Amid Abrupt Economic and Environmental Changes CSA Farms Emerge As a Resourceful Strategy

As the economic and natural worlds abruptly mutate around us, food and farms are also, inevitably, in the ongoing thrall of this blitzkrieg of change. Consider the factors in motion: finance, employment, transport, climate, oil, agrochemical and water supplies, human health, and the genetics of our food chain. All of the above, and more, underscore the need for individuals, families, neighborhoods and communities to take steps now to cultivate food security.

Big corporate farms depend absolutely on bank credit, oil, and agrochemicals – all precariously vulnerable factors. Thus, the industrial agriculture model which at present brings us most of our food, will have to reckon with the wildly shifting financial climate. We must mobilize our will, intelligence, and strength on the essential matter of producing clean food for ourselves in a way that stabilizes and heals the land. This is a basic and inescapable idea of 21st century agrarianism.

While there is no one solution to this deepening complex of crises, there are many workable pathways that lead to increased food security and also healing for our land. I regard Community Supported Agriculture (CSA farms) as one of these workable pathways through the swirls of change. In its many adaptations and permutations, CSA offers models and pathways of positive response. And as recent statistics show, the CSA movement is coming on strong in both the USA and in Canada.

For the first time ever, the USDA counted CSA farms in the 2007 Census of Agriculture (released February, 2009). They tallied some 12,549 CSA farms in the USA. The actual number is probably higher, because some CSA farms prefer to remain below public notice. The development of CSA farms in Canada is also swift; many thousands of CSA farms have taken root there.

In an era when the credit system of finance is collapsing, and jobs are evaporating, money is generally hard to come by. But money is not the essential answer to meeting a basic necessity of life: food. The essentials are land, seeds, labor and water. In changing times, in severely pinched times, those elements can generally be mustered with resourcefulness, rather than cash. People with determination can find a way to produce the food they need.

The CSA movement began slowly in the USA, with just two farms pioneering the model in 1986. As the Organic Outlook columnist for The Mondanock Ledger back then, I had the opportunity to write about it as it was starting.

Then in 1982 I collaborated with Trauger Groh of the Temple-Wilton Community Farm to write the first two books on CSA – Farms of Tomorrow and Farms of Tomorrow Revisited. I documented all the history and the promise of CSA in a two-part story for Rodale’s online magazine, The New Farm.

The increasing number of CSA farms, and the varied models of CSA, can bring people together to form a basic association around land, water, and food. Many resources have been developed, including The Community Farm Newsletter, Local Harvest, the CSA Toolbox, and many others accessible through the Links page for this blog.

CSA farmers often see their micro-operations as a wave of the future, part of a range of clean, practical alternatives to an industrial agriculture system riddled with problems of oil cost, pollution, and the financial credit and mortgage systems.

As CSA farms continue to multiply and to respond to the economic and food quality crises, participants would do well to remember that the name CSA (community supported agriculture) can be somewhat misleading. It implies that the problem is special support for agriculture. That support is necessary and important, but it is secondary. The primary need is not for the farm to be supported by the community, but rather for communities to support themselves through farming. This is an essential of existence – and as the economy and environment go through wrenching upheavals – the reality of this will become increasingly vivid.

Environmental Responsibility As a Corporate Mandate

“Green is an attitude that directs behavior toward activities that benefit mankind and keep ecosystems intact.”

Few corporate decisions are made solely because they make the decision makers “feel so good inside”. The “Bottom Line” is still the ultimate arbiter of the success of any business enterprise. Ideally, the combination of the two motivations produces favorable sustainable outcomes that benefit the consumer, the business and at worst are environmentally neutral.

The value of looking at the relationship between what we do and how it affects society as well as the natural environment will be propelled forward by the realization that there are as many economic opportunities as pitfalls. There will undoubtedly be winners and losers. The potential losers will warn of the harmful outcomes, mostly economic and mostly related to the fact that their business plans depend on maintaining the status quo. For the most part that thinking is the result of being self-satisfied, and not progressive in their thinking nor proactive in their planning or in two words – lazy and fearful. Creating an environmentally sustainable business activity that benefits the community it serves at large and is profitable, will depend for its success on the creation of an economic environment that supports those entrepreneurs who see opportunity in the changing mindset of the worlds consumers.

The increasing appearance of the word “green” to describe products and policies is evidence that some businesses are walking up to that fact. The word will, undoubtedly, be used to excess and become less meaningful as it is exploited as a marketing device and made to describe ridiculous associations but at least it is indicative of the rise of awareness by businesses that public support for green initiatives is on the rise and that a demand for a similar awareness by those who produce the products and proved the services will be expected.

