The Prying Mantis

No Justice, No Peace – reflections on organic farming, CSA and domestic fair trade.

“La Agricultura Sostenida por la Comunidad es uno de los ejemplos más extendidos de economía solidaria en acción:” Entrevista a Elizabeth Henderson, agricultora ecológica y autora del libro “Compartiendo la Cosecha”[1]   

Entrevistador: Daniel López García 


Libros en Acción ha publicado el pasado junio en formato e-book la primera traducción al castellano, actualizada y ampliada, del libro “Compartiendo la cosecha. Agricultura Apoyada por la Comunidad: una guía ciudadana”. El texto, publicado inicialmente en 1997, ha sido denominado “la biblia de la Agricultura Sostenida por la Comunidad”, y desvela con detalle, flexibilidad y una impresionante riqueza de experiencias, los principales debates prácticos y teóricos alrededor de la creación de este tipo de experiencias de relación directa entre producción y consumo. La ASC va mucho más allá de los grupos de consumo, y constituye un movimiento social que podría suponer más de 15000 experiencias en todo el Mundo.

Elizabeth Henderson, autora del libro, es agricultora ecológica desde hace más de 30 años, activista incansable por la sostenibilidad y la justicia alimentarias, y presidenta de honor de la Red Internacional Urgenci de Agricultura Sostenida por la Comunidad. Desde el Área de Agroecología de Ecologistas en Acción hemos tenido el gran placer de entrevistarla con ocasión de la publicación. Continue reading ““La Agricultura Sostenida por la Comunidad es uno de los ejemplos más extendidos de economía solidaria en acción:” Entrevista a Elizabeth Henderson, agricultora ecológica y autora del libro “Compartiendo la Cosecha”[1]   “


A Visit to Cuba – Organic Farming in a Country that Values Human Dignity

June 26 – July 1, 2017

Jack and I traveled to Cuba with Peter House and Michael Hannen, long-time friends in Rochester and members of Peacework CSA. Cultural Contrast, an agency that specializes in Cuban travel, organized our trip, a licensed “People-to-People” exchange (

Sunrise from the window of our 15th floor “casa particular”. A new day breading over Havana.

I have wanted to see Cuba for decades and decided to just go before I get too old to enjoy a visit to a nation that shares so many of my values.  Six days, a mere glimpse, yet better than nothing. Long enough to confirm that the Cuban revolution has made good use of their scarce resources. Cuba was a poor colonized country to start with and constrained even more by the US economic blockade. There may be few new cars, inadequate internet and building exteriors in need of repair, but the streets are safe, healthcare and education from elementary school through graduate studies are free, every citizen receives a monthly ration of basic staples (rice, beans, sugar, coffee, cooking oil), and city governments are required to provide housing for everyone.

Shop in old Havana where Cubans pick up their monthly rations of rice, beans, cooking oil, coffee and sugar.

You see no beggars or homeless in Havana, though plenty of hustlers. And since the collapse of Soviet support, there has been a great flowering of organic farms, urban and rural, guided by permaculture and agroecology.  That is what I was most curious to see and will write about here.

Continue reading “A Visit to Cuba – Organic Farming in a Country that Values Human Dignity”

“Sustainability, Farm Labor, Immigration, ALRB, and Cannabis” – April 14, 2017 California Agriculture and Farm Labor Conference at UC Davis Law School


By Elizabeth Henderson

Alannah Kull and I attended this highly informative, though rather depressing, conference on farm labor issues in California. Despite decades of farm worker organizing, most of the housing is lamentable and wages have actually gone down. Farm workers have the right to organize and there is an Agriculture Labor Relations Board (ALRB).  However, 100% of the orders it hands down are challenged in the courts (in contrast to 30% for the National LRB). You can find a full report with most of the presentations with their slides at

The first panel analyzed the different approaches to improving conditions for farm workers.  Nathan Smith of SureHarvest reviewed FairTradeUSA, CIW’s Fair Food, the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI) and Food Justice Certification (FJC), and noted that so far, the bottom up approaches are rarely self-sustaining and rely on foundation support.  Referring to himself as a “capitalist pig,” Ernie Farley, one of the managers of Andrews and Williams, a large produce operation that is a founding participant in EFI, noted that this program is bringing about real cultural change. As proof, he says he now talks to people like Margaret Reeves of Pesticide Action Network and Eric Nicholson of United Farm Workers.  Hector Lujan, representing Reuter Affiliated, the parent company of Driscoll’s, gave a glowing account of his company’s efforts to improve labor conditions, wages and housing, claiming that they offer the same standards in the many countries where they operate. Lujan’s main theme is an important one – “the economic model has to resolve things for everyone in the supply chain, including workers.” Continue reading ““Sustainability, Farm Labor, Immigration, ALRB, and Cannabis” – April 14, 2017 California Agriculture and Farm Labor Conference at UC Davis Law School”

