Friday, April 10, 2009

The definition of community

According to Webster's New Collegiate:
community: 1 : a : a unified body of individuals: as a : STATE, COMMONWEALTH b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly the area itself c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society.
Note the repeated emphasis on a group of people living in a specific geographic location. The definition goes on, of course, with more variations on this first definition of the term, and other definitions including "society at large" and "joint ownership or participation." Still, the main definition of community involves these two key elements: a group of people and a location.

Readers of this blog and/or of my newspaper may have caught on by now that I am a big fan of local agriculture. Particularly small-scale, organic, gardening-type smallholder agriculture. This has developed over the last several years (although my mother instilled in me a love of gardening from way back) in large part due to the work of the people at Calypso Farm & Ecology Center. I'd not heard of the community supported agriculture concept before 2000, when the farm was established, although I had discovered things like Findhorn back when I was 21 and the concept of organic and heirloom seeds from Seeds of Change and other like-minded seed companies back when I was living in Seattle.

So it rather fries my editorial oats when I read things like this article on Full Circle Farm's subscription service to Alaska communities, in which the author describes Full Circle as a CSA:
The shipment is part of the Full Circle Farm’s community-supported agriculture program, or CSA, which mails fruits and vegetables from the Washington farm directly to Alaska residents. Unlike traditional farms, which sell their produce by weight to grocery stores, CSAs are supported by consumers who essentially buy into the farm itself. Instead of paying for five apples and a head of lettuce, for example, consumers pay a flat rate for a weekly box, or share, of whatever the farm has produced.
The article goes on to describe Glacier Valley Farm as a CSA and other, long-established CSAs as "new":
By all accounts there is a kind of movement gathering, with new CSA farms popping up in the Anchorage, Fairbanks and Mat-Su areas. These farms are earning popularity among Alaska “locavores,” people who want to eat produce that is grown in their area because they believe it’s healthier or more sustainable than the produce shipped long distances. While Glacier Valley Farm is completely Alaska grown in the summer, in the winter they fortify their local carrots, potatoes, onions and rutabagas with organic fruits and vegetables from outside the state.
Let's get this straight: Full Circle Farm is NOT a CSA, not in Alaska. What Glacier Valley does is based in Alaska, but they are also a subscription service, at least to the Bush, and in winter.

The problem of lack of affordable fresh food in the villages is directly related to the lack of farms there. And, of course, winter. And it's a serious problem, but one that is, for each village, a microcosmic example of the situation that the entire state of Alaska is in. Hell, we ship in 95% or so of our food! That is in no way sustainable or good for the local economy. Sending money Outside for food, even fresh, organic food, is still sending money Outside.

Still, the author is correct: new farms are getting started, and new CSA programs associated with them. Older farms/gardens are beginning to adopt the CSA model. Smaller communities outside traditional Alaska farming regions are developing CSAs. For example, Twitter Creek Gardens in Homer, Jewell Gardens in Skagway, Meyers Farm in Bethel. Even the oldest Alaska CSAs are less than ten years old. But Full Circle is new to Alaska too. As the News-Miner says:
Community Supported Agriculture, commonly called CSA is relatively new to the Tanana Valley. It is a partnership between a local farm and a community of shareholders who buy in for a bounty of fresh vegetables delivered weekly over the summer months.
It's actually really wonderful to see all these news stories and opinion pieces about local agriculture. But I think it is important to keep the distinction clear between local agriculture and import agriculture. Describing the latter as though it is community supported is just plain incorrect.

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