Coming up with good answers starts with coming up with good questions – Here are some starters:

  • What should be the governments involvement in promoting an economic environment supportive for Green initiatives by business?
  • What kind of incentives should be offered?
  • Should the government be actively involved in the development of green initiatives using taxpayer money? Would it conflict with Private sector enterprise?
  • Are their models in other countries that could be used in the US?

What should be done about the excessive and unsustainable business models that wield undue influence over legislation in Congress and restrict the development of sustainable and health environmentally and economic solutions. People, much less corporations, do not give up power willingly. A structure has been put in place by government servants who forget who they were in service to, that resulted in the high-jacking of the system by businesses whose corporate identity seemed to placed them outside the system of which they were a part and whose minds do not rebel against but actively and sometimes outwardly support exploitation of natural resources or social disadvantage as a means toward higher profits.

I’m thinking of the Primary bottled water distributors here, such a Suez and some of the other soda bottling giants, who have no problem going into a country, buying water rights for a pittance, drilling wells below the level of local wells, draining the water, selling back to the people of the community at exorbitant prices, then packing up and leaving the local communities with dry wells and no other solution then to continue to buy water in a most ridiculous way imaginable – five gallon plastic bottles delivered by a diesel burning vehicle house by house. I’m not sure I have enough imagination to even think up a more idiotic solution to providing water to people. OK, OK – I’m getting worked up. Oooooooooommmmmm, Ooooooooommmmm, OK, I’m good. The fact is that there are companies with great environmentally sustainable solutions. One such product is the Berkey Water Filter which I use in Mexico and promote widely, a low-tech, low-cost, highly efficient solution that provides high value and is readily available.

Well, I hope at least some of the above will stimulate some thinking about the issues, I know it has for me.

Opportunity for Land Use Reforms In Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina

Introduction

REAL wellness is a value system marked by a conspicuous passion for safeguarding and enhancing one’s quality of life. It is founded on a wide range of principles that boost physical and mental health, many if not most of which can be categorized under the headings reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty. A REAL wellness-focused individual is as interested in social, economic and environmental issues as he or she is about exercise, nutrition and other elements of one’s personal lifestyle.

From a REAL wellness perspective, it’s clearly time for a public educational campaign to persuade the populace that building on sand contiguous with water bodies is unsound. Properties destroyed by weather systems or otherwise should not be rebuilt; new laws are needed to create buffer zones between water bodies and man-made structures.

Injustice

Life is not, never has been and never will be fair. Sweeping policies that change existing systems have winners and losers. In terms of closing off lands adjacent to oceans and rivers from any form of residential private property, including hotels and multifamily units as well as private homes, there will be significant disadvantages to some, primarily but not exclusively the very wealthy. But, there will be huge gains for the public interest in that tax revenues will no longer be squandered on relief efforts, including for those who put themselves in harms way. In addition, the most dramatic advantage of this policy will be guaranteed access of the public to all shoreline in America. This latter benefit will result from a policy requiring, at some to-be-determined date in the future, all grandfathered properties resting on shorelines to be removed, rendering these lands accessible for the public.

Seeds Within Catastrophes

All of which leads to Sandy, Katrina, climate change and the remarkable opportunities that are inherent in such disasters to change course by doing the right thing. I have a course-changing idea that would be economically wise and socially beneficial as a boost in the quality of life for future generations. All this, alas, entails hardships for the present few in order that not only the many but rather all future citizens will benefit.

It seems evident that climate change will exacerbate the number, intensity and effects of Sandy-like disasters for decades if not centuries to come (perhaps continuing until the next Ice Age). But, like forest fires, the catastrophic natural disasters of our time contain seeds of opportunities for renewal and advances. One such is a political climate suitable for establishing land use reforms that will save tens of billions of dollars AND boost quality of life for everyone who enjoys a stroll on a beach.

Sandy

Superstorm Sandy buried Sea Bright, N.J. in sand and wreaked havoc throughout the Northeast United States, as Katrina did to New Orleans and the Southeast region of the nation. A key issue before the people affected by Sandy is the same as the conundrum that Katrina victims had to face: To rebuild or move?

Media outlets love to quote dazed residents of ruined communities who offer feel good statements of grit and determination to overcome adversity, folks like 77-year-old retiree Ira Kornblut. According to a story in the Wall Street Journal (Christopher Rhoads and Leslie Scism, “The Future Question for Storm Victims: Can the Past Be Rebuilt?” Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2012, p. 1), Ira raised his fist and proclaimed. “We’re coming back. We’re Sea Brighters!” Yeah-you go, Ira. But, if you don’t mind, would you kindly do it without taxpayer subsidies?

