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Revitalizing agriculture: CSA movement builds communities, one farm at a time
un article par Craig Idlebrook, Hill Country Observer, USA

On a quiet road just off Route 23 is Indian Line Farm [Egremont, Massachusetts], a place where agricultural history was made. Not that you would know it. The only marking to distinguish the farm is a small sign on the mailbox. It was here in 1985 that farmers Robyn Van En and Jan Vander Tuin joined with a group of area residents to form what is believed to be the first community-supported agriculture program in the United States. It was simply named the CSA Garden of Great Barrington. [CSA means Community-Supported Agriculture].

Image from Institute for Responsible Technology

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For three years, local people paid in advance to buy shares of the farm’s harvest, picking up produce weekly throughout the growing season. It didn’t always go smoothly, and there was even a bitter split between the original CSA organizers and Van En, but the local farm helped spark a revolution in small-scale agriculture.

In the CSA model, which had been pioneered in Europe before Van En imported it to Massachusetts, a farm’s customers essentially share the risk and provide the farmer with a measure of financial protection from bad weather and insect pests. Farms across the country, especially small-scale vegetable producers, have since adopted the model, and the concept has thrived in New England in particular.

CSAs are helping the region’s small-farmers to stay in business and earn a living, said Jennifer Conte, marketing coordinator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County. “They don’t have to be a giant farm to compete,” Conte said.

But just how many farms are using the CSA model is hard to figure. This fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA] will send out a questionnaire that, among other things, will try to count the number of CSA farms across the country. It’s the second time the USDA has tried to take a head count of CSA farms; the previous attempt sparked controversy. CSA advocates argued that the original USDA question was too vague and led to an inaccurate count. Still, everyone agrees that the number of CSA farms nationally will be in the thousands.

Elizabeth Keen, who has worked the land at Indian Line Farm since 1999, two years after Van En died of an asthma attack, said she is awed by the idea that the farm is where the CSA movement got started. “It is pretty amazing when you think about it,” she said. But Keen and her partner, Alexander Thorp, don’t have too much time for reverence. They’re busy raising five acres of produce for their 140 CSA members.  Although members are welcome to visit the farm, Keen said she’s just as happy that more people don’t make the pilgrimage to see where the CSA movement got its start.  “I don’t want a lot of people stopping by,” Keen said. “We have a lot of work to do. We have been put on video more times than I care to say.”

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Before her death in 1997, Van En worked actively to help other CSA farms get started around the country – up to 200 of them, by some estimates. Today, the nonprofit Robyn Van En Center at Wilson College in Pennsylvania continues that work by serving as a resource center for the CSA movement. In Massachusetts, the local BerkShares currency also honors Van En’s work by featuring her image on its 10 BerkShares notes.

After Van En’s death, most of the land at Indian Line Farm was transferred to The Nature Conservancy and a local land trust. The groups raised money to keep the farm in production and leased the property to Keen and Thorp.

This fall, thousands of farmers will receive the USDA’s questionnaire, asking about their farming practices, as part of the national agricultural census conducted every five years. Nestled among the dozens of boxes to check off is a brief question that asks farmers if they “marketed their products through a Community-Supported Agriculture arrangement.”

Although the form allows farmers to answer the question by checking yes and no, figuring out how to count the number of community-supported agriculture programs in the United States may not be that simple.

The same question, asked in the USDA’s 2007 survey, prompted the agency to declare in 2009 that 12,549 farms nationally were involved in CSAs -- thousands more than previously thought. Although the findings made it seem as though the CSA movement was growing rapidly, many people in the movement challenged the USDA’s estimate, calling it wildly distorted. . ... continuation.

Cet article a été mis en ligne le October 7, 2012.