Community Cultivators

Community-Supported Agriculture and the Future: Q&A with Sarah Bostick

Summer 2015

You may take part in a seasonal CSA or may never have done so. Either way, community supported agriculture might be important to your future. CSA is complex, even paradoxical—a local activity and an international movement; a way to obtain great local food and a way to change the world. In the United States, CSA is also undergoing important changes.

Sarah Bostick, Cultivating Community’s Wholesale/Retail Marketing Manager and Educator at Fresh Start Farms, has worked on Maine farms for 15 years and is highly experienced with CSA. “I’ve staffed, managed, or started every variation of CSA I know of,” Sarah says. These include:

  • Traditional CSA—the farmer chooses foods that are ripe/ready and packs them for the member;
  • Debit-style CSA—the member applies credit to make food choices at the farmer’s market;
  • Multi-farm CSA—the member supports more than one farm and gains access to a wider variety of food products;
  • Single-crop CSA—the member supports production of and gains access to varieties of a special item like mushrooms, cheese, or flower bouquets.
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Sarah Bostick teaches in our Citizen Gardener Workshop Series for Portland gardeners, as well as playing a lead role in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project

With most CSAs, the member makes a pre-season investment that helps farmers at a time of year when there are lots of expenses (for seeds, soil amendments, etc.) and very little income. This investment is the hallmark of the partnership connecting farmer and customer in the U.S. today. However, not long ago members got much more involved on the farms that provided their CSA. Below, Sarah Bostick discusses how CSA is changing.

How did CSA get started?

CSA was first pioneered in the 1960s. In Japan, a group of women wanted to buy fresh milk and, in general, to find an alternative to imported, chemically-laden, processed food. The alternative they created is called “teikei,” which means “partnership.” Tekei was launched with the tagline, “food with a face.” In this system, cooperating farmers and customers provide capital, have talks that deepen their understanding, and contribute labor. Today, millions in Japan participate in teikei.

In northern Europe, community-supported agriculture emerged from groups of biodynamic farmers who believe that land, plants, animals, and all other organisms are inextricably linked and that the way to support life forms is to nurture the dependence among them. So the European farmers developed a CSA business model that emphasized the social and economic interconnectedness of farmers and customers.

It was in the same spirit that CSA germinated in the United States in the 1980s. For about a decade, it would retain its original shape with the farmer growing as much as she can, and members equally sharing the harvest. When bad weather comes, members take home less; in bountiful years, they take home a cornucopia. Members are encouraged or required to be active on farms, to help with harvests, bookkeeping, etc.

How has CSA been changing?

Today, the original model is being displaced by consumer-oriented approaches in which many farms place a more significant emphasis on their CSA as a convenient, discounted way to access local food than on the relationship between the customer and the farmer. This change has not come without controversy. I was recently in California for a food hub managers’ training with a delightful group of farmers and food system innovators. One day we hit upon the topic of CSA. All of a sudden, our amiable group was thrown into passionate disagreement.

While older participants saw the proliferation of convenience and price-driven CSA models as a corruption and a betrayal of the spirit in which CSA was created, younger participants saw it as an ongoing and necessary evolution of the strategies that could keep existing and enroll potential customers. In the moment, I fell into the camp of the younger generation—if we don’t keep up with the times, we’ll be left behind, right?

What is your opinion now?

Over the next few weeks I mulled over that contentious conversation again and again and I realized that my own practicality is in the way of what my heart wants. So, here it is folks, a message from me, a young-ish farmer who wants you to embrace the spirit of CSA and all that it can embody as we collectively find our way back to its origins. I encourage you to join a farm this year, a farm that you feel drawn to for reasons beyond convenience or the flashiness of their marketing material. Join in the spirit of community, connection, love of the land, and pride in the knowledge that what and how you are choosing to eat is directly impacting Maine’s ability to feed its people. Join whatever model of CSA works for the practical side of your life and then make an effort to really learn who your farmers are, why they choose to farm, how they care for their land, why they choose the CSA model that they do, and what brings them joy in life.

Cultivating Community is proud to promote the Fresh Start Farms CSA, which will go on sale again by February 2016 and which you can sign up for via our website.

LEARN MORE

Learn more about the Fresh Start Farms CSA here.

Focus on the Farm

Food Hub Moves Forward

Summer 2015

A food hub actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified foods from local and regional producers in order to strengthen farmers’ ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.

Last spring in these pages, we announced that Cultivating Community was partnering with New American farmers to launch a food hub. Our purpose was to support refugee and immigrant food producers in aggregating their efforts; in accessing new infrastructure that we were able to provide with the help of donors, such as a wash-and-pack station and new cold storage on the farm and a refrigerated truck for deliveries; and in benefiting from increased outreach and marketing support from our organization.

Left: Mohamed Abukar is one of the most experienced farmers with whom Cultivating Community collaborates. In addition to providing his produce to the food hub, he sells vegetables at farmers’ markets in Bath, Lewiston, and South Portland. Right:In the last six years, farmer income, our principal measure of program success, has increased twelvefold, and much of that income has come from creating market access for low income customers.