Despite politically correct declarations by politicians to make the misery go away and restore things as they were, reality suggests another course may be in order. Federal and state budgets are deep in the red, flood insurance reserves have not even recovered from Hurricane Katrina and the reality of climate change makes rebuilding as before seem what it truly is-senseless folly. (The National Flood Insurance Program operates under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It pays a maximum of $250,000 per residential structure and $100,000 for contents; for businesses, the comparable figures are $500,000 for structures and $500,000 for contents. The FEMA flood-insurance program owes $18 billion to the Treasury for payments made after Katrina and years of subsidizing insurance rates for a good percentage of the 5.6 million residential and business policyholders. These subsidies allow risk-taking citizens to pay insurance premiums that are less than half the risk rate. In other words, we are all subsidizing those who build in flood plains, beachfronts and other near-certain disaster areas to come. Paradoxically, we have no access rights to shorelands reserved for those who own properties thereon that we help insure.)

The WSJ article cited above notes that an “unlikely coalition of free-market think tanks, environmentalists, business owners and insurers” favor a policy of returning coastal zones to nature and ending subsidizes for hazardous, doomed development. “The era of responding to hurricanes and the like with an avalanche of federal aid has passed.”

What Must Change

Throughout American history, taxpayer-backed loans and other assistance have been available to rebuild, regardless of the obvious reality of future disasters in flood prone and other vulnerable locations. That tradition must change. Katrina and now Sandy have brought out a few courageous public officials willing to address reality and common sense. Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic president of the New Jersey state senate, is one example. “People keep saying we’re going to put everything back the way it was. No, we’re not. It makes no sense to do the same thing over and over again, throwing good money after bad.” Mr. Sweeney’s suggestion for low-lying areas? The federal government should “write checks, level the homes and let the land return to its natural state.”

A Quality of Life-Based Proposal that Favors Future Generations

Legislation is needed that would allow the federal government to buy land and properties in vulnerable areas in order to enable localities to develop such hazardous environments as parks or open space.

In addition, a law rendering all shorelines public property by some future date fifty to 100 years hence should be considered. The goal must be to ensure access to beachfronts for everyone. No private homes, no hotels, no condos or other privately-owned property would prevent public access extending a quarter mile or so inland from the high tide water line.

The 1 percent types who control the beaches of Malibu and other oceanfront and similar water body shore access throughout the country would, as noted, have another half to full century to enjoy their exclusive access. In time, however, all lands that abut the oceans, bays, rivers and other natural bodies deemed subject to climate change would revert to the public, and everyone would have opportunities to enjoy what today are exclusive domains.

Americans have a long tradition of migration toward the sea, despite the risks of hurricanes and erosion from storms and natural wave action. The sea would still be there under a plan such as herein sketched, but private properties would not be permitted closer than a quarter of a mile from the water lines. Of course, even that distance presents great risks, but those who want to take risks with their own capital should be free to do so. The American people do not benefit from subsidies they pay that enable a few to build in low-lying areas. At some point in the future, with incremental steps following every disaster, quality of life changes in such lands should be put into place. The twin goals of such a policy is to eliminate a massive amount of economic waste and to render to all for fair enjoyment the sands and seas, rivers and other water bodies that all have a right to enjoy.

Economic and Demographic Pressures May Be the Way to Assess Future Housing Characteristics

In every industry, the owners and leadership seek to understand how requirements will evolve. Housing for the next decade and beyond follows the same pattern. In the past, however expectations have been the by-product of the past. For the first time in United States housing history, this may not the case going forward. Instead housing characteristics are likely destined to be the product of currently developing pressures.

The potential for this shift is the by product of a fundamental change in market drivers. In the past, two factors prevailed. First, the United States was on an uninterrupted train of growth. Second, the United States position as the dominating economic factor globally was unimpinged. In the year 2010, the United States now projects population capping around 2050. In other words, at some point, our inventory may not require expansion. Secondly, while the U.S. economy and currency remains dominant, the relative position of the U.S. is receding compared to the whole. This is important to housing because we are now contesting resources for housing with a much larger marketplace. Without dwelling on the possible economic benefits, issues, and losses of this development, we can conclude that the context of U.S. housing is suddenly different than we’ve experienced in the past. In other words, the past will not rule. Because of this we should consider the structural housing market pressures which include:

  1. The U.S. will compete more vigorously for capital than in the past. This will likely push up rates and favors making use of the existing housing base infrastructure. Therefore, changes increasing density per household on a square foot basis are likely. Thus, we may see more basement apartment suites. Children will share bedrooms more than the past has recommended. Grandparents will stay in the homes of their children. Housing designed to accommodate these items will demand a premium.
  2. The burgeoning federal deficit and pressures to eliminated consumer debt such as more restrictive credit requirements will add to the pressures in item 1.
  3. The world and the U.S. will focus on productivity at the individual level more intensely as growth based productivity becomes less reliable. This implies living characteristics for greater production. Housing will be closer to employment, shopping, and entertainment. This trend will be further supported by environmental demands and priorities. Housing that supports work at home and other productive measures will be favored and demand a premium.

