Full-diet farming: A case study of an alternative model for community-supported agriculture

Final report for GNE17-157

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $14,171.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2020
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Amy Trubek
University of Vermont
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

The purpose of this project was to explore the viability of a “full-diet” CSA model for increasing regional food consumption and supporting livelihoods of northeastern farmers. “Sustainability” in food has three pillars—not only environmental, but also economic and social. For farming, sustainable operations must maintain ecological capacity for output, economic inputs of sales, and the support of surrounding community. The U.S. has at most a few dozen full-diet operations. This study aimed to assess whether such outcomes can be achieved through a novel CSA model incorporating a whole diet approach.

To undertake this assessment, this project consisted of a holistic case study of a full-diet CSA farm in upstate New York, Essex Farm. The goal was to understand how the farm operates as a business, what kind of environmental practices it employs, and how its social network engages supports farm activities. Together, this knowledge would illuminate whether it is feasible for other farms to adopt similar practices, and if so, how they might best be successful.

These are the main conclusions, outlined further in the report below. First, it is possible to farm with enough diversity to support a full diet, although most members and some farmers continued to supplement with off-farm goods like fruit, caffeine, and alcohol.

Second, social relationships are foundational to the farm’s operation, in terms of membership, financial support, and a satisfied workforce, but relationships can also be a double-edged sword in such a community-embedded project, as when they shift it can lead to precarity in operations.

Third, the meaning of the farm for some goes beyond the social to the spiritual or metaphysical. We may need to account for a wider sense of the motivations and importance of CSA farming when they involve a deeply-committed community.

Fourth, while environmentally sustainable practices can be achieved, and even supported, with highly diverse farming, “sustainability” in agriculture can remain a contested term among farmers and one that would benefit from clear guidelines in how to weigh tradeoffs between different practices. This includes what happens to environmentally-minded farms who succeed, grow, and then have to change their initial ideals and practices to accommodate growth.

Fifth, this kind of agricultural project is so specific to people and place that it might not be fully replicable—rather, replication must be equally specific to context. Main components of success on this farm include access to (affordable) land, capital, and credit; the ability to apply for and manage grants; highly dedicated membership and workforce, in this case often recruited and maintained through deeply sensory written pieces and visual social media; and a potential membership that is not overly saturated with similar CSA options.

Finally, this case demonstrates that a farm motivated primarily by social and environmental goals can be limited by financial imperatives. In the current food system and economy, it might not be possible to fully achieve social, environmental, and economic sustainability in one project. There appears to be a need for greater support for farms attempting this kind of multifaceted, aspirational model.

The primary challenge to this work was completing a comprehensive business model analysis. Although the farm in question was transparent about in sharing their income, debt, and expenditures, the information was complicated, diffuse, and shifting. It was not possible to fulfill one of the initial goals of this project, a complete breakdown of how the farm manages financially, which was intended to be shared with similar diversified CSA projects.

Project Objectives:
    1. Evaluate the degree to which CSA members’ diets are supported by the farm share.

    Is this a truly full-diet farm? What purchases to they make in addition to the share? Have diets changed? What conclusions can be drawn about this as a model for regional agriculture?

     

    1. Determine personal and social aspects of the share.

    Are there implications for members’ health? For social relationships? For members’ personal finances?

     

    1. Gauge the environmental sustainability of farm practices.

    How do the farmers conceptualize and practice environmental sustainability? Do practices align with established standards of sustainable farming?

     

    1. Analyze the adaptability and scalability of the model.

    Is the model meeting farmer and member needs? Does the model seem replicable in other contexts?

     

    1. Assess the full-diet CSA as a comprehensive project in multiple meanings of “sustainability.”

    How do different goals (economic, environmental, social) on the farm complement and or compete with others? If there is conflict, which goals get prioritized? What have been the landscape-level impacts, if any, of this farm?

Introduction:

CSAs have been identified as one way of creating local, sustainable food systems. CSA operations usually function as subscriptions, with members buying in at the beginning of and receiving food throughout the growing season. This approach allows farmers to share financial risk with their customers in the case of disasters and low yields; calculate how much food to produce; have a reliable market; and save on labor costs associated with selling at farmers’ markets. Environmentally, CSAs tend to use agroecological methods, cultivate biodiversity, and meet or exceed National Organic Program standards of practice (R. Galt, O’Sullivan, Beckett, & Hiner, 2012); agroecological practices have been identified as a primary opportunity to create resilient and productive agroecosystems in the face of climate change and other natural resource degradation (Altieri, Funes-Monzote, & Petersen, 2012).  On the consumer side, CSAs have been shown to significantly increase fruit and vegetable consumption (Cohen, Gearhart, & Garland, 2012), foster a sense of community (Lang, 2010), and fulfill a desire to re-embed food in a local context (Schnell, 2007). CSAs vary in their structure, but replicability is high, tripling between 2009 and 2015 to over 6,000 operations nationally (Paul, 2015). These numbers may have decreased in more recent years, and rebounded somewhat during the pandemic (McKenzie, 2020).

