Building the Soil; Building Community
On the heels of the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, the current pandemic conversation and ongoing climate conversation are in dialogue with one another.1 Our awareness is evolving and our behavior patterns shifting, both on a global economic level and as individuals. In terms of our own personal ecosystem of food choice, many of us find ourselves not only working from home, but cooking from home.
Perhaps you are pulling out old family recipes or inventing new ways to make do with what you have when preparing meals. Maybe you couldn’t get fresh garlic or onions but are discovering the power of the shallot. Maybe you are baking.2 Maybe you are tending that side yard lettuce box more than ever, planting more of your lawn with edibles, or are considering taking up sprouting in a mason jar and a bit of sunshine on your countertop.
Regardless, most of us are rethinking how we find our food, choosing curbside or direct delivery instead of risking a trip to the grocery store. Our previous practice of wandering the aisles to choose groceries is no longer a pleasure stroll; risk has taken on a different flavor in our daily regimens. And this unusual moment has pushed many of us to try new foods or new food sources – whether we grow it, pick it up or have it delivered.
One option that’s been developing over decades but is now coming into the spotlight is the network of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm delivery programs. There are more than forty greater Bay Area farm options now listed on the Edible East Bay’s Farm Direct Food & Resource Guide to order delivered boxes of produce, meat, daily and other products such as honey or oil. Many of the source farms in the Bay Area foodshed also sell at various farmers markets around the region.
Improvisation and Innovation
Improvisation has always been a reality on farms. Farm life is based on not only market vagaries but weather and labor variability. Similar to many small businesses, where work schedules and hours have been shifted, cut, and interrupted due to the pandemic, farms have been forced to find new ways to harvest, transport and distribute their produce.
For farms that have a CSA direct sales program, and don’t just sell their crops in bulk to stores or other distributors, many have seen a tremendous spike in demand. They are expanding services where they can, and are grateful for the opportunity to serve more customers and leaning into their network with other farms to meet the demand. That existing network of people, places and products is activating in new ways – broadening the reach of small, diverse farms. It is a foodshed built on fair prices, nourishing foods, and care for the farm workers, farm owners, and the soil.3
Families who have been buying direct from local not-too-far-off farms are part of a diverse and growing community that stands as a resilient local alternative to larger and less diversified food supply chains. These farms have created coalitions and networks that share products and delivery services to deepen the scope, variety and reliability of food provided. From soil to table, this type of food system offers circular economic wellness.
Soil accumulates life when cultivated with attentive management that embraces the natural cycles and seasons. CSAs, too, have flourished as they create community in real time. Variety of produce, fresh eggs and meat, online ordering ease, on-farm activity days like strawberry picking or tomato canning – all these things act like fertilizer for loyal customers, creating a living soil of community.
Invest in Living
Our personal choices matter. Sourcing your family’s food supply, making a contribution via money or volunteer time to help the food insecure in your community, making investments in your portfolio that support smaller and larger farms and their laborers – these are paths to sustainability and resilience for our communities as well as for the soil.
As we consider how we are each positioned in our own foodshed, and re-evaluating our personal food supply chains, let’s raise a glass or break bread in honor of that which sustains us. We can offer gratitude for the soil, and those who work to build the soil and communities along the way. Just like healthy soil absorbs water deep into the earth, our thoughts and efforts during the pandemic’s forced innovation can be the micronutrients that create something more alive and beautiful looking forward.
1For a many-faceted and nuanced discussion of dramatic climate impacts from coronavirus control measures, see Matt Simon, “How Is The Coronavirus Pandemic Affecting Climate Change?” WIRED, April 21, 2020.
2Tamal Ray, “I Spend My Day Working in the Hospital. Then I Come Home and Bake,” opinion piece, Washington Post, April 13, 2020.
3 Organizations such as California Alliance for Family Farms, Kitchen Table Advisors, and California Farmlink are providing significant support in networking, financing, and technical support for small farms.
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