In honor of Shavuot, I’m devoting this Newsletter to discussing the CSA, its history and the present state of the movement (some of you have heard this already), which attempts to create partnership, responsibility and reciprocity between farmers and consumers.
When Ecclesiastes said, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven,” he was surely referring to the CSA movement ideology of partnership between farmers and consumers. And not just because farms grow vegetables in season and send fresh produce in boxes, but also because this model arose simultaneously and independently in both Japan and Europe– without either country being conscious of the other (in the pre-“like us on Facebook” era). This happened in the 1960’s, when an awareness of the dangers lurking in modern farming was just beginning to emerge. Countries were losing farming viability and the wherewithal to sustain independent farming in an era of global market economy and low-cost imports. In short, people began waking up to agricultural problems that were threatening the mouth that consumes them, and began searching for answers.
At that time, Japan became concerned with food safety, pondering whether the connection between chemicals and food was beneficial—an issue urgently driven by disturbing revelations on “Minamata Disease“, where a village was badly struck by mercury poisoning. This episode, among others, caused more and more Japanese citizens to opt for organic food, but they encountered difficulties in this endeavor as well: on one hand, the increased import of agricultural produce posed a threat to local Japanese farming. On the other hand, forgeries and fabrications in labeling organic products sent consumers in search of an alternative.
Japan is a country with a longtime tradition of cooperatives, thus it’s no surprise that a small group of woman formed the first farm-consumer cooperative, going in search of a farmer who would create a partnership of mutual support. In 1965, they integrated the teikei (Japanese for “cooperation” or “joint business”) model into the effort. In reference to CSA, it is commonly translated as “food with the farmer’s face on it.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world:
At the beginning of the 20th century the anthroposophist movement was established, based on the ideology of philosopher, architect, and Austrian teacher Rudolf Steiner, and on his writings in education, medicine, arts, religion, economy and agriculture. The anthroposophist philosophy is broad and complex, and its specific relationship to agriculture is otherwise known as “biodynamic agriculture.” The foundations for applying anthroposophist tenets to practical farming were set out in a series of lectures given by Steiner in 1924, in which he characterized the optimal agricultural system as a complete ecologic system where people, animals, plants, microorganisms, earth, water and air exist in a dynamic balance and equilibrium.
Steiner also focused on “associative economics,” to create an alternative to a competitive economy by cultivating reciprocation and communication between manufacturers, merchants, credit suppliers and consumers to deal with issues of fair prices, actual needs, reduction of poverty and expansion of social equality and environmental influences. Is this sounding a little too “Summer of 2011”? To think that this happened nearly a century ago!
A combination of the two approaches–biodynamic organic agriculture and an economy based on cooperation and reciprocation–served to create the ultimate model: a partnership forged between farmers and the non-agricultural community to confront these issues.
At the end of the 1960’s, the Buschberghof Farm, a German collective farm based on these principles, was established alongside a “collaborative agricultural community.” This initiative aimed to create a network of non-farmers who support farmers by giving loans and partnering. In Switzerland, a similar process took place, influenced by the Chilean cooperative movement during the regime of Salvador Allende (1970-1973(.
The development of the CSA movement in United States was quite similar to that of its European counterparts. I won’t go into the details here, but for those interested, I recommend this very informative and interesting article about the origins of the movement, focusing on the nation’s pioneer CSA farms in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Each of these two farms, by the way, is still operating as a CSA today, some 30+ years later. B’karov etzlenu!
The original idea of the CSA is embodied in its title: Community Supported Agriculture. The initiative for the first farms in Japan, Europe and the U.S. came from the consumers who organized themselves, bought land and grew the produce in cooperation, or found a farmer willing to grow their weekly vegetable needs.
To this day, some farms are managed by the community, i.e., the farmer and a nucleus of members. Sometimes the members serve as consultants, but in certain farms they actually take an active part in making decisions and carrying out functions within the CSA.
Over the years, many farms have been established under the umbrella of agricultural-community partnership, spanning a wide range of commitment and involvement. At one extreme is the actual communal farm, belonging to, operated by, and supported by the community. In this type of farm, the members set the budget, as well as the annual membership fee to finance the budget. The community is also involved in determining what to grow, how to grow it, the variety of vegetables selected, purchasing equipment, etc. In many such farms, the members commit to a number of hours or work days in the field or in the management of the CSA.
At the other extreme are the majority of CSA’s, farms such as Chubeza that offer a “membership plan” where the clients commit to a short-term period (weekly, half a season or a full season) and pay the weekly fee in advance or by monthly payments. In this type of farm, it is the farmers who are responsible for the ownership and management; the clients are partners by virtue of their willingness to commit to membership and payment in advance for next season’s crop. Sometimes they lend a hand by organizing distribution or by working in the field. On the whole, members’ level of involvement is their own choice, with different people involved in different ways.
Various farms also distribute their crop in diverse ways. Some simply spread out their weekly produce on tables in the field, for consumers to take their own apportioned vegetables. In other farms, the boxes are prepared in advance for clients to pick up from the field, from the local farmers market, or as in our farm, distributed to various pick-up points in town or to the homes of the subscribers.
