Temple-Wilton Community Farm: A CSA Pioneer that Keeps Showing the Way
By Robert Karp
Executive Director, Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association
Some of you may be aware of the storied history of Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire, one of the first and most innovative community supported agriculture (CSA) farms in North America. I had the great pleasure to visit the farm this October and wanted to share a report of the growth and progress of this beautiful and important farm.
Started by biodynamic farmers Trauger Groh, Lincoln Geiger, Anthony Graham, and a host of community members in the mid-1980s, the farm is known for pioneering a unique (some would call it “archetypal”) form of CSA, rooted deeply in the social and economic ideas of Rudolf Steiner.
At Temple-Wilton, for example, there is not an equal, evenly distributed share price. Rather, members attend an annual meeting each year to review and discuss the farm’s total budget and decide what amount they each feel they can contribute to that budget. Each member writes down his or her proposed financial offering on a piece of paper; if those sums don’t add up to meet the annual budget, then the members go around again and offer additional sums until the budget is met. The process, in other words, is highly participatory, communal, and transparent.
This model of CSA has so many benefits. First of all, it liberates everyone, farmers and eaters alike, from the notion that they are buying and selling produce. Instead, it fosters the consciousness among the members that they are making gifts to support the continued existence of the farm as a whole and that the produce they receive in return is a gift. But it also models transparency, through the fact that the farm finances and the plans for the farm each year are made completely transparent to the members, who have a chance to give input and raise questions. A true gift economy is thus being developed that harmonizes the different interests and need of the farmers, the land, and the community.
For those who want to find out more about their unique approach to CSA, I strongly encourage you to read “A Brief History of the Farm” on their website, the seminal book Farms of Tomorrow Revisited, and Steven McFadden’s wonderful history of the CSA movement.
I was thrilled to discover on this trip that Temple-Wilton has more and more become a year-round CSA that can meet the bulk of a family’s food needs, offering their members everything from pork, beef, chicken, eggs, raw milk, and cheese to vegetables throughout the year, not to mention fruit, bread, and other products from local affiliated farms. Members can stop by the farm at any time to pick up the food they need.
And consider this: the average contribution to the farm per household of two adults is $200 a month to the farm. Friends, this is not CSA as a trendy addition to one’s lifestyle, this is CSA as a core commitment to one’s health, to the health of one’s local community, and to the health of the planet.
The farm made a strong impression on me. The animals and the fields looked extraordinarily healthy and the whole place smelled wonderful: the perfect balance of the earthly and the cosmic, like fine wine, wonderfully made compost, or fresh-baked bread. How amazing it would be, I thought, to get the majority of one’s food from one vital, self-sustaining biodynamic farm organism. Imagine the impact on one’s health after seven years of nourishing one’s body from such a farm organism and renewing all one’s cells thereby.
It was also wonderful to see how the farm has grown over the last decade. Many new parcels of land have been acquired, making the farm ever more self-sufficient in terms of fertility and feed. All this land has been purchased with gifts from the local community and is secured long term by easements and/or land trust ownership. There is a new café on the farm, which fosters a wonderful social element. The farm is also growing its commitment to farm-based education of children and youth from local schools.
New farmers have also found a home on the farm or in the surrounding community, and this younger generation appears to be playing a stronger and stronger role—starting new enterprises and holding out new visions for the future. I had wonderful meetings, for example, with Brad Miller, who works for High Mowing, a local Waldorf board high school, who is working to secure key additional parcels of land that would allow High Mowing to strengthen its farm-based education programs and provide important additional land for the growth of Temple-Wilton Community Farm.
The impression of the farm and community is thus one of growing maturity—evolving from high-integrity food production through innovative social arrangement to becoming more and more a center for community life and cultural renewal.
I am also deeply gratified to report that I spent a good deal of time with a hale and healthy Lincoln Geiger, who just a year ago had been severely injured by a bull. Lincoln reports that the accident was transformational for his inner life, and he shared deep gratitude for the many people in the biodynamic movement who supported him with their thoughts and prayers. Trauger and Alice Groh are also still intimately involved in the work, nourishing the deep spiritual foundations for the community. They are currently seeking a new farmer for their land; we hope to publish a formal announcement of this opportunity in our forums soon.
Robert Karp is the Executive Director of the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association and a long-time social entrepreneur in the sustainable food and farming movement. Robert has helped start numerous innovative food projects, including CSAs, farmers’ markets, institutional buying projects and farmer-buyer-consumer alliances. He is also the founder of New Spirit Farmland Partnerships, LLC, which helps organic and sustainable farmers acquire farmland by linking them with ethical investors. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and two children.