Fresh bread is just being pulled from a wood-fired brick oven when I arrive at the Guidestone Center for Sustainable Living in Masonville, Colorado. The center’s store is surrounded by 150 acres, including a vegetable garden, orchard, and raw milk dairy. This is a community- supported organic farm, and here, all things are connected, from the farmer to the person eating the food. Everyone and everything contribute to the health of the system.
Take the chickens, for example. They roam freely through the shade of the orchard, eating wormy fallen fruit, their manure adding beneficial nitrogen to the soil. In the vegetable garden, a cleverly designed “chicken tractor”—a wire cage holding a few chickens—is frequently moved around to allow the chickens to turn up and fertilize the soil. Turkeys wander among the salad greens and carrots, eating insects off of the crops. Pigs in the orchard use their talent for digging to root up weeds.
At Guidestone, 120 members and twelve full-time employees are fed by the vegetable garden. The farm aims to be as sustainable as possible, and also sells raw milk and yogurt, organic meat, and products such as bread, soaps, and salves.
What does CSA mean?
The farm practices community-supported agriculture (CSA), a grassroots agricultural movement where members pay a fee at the beginning of a growing season. This allows the farmer to buy the seeds, fertilizer, water, and equipment, and in turn guarantees the members a weekly share of the harvest. An underlying feature of CSA farms is that they be organic, although not all are. Some farms are certified organic by a third party, and about 10 percent of CSA farms in the United States follow a method of agriculture known as biodynamics, which takes organic farming a step further, recognizing that the health of a plant is based on healthy soil. With healthy soil, the plant can take in good nutrients rather than chemicals.
“Out of that wisdom of plant life comes a more proper nutrition for humanity,” says Chuck Beedy, executive director of BioDynamics, a group in San Francisco that tracks CSA farms in the United States.
A different approach
The CSA model began in Japan thirty years ago when a group of women partnered themselves with local farms in a growing and purchasing relationship. This relationship, known as teikei, means to put the farmer’s face on the food.
In the United States, the CSA movement began in Massachusetts in 1985. Today, there are more than 1,000 farms throughout the country, and the movement is growing, says Shana Berger, CSA program coordinator for Just Food in New York City. Just Food partners community-based organizations with farmers interested in starting a CSA system; the organization supports eleven farms in New York’s Hudson River valley. Many of these small farms are choosing the CSA system because farmers sell directly to consumers, allowing them to get a fair return on their product.
“In New York, 150,000 acres of farmland are lost yearly—or twenty farms a week,” says Berger. “And the farmers are twice as likely to qualify for food assistance, yet they’re growing our food.”
The direct-marketing approach of CSA connects the farmer directly to the consumer, or shareholder.
“CSA takes organic vegetables out of the market system, where they can be overpriced,” says Herendeen. “It brings shareholders back in connection with the land.”
Shareholders are encouraged to work on the farm and, in turn, receive a discount on their membership fee. Some urban systems employ homeless and disabled people. Just Food also researches alternative financing methods that allow people of all income levels to purchase healthy, locally grown food.
Making food more affordable
According to a 1995 study by the Community Food Resource Center, small grocery stores in inner-city locations charge 8 percent more for lower-quality produce than a larger store would charge in an upper-income area.
“CSA brings fresh, affordable produce right to these neighborhoods to help them with their eating habits,” says Berger. Just Food also has a community food educator who works with inner-city populations on cooking, handling, preserving, and storing the fresh produce.
“Agriculture is a reflection of our society—the health of our land, our people, and our environment,” says Beedy. “We need new forms of agriculture to go forward. Nutrition is nothing less than the future evolution of humans.”