Gardening & Agriculture Archive

Report on the IFOAM Organic World Congress, General Assembly and the meeting of the farmers’ group, the Intercontinental Network of Organic Farming Organizations (INOFO) – Sept 28 – Oct 5, 2011

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

1. Spread the word that the “terminator technology” is not dead – we must join the international campaign to stop it.
2. Sign-on to 2012 as International Year of the Family Farming with the UN and FAO
3. Set up a fund so that a delegation of US farmers can attend  the next IFOAM congress and General Assembly in 2014

On behalf of NOFA, I attended Organic World Congress and the General Assembly (GA) of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) in October, 2011, in Namyangju, near Seoul, South Korea. The congress and GA that take place every 3 years. This year, the brand new Organic Museum on the banks of the Han River made a luxurious venu for the assembly. The GA sets the top priorities for IFOAM and elects the World Board (WB). I have now attended five General Assemblies. Like many organizations, the financial crisis hit IFOAM hard, just at a time when there was a change in leadership.  Members of the board, including President Katherine DiMatteo, and staff filled in for the retiring Executive Director and hired a new ED, Markus Arbenz.  Under his skillful leadership, IFOAM is on the path to financial recovery and has created a unified strategic plan. Urs Niggli, the distinguished Director of FiBL, described IFOAM’s major advocacy campaigns at the United Nations (Food and Agriculture (FAO), UNCTAD (Commission on Trade and Development) and other international meetings, conventions and events: “People before Commodities (on food security), “Powered by Nature” (biodiversity), and “Not Just Carbon” (on the significant role of organic agriculture in mitigating climate change).

Jacqueline Haessig Alleje, (of Swiss origins, married a Phillipine organic dairy farmer and has led the development of organic movement in that country) presented the conclusions of the Good Governance task force for the restructuring of IFOAM. The new IFOAM puts much more emphasis on cooperating with the regional groups – IFOAM Asia, the EU group, GALCI in Latin America, etc. and establishes the farmers group (see INOFO report below) as an independent body.(You can access the full World Board Term Report on the IFOAM website.)

The Organic Guarantee System has undergone revamping, and now consists of five parts:

1. Family of standards – draws the line between what is organic and what is not, includes all standards and regulations that have passed an equivalence assessment.  At the GA, it was announced that the NOFA Organic Landcare standards had been accepted into the Family. IFOAM standards can serve as off-the-shelf standards that a group can adopt, and for IOAS accreditation

2. Best Practice Standards - Among the sets of standards under development are Best Practices standards that are higher and cover all aspects of sustainability including environmental, social, economic and cultural dimensions. These high standards will help renew the continual improvement of organic practices. AJP will suggest social justice/fair trade standards to the group that is working on this.

3. Participatory Guarantee Systems – based on community organizing, a way for small farms that cannot afford certification, to group together to provide a credible organic guarantee for use in local markets.

4. IFOAM’s Global Organic Mark is now available for a fee. A universal logo.

5. International Organic Accredition Service (IOAS) provides Accreditation to organic certification agencies.

IFOAM continues its commitment to GOMA – Global Organic Market Access – a joint project with FAO and UNCTAD -  to make certication affordable so low-income producers can access valuable markets and to harmonize the many varying standards around the world to facilitate international trade.

In 2008 in Italy, for the first time, the majority of the WB members were people committed to support for smallholders (what we would call small farms or family-scale farms).  As a result, since 2008, IFOAM has started to shift its resources from a focus on certification-accreditation and import-export trade to building local markets for smallholders. Support for smallholders has become a central priority. Hivos has provided financial support for the development of a network of Participatory Guarantee Systems.

There were 317 votes present at the GA out of about 700 member organizations. At each GA, the entire WB stands for election and this time there were 20 candidates for the 10 positions. Surprisingly, only two of the five people who had already been on the WB were reelected. The new WB members are:  Andre Leu (fruit farmer from Australia), Matthew John (educator and organizer of hunter-gatherers from India), Matthew Holmes (ED of OTA Canada, and the only N. American who ran), Roberto Ugas (professor, active advisor to smallholder organizations in Peru), James Cole (farmer and marketing organizer from Ghana), Volkert Engelsman (from the Netherlands, founder of Eosta, the largest distributor of organic produce in Europe), Frank Eykorn (environmental scientist from Germany, works on development projects with smallholders in Africe and Latin America), Manjo Smith (farmer and PGS organizer from Namibia), Gabriela Soto (soil scientist and organic inspector, Costa Rica),  Eva Torremacha (agronomist, teacher, PGS researcher, Spain). The WB met and elected Andre Leu as president, Roberto Ugas and Gabi Soto as VPs – the three serve as the Executive Board.

A major portion of the GA is devoted to discussing and passing motions that direct the activity of the WB for the next three years. Members can send in motions by a certain deadline.  At the GA, a “Motion Bazaar” takes place where members can discuss proposals with the writers and request amendments or changes.  One of my goals in attending this GA was to make fair pricing a higher priority in IFOAM’s advocacy and standards.  The current standards include a section on social standards, but these only cover conditions for workers on farms and organic businesses.  In my view, farmers will not be able to provide good jobs until they get prices that cover their full costs of production. We need to reapportion the food dollar along the organic supply chain, shifting a higher percentage towards the bottom. I submitted a motion on fair pricing, but it arrived a day too late to be accepted. At the meeting of organic farmers, I presented it as a resolution and it was accepted unanimously. The writers of Motion 64.2 Family Agriculture, agreed to add to their motion this language – “The importance of fairness and justice for all who labor in agriculture.” There was a long discussion about requiring fair pricing.  Gunnar Rundgren said it is unrealistic.  Certifiers were upset that we might require it in standards.  After the standards issue was removed and placed in the hands of a social justice task force, the motion was accepted. There was also a motion declaring IFOAM support for next year as the International Year of Family Farming.

Motion 62 Carbon Trading called for excluding agriculture from carbon market schemes. There was lively discussion led by Nicaraguans who have benefited from voluntary payments to them for planting trees from European businesses who are trying to offset their big carbon footprints.  The conclusion was to pass a motion clearly aimed at financial market schemes. The WB “should promote alternative financing systems that provide a real solution to climate change for vulnerable populations and fair compensation to organic farmers for their contribution to mitigation and adaptation strategies.”

At intervals through the GA, inspirational speakers make short presentations to bring new ideas or provide encouragement. At the opening, Kim Sung Hoon, a founder of the organic movement in Korea 45 years ago, talked about a great organic revolution.  The obstacles have been – corrupt governments, pollution. Asia had a great tradition before Jesus Christ. The history of Korea marks 12,000 years of sustainable agriculture.
Katherine DiMatteo noted the difficulty of trying to find balance in organic management of this land. As background drama to the GA, the Korean government was in the midst of evicting the longest standing organic farmers in the country from the Paldung Region. Supposedly to ensure clean water, the government is moving all agriculture away from the Four Rivers Region and making an amusement park instead.  The WB visited the farmers to express support and wrote a declaration in protest, recommending that the park be managed organically. I later got to visit the Paldung farmers too and heard the moving story of their struggles to resist eviction.

Laercio Meireilles, from the Center for Agroecology in Brazil and one of the founders of the Eco-Vida Network, (a PGS), spoke eloquently on the need to scale up our activities if we hope to reduce poverty and global warming.  We need more consumers. We need to do more to democratize organic agriculture.  More movement and less bureaucracy.  Standards are important but should not be the center of our lives.  What kind of movement? Daring and creativity should orient our actions. Meireilles gave as examples two PGS - ANPE, the Peruvian farmer association and Eco-Vida (started in 1991) – producers, consumers and technicians work together in the same the networks. Under the Brazilian organic law – everybody who produces can be included.  Uruguay, Mexico, Ecuador all have PGS networks.  PGS provides credibility in the marketplace. We need to find a way to talk with the next generation – PGS is attractive to them.

At previous GAs, competition among national groups for the site of the next GA has been a big feature.  The Koreans really knocked themselves out to win for 2011.  This year, there was only one contender – Turkey -  Bugday, the Association for Supporting Ecological Living. The theme they propose is “Bridging the Organic World,” highlighting the importance of local, regional and global cooperation. Proposed dates - Oct 4 – 14, 2014.  The Turks won everyone’s support with a fine meal and a dance party. Those Turkish women can really dance!

