Utopia 8: CSA

(9 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

“In nature’s economy the currency is not money, it is life.”  

“You are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you”  

Vandana Shiva

Utopia 8: CSA

Jack woke as a faint orange glow penetrated his window.  He had left his window a crack open last night and now the crisp smell of fall was penetrating the room, along with a slight chill.  He pulled the blankets tight around himself and let reality soak in slowly. Friday.  He liked Fridays.   He loved being an Educator, but 4 days a week with the children was enough.  Fridays were CSA days and his connections were more adult.  He did not need to concentrate on every nuance and be concerned that every poor grade was due to some lack in his instruction. He could just let his hands do the work and let his mind wander on Fridays.

He rose and started his daily routine.  He did not eat breakfast but instead mixed together the ingredients for short cakes and went to change while the cakes were baking.  He did not bother with a shower, either, as he anticipated getting dirty today.  He dressed in a pair of sturdy hemp pants and a worn, loose, short-sleeved shirt that he usually wore to the CSA.  Then he put on a flannel, long-sleeve shirt over that.  Jack had learned to dress in layers for CSA day when he was still a boy.

He reemerged into the kitchen in time to take out the cakes and cut up strawberries.  Then he double wrapped the hot cakes in two dish towels to keep them warm.  Pot luck at breakfast was his CSA group’s custom.

Jack took his offerings to the community room in his complex.  CSA started at their own complex, but by this afternoon they would all be working at the main site.  When he entered the small room several people were already around the table with koffee or tea in front of them.  Jack’s dishes did not require heating but several dishes were on a hot plate provided by the room.  Mrs. Morrison had brought an egg dish with potatoes and cheese.  Very extravagant for CSA.  Jack got himself a plate and began to assemble breakfast, being careful not to take too much of the egg dish.   Jack poured himself a cup of koffee.

It was the first of the month so Jack set his plate on the table and  went to the Demurrage dispenser.  He put in a coin representing a 100th of a Gaian in the machine.  He then took the book of Demurrage stamps and went to sit down by Jeff Flackus, who was already committing himself to the same chore that Jack was about to start.

Jack took out his wallet and began to stick the small Demurrage stickers to each bill in the wallet.  The currency in Jack’s wallet that had had the face value on the bill last month, was worth nothing this month until the sticker was placed on the front.  The cost of the stickers was collected for his Grange.  In this way hording of money was discouraged since you had to pay to keep the money every month.  For most people this was only a slight inconvenience since they never had that much money to depreciate and the Demurrage stamps were cheap.  At the high end of finance it changed everything though.  Banks fell over themselves to invest or loan money.   Resources were conserved until there was enough need for them to be used immediately so currency did not sit around.    But for Jack and his companions this was the price to be paid for such logic.  A few minutes every month in which the bills in your possession were thumbed threw and stamped.

He finished his chore rapidly and watched as Jeff struggled with arthritic fingers to affix the small stickers.

“Want a hand, Jeff?”  he finally said.

“These damn things get smaller every year.  Stupid stamps.  Grange just never has enough.  Got to tax us and make us play with this silly sticky stuff every month.”

That was as close to a “Yes, please.” Jack thought he would get from Jeff.  He reached over and started to work on the money Jeff had laid out on the table.  When the money was made whole again Jeff put the bulk of it into his own wallet but took some and put it into his wife, Chloe’s purse.  As he and Jack were finishing their chore, Chloe came to the table with two plates.  One for Jeff and one for herself.

“Missed you at the Grange meeting Chloe.  You should have seen Jeff.  He was quite the debater.”

“I’ve heard.”  she said in a slightly raspy voice.

“Not feeling well?”  Jack looked up from his plate concerned.

“Feeling somewhat better today.  Missed the meeting because I just didn’t feel up to it.”  she coughed into her handkerchief and then murmured her apology.

“Why don’t you stay home again today?” Jack looked even more worried.

“I’ve been telling her that all morning.”  Jeff seconded.

“Oh I might just do that.  I came down to have breakfast but I think your right.  I need another day.”

Jeff’s brow furrowed as he looked at her.  She rarely missed her civic duties and in fact often volunteered to take on more than her fair share.  This was very unlike her.  He put a protective hand on her back and caressed her gently.

