Monday, June 11, 2007

Farming co-op?

I'd like to write more about this idea later, but I'd just like to throw it out there tonight to see if anybody knows any resources I should look at...

What if we started in the county a farming cooperative? Howard County, like many counties, is hemorrhaging farmland, and none, I suspect, is safe from the endless thirst of housing developers to build mcMansions. What if instead the County acquired farmland for community farming?

People would sign up to perform tasks associated with the farm, from working the land to administrative tasks, etc. They would be paid in credits, which would be cashed in for a proportional share of the farm's produce.

This could be a terrific pedagogical tool, allowing students to participate in a project that gets them outside, working on a project with real tangible results and tangible applications of the chemistry, biology, math and other lessons they learn in school. And working side by side with other community members, the farm would help get kids and other community members reconnected to each other.

Also, since work would be by the credit system, and the farm would be open to all who cared to register, people could be very flexible about their schedules, and work as little as they like.

It sounds like a very challenging project to organize, logistically and legally...but I think the potential benefits are pretty substantial. Has something like this already been put into practice?


pinenut said...

Bill McKibben has a book that might interest you: Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.

It got a starred review in Booklist, which said: Rather then promoting accelerated cycles of economic expansion—a mindset that has brought the world to the brink of environmental disaster—we should concentrate on creating localized economies: community-scale power systems instead of huge centralized power plants; cohousing communities instead of sprawling suburbs. He gives examples of promising ventures of this type, such as a community-supported farm in Vermont and a community biosphere reserve, or large national park–like area, in Himalayan India, but some of the ideas—local currencies as supplements to national money, for example—seem overly optimistic.

Maybe there's a model in the book for what your co-op farm. Cool idea.

The Speeker said...

Thanks for the pointer. That sounds really good. Its amazing what people are coming up with. We just have trouble getting things implemented, I guess...

Dinosaur Mom said...

I like to leave my agriculture to the pros but what I'm starting to find very interesting is the community supported agriculture movement. There are some Howard County CSAs I know squat about but they seem like a good place to start.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dino Mom, for the links to Maryland community supported ag sources. I've been wondering how to find one near me.

J. Newburn said...

I was going to mention the CSAs, too. I looked at the link provided by Dino Mom and see there is very little CSA activity in Howard County. CSAs, from what I understand, make small, local farming a much more viable profession.

People have to believe in and understand the importance of buying local produce in order for such CSA systems to be effective.

I don't know how to make CSA membership happen more. I'm not even a viable candidate myself, as I have access to a robust vegetable garden, and I supplement that by shopping at the floating HoCo farmers markets; I've been doing this since the market was at OMVC, years back.

I don't remember the exact circumstances, but a decade or so ago, I was doing some research for a client and had to look into farming, a bit. Turns out, there is a "magic number," a percent, of farmland below which, if a geographic region falls, all the farms eventually fall. The local economy and support structure among farmers (supplies, equipment repair, feed, vet care, etc.) needs a certain minimum volume to be viable.

Howard County was, years ago, dangerously close to dipping below that number. I'm not putting myself forth as an expert on the subject. Just as a concerned citizen contributing to a conversation.

I like your thinking, The Speeker, and the underlying need. If I were a betting woman, I'd bet this wouldn't fly in the culture of Howard County. Though I do think the CSA concept, given some substantial strength and PR, could revitalize some local farming.

And from a life conditions perspective, when I look around, I think we're more in a zone of "buy your values" (support farming by BUYING CSA agriculture) rather than "work your values" (by getting your body to a farm). But, that's just one woman's perception. Mine.

PS -- If you want to look into "time banking" and earning credits -- though not directly in the farming world -- check out the Columbia Action Network. I've posted about it on my blog. I have a more thorough post coming about this program, but it's still in the rough.

My link doesn't seem to want to work. Go to and type Toucan in the search box.