THE COMMUNITY FARM
A Voice for Community Supported Agriculture
Summer 2003, #22
Organic Food at the Crossroads
CSA—The Way Forward, Part One: Social Sustainability
By Peter C. Reynolds, Ph.D.
Organic farming began with a vision of ecological sustainability and a commitment to rebuilding community. In
fact, ecological sustainability and social sustainability developed hand in hand by means of the farmers market, the
community-supported farm, and the local natural food store. Until recently, community values, food integrity, and
food security were ensured by the marginality of organic producers and resellers. As an embattled minority, organic
farmers developed a strong sense of community among themselves, while unpredictable supply encouraged organic
distributors and retailers to maintain good working relationships with farmers. More importantly, the dollar value of
the organic industry was too small to attract serious predators. This is changing. After decades of being dismissed as a
fad, the sales curve for organic products has risen about twenty percent a year over the past five years.
This trend toward mass consumption promises great ecological benefits. Even an increase in market share of a few
percentage points would yield massive reductions in the amount of chemical fertilizer and pesticides used by farms,
creating a healthier environment for everyone. But this growth curve has also caught the eye of big business. Natural
foods stores, once primarily locally owned, are being consolidated into national chains. Organic farmers are scaling up
production on an industrial model to meet the increased demand. Organic products are being grown in Mexico,
packed in plastic containers, and shipped by air to U.S. distributors. In short, as organic food becomes more popular,
it is being incorporated into the systems of finance, management and distribution that prevail in conventional
agriculture. In the long run, industrial models of mass production and distribution threaten the future of sustainable
farming and its vision of community.
The Siren Song of Mass Markets
The industrial method of increasing volume is to increase the scale of production: bigger farms, more high-yield
varieties and more use of mechanical sources of energy. To scale up production on an industrial model, organic
businesses will need massive infusions of capital available only through Wall Street and international financial
institutions. Once indebted to these lenders, organic producers will be under increasing pressure to substitute
profitability for sustainability, while truncating the ecological time scale into quarterly reports of profit and loss.
Once organic products are traded as international commodities, their distribution will be taken over by the same
multinational corporations that created conventional agriculture. As organic standards erode, marketers will replace
organic food with a perception of organic integrity created through advertising and political control of regulatory
Social sustainability will go too. Once bigness is selected for, community values are left behind. The consolidation
of multiple farms, packing plants, and regional hubs under a single corporation requires the adoption of conventional
big business practices, such as multiple layers of management and specialized departments. Soon the organization
becomes the product. This system is excellent for consolidating wealth and power at the apex of a pyramid, but it is
antithetical to the goals of community, cooperation, local control, and personal responsibility that are part of the
original inspiration of the movement for sustainable agriculture.
Sustainability: Ecological and Social
Sustainable agriculture must be both ecologically and socially sustainable. Organic agriculture is socially sustainable
when its techniques are embedded in a social organization that furthers the underlying values of ecological
sustainability. Ecological values include consuming only what you need, replacing what you take, ensuring that waste
products can be naturally recycled, and that products used in one place are not derived from extractive industries
somewhere else. Multinational trade and corporate capitalism as presently constituted are based on premises that are
exactly the opposite of these values. The system increases aggregate demand by creating wants where there are no
needs. It seeks to consolidate production and distribution into worldwide monopolies. And it shifts diseconomies to
the environment and the public sector.
The Connection Channel: A Sustainable
The critical problem facing organic agriculture today is how to produce food in sufficient quantity to feed modern
populations without adopting an industrial system of production and distribution. The organic food movement has
developed two distribution channels that are consistent with the community values of sustainable agriculture, namely
the farmers market and the CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm. Both are forms of direct marketing. The
farmers market is very popular with a subset of consumers, but it cannot easily meet the needs of most people.
Typically, markets are held only one day a week in any one community, are open only part of the year, and are very
sensitive to weather. They are not ideal for farmers either, for they often impose a great transportation burden, while
putting organic farmers in direct price competition with conventional agriculture. The CSA and subscription farm,
however, have the potential of providing food all year long with a freshness and organic integrity that is impossible for
conventional channels to equal.
As the concept first developed in Europe, a CSA was a group of food consumers who banded together to support a
local farm by buying stock in the enterprise, helping with the work, and dividing the produce among themselves. In
the United States the CSA concept has diversified into a wide variety of social and legal forms, with the
philosophically committed CSA at one end of the spectrum ('eat only what you grow') and the commercially-oriented
subscription farm at the other.
This diversity is a good thing, as it allows consumers to place themselves at the appropriate place on a spectrum of
commitment, from the sustainability activist to the less reflective eater. Moreover, this flexibility allows the CSA model
to accommodate to regional and cultural diversity. In the northeastern United States, community participation in a
local farm is common; in California, where farming has been export-oriented since the railroad arrived, people do not
have a problem with subscription farms that deliver far from where they are located. The definition of eating local
depends on one's culture and technology.
