I often get overwhelmed thinking about how many different roads there are to take in putting ideals and beliefs into action, and all the complexities of any one course of action. Is there really a way to go about living my life in a way of integrity, in which I can look clearly at the society around me and the institutions in place and make a positive, if small, contribution? I get myself going around in circles, and often come back to seeing something in farming, in working in the dirt and being a steward of the earth and growing food that I know is healthy, which sustains other people, and so that’s the place I start. Other people spin in similar circles and return time and again to a different spot: public libraries, maybe, or labor unions or support groups. And a lot of folks have put a lot of energy into arguing over which one is the one everyone should start from, showing how if everyone just saw that this one particular issue were the most important in the world, then it would be no trouble at all to achieve everything they dream. Of course, it’s pretty unlikely that everyone will think that CSAs, or sustainable agriculture, or even environmental restoration as a whole is the single most important cause. Probably many of you members don’t, and I don’t think it would solve the all world’s problems if everyone did. But it’s the place I’m starting from right now.
This doesn’t mean we can afford to just ignore each other’s beliefs and causes and work on the one or two that most affect us personally. But by walking along starting with sustainable agriculture, I come across many other issues. The rise of agribusiness came at the cost of the lack of a strong local and sustainable agriculture system, and that gave us the hazardous waste that passes for food in grocery stores and school lunchrooms. Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds contaminates saved seed and creates super-pests, and it must also be bought yearly, leading to a loss of local control over seedstock. Part of what drives small farms out of business is speculation on real estate, which also forces people out of their homes when banks foreclose, and allows extortionary rent prices. The individual harmful policies and institutions we encounter cannot be separated into neat boxes to be addressed separately, but form an interdependent network. By starting just with the values at the core of CSA, it becomes simple to see how CSA and the fight against home foreclosures, for example, are bound up together.
The problem with this pretty picture is that although nearly all struggles intersect at some point, it is not always in the way we wish it would. Sometimes two worthy causes conflict, and we end up battling over “good working class jobs vs. the environment” or something like that. Instead of trying to perfectly parse out these difficult no-win scenarios, it’s important to recognize that often the supposed conflict is exaggerated precisely in order to get advocates fighting each other rather than a common opponent. Sometimes business owners who would rather pay lower wages and weaker environmental guidelines bait the two sides against each other. We can respond, however, that green jobs can have living wages, and that coal mining doesn’t pay enough and destroys the earth.
I am not saying that anytime you participate in a CSA you are participating in prison abolition. Rather, community supported agriculture presents the opportunity to take part in a much larger narrative. If we write the story of CSA as a struggle bound up with all these others, then we have the opportunity to create that reality. Not all the time and not without mistakes and misdirection, but as we hold this struggle to be inseparable for so many others, we find and create ways to make it so. Conversely, if we write the story of CSA as a singular and isolated mission, as the most important thing happening, as the only important thing happening, or just as a depoliticized consumer niche market for fresh local organic veggies, then we are choosing to not participate in this fabric of struggles. I say, let’s weave it together.