A new model is emerging in this community: the full-diet (or whole-diet) CSA, which is designed to provide all the food needed for its members’ diets—no supplementary shopping necessary. The U.S. has at most a few dozen full-diet operations (Massey, 2015). All the benefits of CSAs can be enhanced by a full-diet CSA, providing more reliable income for farmers, fully diversified farming systems, and fully localized diets. The model takes one step further an established recommendation for CSA farmers to diversify their business models through offering meat, winter produce, and products from partner farms (Cannella, 2011).

Despite the potential of full-diet CSAs to address economic, environmental, and social goals—also known as the “three pillars” of sustainability (Van Cauwenbergh et al., 2007)—the scientific literature contains significant gaps that impede understanding and wider adoption. Much of existing CSA literature focuses on farmer and consumer perceptions, and some on health benefits of CSA membership (Wilkins, Farrell, & Rangarajan, 2015; Allen IV, Rossi, Woods, & Davis, 2017). Interestingly, almost all studies take for granted that CSA practices are eco-friendly, without questioning or analyzing impacts of specific practices. Preliminary research suggests CSAs do transform member diets and localize consumption (Schor & Thompson, 2014). No studies appear to address the interplay between economic, environmental, and community dynamics, and there is no research on the full-diet model and its relationship to these three pillars of sustainability.

Our response to this gap was a full-cycle case study of a full-diet CSA. Case study represents the best method here, partly because there are too few examples to survey, and partly because a whole-system analysis is the only way to capture the multiple, interacting facets of an operation’s impact. This case focuses on Essex Farm in Essex County, New York. The farm runs a “full-diet” CSA designed to provide all its members’ food needs, and offer on-farm pick-up for locals and delivery to subscribers in Albany, New York City, and the Tri-Lakes area. Essex Farm produces meat (grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken), milk, eggs, fifty varieties of vegetables, fruit,  grains and flour, and maple syrup. Animals are fed certified-organic food. The farm was originally powered by people, horses, and solar power and now uses tractors. They use no conventional pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, and they only use animal medications when absolutely necessary. Their employment shifts seasonally, with about 20-25 people in the summer months, and their membership shifts annually, with a recent count of approximately 225 members. Mark Kimball, co-owner and operator with his wife Kristin, claims that he only works 40 hours per week and has a maintainable lifestyle.

This inquiry was designed benefit not only researchers, in their understanding of viable food systems solutions, but also the farming community itself. CSA farmers are more likely to self-exploit labor than other farmers (R. E. Galt, 2013), and while CSA operations do better than the USDA farming average, they still usually do not provide adequate incomes to workers and farmers (Paul, 2015). Perhaps exacerbating these issues, CSA farmers are less likely than others to come from farming families, and tend to underutilize services such as agricultural extension; in other words, they are especially in need of institutional knowledge as well as viable financial examples (Worden, 2004).

In essence, “sustainability” is ability to continue into the future (Hansen, 1996). This study aimed to illuminate the opportunities and potential obstacles of the full-diet CSA model to meet farmer and consumer needs and thereby promote sustainable, local food systems. 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

The methodological approach of this project was a holistic case study of Essex Farm in Essex, NY. This project follows a concurrent mixed methods design (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2007). While originally designed for combining both qualitative and quantitative data, research obstacles for quantitative data resulted in a mixture of primarily qualitative methods. These included participant observation, interview, document analysis, PhotoVoice participatory photography, and ethnography. A single-subject case study designed for a depth and richness in data triangulation and in conclusions (Yin, 2016). Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval was granted in May 2018.

 

Table of Methods Employed

Method

Sources

Analysis

Semi-structured interview

Farm owner (2)

Qualitative coding

 

Farmers (18)

 
 

CSA members (15)

 

Direct observations

Farm

Qualitative coding & memoing

Participant observations

Farming activities

Qualitative coding & memoing

Documents/records

The Dirty Life

Document analysis

 

Good Husbandry

 
 

WhatsApp thread

Organic survey

Internal documents (membership agreement, debt tracking sheets, etc.)