The Connection Channel
From the perspective of social sustainability, ‗localness‘ is less important than physical connection to the farm,
wherever that farm may be. The CSA and the subscription farm are both examples of a new way of marketing and
distributing farm products that I call the connection channel. In the connection channel, farm-direct products and
farm brand identity come together to create in the mind of the consumer a connection to the land, reinforced through
physical contact with the farm. The extent of the physical contact is a matter of consumer preference and CSA
philosophy. Some CSA members are content with a visitor day once a year, while some CSAs demand actual
ownership and participation from members. But in no case is the physical contact dispensable. The physical farm
exposes the contemporary urbanite to exactly those things that are missing in modern urban life: the soil, the smells,
the animals, the look and feel of the countryside, the taste of food before it is processed, and the rhythms of the
seasons. At the farm, people see whole plants, roots and all. Moreover, food from a CSA can be traced back to a
specific piece of land, giving the consumer confidence in its quality, freshness, and organic integrity. The natural foods
retailer, on the other hand, can only connect the consumer to yet another commercial transaction.
Unlike industrial distribution, the connection channel creates community instead of eroding it. Since CSA
members recognize the farm as their source of quality produce, and feel connected to it, they are more committed to
its survival and more willing to help out. Even subscription farms with minimal member participation educate
consumers in organic values, while giving them a stake in political issues affecting sustainable agriculture, such as
ensuring the integrity of organic certification standards.
The farmer benefits too. The connection channel bypasses the middleman, giving farmers profit margins more
comparable to the farmers market. The farmer can retain a higher portion of the final selling price while bringing the
cost to the consumer more in line with conventional agricultural products, thereby reaching more people. Advance
ordering and knowledge of member preferences fine-tunes the planting process, reducing the farmer's risk of spoilage,
surplus production, storage costs, and missed sales. With a pay-in-advance policy, the farmer gets the capital needed
for planting and improvements. Most important of all, the connection channel can produce organic food in quantities
sufficient to feed the earth‘s population while avoiding the social costs of industrial production and distribution.
Instead of scaling up existing organic farms, one multiplies their number, and uses an extended CSA model to
distribute the product to local and regional populations. When properly administered, the connection channel can
often deliver in the afternoon what was harvested that morning, providing a field-to-fork time that no hub-to-retailer
system can match.
Extending the CSA Model
To become a high-volume distribution channel for organic products, the CSA movement must take consumer
preferences seriously. Our research shows that many urban consumers perceive CSA offerings as too seasonal and too
erratic. A common complaint from former CSA members is that ―there was too much of this, not enough of that.‖
Consumers often get food they cannot use, while some staples may have to be purchased elsewhere. Many conclude
that if they have to go to the natural food store anyway, the extra trip to the CSA pickup point is not a good use of their
time. These complaints add up to a serious mismatch between the theory of the CSA movement and the expectations
of most consumers.
The solution is not simply telling people to ―eat in season.‖ The history of agriculture is as much the history of food
processing, food storage, and food exchange as it is of food production. Shifting responsibility to the consumer
conceals the conceptual flaws in the classic CSA model itself. The unspoken premise of the CSA model is that the
single farm is the basic unit of both production and consumption. In some interpretations, ‗community‘ becomes
redefined as the group of people who support that one farm and ‗sustainability‘ as eating only what that one farm
chooses to produce. But from an historical and cross-cultural perspective, this is an artificially narrow concept of a
Contemporary notions of self-sufficiency assume that the individual household is the basic unit of production and
consumption. But in societies where people actually produce their own food, such as village farmers, nomadic herders,
and bands of hunters and gatherers, it is the community of households that is self-sufficient. In such a society, people
are constantly exchanging the food that they themselves produce with food produced by neighbors and kinfolk. There
are often exchanges with other groups that live long distances away. Even in so-called subsistence societies, where each
household could theoretically produce and consume everything it needed, the basic units of production and
consumption are not co-extensive. The smallest unit of consumption is the household, while the basic unit of
production is the workgroup recruited from multiple households. In the space between are sophisticated systems of
social exchange that circulate goods and services to kinfolk, neighbors, and other villages. Any social movement that
tries to short-circuit this process by consuming only what it produces is bound to fail because it ignores the role of
exchange in creating human community.
The Inter-Farm CSA
In the extended model of community-supported agriculture—namely, the connection channel—the CSA is not a single
farm but the place in a web of complementary farms where consumers connect with the land. The flow of agricultural
products from the CSA to its members and the flow of money and services from the members to the farm are only the
first level of exchange in the connection channel, the on-farm level. This basic unit of production is not self-sufficient,
nor should it be. For the channel to achieve the stability and volume it needs to maintain sustainability, each CSA
farm needs to be connected to a cooperative web consisting of other organic producers. In the connection channel
approach to community supported agriculture, each CSA farm is a distribution point for products that the CSA does
not itself provide. For example, a CSA may receive eggs from farm A, honey from farm B, and medicinal herbs from
farm C, passing these through to its members. The flow of goods and money among farms and CSAs constitute the
The interfarm level can deliver many of the organic products sold by natural food stores, but it differs from the
latter in critical respects. The most important difference is that the CSA is not selling pass-through products as line
items but using them to enhance the mix of products needed to get and retain an optimal number of members. For
example, a CSA that does not grow fruit may determine that its members want at least two varieties of fresh fruit in
their baskets each week, so it buys fruit from another farm. Unlike a retailer, it does not present the fruit to members
as separately charged line items. Rather, it adjusts the subscription price of the basket so that the additional cost of
purchasing and packing the fruit is covered in the basket price.
