity for existing CSA farms to expand the community in support of what they are doing: clean land, clean food, enhanced local food security.
CSA signup day is also an opportunity for communities – neighborhoods, workplaces, churches and temples, suburbs, and so forth – to get busy establishing community farms, by the hundreds of thousands. It takes time to get a community farm together, but they can make a big stabilizing difference.
In conjunction with CSA signup day, as of 2017 there is a CSA Charter, which sets out the principles and practices that guide CSA farms in the USA and Canada. That’s a big step forward for evolving the community farm web in North America, in a time when big steps are immediately needed.
My most recent book about the CSA movement is Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones.
Farms of Tomorrow, the book about community supported agriculture that the late Trauger Groh and I co-authored 27 years ago, has now been translated into Mandarin, the dialect used by 70% of the 1.2 billion human beings who speak Chinese.
When Trauger and I collaborated on the original English-language edition of Farms of Tomorrow in 1989-90 there were perhaps 60 community supported farms (CSAs) in the USA. Now according to the USDA’s 2015 Local Food Census, the number of CSAs is nearly 7,500. There are many thousands more sustainable, organic and biodynamic CSA farms around the world involving hundreds of thousands of households in direct healthy agroecology and food sovereignty. Many of these far-flung community farms are networked through URGENCI, an international NGO based in France.
In the face of the world’s general agricultural, environmental, political and climate turbulence, the steady international, grass-roots development of a sustainable, holistic farm and community model is positive and heartening. These are points I emphasize in a narrated slide show (Awakening Community Intelligence) freely available on Youtube. In it I also sound a call, and offer an urgent argument for why, communities engage now actively to begin establishing hundreds of thousands of new CSA farms.
Eight years after the initial US publication of our book, Trauger and I again examined the ideas, the farms, and the communities at the heart of the growing CSA movement, and we co-authored a revised and greatly expanded edition: Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. This is the volume now translated into Mandarin
Our book acknowledges that farming is not just a business like any other profit-making business, but a precondition of all human life on earth, and a precondition of all economic activity. As such, farming can be understood as everyone’s responsibility.
The book contains basic essays on principles, structures and ideals for community supported farms. We wrote on pertinent themes: the economic, environmental, spiritual and legal questions faced by CSAs; the development of community; relationship with the land; the role of animals; and the experiences and observations of farm-member families.
As we note in the book, Community Supported Agriculture 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 communities that depend on farming for survival. CSA is also about the necessary stewardship of soil, plants, and animals: the essential capital of all human cultures. Our relationship with nature and the ways that we use the land will determine the future of the earth.
By now, more than 30 years after beginning in Japan, Europe, the USA and elsewhere, CSA farms are in every part of the world. Farms of Tomorrow Revisited has been translated into German, Russian, Japanese, Korean, and now the new Mandarin edition. The new translation of our book will join Elizabeth Henderson’s influential CSA book, Sharing the Harvest, which has already been published in Chinese.
The Chinese edition of Farms of Tomorrow Revisited has been translated and is published by the Anthroposophy Education Foundation in Taiwan in agreement with the original and current US publisher, the Biodynamic Association. The Chinese edition is being promoted through Facebook.
Our 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 a 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, practical 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 “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.
- Enhance 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.
- How do communities become awakened?
- Communities 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.
* 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.
Note: This article originally published in Applied Biodynamics, journal of the Josephine Porter Institute (Issue No. 90, Fall/Winter 2016-17).
As the Sun approached Summer Solstice, my friend Stephen Clarke stopped by to visit. He sat with me at the picnic table by our garden. In the afternoon light we talked.
Stephen spun out for me the tale of his recent journey up onto the Colorado Plateau near the Lukachukai Mountains, close by the imaginary straight line that legally, if not naturally, separates Arizona and New Mexico. Among many elements, this part of the Navajo Reservation is a place of high elevation, white reeds, rich farmland, uranium, tangled history and big sky.
Stephen made his journey to sit with some Navajo friends as part of a week-long Nadáá healing ceremony. He’s an astute observer of matters physical and metaphysical, one of the founding parents of both the Taos and the Santa Fe Waldorf Schools in New Mexico, and also the former proprietor and master mechanic at Mozart’s Garage.
In telling the tale of his visit to Lukachukai, he mentioned how the community of people came together in hard work and good fellowship to abide with one another over a week and to make ceremony expressing timeless ways and courtesies, all woven together within a group energy field of respect and humor many times larger than themselves.
“Native people know how to cooperate in community,” he told me. “It’s silent, it’s unspoken, but it is known and known implicitly by everyone. I see that as the Christ energy in expression. Not as a thought or a feeling, but in action. That’s it for sure. I could see it once again as I sat among the people. The Christ spirit lives in the ethers – the biosphere – as it circulates among people and the natural world.”
When I heard Stephen share his observation it summoned for me the seed thought expressed in Matthew (18:19-20) “…if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them…For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
“Sure,” he agreed. “That fits. Native people know already that the spirit lives in the land and in their relationships with one another. As part of their way, for thousands of years they have had the understanding of spirit life on a practical level.