While there are other pressures, this gives a sense of the kind of thinking that may forecast where best to invest for purchases and for capital improvement in our housing inventory. Additionally, this may suggest certain housing areas could languish because of the economic pressure to avoid them.

Why Should You Comply With Environmental Law?

Apart from avoiding criminal sanctions there are economic justifications for compliance with environmental law. In short, the market has been shown to reward firms that protect the environment. Indeed, current research shows that consumers will not look favourably at companies and the goods and services they provide if they cause environmental harm or are indifferent to ecological problems. Likewise, companies that take environmental concerns seriously may be supported by consumers. This is evident even in such a consumption culture as our own, with the growing acceptance of the need for sustainable business development that better protects the environment and encourages greater social responsibility. This can be seen in three thousand well-known companies joining the UNO Global Compact program during first five years of its existence. According to this voluntary pact, business organizations are encouraged to work within the principles of people’s rights, employees’ rights, environment protection and anti-corruption.

Research also shows that environmental regulations provide a stimulus for innovation and productivity because it encourages firms to invest in research and development to develop less polluting products. It is equally evident that environmental law is associated with the wider issue of sustainable development, and that firms which proactively encourage compliance and support sustainable development can gain competitive advantage in the marketplace.

For example, Standard Chartered is one of a huge number of financial institutions who have moved into sustainable banking. It is a London based bank but its income comes primarily from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, which are the regions that suffer from poverty, disease and environmental issues. The bank recognised that there was a direct relationship between social issues and its profits. In 1999, 10 percent of its employees in Kenya missed work because of HIV and AIDS, which affected its business. In response, Standard Chartered began a global community campaign that seeks to raise awareness about HIV and prevention of its further spread. Its skills and resources enabled the bank to officially pledge to educate 1 million people about the disease by 2009. The bank has a similar campaign that targets the restoration of sight. These programs not only offer huge benefits to the communities in which they operate but they also create a good reputation for the bank. Both programs are a core part of the bank’s sustainability strategy to promote economic growth. As finance director Richard Meddings explains, ”The cost of treatment is often small but the impact on the person and their ability to contribute to the community is huge.” The community, of course, includes branches of Standard Chartered, whose profits rely on healthy and efficient workforce. Standard Chartered is joined by companies such as NestleĀ“ and Microsoft in its practice of the most effective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Both these latter corporations have similarly recognised that their profits depend on their communities, and thus both have put considerable resources into targeting social problems in the areas in which they operate.

In all these cases it can be argued that firms have gone beyond what is legally required of them because it makes commercial sense to do so. The role for business is therefore not just to comply with the regulations but to innovate and go beyond what is legally required in order to reduce pollution further and to protect human life.

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Efficient, Economical and Eco-friendly – Firewood Has it All

If you’re looking for a fuel that’s as environmentally friendly as it is efficient, seasoned firewood is as good as it gets. Most people enjoy staring into the flickering flames of a log fire, but there are still many urban myths about whether burning firewood is a good thing.

Explode some of the myths by taking time to talk to your local tree surgeon before you place your next firewood order. Or perhaps you have trees in your garden or on your land that you’re thinking of having taken down or reduced in height.

Contrary to what some people might think, tree surgeons are not chop-happy, chainsaw-wavers cutting a swathe through the countryside! They are, or should be, qualified caring conservationists who do valuable work in preserving the look of the British countryside as we all know and love it. They can advise you on the best way to care for your trees and when and if surgery may be the best option, which may provide you with valuable firewood stocks, once the cut logs have had time to season.

And just as you would never dream of letting an unqualified doctor or dentist perform surgery on your body, do make sure that the tree surgeon you choose is qualified and fully insured.

When it comes to sustainability, a tree surgeon has a vested interest in making sure there are plenty of trees to fuel the log fires of future generations. Harvesting firewood from a sustainable source is vital to their work. Many tree surgeons sell firewood as a by-product of their tree surgery work. They are often called in by local authorities and land-owners to remove trees which are diseased or dangerous. The resulting wood, cut into logs and properly seasoned, provides excellent firewood.