“Why don’t you go back up Chloe.  I’ll bring you your lunch later.”

“Yeah, yeah.  After I eat and help with the dishes.”

“I’ll do the dishes, Chloe.  You go back upstairs.”  Jeff voice was firm with an edge of  exasperation this time.

After breakfast, Chloe did indeed go back upstairs and the rest of them split up their various duties.  There was little to do at their own complex today.  It was late in the season and only the quinces, persimmon and chestnuts were left to harvest.  There was some pruning to do and some of the beds needed to be covered in mulch for the winter, but most of that had been done by Thursday’s team.  Jack soon volunteered to go to the main complex early and see what needed to be done there.

Jack took a shuttle to the main complex of barns and fields in the center of the Grange area.  The shuttle glided past a multitude of “fields” that consisted of trees widely spaced apart with crops growing in a circle around each tree.   The area between each tree was a patchwork of various leafy crops and root vegetables at this time of year.  People were scattered about the fields gathering the last of the fall harvest from raised beds into sacks they carried over their shoulders. Young children ran about in a game of tag, careful to use the trails and not to step directly in the vegetable beds.  To the untrained eye this looked like a chaotic, overgrown jungle, but to anyone in Jack’s time it was farm land and it meant the security that their parents had been denied.

The shuttle began to slow and glide into a turn out.  The doors to the shuttle opened at a small building with a sign that declared “Welcome to the Corona Community Supported Agriculture Main Office”.   Jack waved to some boys he recognized from the school who were walking up the middle trail.  Each of the Granges had a central agricultural area and there was a trail that meandered down the center of all of them, connecting them like fine green gems on a necklace.  Although anyone could take a shuttle to almost anywhere in town for free, people walked along the middle trail frequently when they were in no particular hurry and when the weather was as fine as it was this Fall day.  As he was entering the main office to see either Ellse or Joe,  Jack caught sight of Matt. Apparently Matt’s complex had no use for him either.  Jack waved and Matt hurried his pace so they entered the office together.

Ellse was sitting at a desk with her computer unfolded calculating shares of produce, looking at orders and calculating how much they could spare in trade.  She looked up as the men entered the building.

“An embarrassment of riches today.”  she smiled, “We seem to have quite a few people today.  We’ll probably finish by two today.  I should tell Joe to lighten up the schedule for next week.”

“Do you have a place for us today, Ellse?”

“Oh there is always work to do in the barn.  The goats need feeding and milked and I’ll send two more along shortly to held with the mucking out.”

Matt and Jack exchanged glances.  Jack actually liked working with the animals but Matt was less fond of the goats.  He was easy going though and shrugged.  ” ‘Kay Ellse.  We’ll see you this afternoon.”

He and Matt headed for the section of the barn where the goats and chickens were kept. Jack had liked caring for the chickens as well but found it too distressing when the chickens disappeared on Fridays and were sent home as dinner. He could not reconcile this with his own eating habits and felt somewhat ashamed for not being able to face the facts when he asked to be transferred away from that duty. Jack was very fond of the small herd of goats the CSA owned, though, and did not have the same conflicted feelings about the herd.

The pungent smell of the goat hit them as they walked into the barn. Jack did not find the odor unpleasant as he associated it with the easy peaceful days of youth but Matt wrinkled his nose in disgust.

Matt reached up on the wall and took down 2 stools.  Jack opened a wooden bin and took out several flakes of hay which he began to break up for the goats who had perked up and were coming to the trough in a hurry.  Jack put the flakes in the trough and then accepted one of the stools from Matt so they could set about milking the goats. The milking was done by hand because the CSA could not afford the energy or the machinery for automated milking with the few animals it owned.  This was not really an issue as every member of the CSA had learned in childhood how to milk by hand and the chore was second nature to most of them.  The CSA had discussed several times getting cows but the expense and the need for more space had stopped them from doing so. The milk Jack and Matt collected was emptied one bucket full at a time into a large tub where it was pasteurized automatically.  The pasteurization machine had been a huge expense but also a vast relief for the CSA members.

While they worked, Jack and Matt talked easily.