Left: Mohamed Abukar is one of the most experienced farmers with whom Cultivating Community collaborates. In addition to providing his produce to the food hub, he sells vegetables at farmers’ markets in Bath, Lewiston, and South Portland. Right: In the last six years, farmer income, our principal measure of program success, has increased twelvefold, and much of that income has come from creating market access for low income customers.

So how did the food hub do? Our goals for 2014 were to drive wholesale revenues from $26,000 to $60,600 (with projected 2015 sales of $103,000), increasing sales from existing buyers while adding new accounts. Here’s how this project did:

  • Our sales were 84% of projections, which represented a 26% increase from 2013.
  • We were at 26% and 74% of projections in June and July; and at 142% and 281% in September and November.
  • Our sales to food pantries grew to 144% of projections. Because of the equity and food justice lens we try to bring to our work, we are thrilled by this development.
  • We added 14 new accounts in 2014, working with 29 total, nearly double the number from 2013. This includes three new schools and two new food pantries.
  • Counting our CSA, farm stands, and Grow Cart work, as well as independent farmers’ markets, gross sales for participating farmers were $174,000, a 5% increase from 2013.
  • The commissions built into the food hub model (5% for undelivered produce; 20% for delivered produce) resulted in a 40% increase in earned income for Fresh Start Farms.
  • On average, sales to the food hub among our most advanced producers grew by 10%. For our more intermediate producers, sales grew by 72%.

We’re pretty pleased with these outcomes and hope to meet our projections in the current season. We thank all of you who supported the launch of the food hub specifically and who
helped Cultivating Community over the past two years when this project was germinating.

LEARN MORE

The Wallace Center’s National Good Food Network has abundant information on how food hubs across the nation are linking farmers and customers and building access to food that is healthy, green, fair, and affordable. http://www.wallacecenter.org/ngfn

Learn more about Cultivating Community’s New American Sustainable Agriculture Project and opportunities to buy the farmers’ produce by clicking here.

Cultivating Community News

Cultivating Community Works to Foster Greater Diversity and Inclusion

Summer 2015

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” —poet Audré Lorde

How do you identify racially, ethnically, and culturally? Name one thing you like about your cultural identity and one thing you don’t. How might your cultural background help you at work? How might it hinder you? Are you aware of these influences in your life?

Deconstructing the Effects of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

At Cultivating Community, we work across differences: language, race, and ethnicity, to name the most obvious. For more than a year, we’ve engaged in conversations and skill-building around how to be aware and effective in working across difference. Then in February, we embarked on training in consultation with staff from VISIONS, Inc.—a national company founded by black women in the South in 1984. Our goal was to learn about ourselves and about people with different backgrounds from our own, to get more adept at recognizing patterns that often drive attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes around human difference, and to do more to advance diversity and inclusion.

While the training emphasized race, ethnicity, and culture, the VISIONS approach “is built on the understanding that change to any system must occur at multiple levels and address multiple variables of difference, including race and ethnicity, gender, class, sexual preference, and others.” So we explored many ways that some have been “historically included” while others have been “historically excluded.” We learned to think systematically about the negative attitudes and behaviors that can get generated around the perception of difference to protect people who are safe at the expense of others.

Hussein Muktar is Cultivating Community’s Outreach Coordinator and a farmer in the New American Sustainable Agriculture Project

Hussein Muktar is Cultivating Community’s Outreach Coordinator and a farmer in the New American
Sustainable Agriculture Project

Supporting Four Levels of Social Change

It’s not possible to share all we learned, but the training gave us tools for being more helpful, for taking responsibility, for staying in contact during tense moments, for noticing the differences around us, and for learning the impact of our actions. We also began to lay the groundwork for thinking about four distinct, yet interrelated, levels of social change—personal, interpersonal, organizational, and institutional—and how we can support each level. We’re committed to working on all four toward the more socially just world that we believe in.

In the process, we discovered that it’s fun and exciting to think and talk intimately about these kinds of questions. Although we are a fairly close-knit group, we learned we didn’t know each other as well as we thought. Furthermore, having a structured opportunity to talk about our backgrounds and our feelings around our social identities released tension, made us closer, prepared us for new challenges.

Doing Our Part for a More Inclusive Maine

We wanted to challenge ourselves to do better on these issues in part as a prerequisite to opening up this dialogue to partners across the state. On that note, and thanks to support from the USDA and the Broad Reach Fund of the Maine Community Foundation, we have the opportunity to bring the VISIONS model to other organizations that support farmers, farming, and the food system in Maine.

The purpose of this expansion is to build the capacity of many groups to work with a diversifying population of farmers. There are major demographic shifts afoot in farming in Maine—including more women-owned farms, more farms started by people not born into farming, and more farm enterprises launched by New Americans. All of us who serve farmers need to be prepared to do our jobs differently.

During outreach that we conducted, agricultural service providers from around the state committed to learn how to better adapt and mold their service delivery for different audiences; how to support organizational change in their workplaces that can more widely open doors and opportunities; and how to connect with and support all individuals across difference.

With this work, Cultivating Community is proud to support a robust, evolving agricultural sector in Maine that embraces people of all backgrounds. And we’re working to continue this initiative in all our programs and with more community partners, including teen food activists and community gardeners.