Closing remarks from Markus Arbenz – Koreans mobilized many people with huge fair to shine light on organic agriculture.  The last three years have been hard – IFOAM was saved by smallholder farmers. Don’t rely on narrow strategy – rely on diversity and people.  We opened up – sought opportunities.  Living change. Teamwork and authenticity.  IFOAM is commited to a strategy dominated by values, but not dogma.

In her farewell address, Katherine DiMatteo spoke with deep emotion - the run away world has not factored in human impact. She rehearsed a long list of problems that make it hard to know how to move forward in a chaotic world.  FAO held meetings on greening the economy with agriculture – Ong Kung presented on role of organic as practical and appropriate.  FAO statement – similar to IFOAM advocacy positions.  Regenerative economy.  Time to move away from discussion of standards and regulations.  Their role has been established, so our role can shift to carbon, biodiversity and energy use. Trade and markets.  We must persevere in our belief that each farm is unique. DiMatteo concluded by citing Margaret Mead -a small group of determined people can bring change.

The closing speaker was the new president, Andre Leu, blessedly a man of few, though well-chosen, words.  He paid tribute to Katherine, who seems genuinely to have gone through a personal transformation in her role as president of an organization that was struggling financially while at the same time undergoing a major shift in emphasis from organic trade to the great value of organic family-scale farming and internal markets.

Social Justice Dialogue

Before the conference began, with some help from Jacqueline Haessig Alleje, IFOAM World Board member, Michael Sligh and I convened a gathering on organic and fair trade, and the relationship among organic certification, participatory guarantee systems (PGS), and CSA/Teikei. We have done this at the past 3 IFOAM conferences in Victoria, Adelaide and Modena. There are several organic certification programs that include standards for fairness in pricing to farmers and conditions for workers in their organic certification.  The leading agencies on this are Naturland in Germany, Biosuisse in Switzerland, and the Soil Association in England.  We have been keeping in touch over the past 5 years on our experience with fair trade certification.  Naturland, a certifier and farmer organization with 2500 farmers in Germany and 380 international certifications, makes fair trade voluntary as an addition to organic standards. Steffen Reese from Naturland said that organic is in a state of “burocrazy,” and believes that organic and fair should be one and united. Jorg Schumacher reported that Biosuisse, an organization with 5800 farmer and 750 processor members, has started with a round table dialogue among farmers, processors and cooperative businesses that buy from farmers which may lead to fair trade standards in the future. They have had social standards on working conditions since 2006. Carlos Escobar, who does organic inspections in Colombia, reported that coops of small farmers in Latin America have recently created a new label (Productores pequenos) that identifies a product as coming from a small farm.  This is in response to the move by Transfair (now renamed Fair Trade USA and separated from FLO) to include products from plantations in fair trade. Koa Tasaka, a board member of the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association, advocated that standards protect the right of farmers to save seed and feed their own families first.  We discussed the resolution we had passed in 2008 calling upon IFOAM to create a task force on fair trade and the need to reaffirm that request.  We were later able to do this at the General Assembly meeting and the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP) will follow up with this (Michael and I are on the Management Committee for AJP).

The afternoon session turned to the importance of providing a range of organic guarantees for farms of all sizes. We noted with appreciation that IFOAM has championed Grower Group certification for a decade, enabling thousands of very small farms to afford organic certification, and in the past two years has given support to Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) as well. IFOAM has issued a policy brief to governments on recognizing PGS.  Nature et Progres in France is one of the oldest PGS, joined in recent years by the AMAP network (Associations pour le maintien d’une agriculture paysanne – the French version of CSA, now numbering over 4000 all over France.) There are active PGS in Basque country in Spain, in India, New Zealand, Peru and Brazil.  Certified Naturally Grown in the US counts as a PGS. In Japan, most Teikei farms are not certified organic and depend on the direct relationship between farmer and consumers. We discussed ways of building bridges among these different organic guarantees.

INOFO (Intercontinental Network of Organic Farming Organizations) - October 2, 2011

The meeting opened with greetings from Korean Federation of Sustainable Agriculture organizations including the Korean Catholic Farmers Movement.  They apologized for staying only a short while, but they were committed to rejoining the sit-in strike by farmers at the Korean Assembly that had been in motion since Sept 28 protesting the eviction of farms by the Four River project. Small farmers have no protection from government encroachment was their message.

Moises Cispes from ANPE in Peru is the president of INOFO. He is a corn breeder and small farmer (He told me they sell a little, but mainly exchange with other farmers up and down the mountains). This meeting is an historic moment for small farmers.

Introduction around the room : India – Organic Farmers Assoc – TEAM (together everyone isn’t small) (33,000), Seed project of Vanaja Rampasad, Kenya, Brazil (BD), Costa Rica, NOFA, NOC,  Philippines – Masipag (35,000 farmers), Go-Organic, a university, a women’s association, Rural Workers Assoc., 600,000 Natural farmers – indigenous people in Luzon, Ghana,  Indonesia (100,000),  Japan, Thailand (30,000), Namibia,  Oceania - Samoa (2000), Malaysia,  Sri Landa (7230), Nepal,  Nicaragua (Sano I Salvo – 250),  Ukraine,  Peru (Anpe - 2000), Korea (1000, altogether 10,000 households),  Goa (120), Italy (5000), Australia (2000),  France (FNAB – 20,000 organic farmers in France with 15,000 in FNAB), Colombia, Senegal (3000 in org, but 18,000 organic farmers), Nigeria,- focus on inspiring new farmers, Mali, Kenya – E. African Organic standards, policy on organic agriculture in Kenya awaiting approval – Kenyan Organic Ag. Network – certification cost too high for small farmers, national governments subsidize conventional agriculture by paying for fertilizers

Convenors’ reports:

Europe – 30 countries, informal annual meetings since 2009, busy preparing for CAP.
IFOAM has farmer representative in Brussels – discussing organic policy and GMO  policy
S. America – Moises – biodiversity conservation, much better organized than US farmers, emphasis on building local networks and markets
Central America – Elba – 3 farmer organizations
West Africa – James Benjamin Cole – 2 blocks – French and English speaking – little internet access –
Asia – Pablito – Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, - attended various conferences – lobbying in Philippines for subsidies of $20 million, hospitals will start using organic products
Miguel Gomez– S. Asia and India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan – could not get people from Iran and Iraq
Oceania – Steve from Samoa - 22 countries on Pacific islands – Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCOM) – developing standards – last green and clean part of the planet cause of isolation – PGS system using their standards is getting started – climate change very real – islands are going under water
Australia, New Zealand – Andre Leu – massive droughts, then floods – losing 2000 farmers a year, while organic is growing –
E. Europe – Milovanov – organic growing in Ukraine – building local markets, though mainly export previously – small farmers – 90 % local sales, 10,000 hectares of big farms focus on export.  Convening conferences of farmers from all over Eastern Europe and W. Asia.
I reported from N. America – all I have been able to do is assemble a list of likely organic farming organizations and forward to them the various IFOAM publications I receive.

Discussion of motions for World Board

Support for soil in greenhouses, but critical of ban on heat and light
Carbon trading – opposition to it. Sano I Salvo gets payments for its tree planting from a Belgian city that wants to reduce its carbon footprint. Need to differentiate between carbon trading and carbon footprint. Masipag – those who pay are using their capital to continue their carbon emissions – we need to be clear about need to reduce emissions.  Voluntary agreements are different from financial gambling through derivatives.  Danger of land grabbers claiming large payments, while small holders will get very little, especially if not certified.  Costa Rica – develop integrated process for evaluating cycling of carbon on the farm – Cubans have methodology – small mixed farms would be paid more than big ones.  Paperwork for proving carbon sinking will be impossible for small farmers.  AIAB (Italy) – carbon trading market is not the right way.

Discussion on having farmers on WB – 2 INOFO reps

Unanimous support for my motion on fair pricing and contracts.
Statements by WB candidates – Gabriela Soto, Milovanov, Rivera, Cole, Leu not present, Matthew John (Miguel spoke for him) – India PGS network persuaded him to run. People spoke in favor of Sciurano, Ong Kung Wai, Andre Leu, and Roberto Ugas. Andrea spoke in favor of Torremocha and Jacqueline Haessig Alleje.
INOFO Convenors – need to build network – already 21 countries.  Need for 17 or18, theoretically.  How to reach farmers’ organizations?
Officers – 5 VPs (one with responsibility to ensure small farmer content in next OWC), and a woman for balance – Gabriela Soto.  Moises continues as Pres. Andrea, Pablicito (OWC), Andre, Miguel, and Anton continues as Sec.

