Our classic book Farms of Tomorrow Revisited continues to support the development of healthy farm & food community linkages.
Last night at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe we heard Pulitzer Prize winning author Elizabeth Kolbert speak about her book, The Sixth Extinction. As expected, the realities she presented were super sobering. She named the five previous extinctions that have occurred on Earth, and their causes. Then she talked at length about the extinction currently well underway, an unprecedented biological annihilation that we human beings are wreaking upon our home planet. “This time,” Kolbert said, “we are the asteroids.”
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.”
“Whoever controls the seeds in a culture is going to control life.”
~ Emigdio Ballón, Tesuque Pueblo Farm
My notes from the impressive Mountain West Seed Summit in Santa Fe, New Mexico over March 3-4, 2017 – a gathering of seed savers, and people representing seed hubs and seed companies:
Belle Starr, co-founder of the hosting organization, the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, an organization started just three years ago: “We are working to build strong food hubs around the country. The local food movement is huge and growing. But how many are saving seeds? That part is missing.
“What is our duty? Diversity. I hope the thing we carry out of this summit is passion to empower and inspire. That’s how we are going to get diversity. This has to be a grassroots movement. The more people who save seeds, the more resilient the system we create…We hope this will go on for generations.”
Emigdio Ballón, a Quechua native from Bolivia, Agricultural Director for the Pueblo of Tesuque, NM: “The seeds are calling us. They are asking us to help them continue their evolution as they help ours.
“It’s very difficult for the seeds now. In 2011 we talked about seed security and its relation to food security. That’s when we started our seed bank to protect the seeds handed down to us from time immemorial. Now we are talking also about climate change, and how that is impacting us. How can the seeds sustain us, and our unborn? They need to be protected because of the corporations polluting the earth, and claiming patents over nature. Indigenous people care. Indigenous peoples are protectors.”
Clayton Brascoupe, a Mohawk/Anishnabeg farmer, founder of the Traditional Native America Farmers Association: “What is a seed? Seed is life, mother, embryo, treasure, potential, possibility, relative, our child. All of those things. There is a fundamental, essential relationship that we have.
“We’ve been going along side by side with each other for thousands of years, and now we are in this present generation. We have a treaty, a covenant with the seeds. The seeds are a part of who we are. We have to take care of our relatives, the seeds, and they in turn will take care of us.
“Seeds are the first link in the food chain, and this link is now under threat. Our responsibility is to preserve them for forthcoming generations.”
In remarks to initiate day 2 of the Seed Summit, Bill McDorman, director of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke about the importance of developing Seed Hubs in parallel with Food Hubs and other local farm and food initiatives. “There’s a real need globally for many more regional operations. Seeds are the foundation not just of our food system, but of civilization itself…This can save us. Regional organizations are the key.”
Andrew Kimbrell, founder and director of the Center for Food Safety, gave a riveting keynote presentation. He began by mentioning that with the financial backing and technical expertise of entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, the Center is about to launch an international online network for seed savers.
He placed this forthcoming network, and the importance of seed saving, in the context of three pending corporate mergers: Bayer-Monsanto, Dupont-Dow, and ChemChina-Syngenta. These mergers, likely to get green-lighted by the Trump-Republican Administration, will place over 60% of the world’s remaining seeds in the corporate control of just three companies. They dominate.
All these multinational corporations are intent on continuing to patent life forms, and to sell allied chemicals as essential, expensive, and polluting inputs to the industrial agriculture system.
The accelerating pace of global climate change and corporate seed and chemical control underscore the imperative need to establish non-corporate seed-saving networks, he said. “We don’t know what seeds we are going to need. But the network will be a key. These are dark times.”
Drawing from some of the material in the well-known book he edited (Fatal Harvest: The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture) he outlined a history of seeds and agriculture in the USA. “Remember the robber barons of the gilded age?” he asked. “We are in the second phase of that.” A century ago the robber barons made their fortunes in railroads, coal, steel, and oil. As succeeding generations of billionaire barons sought further pots of gold, their gaze fixed upon agriculture.
With hybrid plants, poison chemicals (biocides) and patents, robber barons and their corporations over time mutated the meaning and the reality of seeds. Instead of being a commons that united people in ancient and sacred community traditions of caring for a foundational source of life, seeds became a commercial commodity.
Farmers became trapped on technology treadmills: functionaries basically serving as corporate pass-through operations for commercial seeds, chemicals, machinery, oil and gas. Corporations took culture out of agriculture, and substituted industry. For farmers, indebtedness ruled. Whereas just over a century ago as many as 40% of the population was involved in caring for the land and the seed that everything depends upon, only about 1% of the population now has this connection.
Consider where we are now, he said. Via monoculture and intensive chemical use, we continue to deaden and to lose soil. The nitrogen fertilizer of industrial ag leaches out to waterways, creating massive dead zones in our oceans. We’ve lost 90% of our seed diversity. The Center for Food Safety estimates that 35 to 45 percent of greenhouse gases are generated from industrial ag. Thus, the essential elements of farms and food (soil, water, seeds, industrial livestock, etc.) have become zombies.
This system is already dead, Kimbrell said. “It’s a zombie walking. But it’s still unbelievably dangerous. It’s steadily destroying the planet.”
“We are the future. Sometimes we look at these dominant forces, and wonder how can we possibly overcome? But the zombie system is already dead.”
Corporations used to wallow in hubris, believing that nature was no match for biotechnology. But it turns out that biotech is no match for nature. The idea that you are going to control the traits of living things is false.
The answer Kimbrell argued, is for our economy to transform into a wholly owned subsidiary of ecology. “We can only use things to the extent that they regenerate themselves.” We have to go local, biodiverse, humane, and socially just, he said.
Fundamental to all of this transformation is seed. None of it makes sense without seed. Seed is the center that we need.
While stating that he sees organics as a floor for the future of agriculture, he reminded the audience that it’s under attack. The Freedom Caucus (about 30 hard-right Republican members of Congress) has targeted the National Organic Program for destruction.
In response to a question from the audience, Kimbrell commented on the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill. “If Dante were alive today,” he said, “The Inferno would be about the farm bill.” He said we need to get environmental groups together with farm groups right now, in 2017. “Unless we get ahead of the game,” he commented, “we are lost.”
Three times during his talk Kimbrell quoted the late Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. One example: “I believe natural beauty has a necessary place in the spiritual development of any individual or any society. I believe that whenever we substitute something man-made and artificial for a natural feature of the earth, we have retarded some part of man’s spiritual growth.”
Echoing this insight toward the end of his talk as an encouragement to seed savers and to others working to build a just, healthy and equitable farm and food system, Kimbrell said: “We face the spiritual challenge of moving from a culture of death to a culture of life.”
~ END ~
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.
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.
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.
Climate 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.
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.
In 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.”