TO LEARN MORE

Learn more about VISIONS, Inc. here: http://visions-inc.org/

To learn about the recent history of discrimination against African American farmers in the U.S., read Pete Daniel’s Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights from the University of North Carolina Press: http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/book_detail?title_id=3253

Cultivating Community News

Community Gardening in Southern Maine, Part II: New Gardens and a Focus on “Where the Garden Leaves Off and Pure Nature Begins”

Summer 2015

It has become much harder, in the past century, to tell where the garden leaves off and pure nature begins. —Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World

As we discussed in our last issue, garden-based activism in southern Maine is currently strong, with new levels of community interest, land access, education, and outreach to potential participants fueling enthusiasm and growing.

This year, a new rooftop garden with a greenhouse at Avesta’s downtown residence, 409 Cumberland, has opened. And a garden on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, which will encompass 55 individual plots as well as common plots, is coming together as you read this.

Volunteer Keith Kettelhut cares for the bees that reside at Cultivating Community’s Boyd Street Urban Farm.

Volunteer Keith Kettelhut cares for the bees that reside at Cultivating Community’s Boyd Street Urban Farm.

Construction of the Eastern Prom garden was funded by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation, and we heartily thank Harvard Pilgrim for this contribution to the people and ecosystem of Portland. Anyone is welcome to take part in the development of the Eastern Prom garden; Cultivating Community’s Laura Mailander is convening work parties to build pathways, beds, and more on Thursday evenings from 5:30PM to 7PM as the Eastern Prom joins nearby North Street along with Payson Park, Valley Street, Brentwood Farms, Riverton School, and Peaks Island in the Portland garden network.

Meanwhile, plans for more gardens in 2016 are already in the works, with community members essential to the process. The Libbytown Neighborhood Organization (LNO), representing a west Portland neighborhood divided in the 1970s by the construction of I-295, has organized around creating a new community garden inside Dougherty Field as part of an overall plan for neighborhood revitalization. This group has been engaging with city planning processes and hopes to build 30-40 raised garden beds. In a letter to the City of Portland, LNO members stated: “We feel a community garden is essential to restoring natural and social connections and making a stronger Portland.” The group is also reaching out to adjacent parts of the city. “Instead of Libbytown only we want to broaden the scope to include several West Portland neighborhoods—USM-Area, Oakdale, and St. John Valley,” says Zack Barowitz of LNO.

Pollinator-friendly plants are beautiful. This picture of rose milkweed was provided by Wild Seed Project.

Pollinator-friendly plants are beautiful. This picture of rose milkweed was provided by Wild Seed Project.

Portland’s western neighborhoods are a focus for prospective sites because of the number of people from that part of the city who are on the City’s community garden waiting list. At Cultivating Community, we consider it a very positive sign that the total number of people waiting has increased from 140 to 170 over the last five months, even as the number of plots has increased to 300 and many people have come off the list. At the same time, we know that prospective gardeners would prefer not to wait, and we are trying to accommodate everyone as soon as possible.

“Where the Garden Leaves Off and Pure Nature Begins”

While Cultivating Community’s focus is on food production and access, over the last few months, we’ve been thrilled to learn about the excellent work of two other organizations, the Portland Pollinator Partnership and Wild Seed Project, which regularly collaborate.

Annie Wadleigh of the Portland Pollinator Partnership and Heather McCargo of Wild Seed Project offer the following counsel to all who care about local ecosystems and our earth:

Trends in gardening and landscaping are changing, thanks to the widespread media about the impact of insecticides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers on pollinators, humans, and the environment. Aesthetics are changing, too, with fewer people enamored of pristine weed-free lawns that have no bees, butterflies, or birds, and more people who are interested in growing native sustainable gardens that not only look beautiful, but also form living habitat for insects, birds, and animals.

A few ways to encourage pollinator habitat are:

  • Propagate or plant native plants
  • Plant organic
  • Retain some wild aspects of your lawn and garden
  • Learn to co-exist with other creatures

There are networks that can help you support these objectives. The Portland Pollinator Partnership protects and expands pollinator habitat in Portland through outreach, education, community partnerships, and local projects. It advocates for increasing forage and habitat for pollinators and for eliminating pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals that negatively affect these fragile, but vital, organisms.

Wild Seed Project is a Maine-based non-profit working to increase the use of native plants in all landscape settings. It sells seeds of locally-sourced native plants, has a regularly updated educational website, and publishes a magazine, Wild Seed: Returning Native Plants to the Maine Landscape, which investigates creating pollinator corridors, growing native plants from seed, and climate change and plant migration, as well as offering native plant portraits.

SUPPORT THESE OBJECTIVES

The Portland Pollinator Partnership: portlandpollinators.org and facebook.com/portlandpollinators

The Wild Seed Project: wildseedproject.net

Maine Audubon offers workshops on supporting pollinators: maineaudubon.org

The national Pollinator Partnership can be found at: pollinator.org

To learn about volunteer opportunities at the Eastern Prom or other gardens, watch our Facebook page or e-mail [email protected]cultivatingcommunity.org

Cultivating Community

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