Important themes:

  • Climate change and especially water
  • Family farming
  • Sharing economic information – price and trader pressures
  • Sharing farming information – capacity building program worldwide – Facebook page
  • Farmworkers, immigration, the landless, indigenous people
  • PGS – global PGS logo – and other forms of organic guarantee – Teikei, CSA
  • Threats to small farmers’ rights to land – mining, landgrabbing, conversion.
  • Who are we, whom do we represent, what do we want, what are we fighting for?
  • Landgrabbing, pesticides, gmos and corporate control over agriculture, dumping GM eggplant in the Philippines, deforestation, seeds (opposition to Terminator technology), access to land and secure tenure on land.
  • Food sovereignty
  • Issue of group of Korean farmers who were relocated after flooding onto land that belongs to the government which now wants to expel them to build an amusement park.  WB went to visit them and there will be a declaration from the Congress.  Andre has negotiated a doubling of the compensation offer.
  • Staff support from IFOAM – for fundraising – 5-6 days a months for INOFO.
  • Report from Executive on past 3 years: main effort aimed at establishing INOFO officially with IFOAM and on beginning to develop network.

The Organic World Congress of 2011 – Highlights

The 17th Organic World Congress (OWC), held in Gyeonggi Paldang, South Korea from September 26 to October 1, attracted close to 2000 participants from 76 countries. The various side events, including the organic world fair and festival, drew in some 250.000 visitors, making this conference the most successful OWC in terms of attendance.

Each morning of the Congress begins with a series of four keynote speakers addressing one of the four principles of organic agriculture. There was quite a stellar line up: Sarojeni Rengam from the Pesticide Action Network, Master Dobeop, a Korean Buddhist monk, Dr. Hans Rudolf Herren, a leader in biological controls from Switzerland,  John Reganold, a soil scientist and professor of Agroecology at Washington State U.,  LaRhea Pepper, a Texas pioneer in organic cotton, Mette Melgaard, a farmer and leader of Organic Denmark, Moses Muwanga, one of the founders of NOGAMU in Uganda, Humberto Rios Labrada, one of the organizers of the organic transformation in Cuba, Gunnar Rundgren, from Sweden and former president of IFOAM, Bernd Horneburg, an organic plant breeder from Germany, Gary Zimmer, a farmer and farm advisor from the USA, Wen Tiejun, a professor and rural organizer from China, Yoshinori Kaneko, one of the first Teikei farmers in Japan, Liz Clay, a farmer from Australia, Sophia Twarog, who works at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Ulrich Kopke, founding president of the International Society of Organic Agriculture Research (ISOFAR)from Germany, Suh Chong-hyuk, one of the pioneers of organic agriculture in Korea, Pat Mooney, from ETC Group in Canada, and Katherine DiMatteo, IFOAM president. There were many eloquent, passionate and informative speeches, fortunately captured on video and they will be available from IFOAM.

I loved the Cuban message - a ground-up assault on the usual hierarchy of knowledge:

“Researcher – very intelligent; Extension – less intelligent; Farmer – bruta”

By crumbling this ladder, the Cubans have unleashed the energies that have enabled them to feed the people of their island.

I was encouraged by the speakers who have served on the IFOAM board – Rundgren, Melgaard and DiMatteo. All three challenged the old IFOAM emphasis on certification, harmonization and import-export, announcing a new era.  Rungren declared that it is time to be “unreasonable and unrealistic,” to decouple from the obsession with standards.  The market economy is not the way to manage the planet.  We need a “regenerative” economy guided by the IFOAM principles.

Fast talking Gary Zimmer came straight from the US heartland, a startling contrast with the refined Europeans and Asians.  As usual, he stressed soil nutrients and plant health, but in a brash, direct style that caught many of his audience off guard. I don’t think they got his jokes.

I was surprised and impressed by Professor Wen Tiejun from China. Until I heard him speak, I had taken as a given that organic agriculture in China is a top-down, government-led effort to increase exports.  Wen presented a broad and deep analysis of the history of agricultural industrialization, both West and East, showing the ugly parallels between capitalist and Chinese development.  According to Wen, all the “isms” are following the same path of transferring surplus production from the countryside to industry.  Reform in China is accelerating this industrialization by taking even more from the rural areas, resulting in increased pollution and the food safety crisis.  But a new movement has begun in China – eco-agriculture – that is training young people to go to the countryside to serve the people. To change the present course, Wen said they need to organize the peasants as an interest group to pressure the government. (A version of his talk will appear in the Monthly Review, Feb. 2012)  Wen is one of the leaders of this movement of volunteers, doing work that sounds a lot like what we are up to in the US in the organic and good food movement!   I was able to observe a little of what is going on in China a week later when I visited Little Donkey Farm near Beijing.

Only one of the speakers generated a negative response. I sat with a group of small-scale farmers from several countries when Sophia Twarog spoke.  Her talk infuriated all of us with her insistence that imports are wonderful.  Later, at lunch, several of us confronted her.  She was astonished – she had been trying to drum up enthusiasm for breaking down the barriers that differing organic standards create for the flow of farmers’ products and had not realized that she had failed to acknowledge the bigger picture – the negative effect of the WTO and Free Trade agreements on family-scale farms all over the world. She promised to revise her presentation in the future.

Yoshinori Kaneko shared the remarkable story of his farm and village. When I visited Japan in 2004 as a guest of the Japanese Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA), I had the inspiring chance to tour his farm, one of the first to do Teikei (the Japanese version of CSA). Starting in 1971, Kaneko has been using organic methods, gradually adding more families as the productive capacity of his farm increased. He uses waste vegetable oil to power his tractor, has a solar greenhouse and solar panels for electricity. To replenish the waning supply of farmers, he has trained many interns who have settled near him.  Since 2009, his entire village is organic. He will be a speaker at the Eco-Farm Conference in CA in February 2012.

After recounting the rise to dominance of the seeds of the world by a few seed-chemical companies, Pat Mooney brought the whole assembly to our feet with his upsetting announcement that the “terminator technology,” that we thought had been safely arrested by the UN ban, is rising again.  (This is the GMO technology that renders seed sterile.) Mooney declared that we need a food web, the biodiverse array of seed and breed varieties nurtured by peasants, not a food chain, the commercial system of industrial production that has narrowed our food supply to only 12 crops. He explained that there are two bills that will be presented in Brazil at Rio + 20 that would end the moratorium on suicide seeds.  In October, Brazil will go to the UN meetings in India and ask the UN to end the ban.  Mooney called on us to stop it again – “Suicide seeds are genocide to farmers.” We stopped them before and we can do it again.

Like a NOFA conference on steroids, the Organic World Congress (OWC) offers a tantalizing array of choices of workshops, values tracks and research tracks, panels, posters and special meetings, 17 different simultaneous sessions.  I will share some notes on the ones I managed to attend.  IFOAM distributes a set of proceedings with summary write-ups if you want to see the full list and get an idea of the content.

“Sharing Our Vision of Teikei (CSA) Movement in Japan”

I was anxious to hear what Michio Uozumi, a Teikei farmer whose farm I had visited, would have to say about the earthquake and Fukushima.  Knowing that his farm was only 100 kilometers from the nuke, shortly after the March 12 disaster, I had emailed him to find out how US organic farmers might help. In the workshop,  Michio told about how organic farmers brought food to the victims of the tsunami and helped people dig out from the flooding.  In June, a group of farmers and fishermen did a tree planting in the mountains above the flooded area. By improving the tree cover, they hope to help clean the waters and renew the phytoplankton in the ocean, thus increasing the food supply for fish.  Because of the elevated radiation from the nuke, Michio was faced with the very difficult decision on continuing to grow vegetables at his farm.  There were pressures to remove all the contaminated top soil.  Michio showed photos of a meeting with his Teikei members to discuss what to do.  They decided to have detailed testing of the farm’s soils and crops – only 1/10 of the level of cesium in the soils showed up in the crops.  As a result, they decided to go on eating the farm’s produce.  Michio is convinced that high organic matter soils, like those on his farm, can bind with the cesium and hold it in the ground.  He is doing deep plowing and adding clay to increase the cation exchange capacity to adsorb more cesium. Because of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there is a lot of information in Japan about the best diet to limit damage from radioactivity.

