Newsletter #6 – September 2008

Newletter #6

18/06/2009 5:09:48 PM

~ Thompson Small Farm ~ 

Newsletter #6 – September 2008

 

Hello all! 

 

We simply can’t believe how quickly the summer has gone.  Thank-you everyone so much again for your support.  We very much enjoyed being involved with you in this venture, and getting to know a little so many wonderful folks.  The summer was a great learning experience for us, not just in terms of CSA farming but in terms of giving us real perspective on how the CSA model fits, or might fit, into our culture and into Calgary specifically.

 

Here’s a summary of our thoughts based on the CSA experience in retrospect, a sort of “year end report” and then some.

 

Our Goal – Did We Achieve It?

 

Our primary goal this summer was to provide our members with a market share of fresh produce grown locally in a manner representing an alternative to industrial agriculture.  We had no illusions of sustaining ourselves solely on the proceeds, but we did hope to gain insight into whether this would be feasible in the future.

 

Certainly, we provided fresh produce to our customers, grown in a fashion that even the vast majority of organic farms don’t attempt[1], and that is largely without industrial machinery as a power source.  We believe we came up short, largely due to conditions this summer, in providing members with the volumes they’d have been getting from the market for the same money.  Does that mean our produce was therefore over-priced? 

 

The Real Value of Food

 

In the CSA model, the customer of course shares risk with the farmer.  One of the things this means is that in a year like this one, it is not really pertinent to say one was overcharged.  If you get less food in a given year, it simply means the price of local food from your supplier was higher that year.  You got less for more.  This may seem like a handy excuse for the farmer, but many times we reflected that we would rather, in a “bad” growing year, have brought what we did manage to a farmer’s market and simply get recompense for what we brought.  Fair market value for what we provided and no more.

 

Or is it?

 

CSA Farming and Calgary

 

We believe in the CSA model and believe it offers value for money for Calgarians, and is important culturally.  The value in our minds lies goes beyond the alternative produce provided.  We believe that CSA’s serving Calgary – especially ones using alternative power sources to hydrocarbons and electricity – would still be of great value to that community in keeping alive and running – not to mention relearning – the models we will need in the future when the realization is forced upon us by dwindling resources that we don’t really have the luxury of unsustainable living for more than the few generations it takes us to exhaust our natural endowments – this luxury is an illusion, or perhaps better a de-lusion.  Recognition of this need is why we would be CSA members were we not CSA farmers. 

 

  

Farming Must Sustain the Farmer As Well to be Truly “Sustainable”

 

For sustainable farming to work then it must also sustain the farm, it must pay the family unit to be there full-time, farming, no outside job. This may seem intuitive, and certainly was how things more often worked before consumerism, fueled by industrial money, kicked into high gear following WWII.  In fact, farming more often than not does not sustain the farm family today.  The fact that farming no longer sustains farmers (and fewer all the time, even, of the new breed of “agribusiness” industrialists) is a global crisis.  Ideally, deeded landowners immediately surrounding a city are the ones to be running CSA’s.  The problem is that these areas are viewed as future housing developments or acreage potential for industrial elites, not as land that could potentially sustain us, and it’s way too expensive for farmers to make “a go of it”. Nowhere is this more true right now than around Calgary.  This is why our little place was located a full hour from town[2].  “Nevermind, the interest is not there amongst these landowners anyway”, you could argue, but even if it was, it is doubtful they could support a place of such land-values running a sustainable, biodynamic CSA.  We certainly couldn’t, and believe me we’d have loved to have been close enough to have delivered to drop-off points under Clydesdale-power!

 

What Should be the Real Cost of Locally Grown Food in Calgary?

 

What then would a biodynamic CSA, horse or ox powered and with a mix of animals and crops, on the outskirts of Calgary need to charge to sustain itself?  Members would likely need to paythousands of dollars for their seasonal membership, in order to support the farm that feeds them.  This sounds outrageous, but it would actually then represent the true, unadulterated fair market-value of local food in Calgary.  But is this so outrageous taken in objective context?  Many Calgarians have few qualms, for instance, about paying a half million dollars and even far, far more than this for that other basic requirement – shelter.  Food, of course, should not and cannot cost that much.  But neither then should any basic need perhaps, and if we are willing to afford so much for one, perhaps we should be paying a commensurate amount for the other.  Perhaps the price of a CSA membership should be on a scale with the cost of living in general in the location in which it is based. We doubt that anyone in Calgary would be willing to pay so much for their food, today.  

 

So here we may gain some insight into how unrealistic our food (and housing) prices are now, how unrealistic our current living model is for the future of human beings, and why farms have mostly all failed or are failing.  It is also why running a CSA serving Calgary devoid of the large-scale industrial inputs and cheap (exploited) farm labor – the very things CSA customers are trying to avoid supporting – will, until things change entirely, be on a significant level an act of self-sacrifice for the farmer.

