Arriving to Ann Arbor, we drove to the Rudolf Steiner House and found Fred Janney and Kathy Serafin. We made plans to come back and visit with them in the afternoon, and they recommended that we go out to visit a nearby farm in the meantime. They gave us a brochure for the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, and we made our way.
About twenty minutes out of the city, we ventured down the dirt roads to find the farm. We got out and walked around a bit until we heard voices and, rounding the corner behind the barn, we found a group of three people sitting in the grass in the sunshine enjoying peaches and popcorn. Anne, Mark, and Matthew welcomed us, and we explained what had brought us unannounced to their land. We joined them there in the grass to learn more about their project, and the story of a beautiful community unfolded.
The Community Farm of Ann Arbor has been around for 26 years, and Mark said that Anne Elder is really the “formal farmer” of the land along with Paul Bantle. With a long history, it was the 8th CSA in the country. Anne says she has seen the CSA movement change over the years. There are now over 100,000 CSA’s in the US and 40 in Ann Arbor alone! The Community Farm of Ann Arbor has been biodynamic since the beginning and holds a strong sense of community at its core.
Everyone involved with the CSA has a voice in the decision-making of the farm. Everyone, workers and members alike, have one vote so power is distributed equally, and the farm runs on consensus. In their consensus model, a decision is only able to go forward if all are in agreement. The meetings are so respectful, and there is never any unkindness. Meetings last for a maximum 1 ½ hours. Everything goes to vote from large items to little things like the color of the barn. (They chose red!) The farmers believe that if they are doing the right thing, all will agree. Anne says the process requires trust, and they try to take in the forces all around them for guidance.
Over the years, the farm has never drifted from its original goals, which are to develop a sustainable method of agriculture that yields nourishing food while maintaining and enhancing the health of the soil; to provide a livelihood for the producers, and to create a partnership with the producers and the consumers in which the risks and rewards of farming are shared. The farm draws its membership from the broader community, not necessarily from the anthroposophical groups. Despite such a positive approach and love for their work, they say the farm has not made full membership in three years. They are struggling like many others.
They love the opportunity to connect to the broader community. Each year, the ninth grade students from the local Waldorf School spend two weeks working on the farm. The students have made beautiful contributions to the life of the farm and, in turn, have benefited from the experience of the rhythm of farm life and work.
For the CSA, food is harvested the day of pick up. Rather than delivering the shares somewhere else, members come to the farm to collect their fresh produce. Shares are not pre-divided into boxes. There are scales available, and members come and pick out what they are going to get. They can also choose to participate in the harvesting. Pick up becomes a social time for farm members.
All members participate in the running of the farm by working 15 hours a year. One person does not have to do all the work for a share; the hours can be distributed among family or friends. Members can also choose to pay $125 extra and not put in work time. Members are responsible for keeping up with their own hours, fostering an atmosphere of trust.
Mark says it is a privilege to do what they do. Everyone should be involved. Members of all ages are able to participate. They have people in wheelchairs along with young children and elders working on the farm. The farmers believe that the American Dream is beginning to be seen for its materialism. Now is not so good, and it is time to move toward a spiritual revolution. They see Steiner’s work coming in but believe the palette must first be cleared of “all that stuff.”
Standing amidst a row of peppers, Mark says he chose his work on the farm “to be within this,” raising his arms to everything around him. He said, “I haven’t been to the Goetheanum, and I won’t be there in September. I’ll be here.” Mark and Anne say the farm is full of so much love. If we pay attention to what we share in common, it will always take us to love. “Everything emanates from right here,” they told us.
When Anne was growing up, her parents told her to do whatever she wanted to do but to be sure to help people and help the earth. What perfect guidance to lead her to a life on the farm! She truly loves her work with the land and the community. With a smile beaming across her face and her bare feet in the soil, she exclaimed, “The cool thing about this farm is that there are no secrets!” The books are made available to anyone who wants to see the farm’s financial records, for example. They make their economic statement to the community once a year, and then they go to work. Anne observes that the economic structure in the United States is not based on community. She says we must learn that people can share in responsibility together.
Anne had thought to leave the farm when her daughter graduated from school, but the community asked her to stay. She began looking for a house and land where her work could continue, but found that with no debt, she had no credit. The community came together to find a way to support the farm. Discussions ensued, and finally a man spoke up and said, “Let’s see what’s in our pockets!” 130 farm members came together and offered up $19,000. The bank then provided a loan for $150,000. This farm has experienced exemplary community support, and the land is now held in conservancy with a Land Trust, meaning that it will never be developed.
With an emphasis on the “Community” in “Community Supported Agriculture,” the farm has teamed up with local bands for an event called “Peas Turn Up the Beet!” The bands, Breathe Owl Breathe and Seth and May, helped the farm with their event to raise support and awareness of their work. In an effort to ensure that the bands were paid fairly for their work, the farm started a Kickstarter campaign this summer, and the community stepped up in support. All needs were happily met for the bands and farm!
A current project of the farm is to develop the Chrysalis Biodynamic Agricultural Learning Center. Anne says she would like to create a way for the community to support farmers whose bodies can no longer do the work. How do we care for our aging community in agriculture while preparing for future generations? The Chrysalis project began in 2011 to share agricultural understandings through demonstrations, lectures, and practical applications using Biodynamic farming methods.
Anne loves the earth, what dwells on it, and what’s above it. Her question for us to carry forward is “How can we love better?” She is inspired by the words from Corinthians: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
To learn more about the Community Farm of Ann Arbor, see here: http://communityfarmofaa.wordpress.com/