Radical Community Agriculture

SUBHEAD: Reconnecting people to growing of their own food may prove to be a radical means of healing.

By Jared Spears on 22 July 2022 in Resilience -

Image above: Photo promoting education in organic farming.  (https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/organic-farming-degrees-careers/).

Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) is one of those rare ideas which combine transformative potential with an elegant simplicity. The CSA model of funding and sustaining locally-rooted agriculture has grown exponentially around the globe over the past four decades. Since the first formal CSA at Robyn Van En’s Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts in the early 1980s, CSAs have become a household fixture across the US and elsewhere; the most recent estimate by the USDA (2012) counted approximately 13,000 CSA farms in the US alone.

The success of community-supported farming has coincided with rising demand for organic food since the late 1970s. But the model’s popularization has meant that, sometimes, CSAs can be misrepresented as ‘just another way’ for consumers to purchase fresh, seasonal food. Important elements embedded into the CSA model, such as that of shared risk among members, make the arrangement more than merely transactional. In fact, the origins of the CSA movement in America have radical roots, drawn from the prominent environmental movement and a subculture dissatisfied with the prevailing economic system.

A 1985 paper newly digitized from the Schumacher Center archive, “Community Supported Food Systems”, clarifies the deeper motivations which brought CSAs to the US in their present form. It is a timely reminder of the transformative potential the broader concept of Community Supported Industry still holds today – especially in light of our urgent need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions and foster resilience in our supply chains.

Given renewed interest in the concepts of local food security and food sovereignty as principles of climate action and economic justice, it is worth revisiting the transformative potential of the CSA model as grasped by those who first put the idea into action.

Importing the CSA model from Switzerland

The community-supported farming movement popularized in the 1980s had multiple antecedents around the globe. With examples of localized farming initiatives from Chile, to Japan, to rural Black communities in the Southern US, this movement may be best thought of as a spontaneous, distributed reaction to the conditions of globalized food markets. At the same time, growing concern around the health impacts of chemical pesticides, as well as the environmental costs of fossil fuel-based fertilizers, added impetus to the organization of organic farming at a more human scale.

That said, the formalized CSA model which subsequently spread across the US and beyond was pioneered in the Southern Berkshires, in the state of Massachusetts. And as the “Community Supported Food Systems” paper shows, its character was highly informed by models developed earlier in Switzerland. The ethos and organizing principles of these Swiss examples were documented and brought to Massachusetts by one Jan Vander Tuin.

Vander Tuin, a champion of pedal-powered transport and car-sharing, would later go on to make his mark advocating for appropriate technology in transportation. But before all that, he was a disillusioned farm laborer looking for alternatives. As Vander Tuin recalled in a 1992 article in RAIN Magazine, he went to Switzerland in the early ‘80s from the US having “felt burned economically… with an eye open for alternatives to market agriculture.” As he described the attraction of Switzerland at that time:

The early 1980’s were inspiring years for Swiss activists. The youth were rebellious, and citizens at large asked questions of the nation that epitomizes capitalism. I saw many evolving solutions to problems that I, coming from the States, had written off as unsolvable.”

After some time working first-hand on an organic farm outside Z├╝rich, Vander Tuin was directed to a successful producer-consumer food co-op in Geneva, which had been inspired by the cooperative movement in Chile during the Allende administration. Vander Tuin called the project the most radical food co-op group he had ever encountered: it “addressed almost every problem I’d encountered in modern farming.” This project’s philosophy went beyond ecologically sustainable practices and pesticide-free produce, addressing the steep economic challenges faced by organic farming in an era of big, corporate agri-business. 

The basic notion that consumers personally cooperate with producers to fund farming in advance, he wrote “makes for more efficient use of land… and much less stress for farmers…” In short, Vander Tuin recognized that this model made organic farming for local consumption not just economical, but also more elegant and communitarian – in a word, more beautiful.

What drove Vander Tuin, as expressed in the paper, is “the feeling that existing food infrastructures are hopelessly entangled in the societal/cultural systems, especially the ‘free’ market.” Rather than wait for planners and experts, Vander Tuin noted how, in the Swiss examples, “concerned consumers and frustrated food workers” decided to provide responsibly-grown organic food for themselves. Shared values such as organic growing and energy-conscious distribution were identified from the outset. Everything down to how shares were calculated – based on the amount of produce the average non-vegetarian consumes per year – underscores the ambition for local self-reliance in food production.