The conventional retail channel is specialized for providing unique combinations of products on short notice, but
the connection channel is far better at fulfilling recurrent orders of perishable and staple foods. Each CSA needs to
develop categories of subscription products that reflect the food preferences of consumers in its delivery area. In
California, CSAs have developed subcategories of baskets that reflect ethnic and dietary preferences, such as
Mediterranean, stir-fry, and vegan baskets. Other CSAs offer subscriptions for supplementary products not wanted by
all members, such as eggs and bread, charged as optional add-ons to a basic subscription plan. Unlike the retailer,
however, the CSA is not trying to customize orders for each individual customer but strives to develop product
categories that best reflect the food preferences of its membership. The idea is to add product categories that make it
easier to recruit and retain members, thereby keeping the CSA farm at optimal size, while evolving it into the primary
channel for distributing staple food products to a local community. The CSA farm can provide pass-through products
to its members at retail price or less because it recovers the increased cost of customized packing from the difference
between the price it pays the supplier for a bulk order and what it charges its members for individual subscriptions.
Because the pass-through products are complementary to the CSA farm's own production, not in competition with it,
it remains the primary producer of staple crops for its members.
Interfarm transactions are critical to the success of the CSA model because they address consumer complaints
about choice, quantity, availability, and variety, while bringing more farmers into the system. Some of the most
successful organic farmers specialize in one or two crops, such as rice, grapes, and apples. These farms can never be
CSAs, and their direct marketing options are limited. Few consumers will be willing to enter into a multitude of
subscriptions, one for each of the specialty organic products they consume, but they might be happy to add a number
of pass-through products to their basic CSA subscription. In reality, interfarm exchanges are already an important
feature of the CSA movement. CSAs distribute a wide range of organic products from other farms and producers,
including bread, cheese, milk, eggs, tofu, yogurt, honey, preserves, range-fed meat, citrus, avocados, stone fruit, grapes,
blueberries, olive oil, cider, and medicinal herbs.
This extended model of the CSA farm, the connection channel, helps the organic community to meet the goal of
social sustainability. When pass-through products are identified as to their farm of origin, it gives the consumer a
connection to multiple farms, extending the sense of community. Increasing the range of products offered by the CSA
creates more satisfied customers while reducing their need to shop elsewhere. Bringing more farms into the CSA
distribution system provides a more robust and profitable channel for everyone. The connection channel also helps
ensure the integrity of the organic food supply in a commercial environment where this will be increasingly at risk.
Since interfarm products are shipped directly from source farm to CSA; and as the CSA as a whole is a better judge of
organic growers than the individual consumer, the system preserves a high level of organic integrity irrespective of
whether the government actually enforces organic standards and labeling.
In a somewhat shorter Part Two, Reynolds will suggest an optimal size for the CSA farm and how the connection
channel might change the buying habits of a nation. Part Two will appear in the Autumn, 2003 issue.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
Peter C. Reynolds received his doctorate in anthropology from Yale University. He is co-founder of Fearless Foods, L.L.C., providing
CSA management tools and transaction processing for sustainable agriculture •
Complete article at http://www.fearlessfoods.com/
The View from Five Springs Farm
The front-page article, ―Organics at the Crossroads,‖ has sparked some discussion around our farmstead. Is
―organic‖ being industrialized? There is much evidence that it is. At a recent roundtable of organic growers, there was
talk of the big grain farms in southern Michigan switching to organic production by essentially changing their fertility
and pest control strategies; that is changing a few inputs. Organic labels are showing up in the conventional aisles of
the supermarket. You will find organic ketchup from Heinz (which also owns Arrowhead Mills, Hain, Westsoy, Little
Bear Corn Chips, Rice Dream and others). A General Mills subsidiary owns Cascadian Farms and Muir Glen, and
Phillip Morris or a subsidiary own Knudson Juice and Boca Burgers. M & M Mars Candy owns Seeds of Change. To
mention only a few. So the corporatization, for better or worse, of many of our favorite names in organic and natural
foods is well under way. Is this a bad thing? As Reynolds points out, we all benefit from the reductions in ag chemicals.
But I share his misgivings. And lament the loss of those smaller companies with their greater ability to respond to
consumers, especially in the niche markets in which so many of us find ourselves.
A recent report from a team of researchers at 11 universities finds that many people in the US may have similar
misgivings. People ―clearly want their food to be produced under safe environmental conditions. However, their
preference for the types of farms goes even further than that. Small and family owner-operated farms are strongly
favored over corporate farms as the sources of our food.‖ And about half (53 percent) say they are willing to pay more
for food that is ―grown on small farms rather than large farms.‖
Is the CSA farm the answer to the problems of globalized food markets? That is exactly what Reynolds will argue in
Part Two (Fall issue).
Meanwhile, that pint of Ben and Jerry‘s Ice Cream we had this afternoon came from Dutch giant Unilever (Dove
soap, Lipton, Knorr, Hellman‘s).
The Québec CSA Network Keeps Growing!
By Isabelle Joncas
In 1995 Équiterre, an environmental group that promotes ecological, socially equitable choices, decided to experiment
with the Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) concept in the Montréal region. A committee made up of two
farmers and a project leader from Équiterre organized weekly deliveries for about 20 people. Some of the sharers even
participated in work days on the farm. At the end of the season enthusiasm among both partners and producers was
such that the Québec CSA Network was officially set up the following year.
Équiterre‘s aim was to use the network as a means to support the development of organic farming in Québec and to
increase the public‘s access to safe, healthy and affordable food as well as to encourage relationships between the
farmers and the consumers.