Unlike fossil fuel, burning firewood adds virtual no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and trees are a renewable resource. Replanting often follows removal of dead trees, providing a sustainable source of firewood for the future. And carefully managed copping and thinning of traditional woodland is doing a great deal to prevent the loss or decline of woodland wildlife.

As well as making environmental and financial sense for the home owner, choosing logs as a source of home heating also has a major role to play in rural economies, by providing local employment through sustainable development.

So the next time you see a man with a chainsaw, why not see if he’s got a few minutes for a chat? You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how passionate and knowledgeable he is about the environment.

How Much Impact Could We Make by Co-Ordinating All the Current Food and Environmental Projects?

Fruit, vegetables, cocoa, coffee, tea are all things we take for granted on UK supermarket shelves but how many shoppers know that they originated in Africa or were made from African produce?

UK shoppers spend about 1 million every day on food products from Africa, including some Fairtrade items.

The focus on climate change and on food miles, however, has created misunderstanding about the sustainability of food from African and highlighted how little we know about how the resulting changed shopping habits have impacted on developing countries.

Almost 75% of Africans relay totally on agriculture for their livings and severl million of them rely partly on selling produce to the UK to enable many of them to escape poverty.

Most UK consumers support the idea of making their shopping choices reduce poverty. However, they also worry about other issues such as price, food safety, the environment and animal welfare.

Now, to add to the pressure comes a new report this month (July 2010) saying that climate change threatens to undo years of work to tackle poverty in developing countries.

Forum for the Future’s study emphasised the need for strong action in poor countries to tackle climate change but in tandem with efforts to boost economic development and it said international aid’s efforts to tackle poverty should factor in climate change and measures to help poor countries adapt to its effects.

It wants them to avoid promoting high-carbon development and to help developing nations deal with the impact of climate change and seize new opportunities created by global movement to a more low-carbon economy.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) supported the Forum’s latest report and also has its own initiative, FRICH Food Retail Industry Challenge to support the development of trade in food from Africa to the UK.

No in its third round of bidding the Challenge asks food supply and distribution business with their supply chain partners to test and develop innovative business models to bring new and higher volumes of food products from Africa to UK while improving the livelihoods of African producers.

So far it has funded seven challenges. They include Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, seller of a famous Yorkshire Tea, which is working with Rwanda’s tea authority, tea factory owners, the Rainforest Alliance and the farmers who supply the factories to develop a sustainable supply of quality tea for their famous Yorkshire Tea brand. Rwanda tea is now on UK supermarket shelves as a Yorkshire Gold ‘seasons pick’

The Co-operative has long supported Fairtrade and is working with tea supplier Finlay Beverages, the Cooperative College UK and Africa Now to deliver the benefits of both Fairtrade and the co-operative business model for sustainable livelihoods for 8,000 small-scale tea farmers in Kericho, South-West Kenya.

Waitrose has been helping growers to adapt their cultivation and production processes to meet the environmental requirements of the LEAF Marque standard as a way of spreading the message of sustainable agricultural practices across Africa. The LEAF Marque guarantee for UK fresh grown produce has been used by Waitrose for the past three years and the company has now committed to helping all its suppliers to use environmentally responsible practices.

The third Challenge Fund bidding round invites UK companies to offer projects that will promote trade to some of the poorest countries north of South Africa and south of the Sahara

Its aims are enhancing productivity and adding value to any sector of the supply chain from the start in food production, through processing, storage, to compliance, financing or procurement

It also aims to extend the benefits of export supply chains to producers currently unable to meet market requirements or insufficiently established as export growers to be able to attract commercial investment in their operations.

Its third focus is expanding UK consumer demand for African produce in the face of concerns about food miles, environmental conservation, labour standards and food safety.

Search around a bit and it’s possible to find any number of inventive pieces providing some solutions to the complex puzzle of climate change, environment and food scarcity.

They can be small and local – such as the Indian village treadle-powered irrigation system that has stabilised and improved cultivation there – or slightly larger like the FRICH Challenge focusing on a particular world region.

Or they can be potentially far-reaching – like the Biopesticides Developers’ invention of promising new low-chem agricultural products such as biofungicides and yield enhancers to play their part in helping combat climate change and pests while increasing yield sustainably to help farmers, both small and larger.

It would be nice if all these disparate elements were co-ordinated to work in tandem to making access to food and a reasonable income fairer around the world alongside a significant global impact on preserving the environment.