This Farm Was Made for You and Me
An Examination of How CSA Farms Can Create Community
by and for Stoney Acres Farm
“Community Supported Agriculture” is a powerful name for a business model, but it was never meant to be merely a business model. CSAs are meant to be part of a broader movement to participate in a deeper economy, to build and strengthen community around local food, and change the agricultural system be emphasizing democracy and sustainability. A tall order, and one will all sorts of challenges and practical limitations. This past winter, using Bill McKibben’s book, Deep Economy we have been reflecting on how, and how not, CSAs can create community.
CSAs create community in the same way as any small local business. To begin with, your purchase, gives us the economic basis for being here among you. Shopping locally generally creates a concrete connection to real people around you whether it is a florist, a butcher or a farmer. Locally owned businesses make more of their own purchases locally, and give much more locally in dollars and volunteerism. As Bill McKibben says “We learn once again what skills and gifts our neighbors possess, and they become valuable to us once again, literally valuable, people we can start to depend on for some of our food, our fuel, our capital, our entertainment.” For us this has meant finding neighbors with boars and finding CSA members who work at printing shops. It is not just about a social network but about being invested in the same community and consciously supporting each other to improve it. CSA farms are not producing an anonymous commodity for international markets or contracting with agribusiness firms seeking to dominate the food economy. In this model we not only want to produce food, we want to produce food for you.
Beyond the economic basis of local food is the social setting it creates. McKibben discusses Sociological research in which consumers at farmers markets have ten times the conversations they would at supermarkets, “This simple change in economic life-where you shop- produces an enormous change in your social life. You go from being a mere consumer to being a participant, taking about things you like and dislike, expanding your sense of who is in your community and how it all fits together.”
In his reflection on eating locally for an entire year Mckibben writes, “Eating this way has come at a cost. Not in health or in money (if anything, I’ve spent less than usual, since I haven’t bought a speck of processed food) but in time I’ve had to think about every meal, instead of wandering through the world on autopilot, ingesting random calories…But the payoff for that cost has been immense, a web of connections I’d never known about. The geography of the valley now means something much more real to me.” Eating through a CSA connects you literally to where your food comes from.
In Laura B. Delind’s Journal “Considerably More Than Vegetables, Considerably Less Than Community”, she argues that “the ‘community’ in community supported agriculture exists more as a metaphor than as a fact.” Delind says that because CSAs are most often small businesses first, “However dedicated (the farmer) may be to ecological practices and social responsibility, making a comfortable and dependable living is an equally critical concern.” These hard managerial decisions led to paradoxical behavior: one farmer put his CSA up for sale. Delind asked “can a community in any traditional sense… ever be sold?” Additionally trade magazines have advised CSA farmers on how to “price community.” This is not our hope for our farm, but a reality to be conscious of. We purposely do not price community (in the form of farm events, potlucks etc).
Community at Stoney Acres Farm
Despite these limitations, which we grapple with constantly, we feel like, as time goes on our CSA has transcended a mere market relationship. From year to year, we know more people and have a deeper connection.
We have been told by several families that their children eat their vegetables because they come from their farmers even if they are resistant to the vegetables themselves. We also know that during farm visits CSA members learn about the ecological community – they meet animals that their family later purchase to eat, they see bugs, pull weeds, etc. and understand at some level the life and work that goes into their food. This is more than most of us can say about anything we buy or eat.
Workershares create unique relationships and allow us understand commonalities with people with whom we have fundamental political or religious disagreements and also strengthen our relationships with local friends and family. This closeness or in essence community forces us, and them we think, to see our individuality and complexities. Farm events bring together people and bumper stickers who do not always find themselves in the same places because of shared beliefs around food, eating and the actual space of the farm. These events also extend and connect our local friends, family, and neighbors with CSA members and vice versa. We’ve exchanged services, bartered with, helped people move, and partied with folks we would have otherwise never met. We have reconnected with so many people through the CSA and made great new friends to trick’o treat with, brew wine together or sample homemade beer.
In the spirit of community we hope that you all are able to visit us this season on the farm. We have Wednesday Night potlucks, which everyone is invited and beside farm events welcome visits to explore the farm, walk in our woods, or just a visit for visiting sake. We are so excited to begin the season together. Thank you for supporting our agriculture. You are our reason for being here.