Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Agriculturally Supported Community (ASC)

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...



Anonymous said...

Hey Aaron,

A number of people in my community of Powell River, BC (Canada) are thinking about something you might call "Agriculture-Supported Community": empowering average people to become more able to look after their own food needs (as well as those of their family, friends, tribe, neighbourhod) by equipping them with knowledge, skills, and resources (like shared ownership of tools/equipment). The framework is that of a not-for-profit cooperative -- one in which all surplus profit goes to the cooperative instead of to members (in the form of dividends or patronage returns). This model seems to be slightly viral, since I know of two other communities in BC with groups thinking along the same lines.

It's our opinion that a cooperative offers a good structure for getting members deeply involved in the operations and direction of the organization. So it might be something to think about...

Check out this post from today for some more info.

nulinegvgv said...


dp said...

I appreciated reading the discussion about community. Thanks for providing the links to the others' thoughts and for sharing yours. I like the notion of agriculturally supported community. A community exists because of shared interests. Historically, I think food has been one of the bedrocks of community formation (safety/security and labor being a couple of others). Communities used to be supported by agriculture more explicitly than they are now when our food travels 1,500 miles to reach our tables and we have no active part in the growing or preservation of it (and often limited participation in the preparation of it).

din819go said...

Would you please provide the links to the articles you mentioned by the four authors? I would love to read them but am not sure how to search the Oil Drum site to find them. Maybe the title of the original article is all I need. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

nulinegvgv said...

if you click on their names in the second paragraph you can read what each wrote.

PLC said...


This HUNGRY IN AMERICA op/ed piece from the NY Times seems to me to get at the "coalescing community" notion you mention in this post. We have such strong desire to take care of each other, but what happens when so many of us are "newly hungry and jobless".?

The old models of largess or government support won't work anymore. Feeding our REAL hunger for connection, support and nourishment will.

Please keep simmering and sharing.

New York Times
February 9, 2010

http://www.nytimes. com/2010/ 02/10/opinion/ 10wed4.html

More Americans are going hungry in hard times and are increasingly dependent
on private charity, according to a new study by Feeding America
, a national network of food banks. The study found
that 37 million people -- roughly one in eight Americans -- had sought
emergency food assistance from the network last year, a 46 percent increase
from 2006.

As the recession and high unemployment take their toll, there are hungry
families all across the country: in cities and suburbs, poor, middle class
and even supposedly wealthy communities.

At a recent news conference on Long Island -- seen as a place of suburban
affluence -- local charities shared stories of families struggling to stay
afloat and being forced to choose among food, housing payments and utility
bills. In many cases, it seems food was skimped on because hunger was easier
to ignore than threatening letters from unpaid landlords or the gas company.

In the Long Island portion of the Feeding America study, researchers
surveyed more than 600 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters and
interviewed people who had sought food at those places. The study concluded
that about 280,000 Long Islanders needed help last year, a 21 percent
increase from 2006. Only a small percentage of these clients were homeless
or elderly. Thirty-nine percent were children under 18.

The study found that volunteers are central to the success of emergency
feeding programs. On Long Island, 88 percent of food pantries and 92 percent
of soup kitchens rely on volunteers. But the news conference revealed that
many of the volunteers who collected and served food have become newly
hungry and jobless.

It is reassuring that so many Americans are eager to help their neighbors.
But it is also clear that the government safety net is failing. The Feeding
America study found that about 30 percent of those seeking help from their
facilities also received food stamps. This bolsters what advocates for the
poor have said for years, that the food stamp program isn¹t reaching
everyone who is eligible. That must be fixed.


Dawn Sheppard said...

I think that you are really on to something special, Aaron, and look forward to hearing more about Agriculturally Supported Community.

The 'Great Gathering' is an idea started by Miriam Delicado, Miriam also believes that now is time for smaller communities to coalesce, inviting the indigenous peoples from around the world and uniting voices in order to be heard:

"One Voice, One people, One Earth."

nulinegvgv said...


so good to hear from you. i hope you are well.

thank you for your comments. i'm hoping 2010 is a transformative year, actually i'm counting on it.

please stay in touch.


Jennie said...

I like the idea.
I'm moving to a small community soon where I won't know anyone. (I got a job!!)
I'm totally going to use food and the growing there of to introduce myself to the new town.