Food production in the United States is grounded in the theft of land from Indigenous Americans and the enslavement of African peoples captured and brought here to work that land. Our country does not recognize the significance of this history in establishing our current position as the wealthiest county in the world. And our ability to look away from these injustices allows us to perpetuate them today with examples like these:
Undocumented farmworkers being deemed “essential” while denied pathways to citizenship, fair wages and basic protections;
FairShare acknowledges that this history is embedded in our occupations as agricultural workers and in every meal we eat.
History of CSA and FairShare
The birth of community supported agriculture (CSA) in the United States is most commonly attributed to Indian Line CSA and Temple-Wilton Community Farm, founded by white farmers in 1985 and 1986, respectively. While these two farms have played large roles in the popularization of CSA in America, this history ignores the earlier contributions of Black farmers to the CSA model.
The concept of community supported agriculture originated in the United States in the 1960s and 70s with Dr. Booker T. Whately. As a Black farmer and agricultural professor at Tuskegee University, Dr. Whatley advocated for “smaller and smarter” farming. He taught regenerative farming practices and believed that small farms could achieve financial sustainability by directly marketing their goods through what he called “Clientele Membership Clubs.” These clubs were virtually identical to modern CSAs with the one exception that club members, unlike today’s CSA members, were expected to come out to the farm and harvest their food themselves.
In 1992, the FairShare CSA Coalition (FairShare) was started by a group of community members who wanted better access to local and organic food and a stronger connection with the farms and farmers that grow it. These eaters recruited local farmers to start CSAs. Both of these groups were white and middle class. This foundation of white leadership and thought has had a predictable and enduring impact on the long-term priorities and vision of FairShare and it’s no coincidence we look the way we do today.
Current State of CSA
Today, CSA is dominated by white farmers, and serves predominantly white, middle-class members. To center equity in the model, we must understand the racist systems that have stripped land from Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) as well as those farmers’ access to capital, and actively work to challenge those systems. We must also examine the current features of CSA that exclude diverse participation and actively change them.
Many attributes considered core to CSA are also attributes that perpetuate white dominance in the model, including the large upfront cost of membership, language barriers in promotional and sign up materials, transportation required to fetch shares during limited pickup times, and the time and knowledge required to prepare and cook the culturally dominant foods that come in a share.
Revisioning and innovating CSA in a way that centers racial equity may produce a model that looks different from what we have come to expect. This revision will maintain the core principles of CSA while changing the elements that make it exclusive and dominated by white people. CSA requires that the community has a stake in and supports their local farmers. In return, the community is fed and nourished. This concept will not work if it only prioritizes the needs of a fragment of the community.
At its core, CSA is about reciprocity and relationship-building: community supporting agriculture. This ethos is what FairShare stands behind when we say that CSA can be the backbone of a strong local food economy and it is this ethos that we will continue to center. By prioritizing a model of CSA that works for those who are most impacted by injustice, we move towards serving the entire community.
1. Examine our work through the lenses of race, class, ethnicity, language, gender, age and ability, so that we can be conscious of who benefits from our work and who does not.
a. Organize at least one annual training for staff and board on equity, with a focus on agriculture and the development of tools and behaviors for doing this work
d. Implement equitable recruitment and hiring practices for staff and board
2. Prioritize focus on and engagement with BIPOC farmers and consumers to ensure expanded relevance and accessibility of FairShare programming.
a. Integrate translation and interpretation across FairShare’s farmer and consumer resources and begin building sustainable funding for language access services.
b. Incorporate thoughtful and relevant acknowledgements of our agricultural history and the contributions of BIPOC farmers and consumers into programs and events
c. Invest in opportunities to expand resources for BIPOC farmers through equitable grower programs and farm endorsement
3. Learn about, support, and follow the lead of BIPOC-led organizations, with a focus on those organizations that work in agriculture, food security, labor and health care.
a. Build partnerships with BIPOC-led organizations through a foundation of deep listening, showing up and collaboration
b. Recommend BIPOC organizations and leaders to committees and organizations that make policy decisions affecting farmers and eaters
c. Put our dollars behind POC-led service providers and organizations