“Are you going to the Harvest Fair this year?”  Matt asked as they worked.

To be honest he had not thought about it much.  Most of the people in town went.   Fairs were a long standing tradition that hearkened back to a nostalgic era.  Jack rarely missed the Fair.  The Granges had booths and friendly competitions for best produce, games, music etc.  Most of his class attended and rode the various rides nonstop while they were sick.  Jack usually enjoyed the food but also the entertainment.  There was a battle of the bands that took place and he usually took a date and had a great time.  It was the kind of place families went or you took a date and at the moment Jack could think of no one to ask.  It was not the kind of place you went stag.  “Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe.  Maybe I’ll man the booth for Corona this year.  You going?”

“Yeah…Of course.”  Matt flashed his winning smile.

“Who you taking?  The girl from The Majority Whip?”

“Well, not exactly, but close.  I’m taking Molly.”

Jack turned to look at Matt but his hands continued there rhythm without a missed beat, “Molly?  I thought she hated you.”

“Hates a strong word.  She came over to my place to demand that I break it off with her friend Sonia, the one from The Whip, and then one thing led to another…”

Jack broke out laughing.  “You are kidding me.”

“Well…I appreciated her passion…in defense of her friend, I mean.”

Jack laughed even harder.  He almost wanted to attend just to see Matt and Molly together.

Once the milking was done Matt opened the door of the stalls. The goats happily pranced outside to the open pen for their own social gathering. Two of the younger goats immediately began to test each other with a contest of strength by butting heads and pushing each other.  The more mature goats ignored the pair and started to graze. Jack smiled watching them but then had to start with the rest of the work. He and Matt began to muck out the stalls with a shovel. The spent straw was placed in a large wheel barrel which was saved for the compost pile. Come spring this nitrogen rich straw was worth its weight in gold for their fields. New straw, shipped in at great expense from outlying fields that grew grain crops, was used to line the stalls-somewhat sparingly.

Jody and Laura, two of the CSA’s teenage members, joined them shortly after the milking was done.  They did grab shovels and start to help, sort of.  Jack was not sure how much help they gave as most of their time was spent giggling and whispering in each other’s ears.

By the time they were done with that the milk had pasteurized. The milk was bottled by hand by the four CSA members. It was then chilled in a large in ground refrigerator until delivery time this afternoon. This took up the bulk of their morning and it was lunch time by the time the four headed back to the main complex.  Lunch was prepared by four of the older members of the CSA who no longer worked the fields.  It was made from what ever was being harvested at the time and so today consisted of a ratatoulle.   These members did a fair amount of canning and preserving of food which were divided up amoung the CSA members for the winter as well.

As promised, the bulk of the work was done by lunch and so only delivers needed to be managed after lunch.    The members of the CSA entered a large room where bushels of produce sat on a large table and stacks of baskets was braced against the wall.   Jack grabbed a mini computer much like an old PDA and it immediately gave him a name and a list.  Jack walked around the table gathering the produce and dairy products on the list.  Then he wrote the name with wax pencil on the handle of the basket.  He had finished five baskets when there were not more names to be had on the list.

The baskets were then wheeled out to the shuttle area.  Special cars with carts that wheeled out of the each shuttle to make delivery easy were always lined up there.  Jack put 7 baskets on the rack in the shuttle.  All of them were destined for his complex.  One of them was of course his own.

At his complex Jack rolled the cart out of the enlarged door in the shuttle and told the shuttle “Wait.”

The shuttle answered to acknowledge that it had understood his command, “Yes, Mr. Randell.”.  Jack did use the elevator today.  He delivered the baskets and collected empty baskets from the doorways.  He then wheeled the cart back to the shuttle with the empty baskets from previous deliveries.  The cart fit neatly back into the shuttle and Jack told the shuttle, “Home.”

“Destination Corona CSA.”  the shuttle answered and its door closed and it was off.

Jack took his own basket and went inside to take his long delayed shower.

