This seems like a good time to reflect on what a Community Supported Agricultural endeavor is all about. I found a great web page on the history of C.S.A's and how they came to America and what is in store for the future of C.S.A.'s. Below is part one of this informative series.
|The History of Community Supported Agriculture, Part I|
Community Farms in the 21st Century:
Poised for Another Wave of Growth?
This is the first in a two-part series exploring the birth of the CSA movement in the United States as well as the potentials for this
growing and successful model of community agriculture.
By Steven McFadden
Over the last 18 years Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
has taken root in North America with moderate speed and has
gradually grown to include as many as 1,700 farms spread over
every region. Against a surging tide of decline for small
farms in general, CSA has set roots deep and wide.
CSA is providing direct support for hundreds of small farms
and clean local food for thousands of families.
As side benefits, CSA is also establishing a matrix of
environmental oases, building networks of families
who are cultivating new and healthy aspects of community life,
and helping to shape a new vision of agriculture.
As CSA approaches its 20th anniversary, the possibility
of a substantial third wave of development looms large.
The workable paths are well known by now; meanwhile,
a host of food- and farm-related issues is steadily building
a groundswell underneath this grass-roots movement.
Oddly, the origins of CSA in the United States have remained i
ndistinct and are routinely reported incorrectly.
PART I: The Origins of CSA in America—Dispelling anFor years, one standard albeit erroneous telling of CSA’s history has
in hundreds of articles and web sites.
That version was recently repeated by
Time magazine: "The CSA movement began in
Japan some 30 years ago with
a group of women alarmed by
[partnerships with local farmers through annual subscriptions]
spread to Europe and the U.S. From a single
Massachusetts CSA in 1986,
subscription farms in the U.S. have boomed..."(1)
I can fault no reporters for repeating this false history.
While I did know all
along that CSA sprang forth from not one U.S. farm,
but from two, for most
of the past 18 years I also labored under the
misimpression that some of
CSA’s inspiration had come from Japan,
for that is what I read everywhere.
An email discussion on the CSA-L list
piqued my curiosity. Correspondents such as
Wolfgang Stranz of Germany,
Allan Balliett of West Virginia, and Connie Falk
of New Mexico uncovered
many of the details of how CSA unfolded here
in the United States.
I’ve been reporting on CSA since 1987,
so when I read their postings,
I was prompted to research the movement’s
beginnings to unearth
a clearer sense of what really happened and why.
I also wanted to
see how the beginnings might bear upon the
present and the future.
I learned that while community farm initiatives
got under way in both
Japan and Chile in the early 1970s, those efforts
did not directly influence
the 1986 start of the CSA movement in the states.
The U.S. impulse came
from Europe, and specifically from the biodynamic
The ideas that informed the first two American CSAs
in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher
Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925),
and then actively cultivated in post- WW II Europe
in the 1950s, 1960s,
and 1970s. The ideas crossed the Atlantic and
came to life in a new form,
CSA, simultaneously but independently in 1986 at
both Indian Line Farm
in Massachusetts and Temple-Wilton Community Farm
in New Hampshire.
The two original CSA farms are still thriving as of 2004.
Both have established enduring legacies, even though
they have confronted many challenges over the years.
The stories of these two farms illustrate many of the challenges
CSA movement faces. Their stories also demonstrate many
of the potentials.
Indian Line Farm
E.F. Schumacher Society, headquartered about a mile down
the road from Indian Line Farm in
South Egremont, Mass.
Susan recalls that articles in Rodale’s Organic Gardening
(2) attracted a young gardener named Jan Vander Tuin to South
Egremont in 1985,
where he met with her, Robyn Van En and other members
of the community.
According to a 1992 article that Vander Tuin wrote for RAIN
magazine (3), he had been working on a biodynamic farm named
Topinambur near Zurich, Switzerland. He also traveled to explore
other farms—Birsmatterhof in Germany (close to Basel, Switzerland)
and Les Jardins de Cocagne in Geneva,
Switzerland. Vander Tuin noted that the producer-consumer
food alliance in
Geneva had been founded by a man inspired by the co-op
movement in Chile
during Salvador Allende’s administration (1970-73).These
Vander Tuin’s thinking as he returned to the United States
and began talking with
Witt, Van En, John Root, Jr., Andrew Lorand, and others. Each individual
was generally knowledgeable about anthroposophy and biodynamic farming
(two pillars of Steiner’s legacy).
Witt recalls that their discussions were informed by Steiner’s concept of
world economy, and she felt the work of the Schumacher Society best put
those ideas into practice. "One of Steiner’s major concepts was the
producer-consumer association, where consumer and producer are
linked by their mutual interests," she explained. "And one of Schumaker’s
major concepts was ‘to develop an economy where you produce locally
what is consumed locally.’ We began to see CSA as a way to bring these
key ideas together."
In those early days there was much talk of biodynamics and
anthroposophy and the "Small is beautiful" philosophy of
E.F. Schumacher, as Witt recalls, but definitely no talk of Japan.
"None of us had heard yet of what was happening in Japan."
On this point, Anthony Graham and Trauger Groh of the
Temple-Wilton Community farm agree. None of the CSA
pioneers in the United States had heard a word about teikei in Japan.
As Anthony recalls, "We (Anthony, Trauger, Lincoln Geiger) all went to
a conference in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, as well as a group from
South Egremont including I believe Robyn Van En. This was after both
of our farms had started, maybe a year later. A speaker at the conference
mentioned what was going on in Japan, and that was the first any of us
learned about it."