Time to Replace H2A, the US “Guestworker” Program

By Elizabeth Henderson

Farmers who need to hire workers face a painful dilemma: revenues from farm products are too low to pay attractive wages, most local residents prefer cleaner, less physically demanding jobs, and many of the skilled farm workers are undocumented immigrants. Knowingly hiring an undocumented worker is a felony. As the new administration’s anti-immigrant policies unfold, pressure from farmers and farm organizations is increasing to expand the H-2A “Guestworker” program. Farmworker advocates question this program’s fairness to the workers from abroad and to the undocumented workers who make up 55 to 70 percent of current farm labor and who may lose their jobs to the imported workers. Farmers complain about the heavy paperwork burden involved in H-2A. Improving the guestworker program does not go to the source of the problem: the US cheap food system functions as long as there are sources of cheap labor. In a farming system worth sustaining, work as a professional farm worker will be a respected vocation that provides living wages with decent benefits.

But while we are transforming the cheap food system, we can at least reduce the injustices of the one farmers and farm workers must navigate in order to survive. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) proposal to reform the program identifies its major flaws:

“The so-called guestworker programs such as H-2A, and H-2B suffer from the same structural defect—they provide temporary workers to the companies that have been least successful in attracting a labor force.  The visas are given to workers, but the visas are tied to specific businesses, which often use intermediaries to recruit, transport, and supervise the workers.  The lack of portability of the visa inevitably leads to abuses by the intermediaries or employers—such as taking bribes, charging workers for equipment or transport, or demanding a portion of future earnings–since the workers fear retaliation if they complain.  These heavily bureaucratic programs should be abandoned for an approach that gives the workers a portable work visa and allows the labor market to function.”

The NSAC proposal envisages creating North American Agricultural Work Visas (NAAV), “dual intent” visas that would allow guestworkers to change employers and to come and go across the border.  The same freedom to cross the border legally should be instituted for the 11 million undocumented people in the US, including the million or more farm workers. Continue reading “Time to Replace H2A, the US “Guestworker” Program”

Local, Organic, And Fair: We Want the Whole Loaf!


By Elizabeth Henderson

With the financial recovery looking more like the Great Recession, people are turning to the real goods and services of the earth economy.  As stock prices rise and the top 1% bloats with wealth, for many in the 99% incomes are eroding and job security is a quaint concept from the past. A stream of books by Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, Bill McKibben, Barbara Kingsolver, and others have put local food at the top of the best-seller list. And deeper, systemic analyses (Wayne Roberts’ No Nonsense Guide to World Food, Wenonah Hauter’s  Foodopoly) are helping us understand why the hard times are failing to evaporate and how small local actions can add up to transformative change. Stressed families are eating out less and planting gardens.  Small seed companies are experiencing double digit growth. The number of CSAs all over the country has tripled over the past ten years. Downsized bankers and PhDs are signing up with the spreading network of new farmer programs. And more people are turning to local farms for the ingredients essential to their newly recognized priorities of health and self-reliance.

The pundits tell us that local trumps organic and for many people a certified organic label from a farm 3,000 miles away does not provide the reassurance they seek.  But will they be satisfied when they realize that the farms within 100 miles of home use toxic chemicals, underpay their workers, and can barely manage to stay in business? Maybe there is more that people need from farms than comforting proximity.

Becoming a locavore follows from a deeper change in consciousness. Going local provides many benefits at the same time.

* Your money is circulating in your own community: family-scale farms are independent businesses that tend to support other local businesses.  Some corporation is not siphoning your dollars off to line its coffers or pay its stockholders.

* If ever there were “green” jobs, employment in local sustainable agriculture meets the definition.

* Economically viable farms preserve open space and beautiful working landscapes.

* And finally, eating local food saves energy. David Pimentel, Professor of Insect Ecology at Cornell University, has calculated that modern industrial agriculture expends 10 calories for each food-calorie produced. Many of those excess calories are burned up in transportation, packaging, and marketing. Continue reading “Local, Organic, And Fair: We Want the Whole Loaf!”