The other speakers at this workshop talked about the history of Teikei and the significant role Teikei groups have played since 1971 in enabling farms to convert to organic and to connect with supportive consumers.  Of the 800 or so Teikei farms, only one third are certified organic.  Members visit the farms themselves to help with farm work and do not need to rely on third parties for verification of farmers’ practices.

Under the auspices of Urgenci, the international CSA network, I participated in workshops on member involvement in CSAs and ways to include low-income and diverse groups.  Matthieu Roy talked about how Equiterre, the ngo he helps staff, has built a network of 100 farms serving 10,000 families in the Province of Quebec for a total of $4 million in annual sales.  Joy Carey, from Bristol, England, and a member of the Soil Association, talked about that city’s initiative to develop a comprehensive plan to support local agriculture.  There are currently six farmers’ markets, nine box schemes, six organic and whole food shops, four CSAs, four city farms, 40 school gardens and hundreds of community gardens.  The various gardens can produce 15% of the residents’ vegetables.

Shi-Yan Sina gave a fascinating presentation on the recent spurt of CSAs in China.  After IFOAM, I was able to visit her farm, the Little Donkey CSA, and to participate in a CSA conference at Renmin University in Beijing where over 400 participants held non-stop sessions from 8:30 am to 10 pm for two intense days.  A student of Professor Wen, Shi-Yan spent 6 months on a CSA farm in the US in 2007 and then spearheaded the organization of Little Donkey on 38 acres in a village near Beijing.  In its third season, the farm provides space for garden plots for 240 families, and grows shares for 460 CSA members.  The farm crew combines graduate students like Shi-Yan and 20 village farmers.  The challenge, Shi-Yan says, is rebuilding trust and social capital in a society that has been hurtling into industrialization at rocket speed.  In the past few years, organic has become a social movement in China.  Their motto is summed up in two traditional characters - “Moderate desire, Gain Happiness.” Jane Tsao also reported on a Chinese project, the Bio-Farm near Shanghai which combines a CSA based on an urban garden with sales from nearby farms.

I attended several workshops on Participatory Guarantee Systems. The IFOAM PGS Committee has written a policy brief to governments urging the recognition of PGS, as has been done under the organic laws in Brazil and Mexico. Jannet Villanueva, who works as an advisor to ANPE, a small farmers association in Peru, argues that PGS is an important tool of inclusion of the smallest farmers and complements third party certification.  PGS is not an end in itself but a means to farmer empowerment and community organizing.  Eva Torremocha, a Spanish agronomist who was later elected to the IFOAM WB, talked about case studies on PGS in Europe where she found the greatest development in France where Nature et Progres has functioned for many years.  Their process consists of a farm visit, followed by a report, then a group decision on inclusion.  There is an annual assembly that serves as the governing body.  The standards of Nature et Progres combine ecological production and social standards for the treatment of workers on farms. Consumers are very active along with farmers. A report from Brenjonk, a village of 2700 people in Indonesia, highlighted the close relationship between Grower group certification systems and PGS.  This rice and banana growing village has organic standards for these crops, but also requires that each family spend its first energy on feeding the family, selling only the excess.  Konrad Hauptfleisch talked about his work creating a PGS in S. Africa to encourage local markets in a country where most organic production is oriented towards exporting to Europe.  A PGS network is growing in Namibia as well. He stressed that a supportive network is essential to PGS development.

I was sad that I only got to attend part of a full day of reports on their farms from the delegates to INOFO. I did catch a farmer from Indonesia who showed photos of beautiful terrace farming, unbelievably strenuous work.  Most of the farms are tiny by US standards – from two acres to 20. A retired Philippino rice researcher turned farmer told how he spends most of his time organizing a marketing coop while four hired people grow vegetables on his two acres. Similarly, Manjo Smith, a woman farmer in Namibia, hires and provides homes for 17 households on a mere 7 hectare farm. Manjo is the organizer and marketer, and won election to the WB. Andre Leu, from Australia, told how he created a fruit farm over 20 years, producing organic rambutans and apples.

As an upsetting contrast to the wholehearted and energetic support for the IFOAM conference from the Korean government, I went on a tour of the Paldung Farmers cooperative, located on fertile low lands along the Han River.   100 organic farmers have used this land since 1973 when the government built a dam that flooded their former lands. The Korean central government is evicting them, ostensibly to eliminate sources of contamination from the Four River watershed by substituting recreation for farming.  Why a park would be less polluting than organic farms seems murky to me. The Paldung farmers showed us videos of the police arresting them and carrying them away.  The farmers returned and intend to hang on as long as possible.  They have walked to Seoul three times, been arrested twice, fasted, petitioned.  On their land we saw many, many hoop houses.  During the summer months, violent rains pour down for weeks at a time, so growing under plastic provides protection from the water.  The farmers have a cooperative packing house from which they ship to a group of cooperative stores. They are Catholics and invited us to the mass they hold daily at 3 pm. The government has offered them new land, but of inferior quality at a distance from their markets.

Attending an IFOAM conference is a stimulating and enlightening experience.  I have not even touched on the many people I met over these 10 days, people of every age and color, from every continent, who are devoting their lives to organic agriculture.  This brief acquaintance with Korea leaves me with a profusion of mixed emotions – I am stunned at the beauty of their land, the persistence of ancient traditions despite the headlong modernization.  Rice paddies encircle the high speed rail stations. Hundreds of multistory apartment buildings crowd against the 8 – 10 – 12-lane highways, packed bumper to bumper with cars and trucks.  A remarkable new organic museum opened to greet us just a few miles from the land of the soon to be displaced organic farmers. I hope in the future that more North American farmers, gardeners, homesteaders and agtivists of all stripes will have the chance to share this rich experience.

Part II - CSAs in China

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

CSA in the People’s Republic of China

Little as I know about Taiwan, I know even less about China and it is so vast and, like the US, so full of contradictions. I offer here what I observed during an intensive 4-day visit.

Little Donkey Farm is located in Ho Sha Tien Village, on 6th outmost ring road of Beijing. After over an hour’s nerve wracking ride in a speeding taxi, when I arrived at Little Donkey Farm my most urgent need was a toilet. The outhouse turned out to be a composting toilet with room for two. As we squatted together, I had a chat with a lady who introduced herself in English as a school teacher and a working member of the Little Donkey CSA. She offered to show me her garden plot. Sadly, the Farmers Market I had hoped to witness had ended. Over 1000 people had just departed.

Two of the Little Donkey organizers, Shi-Yan Sina and Cunwang Cheng, met me in the section of the farm devoted to individual plots. Shi-Yan initiated Little Donkey after a 6-month stay at a CSA farm in Minnesota in 2007. Cheng did a tour of CSAs in the US the next year and spent a few days as my guest at Peacework Farm. Cheng is a little taller than I, a solidly built young man with a very round and innocent face. Yan is taller, very thin and graceful in her movements. They were sorry I was so late. They showed me around the 38 acre farm. The land is almost perfectly flat. There are now 240 individual plots, 10 x 20, repetitions of similar crops – daikon radishes, stately Chinese cabbages, garlic chives, eggplant, peppers, lettuces, a bushy variety of basil, medicinal herbs I cannot name. They led me to the lone little donkey who lives in an open-air pen. Next to the donkey are the chicken pens, roofed open areas enclosed with netting on which squash or gourds had been growing, and the pig house, a well designed concrete bunker with good air drainage. The piglets were hungry, so Cheng tossed some ground up corn in their feeder. The composting area stretched from the pigs to the chickens. We examined a shed with shelves lined with glass jars of liquid concoctions – herbal brews in the style of Cho Han Kyu, a South Korean practitioner of “Nature Farming” – ginger, garlic, beneficial microorganisms – used for fertilizer and pest control.

They introduced me to Lijiang Cheng, one of the 20 villagers, skilled farmers who work on the farm with the university graduate managers and interns. He told me he is 62 and had been farming all his life. Looking at me, he exclaimed, “She still has a braid!” The farm staff includes 5 managers, 20 villagers and ten interns. In its third year of production, in 2011 Little Donkey includes the 240 families who have garden plots and 430 who receive farm crew produced shares that include vegetables, eggs and pork. The farm is much more than a CSA – it is a training center, serves as a model for cooperative work between village peasants and university educated organizers, the site of a farmers market, and hosts literally thousands of visitors.

