Take Control of Your Food!
Community Supported Agriculture in Washtenaw
by Joel Heeres
Where do YOU buy your food? Better yet, who plants, cares for, and harvest that which provides for your daily sustenance? Donít know? Unfortunately, that is the case with most Americans. Corporations control a huge amount of the food produced in this country. Very few of us know where our food comes from. But there is a revolution happening in this country. This revolution is reconnecting people with their food supply, bringing people closer to the land, providing a living wage for farmers, and caring for the biodiversity of our planet. The revolution is Community Supported Agriculture. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms are creating an alternative to corporately, chemically produced food from thousands of miles away. CSAs are undermining our dependance on large corporations by reinvigorating local connections between eaters and farmers. CSAs reconnect people with the source of their food, revitalizing the relationships between consumers, farmers, and the land.
What the Heck is a CSA?
A CSA is a relationship between farmers and consumers, initiated by either party. Members of the CSA enter into a contract with the farmer. The farmer estimates the yield over the season, draws up a budget, and sets the price for the season. Prices for a share range from $400 to $900. The members purchase an annual share of produce and the farmer in return pledges to grow a diversity of crops averaging a specific poundage each week through the season. CSAs often require volunteer hours from their members as part of their contract. Each week, members pick up their shares from the farmer. This is either done at the farm or at a prespecified central location. Some CSAs also offer a delivery service. [More on CSAs on p. 18.]
Ann Arbor Area CSAs
Community Farm of Ann Arbor
One of oldest CSAs in the United States was formed in Ann Arbor in 1986. Two women, Cindy Olivas and Marsha Barton, went to a Camphill community called Timberton, where they studied biodynamic farming methods. Coming back to Ann Arbor, they organized a community lecture at the Ann Arbor Public Library. Organic growers from the area spoke to community members, expressing their financial difficulties in staying solvent. Trager Gro, an Austrian man, suggested that they form a CSA. Since this concept was quite new in the US, he explained how they work. Those present at the meeting vigorously agreed to the concept. Thus was born the Community Farm of Ann Arbor. The first season, Cindy and Marsha grew for the farm on land on Whitmore Lake Road. There were 175 members. The next year, the farm moved to land on Huron River Drive. A third farmer came to help, Leslie Klein. In the fourth year at Huron River Drive, Cindy and Leslie left and Marsha trained Anne Elder and Paul Bantle to take over the next season. That next year, the land the Community Farm used was put up for sale, and the next day a woman named Isabel called and offered her farm on Fletcher Road to be used. It was the farthest option from town but was the best. The farm has been at the same location since that time.
CFAA is a member-formed and member-run farm. All decisions are made by consensus. Each season, the farmers draw up a budget that outlines the needed expenses. The membership then discusses it, modifies items if necessary, and then approves the final budget. From that final budget, the share price is determined. The CFAA has many animals, in addition to all of the vegetables that are grown. There are four cows, which provide milk but more importantly manure that is composted and used for fertility in the fields. There are also goats, laying hens, and of course, barn cats. Each week, members come out either Wednesday or Saturday to pick up their shares. Pickup usually begins in late May/early June and ends in November. Members are required to volunteer 15 hours of their time for the farm over the entire season. There are currently over 120 member families in CFAA. For information on the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, call (734)433-0261. There is so much demand for membership that shares run out very quickly. Therefore, there are several farms in the area that are starting up CSAs to cater to this need.
Tantre Farm, located west of Chelsea, south of old US 12, has been in operation for 8 years. During that time, they have specialized mainly in selling organic potatoes, squash, brussels sprouts, garlic, and onions to local stores. They have also had U-pick raspberries and strawberries. Tantre Farm began selling at the Ann Arbor Farmersí Market just last fall. For the upcoming season, Tantre Farm is forming a CSA of 10-20 members with distribution at the Ann Arbor Farmerís Market. Shares will consist of weekly harvest of diverse and heirloom fruits and produce from late May through November. Initial share price will be $600. For information call Richard Andres at (734)475-4323.
Box Elder Farm
Box Elder Farm is a 70-acre farm located in Ypsilanti that has been in operation for 7 years. They have sold produce to the Peopleís Food Coop, Whole Foods, Zingermanís, and Arbor Farms during that time. Last year, they wanted to try out a CSA. They took out an ad in the Peopleís Food Coop newsletter and 50 people responded. The Box Elder Farm CSA delivered their shares to a central spot in Ann Arbor one day a week. About ten percent of members drove to the farm to pick up their shares. Along with weekly shares, members received a short newsletter with a calendar and recipes. In the Box Elder CSA, members would pay each week when they picked up their produce, rather than in a lump sum payment. Box Elder farmers kept in touch with their members through newsletters, e-mail, and regular mail. They also did a post-season survey of members. Some of the most encouraging things for the farmers were the communication and relationships that developed with the members. Members were excited for the surprises each week would bring and were flexible when certain crops were not available. For more information, call Peggy Wilson at (734)483-7752.