Justice for Family-Scale Farmers and All Food Workers

Keynote speech by Elizabeth Henderson at the Future Harvest CASA’s “Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed” conference, January 14, 2017 

All the people of the land – farmers as well as farmworkers – have the human right to live in dignity and respect with a secure supply of the foods of their choice produced in harmony with the natural environment, and to live in a healthy, rich natural environment in a world in peace.

Greetings! It is an honor to be asked to share my thoughts on justice for farmers and how this relates to justice for farmworkers and workers in other kinds of food enterprises as well as people with low-incomes. I just attended the new farmer session. It is so exciting that there are 65 people in this program!

The promise of industrialized agriculture has been that it would feed the world with plentiful, inexpensive and safe food.  That promise has not been kept. Food insecurity and food access are still heavy burdens– in your region, the Maryland Food Bank alone supplies 120,000 meals a day. In the Future Harvest states, over 19% of the children live in food insecure households and the figure reaches a shameful 30% in DC.   Continue reading “Justice for Family-Scale Farmers and All Food Workers”

Charter for CSAs in the USA and Canada

charter logo color (1)
Logo designed by Ruth Blackwell, farmer at Mud Creek CSA, Victor, New York.

It is up to each CSA farm and its community to build a model that suits them best and to mutually ensure that the CSA upholds the principles of this charter.

  1. Farm members buy directly from the farm or group of farms. There is no middleman.
  1. The farm provides member families with high quality, healthy, nutrient-dense, fresh and preserved, local and low fossil-fuel food or fiber, filling the share primarily with products grown on the farm or, if purchased from other farms, clearly identified as to origin.
  1. Farm members commit to the CSA, sharing the bounty and the risks of farming by signing an agreement with the CSA and paying some part in advance, even as little as two weeks for those on Food Stamps.
  1. The farm nurtures biodiversity through healthy production that is adapted to the rhythm of the seasons and is respectful of the natural environment, of cultural heritage, and that builds healthy soils, restores soil carbon, conserves water and minimizes pollution of soil, air and water.
  1. Farmers and members commit to good faith efforts for continuous development of mutual trust and understanding, and to solidarity and responsibility for one another as co-producers.
  1. Farm members respect the connection with the land upon which the CSA grows their food and strive to learn more and to understand the nature of growing food in their locale.
  1. Farmers practice safe-handling procedures to ensure that the produce is safe to eat and at its freshest, tastiest, and most nutritious.
  1. CSA prices reflect a fair balance between the farmers’ needs to cover costs of production and pay living wages to themselves and all farm workers so that they can live in a dignified manner, and members’ needs for food that is accessible and affordable.
  1. Farmers consult with members, take their preferences into account when deciding what crops to grow and communicate regularly about the realities of the farm.
  1. Farm members commit to cooperation with the community of members and to fulfill their commitments to the CSA.
  1. Farmers commit to using locally adapted seeds and breeds to the greatest extent possible.
  1. The CSA seeks paths to social inclusiveness to enable the less well-off to access high quality food and commits to growing the CSA movement through increasing the number of CSAs and collaboration among them.

The Story of the Charter

By Elizabeth Henderson

Similar to what happened in Japan after 30 years of Teikei, CSA in the US is facing something of a crisis.  Across the country, CSAs that had waiting lists are having trouble finding enough members. So, individual CSAs and CSA networks around the country have decided act together as a CSA community.  Taking a clue from the rapid growth of CSAs in new areas of the world (France, UK, all of Europe, China), we are proposing the adoption of a CSA Charter that provides a definition of what CSA is all about.  Together, regional networks and independent CSAs launched the Charter on CSA Sign-up Day, February 24, 2017 as a way to attract public attention and, hopefully, inspire many new people to join CSAs. The CSAs that endorse the Charter are posting it on their website along with a logo that identifies them as charter endorsers. In doing this, the CSAs commit to upholding the values of the Charter.

Flashback: In February 1979, a tractorcade of 6,000 farmers tied up traffic in Washington, D.C. to protest farm policy that ended parity, the pricing system that had linked farm prices to the costs of other sectors of the economy. The deepening farm crisis of the 1980s accelerated the loss of family-scale farms. Developers were grabbing up farmland at the rate of many acres a day. In face of the grim reality that small and mid-sized, family-scale community based farming could disappear completely in the US, people who wanted to farm and support farms had to invent creative alternatives – that is how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) was born.

