The Community Alliance with Family Farmers is building a movement of rural and urban people to foster family-scale agriculture that cares for the land, sustains local economies and promotes social justice.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does "sustainable agriculture" mean?
An agriculture whose methods do not deplete soil, water, air, wildlife, or human community resources. Sustainable agriculture is a term used worldwide to refer to farming practices that strive for this ideal, as opposed to methods that rely heavily on petroleum products (like gasoline, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides) and/or exploited labor.
Can sustainable methods produce enough food?
Across the US, pioneering farmers are growing all major food crops (grains, dairy, meat, veggies, fruit) using sustainable methods. Though yields differ by crop and growing region, in general, sustainable methods achieve average yields (which are usually calculated on a county-wide basis).
What do sustainable farms do about insect pests and weeds?
There are innumerable sustainable pest and weed control practices. They are all guided by some general principles:
- Disruptions to the farm ecosystem (with synthetic chemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides or fertilizers) should be kept to a minimum.
- Biological diversity (many different types of plants and animals) should be encouraged.
- Healthy, biologically-active soils lead to healthier, more insect and disease resistant plants and animals.
- Natural or supplemented populations of beneficial insects (good bugs) will keep pests (bad bugs) below economically damaging levels. Many sustainable farmers purposely grow plants that will attract beneficial insects.
- Weeds can be controlled by hand hoeing, mechanical cultivation or mowing, burning, careful watering, shading, animal grazing, or other innovative nonchemical methods.
How do sustainable farms fertilize?
Fertile soils have a balanced mix of minerals, organic matter, microorganisms and macroorganisms (like earthworms). Sustainable farmers keep these components in balance by adding compost, minerals, naturally occurring fertilizers (like bloodmeal or bat guano), and by plowing back into the soil crop residues or crops grown specifically for fertility.
Are any large farming operations using sustainable methods?
Yes, although "large farm" is a relative term depending on the growing area. There are farms using sustainable methods in California, the Western states, and the Midwest that are many thousands of acres (large by any measure), and farms in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and Southern states of many hundreds of acres (large for their areas).
What does "organically grown" mean?
"Organically grown" is a legally defined term that tells you how a food or fiber crop was grown. 30 states have their own legal definitions. The federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (the particulars of which are still being hashed out in 1997) defines national organic standards, which generally:
- require organic farms and organic handlers to be "certified," that is, inspected by a disinterested third party
- require that an organic farm be increasing its soil fertility through sustainable soil-building techniques
- prohibit synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
Why do organically grown foods cost more?
There are a number of reasons, but the price of organic products can also be thought of as less expensive in the long-run. Prices can be higher for organic foods because:
- Higher quality products are more expensive to produce.
- Growing organically is more management and labor intensive.
- Most organic food is produced by smaller farms that do not have the economies of large-scale industrial agribusiness.
- The organic market is still limited by low supply, so prices are higher than they might otherwise be.
However, another way to think about food pricing is to imagine the true, full cost. By buying less expensive foods grown with air and water polluting chemicals, you are paying some of the cost now, and paying quite a bit later when, as a taxpayer, you fund groundwater cleanup, environmental restoration, or toxic agrichemical waste cleanup. In other words, the extra twenty cents on the pound you may pay for organic food could be considered insurance against future environmental degradation.
Where can I get information about organic gardening?
Check out our ever expanding organic gardening links, search your community for gardening organizations (a growing movement, especially in urban areas), or ask your local Cooperative Extension for non-chemical gardening advice. Look for Organic Gardening magazine, organic gardening books, and if your local gardening stores do not carry organic products, ask them to start!
How can I support sustainable agriculture?
- Grow your own food in whatever space you have.
- Buy organic foods at food co-ops, natural food stores, or ask your supermarket to carry organic.
- Shop at a farmers market and ask the growers about their methods.
- Join CAFF.
What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)?
Over the past ten years an alternative to our anonymous food supply system has emerged: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Farms using this direct marketing method are changing the nature of conventional food shopping, where we are unlikely to know where our food is grown, let alone who grows it.
Member-subscribers to a community supported farm pay a seasonal, monthly, or weekly fee to receive regular shipments of fresh produce, which varies in content according to the season. The produce is generally harvested no more than a day before delivery to members, so it's fresher and more nutritious than what you will find in a supermarket.
This direct transaction between farmer and consumer is mutually beneficial. It eliminates the extra costs necessitated by a middle person, and it is more secure for farmers, because they have a known, reliable buyer. .
Most CSAs send out a newsletter with their boxes of produce, and some also include recipes and serving suggestions. Farms are usually open to member visits, and may also host work days, potlucks and harvest festivals.
The Benefits of CSAs
- Very fresh produce The average "fresh" produce in a grocery store is 7-14 days old, has been selected for ease of picking and shelf-life, and has traveled approximately 1,500 environmentally expensive miles, losing nutrition and taste along the way. CSAs generally deliver within 24 hours of picking, and most use organic growing methods.
- Your money goes directly to family farms Family-scale farm operations need support. Since 1981, more than 620,000 productive farms have disappeared, either bought by larger farms or "developed." In a conventional market system, only 25 cents of every food dollar goes to farmers, where with a CSA the entire dollar goes to the farmer.
- Introduction to new varieties of produce Most supermarkets only offer 1-2 different kinds of any given fruit or vegetable. CSAs typically supply many different varieties of fruits and vegetables, including hard-to-find "heirloom" varieties.
- A better understanding of where your food comes from Knowing where and by whom your food is grown will make you feel better about the food you eat. Your CSA box is a direct connection to local, seasonal produce.
How are prices set?
The member price for most CSAs is determined by a number of factors, such as:
* what the farm needs to earn to be economically viable
* quantity and diversity of the produce provided
* fair market value for such items.
Since all farms are unique, with each growing different crops in different ways, each CSA's harvest box is different. For example, one CSA might have an established fruit orchard or raspberry patch, while another supplies only vegetables and eggs.
What are the farming practices?
The farming practices of each CSA vary. A CSA farm may cultivate and till the soil with horses, avoiding fossil-fuel energy. Others see the need to grow as much food as possible with tractors and other moderate-scale farm technologies. Some CSAs are certified as organic or biodynamic, while others rely on the community to judge their stewardship efforts. The more you learn about different farming practices, the more you can determine what kind of farming you wish to support.
How can I get involved?
Most people's involvement with their CSA means picking up a box of produce. However, there is usually a "core group" of people who find ways to get more involved in the farm, such as:
* organizing a potluck
* helping with the newsletter
* fundraising for improvements
Ask your farmers or CSA organizers what ways they can use your volunteer energy.
How can I start a pick-up site?
CSAs usually drop-off their boxes of food at a "pick-up site." These sites may be at private residences, workplaces, or schools. Usually the farm needs to have from 5 to 15 shares in an area to deliver to a designated pick-up site.
If you find a CSA that doesn't have a pick-up site near you, don't let that stop you from participating! Call the farm to find out how many shares they need in order to establish a new pick-up site and organize a group from your work, neighborhood, or place of worship. Often the CSA will offer a free box to a household if they volunteer to coordinate a new pick-up site.
Supporting family-scale farming through a CSA is one of the easiest steps one can take to maintain healthy communities. By committing to a CSA, you make local family farms a viable alternative to industrial agriculture.
CAFF supports agricultural tourism opportunities, and in 1999 secured legislation opening vast opportunities for ag tourism among farmers throughout California. We encourage you to choose a farm stay by visiting UC Small Farm Center's ag tourism.