As a group of organizations tasked with building a national network aimed at strengthening and promoting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), we must first recognize and address the systems of injustice that weaken it.
The United State’s enduring legacy of the enslavement of Black Africans shapes our food system into one that disproportionately disenfranchises and harms Black people today. We further recognize the intersectionality of oppression across class, gender, ability, education, age, and culture. By specifically addressing racial injustice in this statement and in our actions, we hope to effect positive change for all participants in CSA.
Food production in the United States has its origin in land theft and enslaved labor. This origin has never been reconciled, and is perpetuated by the current state of agriculture in the US. It is these deep roots that deem undocumented farmworkers “essential” while barring pathways to citizenship, fair wages and basic protections. It is these deep roots that promote wealthy, white “foodie” movements, while swaths of the country live under states of food apartheid. It is these deep roots that rely on the contributions of Black farmers, while systematically stripping access to land and capital from farmers of color.
In order to strengthen CSA, the CSA Innovation Network must center the unequal burdens that race, class, ethnicity, language, gender, age and ability place upon those who can easily access this model as both farmers and consumers. We will start by acknowledging the history of CSA, and lifting up the contributions of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) farmers. We will examine the current state of CSA and work to dismantle the aspects of white supremacist culture that manifest in the production, distribution, and consumption of CSA. We understand that embedding racial equity into the CSA model is the most critical and necessary innovation for a vibrant, local food movement.
The History of CSA
A key element to racial justice is telling the whole story: revisiting the histories we have learned--many of which are written with a Euro-centric, white supremacist, male lens--and delving deeper, elevating the voices and perspectives of historically marginalized communities.
The dawn of CSA in the US arose in a period of severe crisis for family-scale farmers which was even harsher for African-American farmers in the South who lost land and farms five times more frequently than white farmers. Community Supported Agriculture in the United States is most commonly attributed to Indian Line CSA and Temple-Wilton Community Farm, both founded in 1986 by white farmers. While these two farms have played undeniably large roles in the popularization of CSA in America, this history is reductionist and disregards the contributions of Black farmers to the CSA model. Booker T. Whatley, a Black author, horticulturist, and professor at Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL), identified 10 commandments he considered essential for successful farming in the 1960s and 1970s. Included in these commandments was the concept of a “Clientele Membership Club,” in which club members paid an upfront fee to pick their own produce all season long. Now considered two separate farming models that can be used separately or in tandem, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and Pick Your Own (PYO) are foundational to many small- to mid-sized farms, and are only becoming more popular as demand for fresh, local food continues to grow.
At the same time that Whatley was forming his idea of a Clientele Membership Club, CSA-like models were being adopted in Japan and Germany. Read more about the global history of Community Supported Agriculture here. [link to longer piece]
Racial Inequities in the CSA Model
While Community Supported Agriculture has diverse origins in the work of farmers and educators from many different backgrounds, it has become a direct to consumer marketing method that is primarily utilized by white farmers and primarily serves white customers. Recent studies by multiple CSA-IN member organizations have shown that the vast majority of CSA farmers and customers in the United States are white. A 2018 survey of CSA farms in Michigan showed that 88% of farm respondents identified as white and 0% identified as Black: the remaining 12% were split between no response, Latinx, and multiracial. Surveys of CSA members in New York and Wisconsin had similar findings. Much of the CSA participation by people of color is in the form of “food access” programs and/or subsidized CSA shares, which often rely on grant funding and donations to be successful and are created or administered by organizations from outside of the communities the programs serve.
These data can be explained in part by the barriers that exist to participation in the traditional CSA model that adversely impact low-income residents and communities of color. The high upfront cost of participation has been difficult to solve through traditional food subsidy and healthy food access programs like SNAP and Double-Up Food Bucks due to regulations governing timing of payments. CSA participation requires a familiarity with a diverse set of cooking knowledge and skills and/or the time and resources needed to develop that knowledge. CSA also often requires transportation to a farm or specific location for pick-up, making it more difficult to access without a car or without adequate public transportation. Lastly, communities of color simply do not see themselves represented in the CSA farmer/member and local food/foodie spaces. This disparity and dominance by white people is also demonstrated in staff, leadership and boards of organizations that work with CSA farmers and members.
Diversity As Innovation of the Model
The vision for the CSA movement is a grand one, and one that requires us to continually innovate in order to achieve it. This vision is that communities and farms will partner with each other to achieve food sovereignty - a way of feeding ourselves that is under community control and brings the best, most nutritious, and culturally appropriate food to every member of the community. For this reason, increasing diversity and equity in the model is central to the mission of the CSA Innovation Network, and adopting an anti-racist approach to the development of the network is required to achieve it
The CSA model has a long way to go in achieving this aim, and the CSA-IN will actively seek every opportunity to educate the farmers and technical assistance providers currently working within that model on ways to increase equity and inclusion in the model and in our agricultural system as a whole. Moreover, we will intentionally look to the many Black, brown, Indigenous and people of color who are already leading this work and ask for permission to learn from and collaborate with them.
This work is more than simply idealistic. It is critical to the survival and growth of CSA as a business model that more people be attracted to the opportunity to become CSA members, and that CSA membership is more within reach for a broader range of people regardless of ZIP code, income, race, gender, or sexual orientation. We see many places for growth in our community, including addressing implicit bias in the CSA model; increasing language justice by providing materials in multiple languages; and advocating for the adoption of payment and distribution models that serve low-income households. Following the educational and network-building mission of the CSA-IN, we will compile and share best practices for CSA farms and technical assistance providers to address racism and other forms of oppression as we continue to develop the resources and activities of this fledgling network. It is our hope that in doing this, we will make CSA more able to live up to its name and to truly serve all members of our communities.
commitments for the network
We are a new network with the opportunity to build this moral infrastructure into every action we take. We are committed to adopting a lens of anti-racism and anti-oppression in all CSA-IN activities. As initial steps we will:
Review and update this equity statement annually
Center diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Strategic Planning process we will undertake in 2021 with the specific goal of building a pathway for more diverse leadership of the network
Continually review our web, social media, and promotional materials for implicit bias and ways to make them more accessible
Actively prioritize this work across working groups, based on a guide that will be developed by the Equity and Access Working Group of the CSA Innovation Network