In the words of Anthony Graham, farmer at Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, one of the first two CSAs in the USA:  “Ideas have a way of hovering until the time is right or the right person or group can give it form. Booker T Whatley sounds like he was a forerunner in the idea of communities supporting farms and farmers, but I don’t think he can be said to have created the CSA concept.  In the mid 80’s what has now come to be known as CSA was an idea whose time had come, with roots in many places and in many people. It grew out of a sense of community and it came as an answer to a need. When the time was ripe it grew exponentially through the work of many people, not the least of whom were the farmers who recognized a great idea and ran with it.”  In the South, Booker T. Whatley researched and taught farmers “How to Make $100,000 from a 25 Acre Farm.” Inspired by Swiss and German examples, Robyn Van En and Trauger Groh, Anthony Graham and Lincoln Geiger established the first CSA farms in the US in 1986, Indian Line Farm and Temple-Wilton Community Farm. Robyn became CSA’s Johnny Appleseed, spreading the concept at Biodynamic and Organic conferences across the country. In 2017, there are over 7300 CSAs in the US.

At the 1993 New York State CSA Gathering in Syracuse, I shared my thoughts on the significance of CSA as an antidote to the dominant industrial food system: “We need to take our work more seriously.  We have the chance to build the food system that will replace the current one.  CSA is an idea – a tremendously flexible concept for a new consumer-farmer connection, an alternative system of distribution based on community values.  The economics of direct sales make this a win-win solution for farmers and consumers.  The farmer gets a decent price and the consumer pays less, since there is no middleman.  For the farmer, the CSA offers the possibility of a broad support group of people who genuinely care about the farm’s survival and who are willing to share the farmer’s risks.  Consumers have the opportunity to connect with the earth, know and trust the people who grow their food and support the local economy and to transform themselves into the much more meaningful and empowered stance of a person who is taking responsibility of one of the most basic needs of a human being.  The big question we must answer – will this be sustainable?”

Anthony Graham writes: “When we started the Temple Wilton Community Farm with a series of community meetings in the winter of 1985/1986, one thing we were sure of was that we were not selling anything – we were far more interested in community and in the ‘culture’ in agriculture. What we were attempting to set up was a way for a community of people to support the existence of a farm through good times and bad by making pledges of financial support over the course of one year. By agreeing to support the existence of the farm our members became co-farmers….At that time we were all talking and thinking a lot about how to bring form to the ideas that were swirling around, and in one of our conversations Trauger was the one who came up with the idea that the members could also be seen as farmers and we also decided that the farmers should make pledges as members (which we still do).”

Interesting to note is that CSAs that stick to their guns are not having trouble.  Temple-Wilton, which does not even have a price but asks members to contribute what they can afford and then take as much food as they need, still has a waiting list. Core member of a CSA in New York City, Ruth Katz writes: “We at Clinton Hill CSA have been very fortunate thus far (knock wood!) that our membership has stayed up in the last few years. I’m aware that it can change at any time. I think one reason is that our neighborhood, for all of its gentrification, is still a bit of a food desert, with no really terrific supermarket. Honestly, the CSA is about convenience to some degree. We’ve kept up a long wait list, and that has been our most reliable tool to fill our membership each year; we’ve just almost doubled our winter share membership by offering the winter shares to the wait list. We also have started offering half shares, and that seems to be a strong and important tool to reach people who might not have room in their lives for a full share. And we have a wonderful farmer in Ted Blomgren; his expertise has grown so much in these last 15 years.”

Emilie Miyauchi of Just Food, a CSA network in NYC, writes: There’s been a lot of talk about how to make CSA more “consumer friendly” and flexible. While we understand this mindset, especially in trying to compete for NYC’s attention, we see this as a potentially endless pursuit. Someone else will always be there with an easier platform for food delivery, generally someone with a lot of up front capital. Our farmers and our communities can’t play by the same rules as companies like Farmigo, Good Eggs, or whatever comes next to replace them. The CSA model works and is equitable only when we recognize and try to meet the real needs of farmers and share-holders. We need to get better at listening to one another, expressing ourselves, and finding ways to engage and get creative when we feel our interests are in conflict. We need to dig down deeper into what community is and what it can mean with the understanding that for some time now and certainly going forward into a new administration, community is in jeopardy. Part of the hardest work of keeping the CSA model viable is building back community, protecting what exists, and galvanizing people around a shared sense of our entanglement with one another and the natural world. It is also time for CSA farms to address the tension between farm owners and farm workers to make CSA a model for healthy business and fair labor.”

List of resources to help strengthen CSAs that sign the Charter.

Elizabeth Henderson, Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture (Chelsea Green, 2007) and also Compartiendo la Cosecha, available as an e-book from Libros en Accion, 2017.

