Eco-nomic reality: Community Supported Agriculture needs help from area businesses

“America’s future will be all malls connected by the interstates all because your parents no longer can their own tomatoes.”

— Garrison Keillor

TRAVERSE CITY – The Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) asks you to consider these facts:

? Run-off from chemically-intensive agricultural operations is a leading source of contamination in our nation’s water supplies.

? The average piece of produce travels 4,000 miles from farm to plate. Food transportation causes tremendous expenditure of non-renewal fossil fuels.

? In Michigan, we are losing rich agricultural land to sprawling development every day.

? Though the FDA recommends we eat five servings of vegetables per day, few of us know where our veggies come from and few of us eat the recommended amount.

The solution to the environmental dilemmas facing us is simple in concept, yet difficult in practice: Change the way we live.

One woman in our community is attempting to do just this and to educate others on how.

Jayne Leatherman Walker founded the Eco-Learning Center, one of a growing number of experiential education models in which ordinary people can explore the extraordinary task of growing regional organic food, building natural shelter, using alternative energy, and developing sustainable community.

The vision of The Eco-Learning Center is to observe, understand, practice, and live in relationship with the Earth.

Part of the work at the center is called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Families, individuals and business leaders are able to purchase a share in the farm’s production for $400 a season. They then contribute four hours of volunteer time monthly, working at the farm. In return, the harvest is divided equally and provides produce for a 2-4 person family for the June-October season. Businesses are encouraged to support the program and donate the food to one of the local food pantries, providing financially- challenged families with naturally-grown fresh produce. The contribution is tax deductible. Employees are encouraged to match their employer’s donation as participants in the farm’s garden work.

Walker sees the farm as a metaphor for a way of life that we need to remember, a way of connecting, not just to the land, but to others as well. She says “farmers are struggling, overworked and underpaid and there is no change in site.”

The work being done has the potential for creating sustainable community through food, and it’s an opportunity to demonstrate community spirit.

Most successful businesses have a program in which they give back to the community that supports them. Participation in the CSA project gives them the opportunity to advertise support and play a leadership role in a community trying to address issues of healthy food, local farmland preservation and regional environmental education.

Two area businesses, Oryana and NMEAC, have signed on and are encouraging others, as well.

Sandi McArthur from Oryana says, “Community is important to us. We are member-owned and community-based. We need more people growing food locally, preserving the landscape and the environment while being cognizant of the watershed. We sell food. It is important to have a source for local, organic food.”

McArthur says that when a business purchases a share, the group they will donate to is looked upon to work the four hours a month at the farm. “This helps to connect people to the food they are eating,” she explains.

Eartha Melzer, member and project coordinator of NMEAC’s healthy food and farmland preservation initiative says, “the project is a wonderful opportunity for business. The project ties people to the land, educates about land use issues and serves to build-up community by providing high-quality food to those who don’t often get it. We need to build sustainable farming and move away from importing our food from far away.”

They will be growing a tremendously diverse group of vegetables and herbs this summer at the farm. If you would like more information, call (231) 620-4775 or visit BIZNEWS