Nearby we came to a larger building where the crew eats lunch and where they cook for visitors. A group of 7 or 8 young people, college age, was sorting the waste from the Farmers Market into compost and recyclables. One young man complained that the people who came to shop were not very aware.

We walked through the fields – the ground is flat with trenches for water and ridged paths for walking and driving, like a series of rice paddies but devoted to vegetables – impressive Chinese cabbages, a small area of corn, handsome lettuces, perfectly weeded carrots, an entire block of garlic chives, with hardly a weed, eggplant, trellised beans and cucumbers, the long slightly spiney kind – Yan offered me one to eat. It was sweet and crunchy. (Later I worried at having eaten a raw vegetable in China, but I did not get sick). A few of the paddy areas were empty – where transplants had been grown and then distributed to the working shares. Clusters of working shareholders were busy on their plots – one woman proudly offered me a large daikon radish. The light was failing so our tour came to an end. A local taxi (not official, a regular village service) took us a mile or so to the village where Yan and Cheng live in an apartment in the new block of 5-story apartment buildings.

The New Village

Although they had major responsibilities for the CSA conference the next two days and were getting married the day after that, Yan and Cheng welcomed me to stay in their home. The apartment is a fourth floor walk-up, a comfortable amount of space for a young couple with a living-dining room, two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. They had wi-fi that appeared to function and Yan talked endlessly on a cell phone handling conference details. From the living room window, you could see the next row of apartments and beyond them the cranes that were lifting materials into place for yet another row. A school buddy of Cheng’s ate dinner with us. He told me he is doing his three years of service by working in the village administration so that he can earn a card that will allow him to live in Beijing, make money, buy a house, attract a wife and send his children to good schools. When I pointed out that Cheng found Yan without all that, he said Cheng and Yan were an exception.

They took me to visit the old village – one-story buildings with crowded, narrow streets. We stopped at a bakery, a disorderly and crowded workspace with piles of blackened metal molds for breakfast rolls. By contrast, I was surprised at the spaciousness of the one home we entered. There was a huge living room, a TV room, 3 bedrooms, a modern kitchen, and 2 smaller rooms, all with white tile floors. The couple who lived there had built and rebuilt this home over 15 years. Their entryway looked more like a farmyard with drying red peppers, a big pile of newly harvested leeks, barrels, buckets and tools.

I do not claim to understand the transition that is going on in this village and, according to my hosts, in many others as well. From what I grasped, the village controls the old village and the land it is on. A developer is building the new apartments and offering each village family 1 million yuan (about $62,000) and 3 apartments in exchange for their old house. The families can live in one apartment and rent out the others. This would seem to mean that the village is giving up control of its land to a private company.

“New Farmer, New Countryside”

By good luck or Yan’s strategic planning, the few days between the end of the IFOAM General Assembly and the date for my Taiwan tour coincided with “New Farmer, New Countryside: the Third National Conference of Community Supported Agriculture” at Renmin University in Beijing. I had the honor of being the keynote speaker: I presented a newly updated version of my ever evolving illustrated talk on “CSA Around the World”. Hot off the presses was Yan and Cheng’s translation of Sharing the Harvest in time for us to celebrate the release of the book.

Over 400 attended the conference – farmers, organizers, undergraduate, graduate students and faculty. Many were delegates from over 150 ecological farming projects. At the plenary sessions, I was seated in the front row with the dignitaries, university professors and government officials. Most of the participants were 20 – 30 somethings, both men and women, with only a sprinkling of gray hairs. They showed an amazing level of commitment, sitting through workshops from 9 am till 10 pm! At breaks, a roar of networking erupted. If I can judge from the discussions at the end of each session, Chinese organic people are long-winded – and impressively long on the ability to listen to one another. They greeted me with overwhelming warmth. There was a lot of friendly laughter, though my volunteer interpreters were rarely up to translating the jokes and wisecracks. Outdoing even the Japanese, the Chinese delight in photo opportunities. I must have had my photo taken 200 times with different conference participants. Yan had told me that organic in China is no longer just a top-down, export-oriented program, but a grassroots movement. The palpable energy at this conference is evidence of this exciting development.

The farm manager at Little Donkey, Yan Xiaohui, opened the conference by outlining the kinds of problems to be solved: food quality and security, pollution from agriculture and the urban-rural gap. He evaluated Little Donkey’s success so far in addressing these challenges. Zhang Zhimin and Yan told about the growth of the Beijing CSA Union and the development of a national CSA network. According to Yan, middle class people, who are keeping city jobs, are returning to villages to manage organic farms. While CSAs like Little Donkey and Big Buffalo have government and university support, farmers are establishing others on their own by connecting with citizens who care about food quality and sourcing food from people they trust. You can read a version of Yan’s paper in the proceedings for the IFOAM Organic World Congress.

Thanks to a series of interpreters, I was able to make some sense of the workshops I attended. With two tracks at each time slot, the best I could do was to cover half of what went on. The content was surprisingly familiar, like a Chinese version of CSA conferences I have attended in the US and England. I heard detailed reports on CSAs – university supported projects, farmer and ngo initiated ventures, a variety of other direct marketing enterprises, some farmer cooperatives, and basic topics in organic methods, farm management, composting, seed saving, ecological architecture, certification and participatory guarantee systems. A farmer with many years of experience with organic practices talked about discovering CSA and appreciating the improvement in marketing and community support. Two new farmers from non-rural backgrounds talked about their paths to organic farming. A Bejing restauranteur from The Veggie Table listed his catchy 6 “m”s – meal, menu, music, manner, mood, meeting, and described how he purchases 60% of the ingredients for his menu from local organic farms. A professor of health analyzed the relationship between unhealthy life styles and disease.

A dramatic confrontation between a father, who had become a migrant worker in the city, sacrificing to give his son an education, and the son, who had decided to return to their village to be an ecological farmer, set off a highly emotional discussion that echoed through the two days. Another recurrent theme was the communication and marketing difficulties experienced by farmers who live in isolated areas, too far from cities. Li Zhao reported on the Green Ground Union, a project started by Professor Wen as a company in 2000. After meetings with farmers to learn about the problems in villages, they decided to focus on developing ecological agriculture as the best path to food safety and feeding the countryside. I would love to have a better understanding of what Li Zhao meant by “self-controlling” as a new way to build social trust. I missed sessions on the multi-functionality of agriculture, the many new farmers’ markets in Shanghai, Chengdu and Nanjing, “original taste,” restaurant supported agriculture, a community kitchen in Hongkong and Slow Food in China.

At the closing plenary, after a concise report on the IFOAM certification system and the principles of organic agriculture, Zhou Zelong, IFOAM’s representative in China, concluded with the new emphasis on Participatory Guarantee Systems. I was surprised that as illustration, he showed photos of his recent visit to a US farm in Connecticut that uses the NOFA Farmers Pledge instead of certification.

The final speech was delivered by Tiejun Wen, the Dean of the School of Agronomics & Rural Development at Renmin University and the Executive Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies for Sustainability, at the People’s University of China, ([email protected]). Wen was also a keynote speaker at the IFOAM Organic World Congress. Yan and Cheng’s teacher, Wen is one of the inspirations, an organizer and leader of the new grassroots organic movement. The center of his teaching are the “three Peoples’ Principles: people’s livelihood, people’s solidarity, and people’s cultural diversity.” I refer those who want to delve deeper to the February, 2011 issue of Monthly Review that will carry an article by Wen and close associates. You can also read Yan and Cheng’s article “Safe Food, Green Food, Good Food: Chinese CSA and the Rising Middle Class,” in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9:4, pp. 551-558, (

With a quiet, self-denigrating speaking style that contrasted sharply with the self-assured and even strident tones of the other big-wigs, Professor Wen, urged the conference participants to practice modesty and to listen carefully to others who may disagree, to try to understand each other and be prepared to compromise. “What we have done, ordinary people do – if ordinary people do ordinary things, the tragedy of 2012 will not happen,” he explained. In his wide-ranging talk, he cited Mao and pointed to the Chinese Communist Party position on “Ecological civilization” as the doctrinal support for the work of the people at the conference. He reflected on how a policy of cheap food leads to pollution, to cheating and the crisis of food safety and lack of trust. The solution, Wen suggested, lies in involving and empowering the full diversity of stakeholders. He urged his listeners, “Controversy is normal… We are leading the trend. Create your own network or union – you will be more powerful – that is the meaning of community. … (Authorities) find it difficult to refuse an organized group. My words will disappear when you leave. I will not be dean forever. I am 62 – please listen. Starting a social network – we can have a community. Let’s do some ordinary things.”

