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Community Farmers Convene in America's Heartland

For dozens of reasons, it’s time to convene in America’s heartland a conference of farmers involved in Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA).

Thanks to the artful community collaboration of 15 farm organizations* –  anchored by the Wisconsin Farmers Union –  just such a gathering will happen December 3-4, 2015, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin: The Midwest CSA Conference: Moving Forward Together.

Community cooperationTo understand the context and the importance of the conference, I spoke by phone with some of the key conveners: Dan Guenthner of Common Harvest Farm, Mike Racette of Spring Hill Community Farm, Sarah Lloyd of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Margaret Krome of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

From those conversations I gleaned a list of some of the meaningful topics that will for certain arise for discussion as CSA farmers gather. Here’s a sampler of some key topics that will arise:

CSA is a unique model and thus deserves it’s own special gathering every couple of years to refresh the vision.  Are CSA farms just a passing agrarian fantasy, or can they serve as enduring cornerstones for community and ecosystem renewal in our region and beyond?  CSA is continuing to evolve as a resilient model in an era of rapid change.

Historically CSA conferences have proven to be powerful tools for connection and collaboration. They are forums for farmers to come together, to debrief from the season just ending, to share their successes, their trials and their tribulations, and to get their batteries recharged. The Midwest CSA conference will offer a sanctuary for collective exploration of the dynamic business, societal and cultural elements that are part of community supported agriculture. It will also be an opportunity to take the pulse of the movement, and to recognize our common interests and challenges.

As evidenced this year by the California drought, the record-setting northwest fires, the extreme floods in the Carolinas and the onslaught of Hurricane Patricia on North America’s southwestern flank, climate change is an inescapable factor in all our lives. What is the role of CSA in reckoning with this hard reality?

Diet is a huge issue in America. Diseases like diabetes and obesity are epidemic. CSA has an important role to play in delivering fresh, healthy affordable food. It has evolved become an important delivery model. The diet issue only grows, and CSA helps to address it in a healthy manner.

As is well documented, America is on the cusp of a massive transfer of land as aging farmers retire. Any and all strategies for helping beginning farmers get started are, thus, of critical importance. CSA has so far been an important part of helping beginning farmers get started, and this dimension of it needs further engagement. The stewards of the land merit fair compensation.

Can community really support agriculture? Are the foundational visions and principles of the CSA movement still valid or relevant? What are the core principles and practices that make a CSA a CSA?

Emerging corporate and aggregator models often claim the label CSA, but do not necessarily involve community in any way other than as paying consumers. What is the significance of those models, and what is their impact on the movement?

How does CSA fit within the larger context of the industrialized food system and the burgeoning local food scene: the urban ag movement, food hubs, farmer’s markets, and the rise of the aggregators? For many people, the perception is that local food has arrived. But when you examine the facts, it’s clear that there’s a long way to go.

What is the vision for the CSA movement moving forward? And how do we get there?

* Midwest CSA Conference partners include the Wisconsin Farmers Union, the Iowa Farmers Union, Angelic Organics Learning Center, Badgerland Financial, The Chicagoland CSA Coalition-Band of Farmers, Biodynamic Association, Farm Commons, FairShare CSA Coalition, Iowa Farmers Union, Land Stewardship Project, Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, Minnesota Farmers Union, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and the UW-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

Photo by dhendrix73 courtesy of Creative Commons

Journalist Steven McFadden is the author of 15 nonfiction books dealing with the land and our lives upon it. He will offer a keynote talk at the Midwest CSA conference on the theme of his most recent book, Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones. Links to all of his blog posts for MOTHER EARTH NEWS can be found here.


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