Between 1996 and 2003, the network has grown from 7 to 67 farms situated throughout the province. 51 of these
farms will be supplying baskets directly to consumers this summer and the remaining 16 are ―associate farms‖ that
supply other products to the farms mainly for additional orders. In 2003, a record number of new farms - 14 - have
joined the network. It is exciting that young and dynamic individuals are setting up 12 of these farms. The fact that new
organic farms are becoming involved in CSA is very promising for the concept‘s long-term development in Québec.
The farms in the network
When the network was set up, farms agreed to follow a number of criteria by which Équiterre defined the CSA
formula. All farms must be certified (or be undergoing a certification process) by an organization accredited by the
Conseil d'accréditation du Québec (CAQ). This body is mandated to enforce the Québec Act respecting Reserved
Designations, the law that frames the designation ―organic.‖ The Act stipulates that all produce labelled organic or
biodynamic must be certified by a CAQ-accredited organization.
The farms also agree to offer only local produce to their partners – which means that baskets contain no oranges or
bananas. There is only seasonal produce from the farm or from other local organic farms.
Farms must also set up a social component, offering partners the opportunity to visit or do work on the farm so that
they may gain a better understanding of the context in which their food is grown. Contact with partners is also
important for the farmers, who are able to develop relationships with the members of their group when they meet each
Advance payment is another requirement, so partners make a commitment to their farm at the start of the season.
Although the farms must observe these basic criteria, they are otherwise free to organize their CSA project to suit
their needs. They choose what to grow, the size and price of baskets, the number of weeks of delivery, the location of
drop-off points, and so on. This makes every experience different and each farm unique.
Meat-lovers can also become sharers!
Organic farmers raise their animals with respect: chickens can peck and forage, pigs can roll in the dirt, sheep and cows
can graze. Meat-lovers are well served by three farms in the network. One specializes in poultry — quail, pheasant,
Guinea fowl, chicken, turkey — delivered four times a year to those who have placed advance orders. Another
specializes in pasture-fed chicken. The practice is unique in Québec: mobile enclosures that are moved every day, giving
the chickens access to fresh grass at all times. This farm also has a flock of sheep and produces merguez sausage, meat
for fondue, etc. The third farm produces eggs and a variety of meats: chicken, pork, beef and veal offered in various
In addition to helping farms set up CSA projects, Équiterre organizes training workshops for participating farms,
publishes a newsletter distributed to all partners, conducts a monthly price watch of organic and nonorganic food, and
coordinates two annual meetings for all farms. Équiterre‘s CSA team also works to make the CSA formula known
through the media and in the farming and agro-food communities in order to reach both the public and farms that
might be interested in setting up a project. Équiterre acts as a bridge between city dwellers looking for supplies of
organic food and rural farmers who produce healthy, tasty fruit and vegetables!
For further information on the Québec CSA Project Network, contact Isabelle Joncas at (514) 522-2000, extension
229 or via email: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Isabelle Joncas is the Community-Supported Agriculture Project Coordinator for Équiterre, on the web at
A to Z Foodbook:Asparagus to Zucchini
Give your CSA members the information they need to make the most of their CSA share!
This book features:
46 Vegetable and Herb Sections
Nutritional & Historical Info.
Cooking & Storage Tips
Over 370 Recipes!!!
Produced by CSA farmers and shareholders for CSA farmers and
MACSAC, 4915 Monona Dr Ste 304, Monona, WI 53716
Ph. 608.226.0300, email@example.com
Plowing the Web
Equity Trust, Inc, which has worked on property issues (with a special interest in CSA farms) now has an Internet
presence at http://www.equitytrust.org/where you will find good information on land issues. Gaining Ground is a
discussion of land tenure and financing for CSA; Economics as if Values Mattered is a three part series from Equity Trust
founder Chuck Matthei, published in Sojourner Magazine; and Investing in Social Change: Student Handbook on Community
Investment by Colleges and Universities offers advice for student activists.
http://www.intervale.org/AFE.htmis the site for “Advanced Farm Ecosystems, Solutions through Ecology and
Innovation.” A program of the Intervale Foundation (which also is the parent organization for several CSA and other
farms), the program mission is ―to develop, enhance and promote economically viable farming alternatives by using
ecological principles to convert waste streams and underutilized resources into high quality foods, fibers, and fuels.‖
Information and further assistance is available on waste-to-food projects (including mushroom cultivation and
vermicomposting) and waste-to-fuel projects (such as methane, hydrogen, ethanol and biodiesel production).
http://www.newfarm.org/continues to add new features to their already big, feature-filled site. Now you can add your
farm to the farm locator section. This free service allows you to build a simple web page, searchable through newfarm.org
by marketing method, product, state and county. The process can be completed in minutes.
http://www.newfarm.org/farmlocator/index.phptakes you directly to the farm locator page.
http://www.organicaginfo.org/is a new website developed by the Organic Agriculture Consortium (OAC)/Scientific
Congress on Organic Agricultural Research (SCOAR) and funded by a grant from the Initiative for Future Agriculture
and Food Systems (IFAFS) through the USDA Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service (CSREES).
With current, accurate, scientifically-based or practically validated information about organic agriculture, the site
contains information on production, economic data, research results, farmer anecdotes, certification information,
transition strategies, as well as many other subjects related to organic agriculture.
http://www.northeastnewfarmer.org/is full of information and resources for the aspiring farmer. While the specific
resources are specific to the Northeast US, the information is of value anywhere.