Life is full of surprises, and my visits to Taiwan, Japan and China are among them, unexpected rewards for writing about my own farming experience with CSA. So much of what I have seen in these travels turns out to be familiar despite the unfamiliar context. At this moment in Taiwanese and mainland Chinese history when the pressure to develop farmland is so intense, CSA shows a way to preserve existing farms, inspire the founding of new ones and give a different meaning to the labels “Made in Taiwan” and “Made in China,” so familiar in the USA. If Yan and Cheng, Da Wang, Chientai and Tseniong are examples, the Chinese capacity for intense, concentrated work for extraordinarily high quality food production is alive and well. The CSA model, linking farmers and their customers in sustainable collaborations, can build on the richness of peasant farming and ancient Chinese food traditions. As AMAP has been doing in France, CSA could sweep these countries as an antidote to the excesses of industrialization and contaminated food.

sharingharvest Elizabeth Henderson is the author of Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture.

CSA in Taiwan and China – a Tantalizing Glimpse

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Part I: Taiwan

Today’s citizens of China, Korea and Japan whose agriculture of a century ago F.H. King described so vividly in Farmers of Forty Centuries have almost forgotten the traditions that inspired so many of us in organic farming in the west. Fortunately, the traces have not totally disappeared. There are old timers who remember and young people who are rediscovering their ancient roots.

On two trips to Taiwan and one very short trip to mainland China, I have been privileged to glimpse the exciting ferment that is underway in the countryside. I want to emphasize that I am not an expert. What I know about modern China and Taiwan would only half-fill a very small cup. But allow me to describe what I have seen.

As a result of the Japanese translation of my book, Sharing the Harvest, the director of the Community College in Kaohsiung, and two small not-for profits, Green Formosa Front and the Community Empowering Society, brought me to Taiwan for a whirlwind week of lectures and farm tours in 2010. (You can read my account, “A CSA Mission to Taiwan,” on the Chelsea Green website.) This fall, together with an organic rice breeder from Thailand and a mushroom specialist from Bhutan, they brought me back again for a more elaborate tour .

In the course of these intensive visits, I have given formal presentations on how to organize a CSA at four community colleges, a major university, a technical institute, a farmers’ coop, the Tao-yuan regional government, a bookstore and a restaurant. I have met with groups of farmers, rural organizers, university classes and elementary school programs all around the island and dined with enthusiastic supporters of local organic agriculture, people who call themselves the Rural Front. I have visited ten rural and urban farming projects and heard the stories of many more in personal meetings and conferences. Here are the outstanding memories from my October 2011 trip.

Hsinchu CSA and Farm-to-School Project

Although we have only spent a few days together, Chientai Chen seems like an old friend. An engineer in the Creativity Laboratory at the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Hsinchu, he has been charged with community outreach. In 2010, I visited Rainbow Farm, his first project, a cooperative garden where institute members are learning organic growing methods. Along with Tseniong, Chientai attended the CSA conference in Beijing where I heard his presentation on the CSA model he believes will generate enough income to make farming attractive and his vision for saving farmland in and around Hsinchu. With ITRI support, he is organizing a CSA farm to provide employment for a community of indigenous people who live in the city. The men do construction work. Several hectares of agricultural land lie fallow next to the barracks where these families live. Chientai believes the women could farm the land. He has a plan for a 60-member CSA – the members, mainly ITRI employees, will assist two full-time farmers in growing the food and provide educational activities for the children.

A related Hsinchu project that is farther is a farm-to-school project. Tung-Jye Wu, known as TJ, the direct of the Green Formosa Front, is somehow responsible for instigating this assisted by Chientai. They took me to eat lunch at an elementary school that is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The organic food for the lunch comes from indigenous farmers 100 km away. It is one of eight schools served by these farmers. With only 138 children, 20 to a class, the school is designed around a central garden. The classrooms open onto an outdoor corridor that is lined with sinks. Buckets catch the water which the children then use to water their garden. The attractive young woman principle, who rides her bike to work, made a point of introducing me to the school cook and her assistant. They took me to observe a 2nd grade class on global warming. In answer to their teacher’s question about why CO2 is increasing, the children listed factories, cars, and meat production. At first I worried that this class would give the children nightmares, but it ended with a whole series of actions that they can take and are taking themselves – recycling, avoiding bottled water, turning off lights, gardening.

Conference on Organic Agriculture—College of Hakka Studies

The central focus of the Hsinchu visit was a conference on organic agriculture at the College of Hakka Studies of National Chiao Tung University. The modern and attractive college building is round – inspired by traditional Hakka architecture, with a central garden space, and surrounded by the preserved ruins of traditional Hakka homes and gardens.

[ “The Hakka are Han Chinese who speak the Hakka language and have links to the provincial areas of Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan and Fujian in China.

The characters for Hakka in Chinese come from words indicating "visitors" or "travellers" and distinguish the Hakka from the Tujia ("natives"). The Hakka's ancestors were often said to have arrived from what is today's central China centuries ago. In a series of migrations, the Hakkas moved, settled in their present locations in southern China, and then often migrated overseas to various countries throughout the world. The worldwide population of Hakkas is about 80 million, though the number of Hakka-language speakers is fewer. Hakka people have had a significant influence on the course of Chinese and world history: in particular, they have been a source of many revolutionary, government, and military leaders.” {Wikipedia} — Ed.]

There is a deep irony in this site. Until the construction of the college, there was a living Hakka community of people who used the old houses and gardened on this land. Most of the community was bulldozed to make room for the college and neighboring commercial area.

My contribution to the conference was a talk on starting a CSA. As though to confirm that my efforts have been worthwhile, one of the presenters was Yi-Li Chen, a farmer who was turned on to CSA by attending my seminar last year. He had been doing organic agriculture for a decade and CSA has been the answer to his marketing needs. At his Green Farm, he is doing a high tech version, involving members who are mainly high tech workers in the farm work, communicating with them through website, email and Facebook. He even has a webcam at the farm so that members can see him work, and, he added with a grin, he can watch his wife. He is engaged in a research project on the farm’s carbon footprint.

I listened in on a SWOT workshop – analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of CSA in Taiwan. The participants listed these factors: Farmland diminishing. Tight budgets. Cuts in agriculture. Hi tech cannot solve ag problems. Taiwan does not have land for industrial ag. or oil. Lack of clean water. CSA and food storage – to change imports – CSA equals local consumption – warehouse in each region for storage. 90% of energy is imported. Lots of cheap imports. CSA pricing important. Important to grow what members want. Water rights – 1906 Japanese brought rice that must be irrigated – before that, 1200 different varieties and all dry land. Now only 20 grown. Possible to raise yields of rice. Example of Cuba – more self-sufficient.

Their vision: Since Taiwan is small – maybe integration – all CSA farms in 1 system – more variety for each CSA. All products through CSA network. CSA as food insurance company to guarantee enough to eat. CSA rings around cities – when people move, they will consider which CSA they will belong to as well as which school for their children. Link small CSAs with more distant specialty farms.

Seven Days Around the Island

Our trip took us all the way around the island in seven days. North of Taipei, we visited a project near Hilan that is in the early stages of developing a CSA. Mrs. Chun, chief of coop, welcomed us and explained their work. The Tsin Chien Cooperative started by growing rice using organic methods and investing in their own mill. In 2010, the first year, 12 farmers, ranging in age from 28 to 78, grew 11 hectares of rice. In 2011, the coop grew to 15 farmers and 15 hectares of rice, as well as tea, soy beans, wheat, green onions, a specialty of their region, and other vegetables. They have a half-time book keeper, who also farms, and they have hired a full time manager to handle sales. So far, a local hotel is willing to buy most of what they produce. The coop is planning sales to individuals, hoping to attract them to the village for farm work and stays.

