Traditional CSAs struggle to compete against greater convenience and choice

There have never been more ways to get fresh produce sent to your home, from basic grocery delivery services; to “misfit” and “ugly” veggie startups; to bespoke, plant-based meal kits. But at the end of the day, what’s in a veggie box? Is it merely a collection of assorted produce, or is it a value system? Do you spend those dollars simply to fill your fridge, or are you also trying to support small farmers and local agriculture? Does it matter if the items are USDA-certified organic, or if some items are grown several states away?

As veggie box delivery companies have proliferated, some small-scale farmers say it has become harder to run traditional community supported agriculture (CSA) operations, in which consumers buy a “share” of a local farm’s harvest at the beginning of the growing season. In return for this investment, share owners get a box of whatever produce was harvested. There’s an inherent gamble, in that the consumer shares the risks associated with farming. If it’s a bad year for tomatoes, they may not get any tomatoes.

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The Counter: Will Michelob’s organic beer really transform American farmland?

The commercial opened on a lone, bearded farmer standing in a dark field. A narrator intoned meaningfully that less than 1 percent of American farmland is organic. But, the female voice continued, we could change that simply by buying Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, the first national, certified-organic beer brand. There was the pop and hiss of a twist-off bottle top, and suddenly we were in the club, only the club was a subway station and a woman carried a six-pack with her onto the train.

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New Food Economy: What happens if we eliminate crop insurance altogether?

Imagine for a moment, a possible future, some years ahead: Across the plains, acres that were once plowed up and planted to corn or wheat go back to native grass. Marginal, flood-prone land is left to return to wetlands, improving water quality downstream. Farmers diversify their operations in order to effectively manage risk in a changing climate. Monocropping is a thing of the past.

Or this scenario, not so long from now: Growers adopt practices like no-till and cover cropping, which helps lower their inputs—the money spent on fertilizer, pesticides, seed, and anything else they need to get a crop in the ground. They turn a profit with ease. They may even switch to cheaper, non-GMO seeds and see profit margins swell.

In this future tableau, cattle are turned out to pasture on land that was once intensively farmed. Land managers plant low-cost grasses and other silage, and graze livestock on a portion of the land while the remaining acres are allowed to rest and regenerate. There’s always something growing in the soil, anchoring nitrogen, helping retain rainwater, and sequestering carbon.

This is what American agriculture could one day look like, according to farmers, environmentalists, and economists. But first we’d have to get rid of federally subsidized crop insurance.

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New Food Economy: Are plant-based milks causing harmful nutritional deficiencies in children?

While researching the debate over labeling plant-based milks “milk” I came across an interesting tidbit: a letter to the FDA from the American Academy of Pediatrics claiming that children were suffering from “harmful nutritional deficiencies” because their parents were giving them plant-based milk thinking it was nutritionally equivalent to cow. So I looked into those claims for The New Food Economy.

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