The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1.  Midnight in the Garden of Eden

How would your life change if the simple abundance of America stopped?  If the places where the bulk of our food is grown became a desert?  Additionally, what if fuel prices were such that using petroleum based fertilizers to make land that is marginal produce was not an option?  Further we would be unable to afford to transport food 1000’s of miles as we do now.  Most of our diet would have to consist of locally grown food.  If you do not live in the US, do not think that you will be spared.  The prediction is that with continued global warming the mid-portions of all the continents will become dryer.  For most of civilization, these are the grain growing areas.

For one thing there would be refugees.  Millions of them.  The remaining inhabitable areas would become crowded quickly.  Next, how to feed all those people?   Our current system speaks of efficiency but they are not talking of efficiency in making the most food per acre but in making it the cheapest for the owner of that acre.  What if it became imperative to get the most out of each and every acre that was under cultivation?

How hungry would you have to be to agree to spend your days tilling the soil?

2.  The Secret Garden of Eden

When the European settlers (invaders) came to America they saw a huge untamed land.  So wild was the land, that they felt completely justified in taking it away from the people living there, who were apparently not using it to its full potential.

What they were actually looking at was the largest garden ever created.  The Europeans had no experience that would tell them that this was a land under cultivation.  There were no rows of vegetables, no neatly spaced orchards, no fields of wheat or barley.  Instead there were plants purposely planted together is specific arrangements to assist each other in production.  When the Europeans got here they did not understand this form of cultivation.  All they saw was untamed wilderness.  So as winter came the first group of them starved in the most abundant garden on Earth.

The most basic example of this type of planting is the Three Sisters Garden.  Corn (maize) is planted in the center.  Beans or other vine is planted on the periphery.  The beans give the soil nitrogen, benefiting the other 2 sisters and use the corn stalk as a support to climb.  The third sister is squash which has big leaves and shades the ground while the other 2 sisters get a chance to grow.  This also prevents weeds and deters pests.  Sometimes a fourth sister was added which was a plant used for paint and was also a nitrogen fixer that deterred pests.  When you look at such a garden it does not look like a garden at all.  It looks overgrown.  Yet it is a far more productive garden then the neat monoculture rows we are used to today.

Create your own Three Sisters Garden in a container

3.  I Never Promised You a Garden of Eden

The largest ecological disaster ever recorded in history was created by man…specifically the US government.  The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s was manufactured by the push to settle the West with Anglo Europeans and to drive out the Natives who lived there.  The marginal land was virtually given away to settlers with the only agreement that they till the soil and grow crops.  The short grass prairies were not suited to this sort of agriculture.  They had periodic droughts and high winds.  The grasses that grew there had evolved over millians of years to tolerate such abuse and they held the soil in place.

At first the farmers tilled the soil and did well. As it turned out the droughts stayed away longer than usual.  But in 1931 a drought did come and the crops died.  The farmers plowed the soil again the next year and again there was not enough rain fall.  The situation continued until the dust storms began and in 1934 a dust storm that started in the plains traveled to Chicago, New York and finally deposited a quarter inch of soil on ships out to sea in the Atlantic ocean.  Even though some brilliant changes were made in the management of this area, much of the ground has never recovered and remains desert today.  (More on the Dust Bowl in a future entry.)

We now stand on the edge of the next great ecological disaster.  It too is man made and spurred on by government policies.  First there is global warming, most people know about that. In conjunction with this is the destruction of our native soils.  We have so abused our soils that the only way to keep them producing is to load them with petroleum-based fertilizers and treat the vast spaces of single crop agriculture with petroleum-based poisons.  This type of agriculture has lead to huge dead areas along our water ways and coast lines as the poisons wash down stream killing ecosystems in their wake.  This has left the soil with poor texture, little organic matter, and no inherent fertility.  It is little more than a sponge on which we dump a chemical bath in which we grow our food.  In short we are ripe for another dust bowl.

The Chinese have poisoned their soil so badly that they now realize that they will not be able to feed their population.  They are buying up huge swathes of African farm land to feed their people.  As the Sahara expands and eats up African farm land, how long do you think the Chinese will be able to export food from Africa at the expense of local people before civil unrest and war breaks out?

Yes but this is how it needs to be.  This is how we get the most food per acre.  It is the cheapest way to feed the multitude.  It is the healthiest way for humans to feed themselves.

Wrong, WRONG and WRONG!