The most ambitious project I observed was in Hualien where we spent a whole day with Wang Fu-yu, affectionately referred to as Da Wang (Big King). A small man, Da Wang brims with cheerful, magnetic energy that attracts people who want to learn from him. Infected by the buy local passion, Da Wang began helping small organic farmers he knew to market their produce. Soon he had organized a sort of hub in a shop he rented in the city. Abandoning a graduate program in planning, Da Wang has built the hub into a food subscription service, a sort of cooperative CSA. Currently, 40 farms sell through his shop supplying weekly boxes year round to 200 households and irregular orders to another 100 customers in Hualien and shipped to Taipei. He pays the farmers monthly, gives cash advances when they need them and helps find labor. We had lunch with the big team of volunteers who help assemble the boxes. The shop also sells crafts - a young woodworker camps out in the back room and carves spoons and forks. The boxes include bread baked at the shop, and locally caught fish. He took us to witness the fish harvest (pretty brutal for the fish) and subsequent bargaining over their purchase.

Da Wang is investing profits from the vegetable box business into the next phase of the project. He says he has built this investment money into the price with the acquiescence of the subscribers. In the small nearby village of Ping-He (Peace), inhabited by a mix of indigenous people and retired Chang Kai Shek soliders, he has rented a house that he is using permaculture design concepts to turn into a home for his family, a produce center, and rooms for a hostel for back packers.  He hopes to employ 20 of the Amis villagers, in various value-added enterprises and the veg box work. He showed me a map of the empty homes which he hopes to repopulate with the young people who attend the organic farming training program underway on village land. One of the teachers is an ancient villager who has mastered the trick of growing greens through the hot, steamy Taiwan summers. We met a student from the first year who has already settled in Ping-He.

That evening, I gave a talk on CSA at a cafe in Hualien - the place was packed with standing room only, a very receptive audience, lots of good questions, and at least 15 people asked me to sign copies of the Taiwan translation of my book.

Our whirlwind tour took us by train around the south end of the island and back up the east side where we headed inland by car. We toured a traditional Hakka home, dined in an elegant pottery/restaurant, and made a quick stop in a village to meet an 83 year old farmer who has become a symbol of farmer resistance to WTO. I continued on to the National Taiwan University in Taipei to attend the Bow to the Land Festival, an annual student-run event celebrating local organic food held outdoors on a busy university walkway with folk music blasting, and booths for farmers, the Rural Front, and indigenous people with products to sell. In a bright red tent that quickly filled up with an audience of students and some of the farmer exhibitors, I gave a slide talk on CSA.

The San Cheng Experiment

The last day of our tour took us to the San Cheng Experiment, a class project by university students at the New Ruralism Center spearheaded by Sen Lin Cheng, a professor of planning. The students are trying to save from development a small farming village on the outskirts of Taipei. The class has found ways to connect the Liao family senior farmers with a local elementary school and the families who live in the gated housing projects that dominate the once rural landscape. We met an 89-year old lady who is still growing half an acre of vegetables for sale and participated in a ceremony of birthday congratulations to the clan matriarch who is 94. Wherever there is open space in this area, the farmers, some as young as 60, have created gardens, but they do not own the land they cultivate. We visited the Hakka style homes of the Liao family, and the temple that they had to move to make room for the road to the 20-story apartment buildings that polluted with their effluent the Wu Chong Creek, once the center of fishing, swimming and socializing for this little community. The university students are teaching classes in local history at the school and hosting farmers markets to enlist the housewives as steady customers to support the farmers. It will be interesting to see how this evolves in future years.

sharingharvest Elizabeth Henderson is the author of

Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture.

BikeIt! To the US Social Forum in Detroit, and Back

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Young friends say to me – “Farmers don’t retire!”  Friends my age say – “Good for you! You have worked hard long enough.”  For my first growing season in over 30 years without regular farming responsibilities, I am appreciating my new freedom to travel, though I still feel pangs of guilt at shirking a bigger share of the farm work. The Peacework farmers Greg and Ammie are getting on fine without me, so the problem is mainly in my head.  When the Domestic Fair Trade Association committed to doing a workshop at the US Social Forum in Detroit, June 22 – 26, I took my partner Jack’s challenge to get there on a bicyle.  We learned that people from Ithaca were organizing to make the trip and signed up to join them.

I caught up with Jack and the “BikeIt! to the USSF” group in Middleport, thanks to the kind assistance of Marianne Simmons who gave me a lift from Rochester, bike, gear and all on June 15.  I had wanted to attend the “Influence modeling”   session of the Urban Gardens project in Rochester and also could not face 87 miles of cycling my first day on the road. Middleport is 50 miles from Rochester on the Canal Trail.  It was a beautiful warm day with very little wind, which can be the main obstacle on these relatively flat trails.  Jack was riding with Jeff Furman, instigator of the BikeIt! venture, John, Diane, and Wendell with his two children, Serena and Aram.  The children each rode close to 60 miles that day!  We rode to the end of the Canal Trail in Lockport and then headed south on roads through North Tonawanda. No sooner did we get off the trail than Jack got a flat - which he quickly repaired. A few miles later, riding along the river, a bee flew into my eye and stung me.  Luckily, there was some plantain growing next to the road, so I was able to chew a leaf and make a poultice.  The plantain juice makes the sting go away in minutes.  In Tonawanda, we got on the Riverwalk, a lovely linear park that goes all the way to Buffalo.  Jack and I stopped at a bike shop to purchase a new tire to replace the rear one that had the flat.

A veteran long-distance biker and year-round bike commuter, Jack served as the BikeIt! blogger – you can read his reports on This was my first experience riding more than 40 miles on a bike loaded with two panniers.  I packed the minimum - 3 underpants, 3 pairs of socks, a second pair of shorts, a pair of long pants, a dressier blouse, a sweatshirt, a small towel, toothbrush stuff, a camera, cell phone and charger, notebook, pen, a heavy u-lock and a chain for city security, and a rain jacket. And two jars of water.  Not a big load, but heavier than I was used to, so when I tried to negotiate a sharp turn up a ramp, I fell and scraped my knee.  With that, we decided to head straight to Jack’s brother Richard’s house instead of eating dinner with the group at the Mass. Ave Project ( community center.  I was ready to eat and go to bed.  Richard welcomed us with beer and cheese.  I slept well that night.

The next day, we joined the group for an afternoon of service, helping out in the MAP urban farm.  They have two contiguous house lots where they have built a garden and a hoophouse in which Jesse Meeder, garden manager, raises Tilapia fish, using their effluent to feed basil and salad greens a la Growing Power.  The Tilapia project has been so effective that they are putting up a much large hoop house where they plan to raise 30,000 fish a year to sell to restaurants to help fund MAP.  Despite the heat, some of our group joined in with the volunteer crew digging deep trenches for the fish tank.  I concentrated on pruning and tying tomato plants.  MAP trains youth in organic food production both growing and processing, providing jobs for 30 in the summer and 15 through the winter.

Over the next five days, we biked from Buffalo to Detroit along the north shore of Lake Erie.  We rode past expensive homes and prosperous farms, most of them with membership signs from the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).  Two busloads of OFA members toured Peacework Farm a few years ago and the organization encourages its members to create environmental plans to reduce pollution from their farms. Most of the fields we passed were growing corn, soy beans or hay, but there were also fruit orchards, vineyards, large plantings of potatoes, and tobacco, the remains of what was once a major crop.  In the Leamington-Kingsville area, I saw the most extensive greenhouses I have ever seen in one place – acres and acres of them full of tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and flowers.  That area had also been smashed recently by a violent storm that had torn trees right out of the ground.  On Sunday, when we stopped at a drugstore, we saw many Hispanic men on bicycles using their day off to do some shopping in town.