ORGANIC OR CHEMICAL RECOMMENDATIONS / ORGANIC FARM PLANS
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Weird Food News
Arlington Massachusetts is currently home to the world's only ―Burnt Food Museum.‖ The museum's art pieces range
from a ten year old burnt apple cake to permanently preserved burned shrimp kabobs. Although the museum normally
pulls in over 25,000 visitors every year, it is currently closed due to fire damage. View some of the exhibits at
www.burntfoodmuseum.com. —June 11, 2003 Organic Consumers Association News
It is hot and dry again. Every summer we have at least one period of water stress in our sandy garden, and many
farmers face drier and hotter conditions than those that challenge us. In part one of this series on water in the
garden, we considered soil types and crop needs. That article taught me that I can more effectively and efficiently
water my wide variety of veggies by timing water to the needs of the crop and even its stage of growth. I believe that
our crops—and me—have been less stressed as a result. In part two, we consider water management strategies for
any crop or soil type.
Optimize Your Soil
Healthy soil with plenty of organic matter provides water retention ability as well as good drainage. ―A 5%
increase in organic material quadruples the soil's ability to store water,‖ according to A Green Guide to Yard Care by
the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. Yet another of many reasons to increase the organic
content of your soil.
Organic mulch—like leaves, grass clippings or straw—will both add organic matter to the soil over time and
reduce evaporation. According to the Denver County Cooperative Extension Service, mulch can reduce irrigation
needs by around 50%. Each material has its good points and cautions. Leaves can be difficult to keep in place
when they are loose and dry, but can make good mulch around plants, especially if planted in blocks, that have
grown to several inches or more high. Grass clippings make effective mulch, but must come from a known,
pesticide-free source. Clippings are best placed in thin layers and allowed to dry between applications. Straw is
better than hay since there are fewer seeds, but it is also lower in nitrogen. Serviceable mulches can be made with
other organic materials, and plastic mulch is popular with many growers.
Optimize Your Irrigation System
Drip irrigation has many advantages over other methods, but it has its limitations as well. As an advocate of drip
systems, I find that the advantages, especially in energy and water efficiency and plant health, are compelling. The
following tables from Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge illustrate the differences.
There are strategies for planting and crop management that can help in regard to water management:
Plant in blocks, rather than rows to create shade for roots and reduce
Control weeds, as they are competing with the vegetables for the water supply.
Group plants with similar water needs together. Cucumber and zucchinis and squash, for example, require
similar water applications.
Check the soil for moisture before you water. If the soil has dried out to a depth of 2-4 inches, plan to water.
This is especially important if using mulch, where water is held in the soil longer.
Provide windbreaks to reduce evaporation of moisture from soil and plants.
Avoid frequent, shallow watering that promotes root development in the surface layers of the soil. Plants with
shallow roots are very susceptible to drought.
Avoid over-watering, which can drown plants by filling up soil pores with water, leaving little or no oxygen for
plant roots. Also, excessive watering leaches away nutrients and can contribute to groundwater contamination.
Postponing irrigation until after plants show signs of needing water can damage plants very quickly in hot
weather. Observe your plants every day or two and respond to their needs promptly.
Comparison of Sprinkler and Drip Irrigation
Site and situation Sprinkler system Drip system
Topography Ideal for any landscape
Level to rolling
Crops All but trees All high value crops
Weed problem High Low
Water supply Small streams and wells All, including city water
Runoff and erosion Moderate to high No runoff or erosion
Efficiency Average 70-80% Average 80-90%
Water saving High loss of water, high evaporation Minimum loss by leaching and evaporation
Labor requirement Low to high Low to high, some training
Capital requirement High initial capital Lower initial capital
Energy requirement Low energy and pressure 5-15 psi
Moderate to high—high pressure, >30psi
Management skill Moderate High
Machinery operation Some interference May have considerable interference
Weather Uneven distribution in windy conditions Even distribution at all conditions
Fertigation and other Good Very good
Duration of use Medium to long term Long term, but durability unknown
Automation Not easy Easy to automate
Use for Frost Control Good Poor
Ground Zero Garden
Michael Ableman (Fairview Gardens CSA) wants to grow more than buildings on the World Trade Center site
in lower Manhattan. The Goleta, CA farmer and author is thinking apples and herbs and vegetables. His vision of
a two– or three-acre urban farm at Ground Zero would include orchards, greenhouses, food markets, space for
gardening and cooking classes, and soil and seeds collectied from around the world. The farm, he explained in The
New York Times, ―would show that we know how to bring froth life and nourishment from the rubble of hate and
destruction.‖ Utne, April 2003 •
...from the Robyn Van En Center
by Martha Cornwell
To begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Martha Cornwell and I am the new director of the Robin Van En Center,
which is housed in the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA. I have taken over the
duties of running the Center from the very capable hands of Stephanie Reph, who wanted to free up some of her time to
devote to other projects and to continue her education. The Center has done well under Stephanie‘s direction. I hope to be
able to continue her good work here in providing useful information and services to the CSA community. If you want to
contact us, our phone number, email and snail mail addresses have not changed. They are listed at the end of this article.
Before I became director of the Center, I was (and still am) a shareholder in the CSA farm that is part of the Fulton Center
for Sustainable Living. While I have a background in education and a strong interest in environmental matters, I had never
really participated in an organization like Fulton Farm before my husband and I joined several years ago.