First, 4-6 times as much food per acre can be grown without poisons and petroleum based fertilizers.  Permaculture experts have shown this over and over again in various environments.  The problem is that it is not conducive to large-scale, industrial farming.  It means having crops mixed together in small batches.  You can’t run any type of harvest machine over cultivation like that.  One person can not reap the profit with machines and a handful of poorly paid employees.  This type of farming is human labor intensive and is better suited to a multitude of small farms.

Next, it is not cheaper.  In fact the whole system could not survive if it were not for your tax dollars.  So the true cost of producing food in this fashion is hidden, but you are still paying it.  The federal government for decades has supported what it considers “staples”, corn, soy, wheat, rice and cotton with something called the Farm Bill.  This has made it very cheap to grow these few crops and they now flood the market.  So much so that the school lunch program was invented to have a place to dump all of this excess “staple”.  In fact they flood other countries markets as well.  If you want a root cause for the increased immigration to the United States from South of the Border, that would be it.  The farmers down there can not compete with our corn products which are propped up by your tax dollars.  So rather than starve to death, they come here to where the corn that is killing them comes from.

These tax dollars are given preferentially to industrial farmers.  Industrial farming produces 1/3 of the Green House gases in the world.  Hear that President Obama?  If you want a simple suggestion to stop global warming, stop the portion of the Farm Bill (remember this is your tax money) that is contributing one third of the CO2 emissions from the US, poisoning our waterways and oceans, causing starvation elsewhere, causing an immigration crisis and killing the people of the US (more on that later).

4.  The Garden of Eden Strikes Back

Go to your kitchen cabinet and pick up a box, can or bottle at random.  Scan the ingredients.  I’ll wait….

Does the box say, “High Fructose Corn Syrup” or “Dehydrogenated”, “Partially Dehydrogenated” or “Mono-diglycerides”?  You my friend are the victim of government poisoning.—Dr A

This whole story makes me believe in dharma in a way.  If you keep a chicken and feed it scraps from your table and allow it to roam your yard, as many people in my neighborhood do, the eggs the chicken produces are good for you.  (They taste better too.)  They have the right kind of fat to help your nervous system.  They are high in protein.  On the other hand if you put six adult chickens in a “batter cage” the size of a filing cabinet drawer and take a hot knife and “debeak” them so they don’t peck each other apart under this stress you get a wholly different result.  You get eggs with a higher amount of the wrong types of fat and less protein.  Eggs that eventually clog the arteries of the eater.  More worrisome you must give these animals a constant dose of petroleum-based antibiotics or their stressed immune systems will be overwhelmed and they will die and be less productive.  So they are the breeding grounds for drug resistant organisms and things like avian flu.  You have to admit there is adharma to that.  If you treat the animal well it is life sustaining to you.  If you treat it monstrously, it kills you slowly and perhaps not so slowly and in great numbers with epidemics.

In fact we can see this story again and again with industrial farming.  Fish farms produce fish with far less of the good fats and contaminated with pesticides.  Beef and pork are less lean and completely lacking in the healthy fats and minerals that pastured animals have in their meat.  The are also breeding grounds for super bugs.

Vegetables are not spared.  The average apple in your local super market has 35 chemicals in or on it that have not been tested to see if they are dangerous for you to eat.  The lack of fertile soil and the use of petroleum-based fertilizers for food production has resulted in produce with half of the nutritional value of produce from the 1940’s.  There is more sugar and water in our fruit then there was in 1940’s.  So prevalent is this problem that 1/5 women do not get enough magnesium and actually have symptoms of hypomagnesemia.  [Note:  The website is pretty good but missed one of the important uses of magnesium and that is restless leg syndrome.]  Magnesium used to be obtained from plants with deep root systems that reached deep into the soil and absorbed it.  Now the roots are never allowed to develop that well before the plant is harvested.