“There’s a western axiom that ‘the map is not the territory.’ But that’s not so in traditional Native contexts. The land itself is the map and that land map is also indivisibly the territory wherein life unfolds. Physicality and spirituality are not separated by concepts or perceptions, to be worshiped in a metaphysical superstructure high off the ground, but are appreciated as one interpenetrating and mutually revealing reality. Native people have the land as source of spirituality and as the reference point for their spiritual lives.”
Stephen’s story put me in mind of community supported agriculture (CSA), the movement that took root some 30 years ago in the USA with the inspiration of biodynamic understandings, ideals and techniques. I’ve been involved as a reporter and participant since the start, and thus had a chance to observe the development of CSA in the USA over three decades.
Over that span of time many thousands of people in 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. But as of late the community dimension, and the intrinsic aspect of relationship to the land, have often been marginalized. Efficiency has assumed primacy with institutional efforts to employ CSA as a “market strategy.” In my view, treating CSA as a “market strategy” is not only antithetical to the initial impulses, but also woefully inadequate to the challenges of our time.
Our era is sharply marked by the mounting, menacing clouds of climate chaos, paralleled by dramatic and urgent shifts in global politics, economics, and social relations. Much more than a market strategy is required. I remain steadfast in my conviction that CSA can play a key role in addressing these issues. It’s time to expand exponentially the CSA vision and reality to hundreds of thousands of community farms around the world, and time also to evolve consciously the community and the associative economic dimensions of CSA.
As Stephen related, Navajo relatives in Lukachukai — with grace and spiritual intelligence, via basic interactions with each other and nature — demonstrated their understanding and appreciation of community and spiritual realities. It’s their way. And their way is part of the strength of the rootstock: the native spiritual, cultural and agricultural knowings that have been cultivated and developed in North America for 30,000 years or more.
A rootstock is part of a plant, often an underground part, from which new above-ground growth can be produced. Grafting refers to the process by which a plant, sometimes just a stump with an established root system, serves as the base onto which cuttings (scions) from another plant are joined.
The cultural ways that arrived in North America from Europe, Africa, Asia and the far south, have never been deliberately grafted on to the rootstock. Instead, there has been a concerted, systematic, violent and tragic attempt to annihilate the rootstock of native wisdom through protracted campaigns of genocide, wholesale landgrabbing, and systematic treaty violations. That pattern has generated a massive energy field of karma, as yet unreckoned, but now coming into focus as tribes gather at Standing Rock in a historic action to protect the earth for life.
A successful, healthy, conscious grafting of the world’s cultural and spiritual ways to the rootstock of Turtle Island (North America) would, I believe, yield an abundant harvest of goodness, including more respectful, appreciative attitudes toward the land that sustains us all, as well as the agriculture systems we employ to bring forth it’s bounty. Biodynamic agriculture and preparations can play a key role in this critical matter
The initial Biodynamic perceptions and preparations were indigenous to Europe. Now the perceptions and preparations are global, and they are employed in many different ways in many different geographical and cultural contexts, including North America. The Biodynamic impulse can benefit enormously from being more deliberately and skillfully grafted with the rootstock of native knowings. Both will be strengthened. This kind of healthy grafting is certainly a prominent theme in the 2016 North American Biodynamic Conference set for Santa Fe, and rightly so. Much good is likely to arise from this sharing and reciprocity.
But beyond the 2016 conference, fundamental grafting and community questions need to come more into focus. The questions are not just philosophical, but also practical. Considering the status of climate change, they’re also urgent.
Is there, or could there be, a biodynamic preparation that aids, nurtures and supports the grafting of the world’s wide array of cultural and agricultural traditions to the native rootstock and wisdom ways so inseparably a part of North America?
And what kinds of biodynamic preparations could help magnetize the land and thereby rightly draw to it the interest and dedication of diverse groups of people (communities) who will willingly take on responsibility for caring for it as a farm? In other words, how might Biodynamic understandings and preparations continue to foster the growth and healthy development of CSAs, which can help make an important, positive difference as we all seek to reckon with the momentous changes afoot?
I taled briefly with the Josephine Porter Institute’s Board President, Pat Frazier, about some of these questions. Speaking by cell phone after just having finished milking chores on her Colorado farm, she suggested that as far as community and cultural grafting go, there are indeed intriguing possibilities that could be taken up by biodynamic researchers. But in the present, she said, a good starting point is with a familiar prep that’s already been developed: barrel compost. “Barrel compost is oftentimes created in community,” she said. “It just lends itself to that. It’s easy to make, it joins people together, and it’s transferable to community because once the compost dug out of the pit you can store it, and then share it widely.”
My sense is that both kinds of preparations – a grafting prep and a community prep – could help usher us to the level of strength, courage, intelligence and will necessary to meet the challenges of our era.
Note: I will be facilitating a workshop at the North American Biodynamic Conference in Santa Fe, NM, Nov. 16-20, 2016. The workshop is titled CSA Farms: Awakening Community Intelligence. Stephen Clarke will also be presenting via the conference track for the Agricultural Wisdom of the Americas: Entwining Biodynamic and Indigenous Ways of Working with the Land.
My essay on a bit of word play (consilience enhances resilience) – and the words’ relevance for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) – has been online for some time at Mother Earth News. The linking words in this simple rhyme are worth remembering and applying.
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 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.”
Native 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.
Where 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.
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*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.