Local CSA Farmers and Members Share Thoughts at Hope College Symposium


By Judith Boogaart

[Note: This is the first post by guest blogger, Judith Boogaart, who helped cover the Hope College Critical Issues Symposium event while I was at the Taste of Greenmarket in New York City last week.]

One of the Wednesday morning focus sessions at the “Good Food for the Common Good” symposium highlighted Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in West Michigan. A panel discussion, “The CSA Farm Experience,” featured Lee Arboreal from Eaters Guild CSA in Bangor, Anja Mast from Trillium Haven Farm in Jenison, and Kristen and Noah Livingston, CSA members from Holland.

Arboreal says his concept of the word “community” in Community Supported Agriculture has changed over time.

At first he saw it as a contract between “me, the farmer–you, the eater,” but now he sees it as a broadening network of farmer, eater, biology and farm experts, seed and hardware suppliers, soil, climate, the animals on the farm, down to the very microorganisms in the soil. All are part of the community that produces healthy food at Eaters Guild and other CSA farms.

As oil prices rise, Arboreal believes CSA farms will begin to outcompete the large monoculture farms that depend on petroleum products for transportation and agricultural techniques. CSA will become a solution to food problems in the future.

In 2001, after looking at what they were doing and why they were doing it, Anja Mast and her husband decided to create what they felt was missing in their lives by starting Trillium Haven Farm.

Her experience was similar to Arboreal’s. In the beginning it was “me and my,” Mast says, but she has come to see that CSA is really about connecting the members to their food, to the land, and to each other. CSA farming expands into the schools, the neighborhood and the region to promote a worthwhile experience for the family.

Mast shares with CSA members her “spiritual practices of cooking, eating and gardening” and views food choices as “ethical and spiritual decisions.” She would like to see the CSA model grow beyond the current 20% of people in West Michigan who are willing to invest the time, money and dedication needed to provide healthy and nutritious food for themselves and their families.

Many people cite a lack of time as an impediment to buying, cooking and eating healthy food. “What is so important,” asks Mast, “that you would sacrifice your health, family, local economy and the environment for ‘convenience’?” Good question.

Noah and Kristen Livingston encouraged each person to take the time to consider the goals, dreams and values that are important to them, and make food decisions in line with those values.

Making wise food choices is not always easy, they say. Kristen pointed out that college students, for example, may find it difficult to find the resources and means to prepare healthy, nutritious food. “Don’t do it by yourself,” Noah advises. It’s important to find others with similar desires and work together. The Livingstons use CSA memberships, the farmers market, u-picks and growing their own food in their yard as ways to obtain healthier food.

The panelists and participants at the symposium represent a growing number of people who are living deliberately, evaluating their lifestyles and choosing the things that make for health and wholeness. Visit these CSA websites. Better yet, visit the farms! Become part of a community that learns and works together to make better food choices and improve the quality of life.

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