More people are eating locally grown food and many have become familiar with the concept of Community Support Agriculture or CSA for short. Farms that offer CSA programs recruit members who pay farmers for food in advance of the growing season and received a certain amount of food each week for a designated period of time. Or more broadly described by UMassAmherst,
CSA is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters which provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food.I have experience both as a CSA member and a provider. Last year I partnered with two other farmers and operated a 50 family CSA program here in North Carolina and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I've left that partnership and this year I will be offering my own smaller CSA program or at least that's what I thought I was going to do.
Then, just about the time I started to consider what this new CSA program of mine might look like, a conversation broke out in the peak oil scene regarding community. It started with John Michael Greer, followed by Sharon Astyk, then over to Rob Hopkins and Dmitry Orlov. It's worth your time to read each piece but in summary Greer suggests communities of people are necessary to harness political power and those communities take a lot work to create and maintain. Astyk agrees but thinks one of the reasons we don't make time for the work of such communities is because we're already really busy with our work-all-day world. Hopkins suggests that a social enterprise model within the context of the Transition Movement might coalesce communities. Orlov mentions that it isn't so much a question of creating community as it is stopping all the destructive efforts aimed at destroying community. (This is a vast oversimplification of the conversation and I've left lots out. Links above for the whole shebang)
I agree with Astyk and Orlov that there are many effort working against the creation and maintenance of community. I also think it's true that we can't force people back into communities. Some people, possessing a disproportionately large sense of autonomy coupled with too much pride and an overabundance of hubris, just aren't going to come round to the idea of increased community. There is an entire segment of the American population that thinks our problems are a result not of failed ideas and policies but unfaithfulness to the very ideas and policies that got us in a mess. There are people on whom effort can be wasted, especially those in denial or swooned by demagogues.
Anyway so there I am thinking about how to create my own Community Support Agriculture program and who I should focus my time on and I'm reading all this good stuff about what community is and might be and what it will take to create more and better communities and it dawned on me that it could work the other way around. That's when I decided not to create a CSA but to create an ASC, an Agriculturally Supported Community. I would use food to bring together a community of people living near me.
Of the 50 families that participated in my CSA last year there were many who used it as an opportunity to eat differently. I'm guessing I introduced half of them to Swiss Chard. But the group was big and somewhat disconnected. It was full of well meaning, supportive people but I didn't connect with many of the CSA members in the way I would have liked. So with this in mind, and with a conversation about community buzzing in my ear I decided what I really wanted was a tribe. That is, I wanted a group of people who wanted to come together around great local food and become a community within our greater community, a small force of folks working together for the betterment and enjoyment of each other, spurred on by eating locally- an Agriculturally Supported Community.
Part of this comes out of the idea that I should focus more of my time with those people ready to make change. That's not to say I don't still do my share of raising awareness. I speak to small groups throughout my region almost weekly but that is just the planting of seeds. So many have already sprouted. It seems to me that I can be more useful in fostering the growth of individuals already making change by becoming a part of their community and inviting them to join mine. I could do the work of creating community by providing a catalyst historically proven to begin people together, food.
Rob makes an excellent point when he suggests that community isn't entirety but rather groups within groups.
...actually [my] street... is an overlay of different webs of relationships. The person at No. 7 knows people at 8, 10, 4, 3, 15 and 18, the person at No. 8 knows the people at 7, 6, 12, 13, 20 and 2, and so on. I maybe know a whole different group of people again. If our expectation is that the entire street can only be classed as being a ‘community’ only when they have all held a street party or made compost together, we are going to wallow in disappointment for some considerable time. What happens though, is that certain projects emerge, usually driven by a few committed and passionate characters, around which that community can coalesce, and begin to take ownership of.This last part is especially useful. He's suggesting that key projects with a small number of participants can create the energy necessary for a greater level of overall community. When I read that I thought, "Right, and what gets people more excited than food?" Surely there are other projects around which a community of people might come together but food has a magical property that seems to bind us together as human beings. The main purpose of a CSA program is the financial support of the farmer. In an ASC program the main focus is on coalescing community.
Some might argue this is just semantics but I think the language we use effects the decisions we make. The driving elements of a community-building project are different from those of a traditional CSA. The goals would be different too even if some of the strategies for reaching those goals were similar to those of a CSA.
This idea, of creating an Agriculturally Supported Community is still undercooked. I'll keep it simmering and perhaps share more later...