And then there is the Farm Bill.  Remember that the government wanted a surplus of “staples” on hand.  Now they have more surplus than they can handle and they are looking for ways to get rid of the stuff.  Well you could just stop subsidizing it. But instead we continue to subsidize something we already have too much of and then work to find ways to deal with the excess.  They dump it in school lunch program.  They dump it on other countries.  They try to make fuel out of it.  But mostly they find ways of making us eat it. Corn is used to make High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).  Cotton, corn and soy are also used to make oils that are bad for you.  And then we put the oil and HFCS in everything.  In things that don’t normally have sugar or oil in them.  And that has poisoned the population.  So much so that we are now facing the worst epidemic in history.  Forget Swine Flu.  Your odds of dieing from Swine Flu are pretty long.  Your odds of being killed by food that your government is subsidizing are one in three.  That is one third of people in America are now obese and that means they are at risk from dieing of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a variety of other ailments.  Oh and we come out of pocket for that as well since the government is unwilling to give the people the health care system they demand.  New York estimates that a new diagnosis of type II diabetes will cost a person $13,000 a year ($500,000 over the life of the patient).

Health Observatory

Keep Antibiotics Working



Farm Bill Part 1

Part 2 Part 3

Part 4 Part 5

Unnatural Selection

Vandana Shiva

Global Food Crisis

5. Garden of Eden State

So how can we combat this?  What needs to happen to head off this disaster?  How can you protect yourself from your government’s determination to poison you?

First learn to garden.  Even an apartment dweller can grow food in small spaces using container gardens.  Look for community gardens in your area.  And that would make your food, well, dirt cheap.  Resist the temptation to use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  Be careful, they slip those things in on you when you are buying potting soil.

People with more space, consider putting in a raised bed or landscaping with edible plants.  No it won’t be ugly.  See:

Learn about Permaculture.  For God’s sake stop planting grass which needs a great deal of water and pesticide to survive in most places.

Try to buy organic when possible.  Especially animal products.  Also peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce and imported grapes have the most toxins on them.  Onions, avocados, frozen corn, pineapple, mango, asparagus, frozen peas, kiwi, cabbage, eggplant and papaya are usually safe in regular stores.   Stores specializing in organic foods tend to be very expensive.  Check out local farmers markets and CSA’s for better pricing.

Shoppers Guide to Most/Least toxic Produce for Download

Urban Permaculture Guild

Permaculture Activisit

Urban Farm Family

Local Harvest


Rocky Mountain Institute


Backyard Permaculture

Jan Spencer in Eugene OR

Robert Hart’s Forest Garden

Industrial Meat Manufacturing

6.  The Constant Gardener

I came across Charles Eisenstein’s The Ascent of Humanity on the web.  In one of the chapters he discusses demurrage money.  This is a concept that has been used a few times in history but is always killed by banks.  What it does is change the emphasis of money.  Money kind of goes bad like fruit.  The reason to do this is to change the dynamic of money from one of scarcity, which is the dynamic we have now, to one of abundance.  Now, you can never have enough money, which encourages hoarding and exchanging resources for cash.  In a demurrage system any money you have is too much.  You should get rid of it before it “goes bad”.  Suddenly you see money as abundant.  I can not describe this nearly as well as Charles Eisenstein and I very much encourage you to check out his site.



Skip to comment form

  1. Living in what some call the most toxic state of the union New Jersey and being a renter I often wonder how much I can do myself but reading your diary helps my resolve to if nothing else be as locovore, organic and ecofriendly as possible.  Now I have to get a small containrer garden going.  


    • Joy B. on May 31, 2009 at 20:13

    …The Farm. Stopped by there once on my way elsewhere, got to plant sweet potatoes and work in the kitchen. Wasn’t much good at either job.

    Now I’ve got my own place, am an organic grower (truck crops, apples, pears and grapes), and maintain 12 acres of forest-grown medicinals (ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh and others). This is a GREAT diary (and series!). I can’t wait for your book so I’ve got it all here to show people.


  2. What a wonderful essay.

    I will be going to read all the previous ones you have linked.

    My best wishes to you on the book, one that should be on the shelves & curriculum at every high school.

    I think education, such as you present it, is one of the most important ways to improve the planet & individual people`s health.

    I`m sending this to my other contacts.

  3. … (I’m assuming there are some full time farmers as well in the process?) … just a brilliant diary.

    Its important to keep remembering every time we forget that what the system selects for is not the most beneficial technology, but rather the technology that permits funds to be concentrated into large streams.

Comments have been disabled.