Robyn Van En: The First Lady of Community Supported Agriculture

A Plowboy Interview with Robyn Van En, who, along with Jan VanderTuin, promoted the idea of selling shares for farm crops before the season started.


| August/September 1991



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Robyn Van En surveys the bounty of her CSA's labor. Her dog, Bubbles, seems less interested.


CLEMENS KALISCHER

It all started in 1985 on a small but fertile piece of bottomland tucked at the foot of the Berkshires in southwestern Massachusetts. Robyn Van En, organic market gardener and owner of Indian Line Farm, and Jan VanderTuin began to grow apples and winter-storage crops for a group of 30 families and friends. But instead of taking the financial risk of growing the crops and selling them to the group, the two sold shares of the harvest before the season started. The idea wasn't exactly new — VanderTuin had worked with a similar group in Switzerland, and there were others in Japan. It was, however, the first of its kind in the United States. They called their system Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). 

In 1991 the Indian Line Farm CSA served more than 300 people and became the model for nearly 50 CSAs across the country. Van En, likewise, has become the leading voice for what she sees as a saner, more sustainable form of food production that supports local growers. Her CSA workbook and VanderTuin's video, It's Not Just About Vegetables, have laid the ground work for many of the groups. Inquiries from every state in the union have poured into Van En's 200-year-old farmhouse. 

CSAs foster the symbiotic relationship between farmers and consumers. For farmers, they provide a guaranteed market for the crop while relieving them of much of the financial risk. For the shareholders, they provide fresh, organically grown vegetables at supermarket prices, plus a fundamental connection to a local farm. 

Mother's Joel Bourne decided to pay Robyn Van En a visit to find out what the last five years have brought her, and what the next few years may bring. 

It's been five years since you started the Indian Line Farm CSA; since then, the concept has blossomed all over the country. But just for the record, why do you think we need Community Supported Agriculture? 

The Northeast is dependent on California and the Southwest for 92 percent of its produce, and that is insane. California can't go on forever. They're losing their water. They've salinized the land to incredible proportions. California can still give us oranges and avocados and lemons, but there is no reason why we need to get everything else from there, too. Right now, by doing just the most basic gardening and using a root cellar for storage of root crops, we can provide vegetables for 43 weeks of the year.





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