Elizabeth Henderson was a founder of Peacework Organic CSA, one of the oldest CSAs in the United States, where she farmed for over thirty years. She is also the author of the definitive work on CSA farming, Sharing the Harvest. And she has been involved in any number of other initiatives in the food movement, from shaping the National Organic Foods Production Act, to her work with the Agricultural Justice Project. In this movement, especially in the Northeastern United States, it can be hard to turn anywhere without seeing Elizabeth’s handprints – and indeed, this is true around the country and even internationally. When we recorded this interview, she had just returned from the sixth gathering of Urgenci, the International Network for Community Supported Agriculture, which took place in Beijing, China, this year. Elizabeth reflects on the shape and texture of the international CSA movement and the resurgence of small-scale organic farming in China, and we dig into the mechanics of how her CSA farm accommodated having members and children as part of the harvest activities, the farm’s transition to new partners, and the farm’s relationship to the Genesee Land Trust.
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Quotes from the Show
Joining a CSA is more than just money and vegetables. Rather, it’s becoming part of a movement to transform and regenerate the planet.
Finding CSA in China has been an eye-opener to a phenomenon that’s going on in the world that I had no conception of.
The CSA movement [in China] is grassroots and bottom-up.
Around the planet there are many different ways of doing [CSA]. And that’s part of what’s so exciting, that CSA isn’t an orthodoxy, nobody certifies it, nobody dictates that you have to do it this way or that way. It’s a concept of the direct connection between a group of eaters and one or several pieces of land. And after that you can do it however you want.
I know people cling to the notion of private property, that it’s your piece of land and you can do what you want. But the reality is your children may or may not want to take over and farm after you. It may be that it will be other people who will farm it. It’s kind of an illusion to imagine that because you own the property that it will stay in your family.
Sharing the Harvest is the definitive book on CSA farming.
Elizabeth talked about the translation of her book, as well as Farmers of Forty Centuries and Slow Money, as having been important pieces of the development of the CSA movement in China. Elizabeth says that Farmers of Forty Centuries, the close observation and appreciation of the traditional agricultures of China and other Asian countries in the early twentieth century, is a must-read book for organic farmers.
Elizabeth also recommend Sir Albert Howard and Lady Eve Balfour.
We discussed Madison, Wisconsin’s, FairShare CSA Coalition, a Canadian organization promoting and organizing CSAs, Equiterre, and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
Elizabeth mentioned Live Power Community Farm in Covelo, California.
We had a short discussion about participatory guarantee programs for organic certification, including Certified Naturally Grown and France’s Nature et Progres.
Elizabeth discovered rural America at Putney Summer Work Farm when she was a teenager.
Elizabeth did much of her early learning about farming at the Harlow Farm in Vermont.
Elizabeth talked about Temple-Wilton Community Farm, an “even more radical” farm that her own.
Peacework Organic Farm’s land is owned by the Genesee Land Trust.
We didn’t talk much about it, but we did touch on another project that Elizabeth has been very involved in, the Agricultural Justice Project.