What is the SAEA?

In my last post, I mentioned a few quick notes about what I got out of #SAEA2011, Here is some more info about the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association and how Kentucky’s new programming fits into new efforts by universities to help provide support for the growing movement in food.

Here’s one choice quotation:

Some of the people were similar to us—big farms with apprenticeship programs,” Williams said. “Other people had apprenticeship programs, but it is with volunteers on a really small garden, one-fourth acre, one-half acre, something like that. The way the teaching is done, what programs are run, there’s a huge variation on the way things are done—from whole curricula like us to one class. So people come here for different reasons.

Reflection on SAEA 2011

Two weeks ago I went to the Sustainable Agriculture Education Association’s conference in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a great time and I ate the best food I’ve had in a year…for 2 straight days.

Here are some highlights:

  • Finally met Damian Parr & Mark van Horn. (I almost went to UC-Davis for grad school and really admire the programs they’ve built out there on the UCD Student Farm.)
  • Anthony Flaccavento gave a great talk about community food initiatives and the false choice we are given between communism and capitalism as the only economic models available to us. Both provide their own form of subjugation and it’s time we mobilize this food movement as a political force. This talk is quite similar: http://vimeo.com/20880868
  • Met perhaps a dozen people in their mid-20s that are building new local food or food justice initiatives from the ground up. Many of my fellow 20-somethings are fed up with the our economic and political systems and see food as a big way to make a difference.
  • I saw Wendell Berry read his short story “Sold,” which you can read here: http://bit.ly/nwgUU0. Another blogger reflects on the food of the evening here: http://bit.ly/phRioP

Collaborative CSAs

One important idea of sustainable agriculture is diversified small farms. But, how many species/varieties is enough?

Sometimes I wake up at night or think of something before bed that I have to write down before I can get back to sleep.  In this case, it’s still before midnight (yay), although more often, it happens around 4:30 in the morning (boo).

How diverse should a new generation of farms look?  How many crop species and crop varieties should a small farm have at any given time?  Many would look to history and a time when every farmer grew a little bit of everything; they’d grow everything they needed to support their family and sell surpluses for a little bit of income.

The modern CSA (community supported agriculture) mimics these farms, often quite well. Most provide a huge array of produce, which sometimes intimidates first-year subscribers.  But, I challenge you to find one CSA that lasts more than ten years or is run by a grower that works less than 55 hours a week.

Is that sustainable?

I’ve worked on a couple CSAs and in some ways they helped me realize the benefits of efficiency. (Perhaps my German background and brief life as engineer/programmer is talking). With a little bit of inspiration from innovative markets like Athens Locally Grown (which I plan to talk about more later), I thought of a new potential model for a CSA. What if a team of farmer’s got together to provide baskets of food like a CSA, but each of the growers only grows a couple crops per year?

Ideally, this might help decrease participating growers’ work-load down to something manageable for a part-time farmer (which many growers are). It might also help decrease those really successful growers’ 60 hour work-week down to something more reasonable.

Technology makes marketing this approach as easy as marketing a CSA. And while there might be a few kinks in the supply chain, it seems likely a single box truck could be shared between the farms, further streamlining the distribution process.

I know there are no silver bullets when it comes to marketing, but this approach seemed like one worthy of writing down. I’d love to hear some feedback from any new readers! What do you think? Hare-brained scheme or an idea with some potential?