As a sociologist, I have studied the concept of community and am fully aware of its importance as a social and cultural
force. Since becoming a member of a CSA, and in reading some of the associated literature, I have come to recognize and
appreciate the kind of community that creates and operates such an organization. While there are many diverse reasons why
individuals decide to create a CSA, the resulting organization is a synergy of hopes, dreams and hard work for a better life
and ultimately for a better world. Fulton Farm is just one of many such communities developing nationally and
internationally with a common set of underlying values. If a group of individuals can come together to translate their values
into action to form a CSA community at the grass roots level, then it is possible for CSA farms to come together in much
the same way. The resulting global CSA community embodies the goals and values of each member organization and
indeed, each individual member as well.
An essential component of such a community is communication and information sharing. The Robyn Van En Center
was created specifically to meet this need within the CSA community. As the new director of the Center, I am especially
concerned that we offer services and resources that are of use to all who are interested in the CSA movement. Please let us
hear your ideas about how we could serve our community better. We are engaged in an on going program of fund raising,
and your financial contributions are appreciated as well.
Please bear with me as I become acquainted with operation of the Center and the web site, and don‘t forget to help us
keep up to date by giving us current information about your farm and your activities. Best wishes for warm sun, soft soaking
rain, and time to appreciate them and each other.
CONTACT INFORMATION: RVEC, Wilson College, 1015 Philadelphia Av, Chambersburg, PA, 17201, 717-264-4141, ext. 3352, email
mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, Web address http://www.csacenter.org/.
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Strong Roots, Fragile Farms
Video, Running time 57:46, $19.95 (plus s & h) from United Church Resources (UCCR) at 800-537-3394 or
230 Sheldon Road, Berea, OH 44017
Reviewed by Doreen Pasekoff
Strong Roots, Fragile Farms, the made-for-television documentary produced by the United Church of Christ and
hosted by Willie Nelson, shows us the human faces of family farmers driven to near-extinction by the
globalization of agriculture. Sprinkled with just enough statistics to back up its points, the documentary profiles
4 different, but equally endangered types of family farmers: an Iowa family growing soybeans and corn on 1,000
heavily mechanized acres, a North Carolina family growing traditional African-American crops on small acreage
with mostly hand tools for the local restaurants and grower‘s market, a Filipino family growing traditional rice
varieties with a local farmers‘ cooperative to improve growing techniques and market share and Mexican
subsistence farmers who no longer have a market for their crops.
Because prices are set by the handful of multi-national corporations that process and transport food, none of
these family farmers are able to sell their crops at a price that covers their costs, let alone make a profit. The
documentary leisurely meanders through these families‘ lives as they try to remain in farming and keep their
families financially solvent. Willie Nelson also provides a short overview on why NAFTA and the last two Farm
Bills have made things worse both for farm families and the small town economies that depend on them. By the
end of the video, we care about these people and are inspired to make social change.
The documentary was offered to ABC affiliates to air at their discretion starting on October 6, 2002. Here in
the Philadelphia region, our local ABC affiliate aired the program on October 13th (with fantastic public service
announcements instead of commercials, an experience in itself!). If you missed this program on your own
station, it is easy enough to order the video from the United Church of Christ and download all the resources
(study guide, fact sheet, poster, etc) at http://www.ucc.org/fragilefarms/index.htmlto set up your own discussion
group about how globalization is affecting agriculture. This video, especially when combined with the study
guide and fact sheet, is an excellent way to gently introduce these issues to folks who have never considered them
Dorene Pasekoff is Coordinator of St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden Phoenixville, PA •
USDA and Small Farm Policy, 2003
By Bill Browne
If your experiences are anything like my own, the title of this essay makes you first laugh and then cry. While the U.S.
Department of Agriculture has been an incredibly important institution in American nation building, its activities have
not been kind to small farms. With considerable irony, USDA has guided a nation of many small farms, each hopefully
growing a little, toward its current status with a few large farms each routinely growing immense quantities.
With its scientific mission of improved production as its heart and with the plight of ill-prepared sons and daughters of
farming‘s toil as its base, a post-1860‘s USDA promulgated public policies that promoted commercialization,
industrialization, increasing farm size, specialization by commodity, and ever more capital intensive production. When
conditions of chronically low prices associated with chronically high production could not be altered by the 1930s, USDA
urged that the farms that grew the most basic commodities receive the highest direct price supports and most favorable
loan guarantees, in return for cutting back a percentage of their production. Payments, loans, and crop reductions became
a sort of constantly rejumbled holy trinity of farm policy from that point on. Recipients of federal largess in an otherwise
economically distressed farm sector found such policy compelling. And so, operating with farmers‘ favor and driven by
continuing farm economic failure, farm policy in America became dominated by ―price policy.‖
Consequently, we find a rather shabby history of USDA neglect for tenant farmers, migrants, small fruit and vegetable
growers, of course organic producers, and other such outliers to the farm economy. All were felt to be minority matters in
a farming world characterized by mechanized and chemically induced growth. It would be kind to say that USDA policy
makers were merely ―otherwise preoccupied.‖
A Change Ahead?