The document also highlights a strong desire for economic fairness at every step in CSA practices. The costs of start-up investment and land would “ideally…be divided up equally (or by sliding scale).” 

 In the Swiss example, wages for farm labor were to be estimated at “the average wage of worker in region – not banker unfortunately” Vander Tuin added with a dose of humor. “The emphasis in all economic thinking,” it concludes, “was not to work the maximum profit principle but on the need/cost coverage principle. This meant more trust and more participation.”

Finding like minds in the Southern Berkshires

Vander Tuin documented these practices, eager to bring them back to the US for implementation. He caught wind of a group in the Southern Berkshires who had set up a sort of buying club for locally-grown produce, including a handful of local growers meeting the demand. The Self-Help Association for a Regional Economy (S.H.A.R.E.) was a community micro-loan program which grew out of the activities of the E.F. Schumacher Society (precursor to the Schumacher Center) in South Egremont. 

Vander Tuin became aware of the group, according to Schumacher Center co-founder Susan Witt, after reading a news article about their novel SHAREcropper initiative. Community-members would pool to list requests for locally grown produce in the SHARE newsletter, enabling them to identify farmers to grow the food locally. Those growers, in turn, secured demand for their crops in advance.

In other words, SHAREcroppers was managing, in an ad-hoc way, what Vander Tuin envisaged as a systematic alternative to corporate, mono-crop agriculture.

When Vander Tuin presented his proposal to members of S.H.A.R.E., they promptly sent him down to the road to meet one of their growers: Robyn Van En, who ran Indian Line Farm. Robyn not only held equally radical ambitions, but possessed the roll-up-her-sleeves attitude needed to make them a reality. With a community around them dedicated to the cause and willing to help see through the implementation, they could set to work.

Having moved to the Southern Berkshires several years earlier from California, Van En was pursuing her own alternative vision for growing at Indian Line. She brought deep ethical convictions about humanity’s relationship with nature to inform the early CSA movement. She later articulated the ‘Ideals of Community Supported Agriculture’ for a CSA manual in such terms:

Agriculture… is the mother of all our culture and the foundation of our well-being. Modern farming…driven by purely economic considerations, has driven the culture out and replaced it with business: agriculture has become agribusiness… Our ideals for agriculture come to expression in the biodynamic method of farming which seeks to create a self-sustaining and improving ecological system in which…everything has its place in the cycle of the seasons… The community involvement in the rhythms of the seasons and the celebrations connected with them will also enable us to find our proper spiritual connection to nature again.”

With a new agricultural ethic clear from the start, Van En also recognized early on a need for a new economic approach as well. As she later described: “I knew there had to be a better way…something cooperative, that allowed people to combine their abilities, expertise, and resources for the mutual benefit of all concerned.” 

 When S.H.A.R.E. members introduced her to Vander Tuin in 1985, they “only had to talk for a few minutes,” according to Van En, to know that what he’d brought back from Switzerland articulated just the sort of community framework she’d been looking for. As she later summarized:

The prices we pay for food may be cheaper than ever, but the hidden costs… are being paid [in other ways]. Unlike agribusiness, which has the motto: ‘The end (profits) justifies the means (exploitation)’, CSA’s motto is: ‘The means (community) assures the end (quality food).’”

Planting the seeds of the CSA movement

The group’s first venture in 1985 involved shares for apples and cider from the orchard adjacent to the present-day Schumacher Center. After the growing season, shareholders were invited to the autumn harvest in a spirit of celebration. (Vander Tuin reportedly even designed and built a pedal-powered cider press for the occasion). Producers and consumers were brought together in relationship with the land and its produce, creating space for community while proving the viability of the CSA model.

The following season, Indian Line Farm became the first fully-fledged CSA in the US. Credit for the success of the model in the Southern Berkshires goes to the many members of the community who supported Indian Line in various ways. 

But it was only the beginning for Van En: an educator by training, she would go on to become a tireless advocate of the CSA model and biodynamic farming and a vocal critic of industrialized agribusiness. The propagation of the CSA model across North America in the following decades owes much to Robyn’s conviction and endurance.

