***NEW THIS WEEK! Markus’ Political Note***
(Markus will be writing a political note about farming in each newsletter from now on. He is smart, passionate about farming, articulate, and I love living with him and having him around to act as a catalyst to my political thinking. Here is the first one. Enjoy! -Seth)
It’s exciting for me (Markus) to be so active in creating this CSA, particularly because I’ve spent some time thinking and writing about Community Supported Agriculture and how it functions (or doesn’t) as a catalyst of social and political change. So, I’ve hoped to write a little column for our newsletters exploring a few ideas about CSA and its social and political implications.
I’ll write this first note just introducing the idea that our CSA, and your involvement in it, has some social and political implications. It might be that you think of us as just a convenient place to get some really delicious veggies, which is true (we hope), but the Community Supported Agriculture model was also created with bigger goals in mind. The structure of U.S. agriculture and food distribution and sales leaves the people eating the vegetables with no connection to the people growing them other than the market. This structure means that even if people did want to have a say in specific farm practices, such as the environmental impact or the treatment of farmworkers, they have no way to do so. And farmers are similarly forced to adopt practices that harm the earth and to pay farmworkers (and often themselves) very low wages, because they answer only to the low wholesale prices on the market, not to specific consumers. In Community Supported Agriculture, however, the members and the farmers have a face-to-face relationship, and so there can be real communication about prices, environmental practices, and farmer wages. Often, there is an implicit or explicit agreement for members to pay enough for the farmers to make more than they could on the wholesale market, and farmers agree to treat the land with respect. Rather than allow the broader market to dictate all aspects of the exchange of money for produce, the exchange becomes embedded in the social interactions and expectations of the farmers and members.
I was thinking about this idea of the possibilities and limits of consumer choice this past week in the grocery store when I was confronted with the choice of what eggs to buy. There were organic eggs, conventional eggs, vegetarian-fed non-organic eggs, cage-free eggs, etc. There weren’t, however, any eggs that seemed to come from anywhere except a factory farm, where the animals are treated with no dignity and workers aren’t treated much better. These were my choices, however. Take it or leave it. If I was buying the eggs from a farm I know, however, I could learn things like how the chickens and the people were treated, and I could talk with the farmer about my values and she could talk about hers.
A membership in a CSA offers the possibility of this kind of dialogue, and, because it is a season-long commitment (and often people are members for many years), there’s time for real exchange. In fact, the first CSAs in the U.S. were started by members who agreed upon a set of expectations and then recruited a farmer, and it was only later that farmer-initiated CSAs took off. Of course, with the busy-ness of the farming season and of everyone’s lives, the full possibility of meaningful dialogue between farmer and member is not always realized. Another week I’ll talk about a further question about the possibilities of CSA: whether and how this interaction between members and farmers contributes to wider change in the structures that enforce destruction of the environment, disconnection between producer and consumer, and low wages for farmwork. For now, though, I’d like to take the opportunity to say: if you’ve got feedback, let us hear it! If you want to talk about vegetables or farmwork, or have questions, or want us to change how we’re doing something, let’s talk about it. This is a process of learning for the two of us, and we’d love it if you’d join in it with us.