In autumn 1985, with Vander Tuin’s enthusiasm added to the wherewithal
of the rest of the community, the Massachusetts group undertook a project
with an apple orchard. Root and a community of developmentally disabled
from nearby Berkshire Village sold 30 shares in the orchard,
then picked, sorted,
and distributed 360 bushels of apples, as well as cider,
hard cider, and vinegar.
While that project was under way, the core group made plans.
They began as the
CSA Garden at Great Barrington (not Indian Line Farm) an unincorporated
managed on behalf of all shareholders, with Witt, Root, Van En and
Jan Vander Tuin acting as principals. The association entered into a
three-year lease with Van En to use land at Indian Line Farm for a garden
starting in 1986, the same year the Temple-Wilton Community Farm started
about 80 miles to the northeast in New Hampshire.
The association that leased Indian Line Farm held onto the name CSA Gardens
at Great Barrington until 1990, when there was a difficult split. Robyn stayed on
her land; the farmers and many members departed to form the Mahaiwe Harvest
CSA at nearby Sunways Farm.
Robyn went on to write the pamphlet "Basic Formula to Create Community Supported Agriculture," to produce a video "It’s not just About Vegetables," and in 1992 to
found CSA North America (CSANA), a nonprofit clearinghouse to support CSA
In 1997 at age 49, Robyn died of an asthma attack. Her contributions were later
recognized in the naming of a national clearinghouse of information,
the Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources.
After Van En’s death, her son was forced to sell the farm. The farmers who
had been working the land could not afford to buy it. But with the help of the
Schumacher Society, they partnered with a community land trust and
The Nature Conservancy to buy Indian Line Farm in 1999. This partnership
serves as a model for other CSAs.
According to Susan Witt, the key idea of the Indian Line Farm
transaction is this: The consumers actively took responsibility to
hold farmland open and to make that land available and affordable
for farmers over a long term. Other CSAs, she said, should give serious
consideration to this basic idea.
The Temple-Wilton Community FarmAnthony Graham was among the founders of the Temple-Wilton
(TW) Community Farm, along with Trauger Groh and dairyman
Lincoln Geiger. Anthony remembers that they were all talking with
one another back in 1985. "Trauger had just moved to New Hampshire
from Germany. He and I and Lincoln and others in this community
were talking intensively, making plans. One day in the autumn we
drove out to South Egremont to meet with the people there and share ideas.
There was a lot of excitement.
"The folks in Western Massachusetts had their approach and we had ours,
" Anthony recalled. "A lot of our inspiration for the Temple-Wilton farm came
out of discussing with Trauger what he knew from Germany, and from the
Camphill Village in Copake, New York, in 1961.”
Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Trauger, Carl-August Loss, and
other farmers at Buschberghof in Northern Germany had been
experimenting with ideas from the work of Rudolf Steiner.
Then Trauger met Alice Bennett of New Hampshire.
They were wed and he moved to be with her.
"Back in 1985, out of our discussions with Trauger,
we decided on our approach,” remembers Anthony.
“We asked members of the farm community for a pledge
rather than asking them to pay a fixed price for a share of the harvest.
We realized that the members of our community had a wide range of needs
and incomes and that one set price was not necessarily fair for every family.
What we do each year is to present a budget showing the true costs of the
farm over the coming year and then ask the members of the farm to make
pledges to meet the budget.
"Our approach works. It requires honesty and good will, but it works,” Anthony says.
The last four or five years, our annual budget meeting with the farm
members has only taken about 45 minutes. It’s fast, up front, and
everyone understands it by now."
The overall philosophy of the TW Farm evolved from some of Steiner's
ideas spelled out in his anthroposophical writings. Some of the farm’s
key ideas are:
New forms of property ownership—The land is held in a common
by a community through a legal trust. The trust then leases its property
long-term to farmers who use the land to grow food for the community.
New forms of cooperation—A network of human relations replaces old systems
of employers and employees as well as replacing the practice of
pledging material security (land, buildings, etc.) to banks.
New forms of economy – (associative economy). The guiding question is not
"how do we increase profits?" but rather "what are the actual needs of the land
and of the people involved in this enterprise?"
Trauger Groh is retired from active farming but stays close to the TW Farm.
As he looks back over the years, he said he feels satisfaction.
The farm has found a permanent home on good land and has also
secured an orchard. In 2003, he said, the farm had a record harvest,
and it received funding support from state, federal and local sources.
"The farm will easily raise the rest of the money," Trauger said. "There is
enormous public interest. Wilton has voted at town meeting two years in a
row to spend $40,000 of taxpayer money to support the farm and its programs.
Now remember, this is in skinflint New Hampshire, where a request for money
for a new light bulb can cause a knockdown, drag-out debate. Not one person
has ever stood to speak against the funding request for the farm.
"Now is when all our work is paying off," Trauger observed.
"We have a track record of 18 years. People know us and trust us.
They can see what we are doing for the land and for the community."
Reflecting on the start of CSA in America 18 years ago, Trauger said "As
with all great ideas, the idea of CSA had arrived. It just needed to emerge.
The time was ripe. Who started at what hour is totally unimportant. What is
important is that the CSA initiative has emerged and developed, and there is
now a base for people to carry forward."
If you are interested in reading part two of this series please click on this link: http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0204/csa2/part2.shtml
The faces below are of Hollow Pumpkin Farm's most recent "Farm Angels," which is what community is all about. Many other folks in the community have come out from time to time to also lend a hand. We are forever thankful for these folks and they remind us of what the C.S.A. is really all about!