 

An Unfortunate Situation

 

This situation is unfortunate – there is nothing Alberta needs more than alternative models.  At the time we were doing our CSA this summer, there was one other such initiative in the entire province that we knew of.  

 
If unsustainable living is a delusion, so then, really, is the city of Calgary
[3], and others like it or that aspire to being like it.  And of course, the influence of Calgary is not limited to the city “limits”.  The same issues we became so clearly aware of this summer are now rearing their heads throughout the entire landbase of Canada where conditions are best for farming – and well beyond.  “Calgary” now includes to a significant degree almost all of southern B.C., and increasingly Saskatchewan.  We have a very serious crisis here (or more aptly a symptom of an even larger one) that few seem to acknowledge as such.  As a result of this situation, and for as long as we can continue to string this current goal of bigger-is-better and more-is-more out, one of the tasks of sustainable farming will be to learn how to grow food on the marginal areas that farmers (as opposed to industrial agri-producers) can actually afford to purchase, live on, and farm. 

 

Epilogue

 

Our twenty acres is an oasis of native grass, bottom swale and the virgin garden plots where we grew your food in a vast landscape of inert planting medium that was once rich prairie soil.  Right now it is harvest time for the agri-industrialists.  Living right next to our normally very quiet road, this is an awful time of the year for us.  Battalions of combines whine all day and well into the night as we try to sleep.  Convoys of eighteen-wheelers pass our place at intervals of about every half-hour, sometimes until almost midnight.  Everything is dust – our house, our pasture, our animals, our sky even.  The atmosphere looks as though we are experiencing a south-eastern level of humidity, but it is not moisture, it is dust, as far as the eye can see, and that’s a long, long way out here.  Dust kicked up day and night by this army of machines waging war on the land, huge piglets on the petroleum sow roaring “let’s see how much diesel we can burn this year!!!”

 

There is nothing about this situation that resembles “farming” as we understand it.  This is because it is not.  It is agribusiness.  Whenever the agribusiness has business in our neighborhood, quality of life plummets.  The onslaught is relentless while it lasts, the pace frantic, panicked even, the environment dangerous.  I daren’t let the dogs out, and I worry our horses will get the heaves from breathing so much of the pulverized earth into their lungs.  I occasionally prevail upon the owner of this particular empire – “Would you please water the road down?”…  “Would you mind not running your convoys for all of our long weekend?”…  “Would you please not spread your strychnine along my fenceline where my animals are liable to get at it and die a hideous death”… “Tell your men to slow down before I hurt them!” …  After speaking to me briefly in the tone of a used car salesman trying to give me the business, this ‘farmer’, one of the largest operators in an area of large operators, always has the same answer – “We’ll see what we can do, Jon.”  And we see that what he can do never amounts to much, although his drivers have become more respectful, insofar as respect can have anything to do with the operation of eighteen-wheeler convoys on a quiet rural road.  What he has proven he can do repeatedly, if not intentionally, is step all over our toes in a fashion I would never dream of doing to him nor anyone else.  But this is the problem not just with today’s agribusiness, it is the problem inherent in being “BIG”.  Show me a “big man”, show me a big concern, show me a big business, show me a big city and I will show you people and environments being disrespected.  It cannot be helped.  It’s the law of critical mass beyond which everything goes downhill.

 

For all of this frenzy, I have heard that Mr. Big’s concern is not doing well these days.  The cows that stand around in their own ordure for weeks on end as they’re “finished” for slaughter are not paying the bills.  This was inevitable, of course.  Unsustainable is unsustainable, and as scores of American business concerns are finding out, being BIG – nay – being GI-BLOODY-GANTIC doesn’t change this natural law.  I wish my neighbors well, of course, and sincerely hope their operation goes straight down the toilet.  Good riddance, as this would be best for all humanity.  When all the massive agribusiness concerns of the world finally hit the wall of their own disgusting reality, perhaps then, and perhaps only then, we can move on to a better way.

 

Thanks again everyone, we very much appreciated your support and are buoyed by knowing there are concerned, kindred people out here with us in these interesting times.

 

“Farmers Jon and Andrea”


[1] …although we believe biodynamic methods should  required for organic certification, they are not.  It is one of the problems we have with the label “organic”.

[2] And the fact that we were an hour from town is one reason our particular CSA is not ultimately sustainable.

[3] Not to pick on Calgary, which in all fairness is actually considered exceptionally lucky these days by other jealous municipalities – it is simply an example of our urban model doing a superb job of working as it was intended to do under today’s model.

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