A final aspect of the CSA concept, originally outlined by Vander Tuin, remained only a theory until Indian Line Farm came on the market in 1998, one year after Van En’s untimely passing. At that time the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires and two area farmers formed a partnership with a local Nature Conservancy chapter to purchase the farm. Placing the land into the Community Land Trust in perpetuity was yet another innovation. 

Effectively decommodifying the land on which community food was grown while permitting the leaseholder to own the value of improvements, the move made good on an idea which, in Vander Tuin’s original proposal, appeared speculative: “community influenced land stewardship in the form of a ‘Community Land Trust’,” he wrote, seemed “applicable and desirable” compared to “normal ‘property’ arrangements.”

Today, the CSA model articulated by Van En and Vander Tuin remains a vital, community-based alternative to the host of health, environmental, and economic issues posed by industrial agribusiness. No wonder that the growth of CSAs has reportedly surged since 2020. Growing healthy, ecologically-sound food locally is, for a multitude of reasons, the most economical way for a community to provide for this most elemental of needs. 

Cutting out intermediaries and import dependency is a cornerstone of community food security and food sovereignty, as marginalized communities around the country and the world increasingly recognize. Combined with agro-ecological farming methods, relocalized agriculture holds great potential in our efforts to address climate change: reducing carbon emissions and helping to sequester carbon already in our atmosphere. And by layering on the innovative Community Land Trust model, affordable access to farmland can be secured for future generations of growers as well.

At the most human level, reconnecting people around the growing of their own food may prove to be among our most effective means of healing our widespread sense of disconnection from nature and community. It offers the promise for any community to rediscover how working in harmony with nature, rather than merely seeking to exploit it, can be as economical as it is beautiful.


Past the Limits to Growth

SUBHEAD: A half century since "The Limits of  Growth" was published we long for regeneration.    

By Jeffery D. Sachs on 26 May 2022 in the Seneca Effect  -

Image above: Aerial view of a banana boat in Brazil. From original article in Italian. (https://www.ilsole24ore.com/art/finalmente-abbiamo-capito-che-crescita-e-sviluppo-non-sono-stessa-cosa-AEJH2obB?refresh_ce=1) .

Fifty years ago, Italian business leaders in the Club of Rome gave a jolt to the world in their path-breaking report Limits to Growth.  That thought leadership continues today as Italian business leaders launch Regeneration 2030, a powerful call for more holistic, ethical, and sustainable business practices to help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.  

The 50-year journey from Limits of Growth to Regeneration 2030 shows how far we have come in understanding the critical challenges facing humanity, but also how far we still have to go to meet those challenges.
The half-century since Limits to Growth also defines my own intellectual journey, since I began university studies at Harvard University exactly 50 years ago as well.  One of the first books that I was assigned in my introductory economics course was Limits to Growth.  The book made a deep and lasting impression on me.  Here for the first time was a mathematical simulation of the world economy and nature viewed holistically, and using new systems dynamics modeling then underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 
Limits to Growth warned that compound economic growth was on a path to overshoot the Earth’s finite resources, leading to a potential catastrophe in the 21st century.  My professor huffily dismissed the book and its dire warning.  The book, the professor told us, had three marks against it.  First, it was written by engineers rather than economists.  Second, it did understand the wonders of a self-correcting market system.  Third, it was written at MIT, not at Harvard!  Even at the time, I was not so sure about this easy dismissal of the book’s crucial warning.   
Fifty years later, and after countless international meetings, conferences, treaties, thousands of weighty research studies, and most importantly, after another half-century of our actual experience on the planet, we can say the following.  First, the growing world economy is indeed overshooting the Earth’s finite resources.  Scientists now speak of the global economy exceeding the Earth’s “planetary boundaries.”  Second, the violation of these planetary boundaries threatens the Earth’s physical systems and therefore humanity itself. 

Specifically, humanity is warming the climate; destroying the habitat of millions of other species; and polluting the air, freshwater systems, soils, and oceans. Third, the market economy by itself will not stop this destruction. 

Many of the most dangerous actions – such as emitting climate-changing greenhouse gases, destroying native forests, and adding chemical nutrients to the rivers and estuaries – do not come with market signals attached.  Earth is currently treated as a free dumping ground for many horrendously destructive practices. 

Twenty years after Limits to Growth, in 1992, the world’s governments assembled at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit to adopt several environmental treaties, including the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity.  