The common denominator between the various farms, and what makes them a partnership of farmers and community, is expressed in direct sales from the field to consumer, direct communication via the newsletter, the growing-protocol and the estimated crop schedule, seasonal feedback, and the encouragement of clients to comment and make recommendations and requests. Involvement is almost always augmented through visits to the field, pick-your-own days, planting events and seasonal celebrations. And again, the clients themselves determine the level of involvement and their willingness to take part in these events, read the newsletter, respond or give seasonal feedback.
In the U.S. there are an estimated 1,500-3,000 CSA farms. In Japan there are over 1,000,000 consumers in the teikei system. I don’t have statistics for Europe, but in almost every country there is a cooperative of consumers and farmers (for example, Pergola in Holland, AMAP in France, the Soil Association in the UK, etc.). What about Israel?
Leah Sigmund was the pioneer of the Israeli CSA. A biodynamic farmer from Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava, she grew an organic vegetable garden in her kibbutz and operated a CSA over the years 2000-2001. They distributed approximately 30 boxes to various places, specifically Eilat, but also to Metzokey Dragot, Mitzpe Ramon and even to a group in Jerusalem! After a few successful years, the program closed down when Leah pursued advanced studies in the U.S. This week I spoke to Leah, who reported that today the vegetable garden is mainly serving the kibbutz members, as well as being used as an educational garden for both the students at the Creative Ecology Center in Lotan, as well as inquisitive passersby.
Leah’s endeavors at Lotan were the example I set for myself when I established Chubeza in 2003. When I first established the farm I encountered a lot of sarcasm from veteran farmers, who assured me, “It will never work– Israeli’s aren’t suckers like the Americans and won’t buy a vegetable they haven’t seen. It’s been tried before, and people are just unwilling to have someone else determine what vegetables they will eat, or tell them that there are no tomatoes in January…” In my naiveté (three years in California would do it to anyone…) I decided it had to work.
In the beginning, we were loners in the realm. Over time, more and more new and veteran farms chose the CSA path, and they are now thriving and succeeding. There are more than a dozen farms in Israel which act in a similar manner, adhering to the social communal perspective, and not solely out there for the money (though I do not underrate the importance of that matter). Some examples are (from south to north) Meshek Chavivian in Moshav Hodaya near Ashkelon; Chava BaKfar (“a farm in the country”) in Kfar HaNagid, Eran Organi in Neta’im, Gan HaSade in Kfar Ruth, Salsila , in Emek Chefer, The farm in Merhavia and Meshek Ben Zvi in the Jezreel Valley, Sde Shefa in Kibbutz Hukuk, above the Kinneret, Savta Yehudit in Yavne’el, and the “local basket” project in the Galilee.
And the new kid on the block: Not long ago, Dotan, from Kibbutz HaMa’apil told me that his field, which he cultivated over the winter, is already decorated and dotted with new plants and young sprouts. He is presently building up his clientele that will begin receiving weekly deliveries starting next month. Tell your friends from Emek Chefer, and send them his flyer.
So it’s true that this phenomenon may be small and relatively marginal, and perhaps this is how it will stay. But these “hedgerows” are so beautiful and green, nourishing and joy-inspiring. When I compiled this list, it made me so happy and proud. A true-to-life feeling of they who sow in tears shall reap in joy. In our little Israel, where there are no “suckers,” there are enough people who believe this is a way of life, and choose to receive a “weekly box of surprises” and learn of a different sort of agriculture: one that is manual, varied, balanced, surprising and alive.
Wishing you a First Fruits Festival full of the rhythm of harvest. Enjoy this very short-lived spring!
Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team
What’s in this Week’s Harvest Baskets?
In honor of the Festival of the First Fruits, our Chubeza field presented us with a delightful surprise—the first harvest in several beds: the cucumbers and fakus (OK, we already started picking a bit last week….), and the green beans and basil which now fill our packing house with their intoxicating fragrance. The quantities are still small, and there’s not enough yet to distribute to all, but this is the beginning! Chag sameach!
Monday: Broccoli or cauliflower, lettuce, parsley, onions, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers or fakus, carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage
In the large box, in addition: green beans or sweet red peppers, Swiss chard, basil
Wednesday: lettuce, parsley, onions or green beans, zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers or fakus, carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage or cauliflower, sweet red peppers
In the large box, in addition: Broccoli, Swiss chard, basil
And there’s more! You can add to your basket a wide, delectable range of additional products from fine small producers: granola and cookies, flour, sprouts, goat dairies, fruits, honey, crackers, probiotic foods, dried fruits and leathers and organic olive oil too! You can learn more about each producer on the Chubeza website. The attached order form includes a detailed listing of the products and their cost. Fill it out, and send it back to us soon.
Note: in the near future there will be many updates from Chubeza’s associate vendors. We will be updating our order form according to what we have in stock, so be sure to open the form through the link for the very latest version