Community Supported Agriculture
CSAs are a fairly recent reinvention, dating from the 1960ís. For thousands of years, people had no choice but to consume what was grown locally and to buy from people they knew. Only the advent of modern transportation technology and infrastructure makes possible large-scale, chemically based farming and the import and export of food.
In the 1960ís, a group of women in Japan sought to revitalize the links between people and local farms. They initiated direct growing and purchasing relationships with these farms. The term used, teikei, literally means "putting the farmerís face on food." In Europe, similar relationships with farmers were cultivated, often called "food guilds". Many of the proponents of these relationships followed the teachings of Rudolf Steiner in anthroposophy and biodynamics. The first CSA in the US was started in 1985 by Robyn Van En on her Massachusetts farm. The growth of CSAs in the US has been prolific, especially considering the lack of any government support. Today there are more than 1,000 CSA farms in the US and many more forming each season.
Shared Risk: In a CSA, the members purchase a share of produce for the season. Once the member has paid, she will recieve a share of produce each week through the entire growing season. However, if a specific crops fails, she will not recieve as much as expected. Because of the natural biodiversity of a CSA, mass crop failure is highly inprobable. Often the yields are greater than predicted. Thus, the members of the CSA share with the farmer the financial risk of growing food.
Economic Sustainability: The CSA arrangement seeks to provide a living wage for the farmer. This relationship keeps people on the land, rather than the current trend of farmers having to sell their land to other farmers who farm increasingly larger plots of land, with a growing debt burden.
Environmental Sustainability: The memberís input on how their food is grown is valued by the farmer. Most CSAs are organic farms, meaning they use no synthetic chemicals on the farm. They respect the plant and animal biodiversity of the land.
Accountability: The farmer and the members are accountable to one another because they depend on one another. Neither could survive without the other.
Member Involvement: The CSA relationship encourages members to be involved on the farm or contribute their skills to the farm. Often CSAs can offer work for share arrangements. People find that getting to know the place their food comes from is very satisfying.
Benefits of CSAs to Farmers
One of the most important benefits of CSAs to farmers is the economic stability that the structure provides. The members front the money so that the farmer has access to capital from the very beginning of the season. If they need to repair the tractor or fix the greenhouse, they have funds for those things. The shared financial risk is also a huge benefit. Rather than the costs of an insect infestation falling only on the farmer, in a CSA that cost is shared among all the members. An assured market for her goods takes much stress out of the farmersís life. She does not have to worry that the stores may reject her crops because they can get cheaper food from California. The farmer knows at the beginning of the season how much to grow. In one word, stability is the main advantage to a farmer of a CSA.
Benefits of CSAs to Consumers
Members have access to fresh, locally grown, organic produce each week of the growing seasons. They eat locally and with the seasons and become more connected to nature through eating. A renewed connection to the land is a benefit that many members notice through a CSA. Developing a personal relationship with a farmer is a benefit. The trust that develops assures the consumer that the food is safe and ecologically grown. Many CSAs are not organically certified because the members feel that there is no need. They are comfortable in knowing where their food comes from and who grows it and feel no need for a third-party certifier. This saves costs for the farmer and members.
This month a variety of events in Ann Arbor illuminate our struggles to take back our streets, our lives, our food, our integrity, our education, etc. from corporate interests and from our ignorance.
This is all in the shadow of the upcoming Summit of the Americas meeting from April 20-22 in Quebec City. The Summit intends to talk about issues like hemispheric integration, security, terrorism, democracy, as well as the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The Quebec government will also be building a 3.8-kilometer wall-fence around the Summit, 12 to 15 feet high, and will fly trade ministers and government officials in by helicopter. Three activists were recently arrested for handing out information on FTAA! Why are they going to such extremes for security and secrecy? Shouldnít this be a public event, considering that it affects all our lives?
Here are some things you can do to help change this.
Thursday, March 1: Cindy Milistein of the Institute of Social Ecology will speak on: Reclaiming the Cities: Protest to Popular Power. Michigan League (Henderson room) 7-9pm.
Thursday, March 8: Meeting of Creative Resistance to FTAA, 5:30pm at the Black Elk Co-Op 902 Baldwin. Food included, phone 662-3814 (Lizzie) or 668-0281 (Robert).
Sunday, March 18: Benefit dinner for El Salvador Earthquake Relief, A2 Friends Meeting House, 1420 Hill St. Tickets $10 individual, $25 family of 4. More info: 663-1870
Friday, March 23: In commemoration of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) will host a two day event kicking off with showing of the film "This is What Democracy Looks Like" about the WTO protests in Seattle that shook the world. Where: U of M, Angell Hall Aud. C at 7pm. Discussion to follow. More info: 663-1870.
Saturday, March 24: Interactive workshop on globalization by Mexico Solidarity Network. This workshop explores the implications of corporate globalization on ordinary people. Using NAFTA as an example the workshop examines the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Participants gain not only important information, but also techniques to help develop their own arguments and strategies against globalization and for creating just and sustainable alternatives. Where: Memorial Christian Church 730 Tappan, 10-4pm. Lunch included. $0-20 sliding scale. Limited registration.
