Community Sustained Organic Farming
Toni has a considerably large property on the outskirts of Iowa. His grandparents were farmers but the family that succeeded them “left” the countryside to study and pursue more university-oriented careers. Toni, after finishing his doctorate on sustainability models, decided to return to familiar ground.
Three houses – one where his grandparents live, another for his sister, brother-in-law, nephews and nieces, and another for him – surrounded by huge plots of land, parts of which are leased out for the conventional large-scale production of soy and corn. The other plots, a place where Toni is experimenting… Why? And above all… Who helps him?
Toni joined a summer course organized by The Farming Institute. This institute was created by Kate, Susan and Dick. 17 years ago, Susan began farming organically for her community. At that time few people were interested in this type of agriculture, but starting with a few clients she was able, at her peak, to provide organic vegetables for some 300 families. Kate left her professional career as an agronomic engineer to start her own farm and in the process met Susan, who helped her get started. For his part, Dick was an executive for a large software company when he retired to become an entrepreneur building farms, and currently has several small businesses.
Kate and Susan continue to each have their own farm but they collaborate to provide organic vegetables for the community through what is called Community Supported Agriculture, a more direct form that eliminates intermediaries between the farmer and the consumer. The two of them, along with Dick, started what they have called the Farming Institute, a program that is run every summer to help emergent young farmers. With Susan and Kate’s experience, the participants gain practical experience. All the participants interact and have meetings where each one explains their own project such that everyone learns from one another. The three founders of the institute help and assess proposals.
We attended one of these meetings, where Toni presented his project. He wants to start his own plantation to form part of the group of farmers that work for the Community Sustained Farming model; he wants to follow Susan and Kate’s model. At the moment, he has a test plantation near his house, a vegetable garden surrounded by a chicken corral so that the chickens eat the insects and protect the plantation. This project reminds me a lot of The Old Orchard Organic Farm, which we saw in Africa. In the days we spent in Iowa, we visited 3 farms: those of the institute’s two enterprising female founders and Toni’s.
We “got to work” helping pull out weeds from the basil plants and cutting their flowers to encourage growth of the leaves; we got our hands dirty helping place irrigation pipes along the fields; we carried boxes from one place to another and we ate freshly-picked vegetables, surrounded by young people eager to change agriculture.
The model is similar to that of “ecological cisterns” in Barcelona or “organic boxes” in San Francisco where you receive a box of organic food every week (for example). But here, as in Zambia, you are the one who goes to get the box from wherever the farmer is. Toni defends this as being better than, for example, a Farmer’s Market because you deal more directly with the client, with the people that receive your food, with the community.
In my opinion, all these methods are good because they draw society away from large supermarkets. It pushes people to buy local and seasonal products. The local economy grows, CO2 decreases, social relationships are created between the people in the community and it means that new generations move closer to the countryside.