I have a sense that this preoccupation with the giants of agricultural production may be subject in the future to at least the
slightest of alteration. Three factors seem responsible for moving the agenda of small farms all the way up to the
bureaucratic level of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture‘s office. First, it‘s been very hard to continue to disguise from the
media the fact that smaller farmers are the ones most likely leaving the agricultural business. Second, the massive amounts
of per farm payments that are allowed by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (FSRIA), which reach the
millions of dollars annually for the very largest producers, jolt even the sensitivities of the most callous national policy
makers. Third, there is a surging grassroots advocacy on behalf of rural redevelopment policy led by rural communities,
rural businesses, rural public service providers from education through housing and health care, national and local and
regional nonprofit foundations, and even some farm groups; all of which have come to recognize that many small towns
and counties are not readily supported by today‘s commercial
Because USDA has as its mission the protection of both neglected small farms and neglected rural communities, the
department‘s credibility is at an all time low. Not surprisingly, then, USDA now showcases policy statements on behalf of
small farms. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman called for a National Commission on Small Farms, which issued its
report, A Time to Act, in 1998. Many USDA officials saw the need to dedicate financial resources and to support research
and outreach to small sustainably directed farms because the 1996 farm bill, The Federal Agriculture Improvement and
Reform Act (FAIR), was intended to begin a phase-out of
U.S. farm price policy. The time was felt to be perfect for USDA to reconnect with those increasingly scarce outliers to the
mainstream agricultural economy, to reestablish with Jefferson‘s agrarian myth of the yeoman farmer.
As careful readers can ascertain, however, FAIR‘s shelf life was short, succumbing to the egregious imbalances of FSRIA.
Given these sudden reversals from 1996 and 1998 to 2002, where within lies my suspicions that USDA may alter its
preoccupation with the giants of agricultural production? Am I mad? In spite of a strained credibility, USDA seems to have
been captured by those giant producers in formulating the most recent farm bill.
But, I caution, USDA‘s capture in 2002 was incomplete. While some career USDA officials willingly collapsed away
from abandoning price policy, USDA leaders and the White House defended FAIR. Only the strength and resolve of
members of Congress to reward well heeled constituents restored the ever more regally financed preoccupation with price
policy. And, even then, opposition to multi-million dollar payments led the Senate to break from the House of
Representatives over most Senators‘ distain for such high levels of support, especially over marketing loans for large-scale
All of this internal conflict within the federal government still goes on, as it obviously did preceding FSRIA. In1999,
after the final version of A Time to Act was issued, Secretary Glickman faced considerable pressure to continue the
refocusing work started by the National Commission. Much of that pressure came from individual Commission members,
who joined privately with numerous other concerned people and groups to form the Time to Act Campaign. This
advocacy Campaign was led by the Center for Rural Affairs, which galvanized a wide range of supporters nationwide in
pursuing the recommendations of the Commission. Under such intense scrutiny, and as one of his final acts at USDA,
Glickman formed a department Advisory Committee on Small Farms.
Here lies the present window of USDA opportunity for CSA farms. The final report of the Advisory Committee, Building
on a Time to Act, was released in early 2003 by the office of present Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Earlier, in 2001,
the Committee met with Veneman‘s Chief of Staff and, as a result, several small farm proposals were presented to
Congress from its preliminary work. However, many of the 2003 priorities have the greatest interest, including:
emphasizing land treatments that benefit the environment, promoting sustainable agriculture research, funding
conservation for small farms, guaranteeing lending to limited resource farmers, speeding up loan processing, encouraging
value-added farm practices and cooperative marketing of those ventures, providing supplemental income support for
specialty crops, helping educate consumers about specialty crop producers, establishing a revolving loan program for
beginning farmers, and targeting Farm Credit System loans to beginning small farmers.
Recent innovations in USDA structure should facilitate policy adaptations important to CSAs, especially on matters that
need only changes in implementation rather than congressional action. A Small Farm Council now operates under a
departmental Deputy Secretary‘s direction; a Director of USDA Small Farms Coordinators exists; and, finally, small farms
coordinators are assigned to each mission area and agency within USDA.
So, even as FAIR was being renounced in favor of payments with a distinctive large farm bias, institutional changes
within USDA may prove of value to CSA farmers in the future. That value can only be enhanced, as I mentioned in a
previous essay, if CSA advocates become active themselves in policy work. The Advisory Committee gives only a window.
Yet, at the same time, a plethora of organized agriculture and rural interests are presently working to change the
preoccupied focus of USDA. A few are worth noting, only to provide an encouraging word to CSAers. The Center for
Economic Trends distributes nicely packaged data to the media on excessive farm payments and who receives them. The
Henry A. Wallace Center for Agricultural and Environmental Policy prepares information on the role of agriculture in
rural development. Many national associations of governmental official — such as the National League of Cities and the
National Conference of State Legislatures — are doing policy evaluation for rural communities and their links to small-scale
agriculture. The Kellogg Foundation is organizing local and regional nonprofit foundations to become advocates in
articulating grassroots policy solutions to pending problems. The Center for Rural Affairs remains the small-scale
producers‘ best friend, helping to represent their varied interests in Washington, D.C. And the list goes on; add your CSA
voice and change our negative perception of USDA, permanently.
Contact Chuck Hassebrook at the Center for Rural Affairs (mailto:email@example.com) and explain your feelings about
participation on behalf of CSA farms. Small Farms Coordinators can be reached by using website
http://www.usda.gov/oce/smallfarm/coordinators.htm address that gives you access to a great deal of small farm
Bill Browne is a professor of political science at Central Michigan University, author of numerous books and papers on rural and
agriculture policy matters and member of Five Springs Farm CSA •
Recipes from America’s Small Farms
Edited by Joanne Lamb Hayes, Lori Stein, and Maura Webber
A new release from Villard Books that should be available by the time you read this, Recipes from America’s Small Farms
gathers the most exciting, original, and authentic recipes—using the freshest ingredients—from those who know best how
to set a table anytime of the year. Favorite recipes from CSA farmers and members across the country will inspire home
cooks everywhere. Also included are recipes from high-profile chefs such as Rick Bayless (Frontera Grill), Peter Hoffman
(Savoy), Roxanne Klein (Roxanne‘s), and Kevin von Klause (White Dog Café). We hope to have a review in the next issue
of The Community Farm.
Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Foods
By Gary Paul Nabhan (W.W. Norton & Co.)
Hoping to spend a year eating four of each five meals from locally grown food, the author explains his mission: ―At last I
want fully to bear the brunt of what my own eating of the living world entails.‖ After recounting food foraging expeditions
with neighbors and pondering the deep interconnections inherent in our eating choices, Nabhan concludes that the ―real
bottleneck to the revival of native, locally grown foods is a spiritual dilemma. If we no longer believe that the Earth is
sacred, or that we are blessed by the bounty around us, or that we have a caretaking responsibility given to us by the
Creator—Yahweh, Earth Maker, Gaia, Tata Dios, Caver Bear, Raven, or whatever you care to call him or her—then it does
not really matter to most folks how much ecological and cultural damage is done by the way we eat.‖
From Community Journal, Summer 2002 (937-767-2161)
Growing Home: A Guide to Reconnecting Agriculture, Food and Communities
By Joanna Green and Duncan Hilchey (Community Food and Agriculture Program, Cornell University, 2003)
Growing Home is designed to provide agricultural development specialists, economic developers, planners, Extension
educators, community development advocates, and others interested in strengthening communities with the tools they
need to turn visions into realities. To order contact Gretchen Gilbert, 607/255-9832 or visit
Greenhouse and Garden Tags from Plastic Containers
Ron Alfrejd, West Shore Correctional Facility Community Garden, suggests turning plastic containers into plant tags.
White containers work best. Cut down the side of the container, then cut around the bottom (use the bottom under
potted plants). Cut strips to the desired width and length. ―I use a 16 penny nail to scratch the variety name onto the
plastic because it will never wash away or fade. I rub some soil into the scratches to read.‖ We have found a permanent
marker to work well in the greenhouse.
The First Organic Inspection
By Jeff Cox
In the spring of 1971, I’d been working as associate editor on Organic Gardening Magazine in Emmaus,
Pennsylvania, for about a year. One day Jerry Goldstein, the editor, called me into his office and declared
that if organic foods were ever going to get into the marketplace, customers would have to know that the
food really was organic. We at the magazine were going to have to certify that growers were organic.
“We” meant the two managing editors, Lee Goldman and Maury Franz, and myself. I was to go out first
and report back on how the certification went. Jerry gave me the name and phone number of a grower in
Maryland who’d asked for our imprimatur and sent me on my way. I had no idea how to certify anything,
but I thought I'd just wing it when I got to Maryland.
The drive to the grower’s property took about two and a half hours. I pulled into the driveway of a neat
little house with mature trees and shrubs around it. The grower came out to greet me. He was a man in his
40’s, of serious demeanor, and, he assured me, all organic. Behind his house were a half-acre garden, a
small garden shed, a hose bib, and a large pile of trimmings that I assumed was a compost pile. I walked the
rows of the garden and wondered how in the world I could possibly tell if these crops were organic. When
I looked in the gardening shed, there was a bottle of chemical pesticide on a shelf. “Do you use this?” I
asked him. “Only when I have to,” he said. I realized right then that I was in totally over my head. I looked
helplessly around a little more, thanked the man, and left.
Back in Emmaus I told Jerry Goldstein that if certification were to be done by us three editors, he’d
better hire three more editors, because it would take up all our time. Not only that, no one could certify
a garden or farm organic just by looking at it. Certification, I said, would have to be done scientifically,
with foolproof ways to ascertain whether a grower was organic or not. And that story of abject failure is,
as far as I know, the story of the first organic inspection.
Jeff Cox is formerly an editor of Organic Gardening Magazine and a senior editor at Rodale Books. He is the author of 15 books
and numerous articles about food, wine and gardening.
From the Information Bulletin (Winter 2003, Number 12) of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, PO Box 440, Santa Cruz, CA
95061, 831/426-6606, http://www.ofrf.org/.
Jet Propelled Lettuce
Recent studies reveal that lettuce sold in US supermarkets may be contaminated with perchlorate, a rocket-fuel
component. Perchlorate taints more than 500 drinking water sources in 20 states, including the Colorado River,
which irrigates at least 70% of the nation‘s lettuce and other winter crops grown in California and Arizona. The study
from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 4 of 22 lettuce samples from northern California stores
were contaminated at levels 30 or more times the EPA‘s draft safety level. Conceding that the sample size was too small
to draw scientific conclusions, EWG says the results showing contamination of a common food item are alarming
enough to warrant a broad analysis of perchlorate in irrigation and drinking water sources. The Bush Administration
has delayed regulatory action on the chemical and has issued a gag order on EPA to halt public discussion, according
to the April 28 Wall Street Journal. —Alternative Agriculture News, May 2003 •
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The Community Farm is a forum dedicated to preserving small farms and building community from the perspective of community supported agriculture (CSA). CSA is a partnership
that provides a direct link and shared responsibility between growers and consumers. The Community Farm is published quarterly for delivery near cross-quarter days (halfway
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