More info: 663-1870.
Thursday to Tuesday March 29-April 3: Days of Resistance in Washington DC, Nonviolent Direct Action, Workshops (On Plan Columbia, Puppet Making, FTAA...) and Lobbying to Close the School of the Americas (now thinly discguised as the Western Hemispheric Institute of Security Cooperation). Local groups will be going to DC. For info on rides and housing call 663-1870 (Sheri).
Here are some simple ways to resist globalization from above:
Buy local: organic foods and products
Give your car a brake: ride your bike around town
Go to the events listed above
Get involved with a group working on creating alternatives to corporate globalization.
Write a letter or call your local, state and federal representative about your concerns about FTAA, and the upcoming Summit of the Americas. Donít forget to mention how you feel about giving Mr. Bush Fast Track Authority for trade agreements. Unfortunately many of our elected officials have never heard of the FTAA.
Write a letter or op-ed piece to the editor of your local paper about globalization.
Local Groups working on Globalization:
Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice: 663-1870 (Sheri)
Huron Valley Greens: meetings 1st and 3rd Mondays 7pm at the Michigan League
Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality: email@example.com
Creative Resistence: 662-3814 (Lizzie) or 668-0281 (Robert)
Handy web sites:
indymedia.org (excellent media source)
When I first heard about all the amazing environmentally conscious business practices of Leopold Brothers brewpub, I must admit, I was pretty skeptical. After all the corporate propaganda/public relation campaigns Iíve been fed over the years about businesses doing their part for the environment (yes, I am tired of paper, napkin and tissue paper companies claiming their products are environmentally friendly), I tend to have trouble taking environmental claims like these at face value.
Well, Todd and Scott Leopold (co-owners/managers of Leopold Bros) have helped cure some of my skepticism that a business can be EXTREMELY environmentally friendly, and proved to me that one can actually be profitable. In the everyday running of Leopold Bros, the have taken the environmental slogan "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" to a new level of environmental business excellence.
REDUSE:There are many ways in which Leopold Bros have reduced their environmental impact. The most obvious is that the bar has little solid waste. The bar doesnít have the usual napkins, paper menus, or coasters.
The place is pretty energy efficient as well. When you look up at the ceiling, you can see long canvas bag material that often fills up with air that makes it look like a giant punching bag. This is the H-vac that works as the heating system. It has tiny wholes all the way down the side which the heat is distributed. Because it has so many holes, heat is more evenly distributed throughout the building.
Their lighting scheme is equally energy efficient. There are plenty of windows that provide lots of natural light, and the lightbulbs they use are all compact flourescent (see the Feb issue of Armchair Activist for more details on the value of CF lights).
REUSE:Another environmentally friendly aspect is that the bar is made out of old used parts. The bar where you sit and order drinks is made of old doors. Itís impossible to tell it unless you look very carefully at it. Also, one of the tables is supported by old leftover pipes that were used in construction of the bar.
RECYCLE:The most amazing environmentally friendly aspect of the bar is the recycling of by-products of the beer manufacturing process. If you walk into the pub and look to the very back of the bar, you can observe a strange room under construction. That is soon to be a green house where they are growing lettuce and basil to distribute to local stores and restaurants. Some of the water used to grow these plants comes from the rinse water that they clean used kegs with. Nitrogen byproducts left from the brewing process serve as plant food. And the carbon dioxide from the fermentation process is transported to the greenhouse to help the plants grow.
Other than the environmentally friendly policies of the bar, there are plenty of other good reasons to patronize Leopoldís. The beer, made from organic hops, malt, barley, is delicious. They currently have 3 beers on tapóa Blackbier, Red Lager, and Pilsneróand one rotating seasonal tap. And if you go there on Thursdays, you can flip a coin for a chance to get a beer at half price. There is plenty to do for entertainment: darts, a pool table, a foosball table, a video game, and plenty of board games (including my favorite: Balderdash).
Local art decorates the entire place, making the experience pleasurable for the eyes. Local art shows happen monthly on the Saturday closest to the full moon. The next one is March 10th.
The only thing missing from this place is food. But, then again, since they are trying to distribute beer and vegetables to local stores and restaurants, it only makes sense not to compete for them not to compete with their customers. If you are hungry while you are there, you can order food that can be delivered there.
I spent a very happy 23rd birthday there this year, and if you are looking for a perfect place to waste time rather than the environment, I would recommend it.
What: Public Hearing on the Ann Arbor Living Wage
When: Monday, March 5th at 7:30pm
Where: City Council Chambers, City Hall 2nd Floor
(100 N. 5th Ave. - Downtown)
Why: With this ordinance workers in Ann Arbor will have a chance to make a fair and decent living. On the 5th the City Council will hold an open public hearing about this proposal, and will then vote on it. It is crucial that we show our support for the ordinance by attending this hearing and speaking in favor of passage. Republicans on the City Council may attempt to modify this proposal. Letís let them know that we wonít stand for that. Remember, Ann Arbor works best when we say Ö Living Wage Yes!
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