Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Help Needed - Support a Farmer in Trouble - a follow up

I received a comment on my blog entry about a farmer in need of support which included specific names and I've elected not to post this comment because of that, as I really don't want to become a forum for airing out individual situations. But, I will say that this person stated part of the problem was that there were no shares to pick up and there were more details I was perhaps not informed of about the situation.

Let me say, re-stating as I have many times whenever I speak about CSA, that Community Supported Agriculture is not the purchasing of food. It is the financial supporting of a farmer's endeavors of farming. And, in doing so, that you, (hopefully), develop a community type relationship with your farmer, (and the other supporters of the farm) over a long period of time, and that through those relationships, you as a community are able to endure and overcome bad times as well as celebrate together in the good times of the farm. Perhaps like many things in the US, the concept has become commercialized and good intenders trying to help encourage people to join up in support of small farmers over-emphasise the potential benefits and downplay the risks, but, it should be pretty much understood commonly that farming doesn't come with any risk-free guarentees - any more than investing in any other company does. Just read the news today. Who ever would have thought our auto industry investors would have to take a 50% loss in their investments!?

The "pay off" if you will, of that support, is much more than just sharing in the food harvest - the fruits of very hard work on the part of the farmer - but in the being a part of the farm, if you so choose to participate and become involved beyond your picking up of any harvest, and the knowing that you are helping support and perpetuate a small, local farm - and all of the very positive attributes associated with that. There are too many to mention!

When we trivialize a farmer's efforts solely by whether or not nature cooperated with them in the production of a bountiful crop a particular season, we are selling short the total experience.

As supporters, you certainly have the option of not supporting a particular farmer in the future, but to say that because there wasn't any fruit from the labors of that farmer for some reason they have no control over, that someone's support, financial or otherwise, (such as volunteered hours), should be returned, is going quite against the spirit of what CSA is all about. Unless one can prove negligence or purposeful destruction of an otherwise healthy and productive harvest by the farmer and within their realm of control; participating in the sharing of the very real risks of farming is largely what CSA was introduced to our country for; many people joining together to spread out the losses of a risk, when it occurs. Because farming will incur losses, crop failure, disappointments; welcome to farming.

But farmers who have CSA as part or all of their capital base, need to know they have the support of their CSA members even when the crops don't cooperate with their efforts to grow them. Otherwise, these farmers may not be able to survive, as we've seen so many a farmer go under in the past due to many factors that have changed the agricultural horizon.

CSA perhaps isn’t the best way for everyone to support a local farm. Volunteering time may be better if a financial commitment means cutting into the family budget in ways that can’t be afforded if the harvest results in less than expected amounts and more food is needed to supplement the dinner table by going to the grocery store. However, let us be grateful we can still go to a grocery store, in some cases, and find other local produce. Many had few other options when they could only afford to rely solely on their farm’s harvest to feed their families. Dependence on the community’s farm is also what CSA was meant to remind us of. We are very spoiled nowadays with “food” in every store on every corner.

I'm very sorry you and your farmer have apparently had a poor season; this is truly heartbreaking for your farmer if you didn't know that. As farmers, we all share in the sadness of our colleagues’ failures, and the joys of their successes. All of the countless hours of planning, working the soil, nurturing the plants, etc, appear to be for very little benefit when isolated to just a single season’s harvest, or lack thereof. When all of this work ends up without a bountiful harvest, your farmers have lost much more than just a few hundred dollars – they’ve lost many months of their lives and endless amounts of energy put into that crop. There aren’t any ways to “do-over” a season eaten by insects, dried up by winds, or killed by disease. Many farmers lose their equipment, land and lives when their season fails. This too, is why CSA is so important to the survival of the small farmer. I only wish it had been part of the equation for so many who gave all for generations past, who lost so much due to circumstances beyond their control, trying to feed the people of their communities, and give their families a decent life in the process.

We at Eden’s Garden also experienced a lean season this fall, due to drought related complications. And, we also had a few supporters who decided that our CSA was not right for them and chose not to fulfill the remaining installments of their annual commitment to the farm. Some perhaps that didn't realize they were accepting the risks of not recieving ample produce each week to give them a comfortable feeling of value for their investment. Fortunately, the overwhelming support of the remaining members, as well as many others eager to join us in this new farm, has allowed me to continue farming and even expand and jump into it full time. I can’t tell you how humbling of an experience this is – or how rewarding it is to see the faces of those members as they pick up the food that many of them helped plant, weed and harvest.

While, there are many ways to support local agriculture and while CSA is among the riskiest, it is also, in the opinion of many, the most rewarding because it is the closest to actually being part of the farm as it sows, grows, reaps and evolves into the community a productive relationship that benefits in many ways beyond the obvious results to those eating healthier, locally grown, organic food.

I hope our commenter finds a more comfortable way to express their support of local agriculture. And I would recommend the book "Sharing the Harvest" by Elizabeth Henderson and Robyn Van En to anyone considering supporting a local farm through CSA.

Eat Your Food - Naturally!

1 comment:

  1. Amen and Yuk!! What an awful situation. I put in writing, directly above where they sign the share agreement, an upfront disclosure of the RISK they are agreeing to accept by signing and paying!



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