Twenty years later, in 2012, the same governments re-assembled in Rio to discuss the fact that the environmental treaties were not working properly.  Earth, they acknowledged, was in growing danger.  At that 2012 summit they committed to establish Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide humanity to safety.  In 2015, all 193 UN member states adopted the SDGs and a few weeks later signed the Paris Climate Agreement to implement the 1992 climate treaty.
In short, we have gone a half-century from the first warnings to today.  We have adopted many treaties and many global goals, but in practice, have still not changed course.  The Earth continues to warm, indeed at an accelerating rate.  The Earth’s average temperature is now 1.2°C warmer than in the pre-industrial period (dated as 1880-1920), and is higher than at any time during the past 10,000 years of civilization.  

Warming has accelerated to more than 0.3°C per decade, meaning that in the next decade we will very possibly overshoot the 1.5°C warming limit that the world agreed to in Paris.    
A key insight for our future is that we now understand the difference between mere “economic growth” and real economic progress.  Economic growth focuses on raising traditional measures of national income, and is merely doing more of what we are already doing: more pollution, more greenhouse gas emissions, more destruction of the forests.  

True economic progress aims to raise the wellbeing of humanity, by ending poverty, achieving a fairer and more just economy, ensuring the quality education for all children, preventing new disease outbreaks, and increasing living standards through sustainable technologies and business practices.  True economic progress aims to transform our societies and technologies to raise human wellbeing.  

Regeneration 2030 is a powerful business initiative led by Italian business leaders committed to real transformation.  Regeneration aims to learn from nature itself, by creating a more circular economy that eliminates wastes and pollution by recycling, reusing, and regenerating natural resources.  Of course, an economy can’t be entirely circular – it needs energy from the outside (otherwise violating the laws of thermodynamics). 

But rather than the energy coming from digging up and burning fossil fuels, the energy of the future should come from the sun (including solar power, wind, hydroelectric, and sustainable bioenergy) and from other safe technologies.  Even safe man-made fusion energy may be within technical and economical reach in a few decades.   
On my part, I am trying as well to help regenerate economics, to become a new and more holistic academic discipline of sustainable development.  Just as business needs to be more holistic and aligned with the SDGs, economics as an intellectual discipline needs to recognize that the market economy must be embedded within an ethical framework, and that politics must aim for the common good.  Scientific disciplines must work together, joining forces across the natural sciences, policy sciences, human sciences, and the arts.  

Pope Francis has spurred the call for such a new and holistic economics by encouraging young people to adopt a new “Economy of Francesco,” inspired by the love of nature and humanity of St. Francis of Assisi. 
Sustainable Development, Regenerative Economy, and the Economy of Francesco are, at the core, a new way of harnessing our know-how, 21st century technologies, and ethics, to promote human wellbeing.  The first principle is the common good – and that means that we must start with peace and cooperation.  Ending the war in Ukraine at the negotiating table without further delay, and finding global common purpose between the West and East, is a good place for us to begin anew.


One more lap around the Sun

SUBHEAD: Whatever seemed normal, is about to vanish in the rear view mirror.

By Juan Wilson on 14 July 2022 for Island Breath -

Image below: View of Hawaiian Islands from hear space looking northwest. From (https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/the-hawaiian-island-chain).






There were times in the past when we would publish 2 or even 3 articles in a day for Island Breath. Back then we used ti have a subscription to a Kauai published and printed daily paper. In those days the ability to find a job, rent an apartment, and buy a car were vital services of a local daily news paper. 

That world has blown away like tumbleweed by the onslaught of features and function of the ubiquitous iPhone and it's copycat competitors. 

As a result one can hardly find a restaurant with a printed menu any more. You're invited by the "staff" to "scan it!"... Some people (like some baby-boomers, and and toddlers don't have an iPhone. "No Prob... we have a printed menu behind the bar... I'll see if I can find it. 

When we cannot keep up the near space telecommunication technology we have developed along with the wireless networks utilized by the iPhone and its copycats.

All might have gone well if we were not in total denial of the dire straights humanity has cornered itself into. Too many people, ruining, abandoning and throwing a way too much stuff for too long.

We have had half a century -since 1972- when the Club of Rome first published its predictions for our future based on resource losses, consumption increases, human population growth.

I'm going to try and get back in the saddle... meaning getting back to doing fresh, new articles... although I suspect they will not all avoid some cynicism.

I'll be back... soon I hope... Juan Wilson