The quiet revolution

Building a stable society with mud, carrots, and hope
Screenshot2017 12 28at3.18.17pm
Michael Hanlon

In today’s fast-paced convenience-driven market, there are lots of options for buying “fresh from the farm” and even getting it delivered to your office or doorstep. This is a great step forward from anonymous factory food getting trucked in from the other side of the world. But by investing our food dollars in systems of convenience, we may be missing out on a deeper opportunity: connection.

The first CSA popped up in the 1970s in Japan. The name for it was “Teikei,” and the Japan Organic Agriculture Association describes it as “an idea to create an alternative distribution system, not depending on the conventional market…The producer and the consumer have talks and contact to deepen their mutual understanding: both of them provide labor and capital to support their own delivery system.”

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and connects the eater to the grower directly. Without a middleman, all of your food dollars go straight to the farmer instead of paying for trucking, warehousing, and administration. With more income, farmers are able to pay higher wages to their workers, invest in more sustainable systems, and care for their land better. CSA members at Wild Hill Farm, which I own, all pick up their shares of vegetables right at the farm in Bloomfield.

Now, let’s be realistic. Not everyone can drive out to their farm every other week. But I believe that a lot of us just don’t know what we’re missing. Take one CSA member’s response to our survey question: 

“What is your favorite aspect of being a Wild Hill Farm CSA member?”

“The sense of community, knowing where my food comes from, and having a beautiful place to retreat to every other week. I see Wild Hill as a break from my everyday and a time to connect with nature, other members, and leave stress behind while I pick up my share, choose herbs and veggies from the U-Pick garden, and pick flowers for my table.”

Another member states:

“Just being in the environment at the farm is relaxing and rejuvenating.”

Many of us fool ourselves into thinking we are too busy for things like relaxing. Who has time to pick flowers? But carving out moments in our lives to connect with nature and decompress can produce amazing results. Not just in our own health but also in our communities and greater society. Getting to spend time on a farm may provide a much needed connection to the earth that is deeply lost in many of us.

“I like having my children see and appreciate where good food comes from and how it is grown/harvested.”

—Wild Hill Farm CSA Member

We are in dire need of establishing strong local food systems that truly nourish us. My vision for the future: hundreds of small CSA farms surrounding Rochester, growing organic fruit, vegetables, pasture-raised meat, eggs, dairy, and grain. Everyone is able to visit their farm(s) regularly and to have deep, long-lasting relationships with the people growing their food and the land that sustains them. We need hundreds of new farmers. I believe CSA can make this happen.

In the ten years I’ve been doing this, I’ve seen children of CSA members grow up with the experience of visiting “their farm” regularly. They know where a carrot comes from. And they’ve seen how much fun we have growing food! This summer two high school students regularly volunteered with us, and another has just applied for a full-time job next summer. The employment we offer isn’t just picking beans for hours and hours but is true farmer training.

Yes, farm work is hard; even cooking from scratch is not easy. But I believe it’s still in our blood. Being a part of CSA gives us a taste of the vibrant agricultural heritage that we may be at risk of losing, many of us are separated by several generations from the land. What I mean is families cooking together. Families volunteering to harvest potatoes together. Families sharing recipes and stories. The pulse of the seasons, the hope of a seed, the joy of a full belly. CSA is good medicine for what I believe is the root of many of society’s ailments: disconnection.

Becoming a CSA member turns us from consumers into co-creators, replaces commerce with community, and takes health to another level. It acknowledges that food is more than just something we put in our bodies three times a day, but a miracle that can connect us to each other and to the earth in a deep, deep way.

I met a Japanese CSA farmer a few years ago who made the bold statement: “Teikei (CSA) is the relationship that can save humanity and nature and is a quiet revolution to build stable society.” I have seen this happening. All it takes is tiny seeds, plenty of mud, and a community willing to act out of hope. 

Erin Bullock is the owner of Wild Hill Farm.

Here are some CSA farms you can participate in this year

Categories: Current Issue – Grow, Gardening, Grow, Taste – Top Story