Simon Huntley – Small Farm Central

Cultivating Customers: A Farmer’s Guide to On-Line Marketing – wonderful contrast with Temple-Wilton and Steven McFadden.  Just the facts, mam.  Super practical.

From Steven McFadden:

Farms of Tomorrow Revisited: Community-Supported Farms

“Community circle develops dynamic vision for CSA farms & food”:

Just Food website:

Learn more about CSA through our Resource Center, where you will find:

  • Tipsheetsthat will guide you through the process of starting and managing a CSA project in NYC
  • Videosthat will provide tips to better manage your CSA
  • The full inclusion and representation of community means making the effort to bring in low-income community. Ways we’ve had success in this include:
    • Sliding scale payment structure
    • Accepting SNAP and processing EBT payments
    • Fundraising to make revolving loan funds available
    • Sister CSAs – CSA is high(er)-income community shares funds with CSA in low(er)-income community
    • Half-share/ share-a-share

Fair Share CSA Coalition website –

Urgenci the International Network for CSA –





Northeast Gathering on Domestic Fair Trade

Friday, August 12, 2016, UMASS Amherst

By Elizabeth Henderson and Louis H. Battalen

The Northeast Gathering on Domestic Fair Trade, held during NOFA’s Summer Conference, was a great chance to renew networking from last summer’s Gathering and to engage in a multi-stakeholder assessment of current programs that aim to improve conditions for farmworkers.  Participants included farmers, farmworkers, advocates for both groups, not-for-profit and coop staffers, and academics studying the issues. The major focus of the meeting identified various certification and worker models and explored ways to strengthen the movement through collaboration and mutual support. An intensive go-around of introductions of attendees and their work, provided the space and time to engage full participation by all attendees and served as a preface to the presentations on the various certification and standards approaches and to domestic fair trade.

Alyssa Bauer, Audi Gonzalez, Jess Culley, Gabriella della Croce, Martin Dagoberto, Diana Robinson, Gideon Burdick and David Arnold at the August 12 gathering

Following a warm welcoming greeting by NOFA Domestic Fair Trade Committee member Louis Battalen, Elizabeth Henderson, organic farmer and NOFA-NY Board member, gave context to the morning’s proceedings with her introductory remarks, suggesting that because it is still in its infancy, domestic fair trade in the Northeast is a history yet to be written.  The people who are working for change, she said, are “making the path as we go forward.” (The power point slides from this presentation are available upon request.) As an organic farmer who has been involved with organic certification for decades, Liz has observed that there is general agreement in this country and abroad on what organic certification covers but no such understanding exists for ‘fair trade.’ Continue reading “Northeast Gathering on Domestic Fair Trade”

Urban Farming in Buffalo with Food Justice Flavoring

AT 7 am on Saturday, September 17, Jack and I headed to Buffalo to take part in the annual Tour de Farms, a fundraiser for the Massachusetts Avenue Project (MAP).  Since Jack’s brother wanted to come to, we decided to go on the urban farm tour instead of the “classic” which goes all the way to the Oles Farm in Alden.  As fate would have it, a sinus attack kept Jack’s brother at home, but I am glad we took the urban route to visit six farms on the west and east sides of Buffalo.  West Buffalo is low income and struggling.  East Buffalo contends with Detroit in numbers of abandoned houses and vast empty spaces where houses once stood.

The six farms on this tour share a commitment to providing healthier food to their mainly low-income neighbors.  By farming in these blighted areas of the city, the farmers take a definite cut in one of the greatest benefits of farming – a.g. (aesthetic gluttony). But they make that up in social returns, the satisfaction that comes from getting to know your customers, providing fresh and nutritious food to people who really appreciate it and teaching young people to be self-reliant, active and make healthy food choices.

Initiated in 1992, MAP has grown slowly but steadily, providing jobs for neighborhood youth with training in growing and selling food, understanding the connections between diet and health, learning to have a voice in food system policy, and providing fresh organic produce for food apartheid neighborhoods.  MAP is fortunate to have Diane Piccard as Director – she has been with them since 1997 and initiated the Growing Green Program in 2003.

With rain storms in the forecast for early afternoon, 80 or so of us mounted our bicycles at Rich Products on Niagara Street and followed our guides from GoBike Buffalo.  First stop – the MAP Youth Garden, one of 13 sites where youngsters learn to grow food using organic practices. Claire Collie, one of the MAP farm educators, greeted us.

img_20160917_102418453 Continue reading “Urban Farming in Buffalo with Food Justice Flavoring”

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