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Why does the CSA include some food that isn't local?

Locavore – A new word for an old concept:  One who eats locally produced food.

There is a growing interest around food that includes food that is grown in a sustainable manner, organic, locally produced and “fair trade. Spiritual Food for the New Millennium has been committed to each of these principles since it began in 1998 and works hard to uphold these priorities while supporting farms economically and providing a balanced supply of our food needs.

The section on What is CSA explains why we have chosen CSA and Biodynamic Agriculture as our main priorities. Basically, CSA is a new form of economic relations between a group of families and a producer who share a common vision of fostering trust and affirming with their actions that a new world is possible. Biodynamics is a comprehensive approach to farming that stresses health and sustainability of the soil, the planet, and people. These two concepts cover the organic, fair trade and sustainability goals mentioned above. Local is also a high priority for the CSA but is sometimes sacrificed to these other needs.

Analyzing the trade off between local and Biodynamic, and even though we share concerns with CSA members about our carbon footprint, we feel that Biodynamic farmers deserve respect and support for their unique and irreplaceable work. The soil of the planet available for agricultural purposes is disappearing quickly either by urbanization or degradation through improper use such as the use of synthetic chemicals, growing bio-fuels, cattle feeding, mono-cropping, heavy mechanization, etc. The BD farmers not only work with spiritual and natural forces that provide what we understand to be the best food available for nourishing body, mind and spirit but -- what becomes more important for the existence of the planet -- they heal the soil and planetary atmosphere.

While the organic farming movement had resisted the chemical revolution and has been involved in sustainable practices, we are concerned that organic farming standards have been watered down due to the work of the National Organic Standards Board in the 1990’s, and that even conscientious farmers have a hard time maintaining their purity now that they have to compete with large corporations that have jumped on the organic bandwagon. We absolutely do support local, conscientious organic farmers and some of the CSA food comes from them, but our first priority is to give support to the Biodynamic farmers even if they might not be local.

Any discussion of local food must address other issues also like variety and a balanced diet. Can we choose food in a restaurant or grocery store that is local? Since the present food supply in the USA is based on long distance travel, if we are eating anything beyond what the CSA and local markets offer, it is likely that much of it is coming from far away.

How many roots are we willing to eat in the winter? Are we willing to spend days in the fields and in the kitchen to harvest and preserve enough local food to last through the winter months or pay others to do so? We should certainly and ideally move in that direction and we encourage members of the CSA to do so; one step at a time will take us a long way.

Where does the food for the Spiritual Food CSA come from ?

The vegetables come from farms nearby -- our main Biodynamic farm is called Kimberton CSA, in Pennsylvania, and the shares are occasionally supplemented by organic foods from farms in this region. Eggs come from organic Amish farms in PA where we stop on the way to Kimberton;  cheese is made at an Amish farm with milk from the Camphill Village in Kimberton Hills, PA that follows Biodynamic principles. For fruit, priority is given to biodynamic farms supplemented by as much local organic as we can find. Grains and legumes do not grow well on the east coast but we restrict to USA sources (with the exception of quinoa which is not available yet in this country), organic of course, and find that what we get is quite fresh.  When we found that many organic grains sold in this country, even in small food co-ops, were from overseas, we made a decision to stick with national sources -- a new definition of local for this product!

What does “local” mean?

There was a discussion at a recent farmers conference about what determines local. Did it mean food comes within a 100 mile radius from home? Neighboring states? Regional? Do apples taken in from the Hudson River valley to New York City constitute local or should people in NYC forego apples? Boston? Bethesda?

In our efforts to expand the share offerings over the years to include fruit, grains and legumes, we found that organic fruit is very hard to get locally even if we include most of the East coast in the definition! We found that many grains and legumes do not grow on the East Coast at all.

We also found that processing (cleaning, dehulling, etc) is set up such that mills and processors work in huge bulk quantities and it is rare that one can send a product to a processor and get it out without having it mixed with others from different farms. What this means for the CSA is we cannot get these products locally or even from a particular farm we know and trust because the means do not exist at this time. Yet, we want to include these items in the CSA to provide a well-rounded share covering more of our dietary needs. What we do to offer these items is to first seek Biodynamic or organic sources and try to get them processed in a small place that maintains purity of the product. Secondly, when that is not available, establish a relationship with a trustworthy processor or distributor --which is not easy to find-- who knows their sources (farms) directly and shares a similar philosophy in terms of quality growing methods, fair economics and sustainability.

Since our priority is to support good farmers and producers, and to establish fair and sustainable economic relations in addition to providing variety and quality food to members, we put a lot of emphasis on establishing long term relationships that work for all. The wonderful news is that when cooperation and good intentions prevail, a win-win for everyone always emerges. Sometimes a little patience is also required such as in going without an item until the logistics can be worked out…., which brings us back to the issue of locavore.

There are many choices to make and sacrifices too. Participating in a CSA provides the opportunity to help make those choices and to offer support for sustaining them, something that could not be done individually. It is not always easy. Your feedback is welcome to help build this community that strives to serve many priorities and many people.