As bike touring goes, this was relatively cushy.  Thanks to the inspiration and organizing of Jeff Furman and Claire Stoscheck, two vans and a car accompanied us, carrying tents, sleeping bags, food and cooking equipment, and, when necessary, tired bikers.  Jeff had actually hired the skilled staff from Mandibles Café at the Mann Library in Ithaca to serve as our food providers.  Every evening, we ate a different gourmet meal.  We camped at national parks and conservation areas, taking turns as “sweeps,” the last riders who make sure no one gets lost, and all helped with dish washing.  Best of all, the north shore area is almost entirely flat.  Biking, you see the countryside in a more leisurely way than in a car, and you experience the smells, both good ones – the heavy fragrance of milkweed blossoms, and the bad ones – leaking gas from passing vehicles and blasts of cigarette smoke out car windows.  I counted 155 dead birds along the roads – robins, warblers, a baby killdeer, a brilliant oriole.  The cars that thoughtlessly smashed these birds could do the same to us bikers…

For Thursday, Claire planned a shorter biking day since the border crossing was unpredictable. At dinner, Wednesday evening, we had a long discussion on borders and immigration issues.  As it turned out, we sailed right through and reached our first campsite by mid-afternoon with time for a swim.  87, 72 and 78 were the mileage goals for the next three days.  At about mile 70 on Friday, my rear tire developed a big bubble and would have exploded had I kept riding.  The van carried Jack and me to a Canadian Tire store some 20 miles north, where we purchased a new tire. Jack did another fine repair job.  On Saturday, the dread west wind picked up and though we left camp at 7 am, we did not reach our resting place till 7 pm.  Some gusts almost stopped my bike and I had to pedal to go down hill against the blasts.  Though longer and hotter, the Sunday ride was a breeze through the still, hot air.

Bizarre as it sounds, the bridge between Windsor, Canada, and Detroit is privately owned by a billionaire and does not allow pedestrians or bikes to cross.  Friends of Jeff from the Ben and Jerry’s Foundation came to the rescue with a trailer and a van.  We arrived in Detroit midday on June 21 and rode our bikes to the site of the Tent City on Woodward Avenue, a major downtown thoroughfare. Next to the Vietnam Veterans’ Center, surrounded by abandoned buildings and shelters for the homeless, a crew of volunteers, Detroiters and bikers from Chicago and Michigan, had established a clear fence around the circumference and no one was allowed to enter without a special armband.  That afternoon, the crew was busy trying to turn this block-sized parcel into a campsite by dumping piles of old leaves in the low spots to make level areas for the 100 or so expected tents.  Use as a parking lot had packed the ground hard.  We shared the one mallet available to drive in our tent stakes, an effort well rewarded when a few nights later thunderstorms with high winds ripped through the city, flinging unstaked tents into the air and flooding the low spots.  The crew also set up improvised solar showers, a 50-gallon barrel of water on the roof attached to garden hoses with spigots.  Jack actually got to shower during the day when the water was hot. My morning showers were cold.

That evening the cities of Windsor and Detroit celebrated together with a fireworks display over the river that separates them.  While most of the BikeIt gang headed downtown to join the crowd of over a million, Jack and I retreated to a quiet restaurant near Wayne State and then watched the fireworks from Tent City along with neighborhood folks.  Traffic clogged all 6 lanes of Woodward for hours.  Helicopters circled overhead. Great beams of light flashed through the darkness.  It was the noisiest place I have ever slept.  Jack fell asleep instantly and somehow I joined him.  The next morning we did our shifts at Tent City security along with three hired guards dressed in military-style uniforms, camouflage trousers and black jackets.

Before the opening parade for the Social Forum, Detroiters led us on a 16 mile biking tour of the city.  We rode past neighborhoods that looked poor, but more or less normal, then streets where some houses were inhabited while others had the front door open and you could look right through them into the empty back yard as you rode by. Our tour continued along an attractive bike path, through Wayne State University, past the Eastern Market and then back up Woodward Ave. to the gathering point for the parade.

Under a parching sun, thousands of the most diverse people you can imagine marched together to Cobo Hall.  There were people of all ages, races, ethnicities and styles, on foot and in wheel chairs, carrying posters and banners for any anti-corporate, anti-war and pro-humanity cause you can conjure up.  There were puppets and stilt-walkers, musical groups and chanters. “This is what democracy looks like!”  We could not ride our bicycles as a pack as we had planned since the pace was too slow and the entire width of the street full of marchers.

With a hundred or so workshops at every session, there was no way to take in more than a small percentage of the offerings.  Besides workshops, there were cultural performances and film showings, an enormous hall with long rows of tables with exhibits and sales from the hundreds of participating organizations, training sessions on useful skills such as computers and videotaping, tours of city projects on political and historical themes, and local actions such as a demonstration against the city incinerator.  Not to mention endless opportunities to network.  I had been warned that social forums were not well-organized, but this one was an extraordinary organizational tour de force with over 17,000 participants.

I decided to focus on seeing as many of the Detroit community gardens as possible and on the topic that brought me to present in a workshop – domestic fair trade.  I listened to members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers telling with simple eloquence the heroic story of their organizing.  With other members of the Domestic Fair Trade Association (, I talked about fair trade as a movement, and made a small contribution to a People’s Assembly on Food Sovereignty that resulted in an eloquent resolution that became part of the final declaration from the Social Forum.  One evening, I heard a series of Detroit activists, including Malik Yakini, president of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network ( and 95 year old Grace Lee Boggs, share their thoughts on their history, experience and future directions. Another evening, we took a high speed ride out to Dearborn with one of the Restaurant Organizing Committee (ROC) leaders to join in a rousing demonstration against an Andiamo’s that owes hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime and skimped wages to its workers.

I spent two mornings touring gardens and the Detroit Farm in Rouge River Park.  As a bus took us to the east side of town, Lindsey Terpin, a staffer for the Detroit Garden Resource Program Collaborative branch of Greening of Detroit (, explained that there are 1200 community, school and family gardens in the city for which her agency provides services and scavenging.  Partnering with recreation centers, churches and assorted community groups, the collaborative hosts meetings of  the gardeners in each of the four sectors of the city twice a year to brainstorm on the services and materials they need and then to evaluate the season.  The collaborative distributes seeds, seedlings, tools and compost, provides 50 workshops a year on gardening skills, runs Urban Roots, a nine-week gardening and organizing course during the winter, and facilitates cooperation among gardeners for additional resources.  Gardeners can sell excess produce at farmers markets. On this tour we saw three small family gardens, the Georgia Street Garden, a community garden initiated and run by a single family, a new youth training program at a church, and EarthWorks, a well-tended organic city farm that provides food for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Robin Douglas, who staffed the USSF Village, kindly offered to drive me to the Detroit Farm some 20 miles to the west.  On the way, we stopped at a few more gardens that Robin particularly admires including a beautiful collection of raised beds across the street from a restaurant that serves some of the produce.  At the Detroit Farm, a group of volunteers from the Social Forum were tying tomato plants. In preparation for a program for children, Malik Yakini was mowing the interior of a new hoop house inspired by Will Allen and Growing Power.  Malik explained that the farm currently uses 2-acres of the park but will soon expand to include 5 more.  The new peripheral fencing keeps out the deer, but rabbits appeared to be thriving on the farm’s greens.  Starting a farm in a park is every bit as overwhelming and demanding as in a rural village.  It struck me that there may be a useful role for retired farmers as advisors.

The Tent City closed at noon on Saturday, so Jack and I moved to a motel near downtown for our last night.  That afternoon, I attended the Forum’s closing ceremony which included several young hiphop performers and an inspiring speech by Pablo Solon, the Bolivian ambassador to the UN.  Solon talked about the Cochabamba Climate Summit and its resolution calling for a new contract with Mother Earth.  He also pointed to the need for an international tribunal to try environmental criminals like those who run BP, and concluded with an appeal that we all help push to add clean water and sanitation to the list of human rights.  As I left, I did what I could to contribute to the huge task of cleaning up Cobo Hall.
Sunday morning, Jack and I biked north to Port Huron where we knew government personnel would transport bikers across the Blue Water Bridge to Canada for free.  No doubt because of the weekend’s protests going on against the G20 meetings in Toronto, the Canadian authorities grilled us on our intentions.  We biked to Stratford and then spent two days in Waterloo visiting old friends before biking home to Rochester via Buffalo.  Our round trip covered over 600 miles on bikes.

I was not involved in the Forum’s organizational work that promises to carry the energy of this huge event into the future. You can join me in reading the resolutions and programs for transformation on the US Social Forum 2010 website (  So many worthwhile causes.  So many promising collaborations and heightened levels of understanding.  I carry in my heart the devastated city where people are struggling to reconnect and rebuild themselves and their community.  I stand with the USSF declaration – Another World Is Possible! Another US Is Necessary! Another Detroit is Happening!

Direct actions aimed at the farms that hire them brought retaliation, so they decided to target the corporations that buy from the farmers. Years of steady work has won them a significant following among college students, church groups and other citizens who have helped pressure these corporations which in turn are pressuring the growers to improve conditions for the farm workers.  Their next target is supermarket chains.

Check out a great album of photos from the trip.