 

Sensory data: photography and audio recording

Farm

Sensory analysis

Participant photography

Farmers (4)

CSA members (4)

Sensory & qualitative analysis

Research relationships were established through personal connections. Following practices from participatory action research methods, there were several initial conversations about the farm’s expectations for research, including the need for financial compensation for farmers’ interview time, and the expectation of showing up for team meetings on fieldwork/observation days. The farm also received compensation for the operators’ and manager’s time in helping set up interviews and other data collection. These connections made it easier to vouch for and then demonstrate researcher integrity, which were critical for collecting data.

Observations and fieldwork happened primarily through helping out on the farm once a week. This had several benefits. First, it allowed for a much better understanding of farm dynamics. Second, it allowed personal relationships and trust to develop, which supported the interview process. Third, it demonstrated researcher commitment to the farmers and provided some value back to the farm in exchange for farm time. Fieldnote memos, written within one day of doing fieldwork, were critical for recall and processing of information on the farm. These were supported by regular fieldnote scribbles and photos taken during fieldwork.

The farm owners/operators, farmers, local members, and NYC members were all interviewed. The sampling strategy for farmers was to interview as many people as possible, excepting the short-term interns, who did not have the same insights as full-time workers. Members were recruited through a farm email blast and then, when this did not recruit enough people, through personal references from farm owners for long-term members. Some additional members were then recruiting through snowball sampling, as members were more likely to respond to a fellow member’s request than an generalized email. Monetary incentives were highly important and appreciated by farmers, who do not make much money, but were often declined by or slightly awkward for members, who saw participation as more about their interest in the share than as part of their work. All interviews were transcribed and coded with qualitative data software (ATLAS.ti), along with fieldnotes.

Photovoice participants were recruited at the end of interviews. This is a method that has been used in food-related projects (for examples, see (Tallant, 2011; Valera, Gallin, Schuk, & Davis, 2009; Díez et al., 2017) although less so on farms. The purpose was to have participants directly document their experiences visually and then reflect on the meaning in written words. The prompt for this project was “Why do you work at Essex Farm” or “Why are you a member at Essex Farm?”

Document analysis relied on a number of different kinds of data. There have been two bestselling memoirs about the farm published by Kristin Kimball that were instrumental in understanding the history, evolution, and personal meaning of the farm from an owner’s perspective. The farm uses WhatsApp messaging to communicate about a number of different farm concerns, and two of them, on marketing/distribution and finances, were available for research. Mark Kimball verbally filled out the Vermont Organic Farm certification questions as a way of accounting for all the sustainable practices employed. There were other internal farm documents, like membership tracking, that also facilitated a full picture of farm operations.

Data analysis took place in ATLAS.ti and through written narrative. In another publication (Caitlin Morgan, 2020, University of Vermont) this case study was also analyzed with another case for a comparison of aspirational or transformative projects in the food system.

Research results and discussion:
  1. Evaluate the degree to which CSA members’ diets are supported by the farm share.

Is this a truly full-diet farm? What purchases to they make in addition to the share? Have diets changed? What conclusions can be drawn about this as a model for regional agriculture?

The farm offers enough volume of diversity to provide a whole diet, although most members supplement with purchases from the store. Diets have changed for everyone involved, to varying degrees. Farmers are more likely to eat nearly all of their calories from the farm, whereas most members estimated that about 50-75% of their food is from the share. Products commonly mentioned as supplement included coffee and tea, fruit, chocolate, alcohol, and bread and other wheat products.

Several members said that their orientation toward what is “normal” has altered, and they now find it strange to have any plastic packaging in the refrigerator, as they are used to the reusable glass containers and unprocessed vegetables. This suggests a possible “trickling out” effect of the farm on other ways of viewing sustainability in daily practices.

The share has supported regional agriculture in two ways. First, by having a large number of people sourcing a majority of their food from a single, local/regional origin. Second, the farm has played a significant role in changing the regional agricultural economy in the past two decades. When Essex Farm was established, the small, rural, poor county of Essex had existing and defunct dairy farms but virtually no local produce. In the years the farm has grown, it has trained many young farmers who have since left to start their own small farms and CSAs (none of which, it should be noted, are full-diet in the way Essex is). As a result, there are now around a dozen locally-serving farms, more young families have moved to the area, and small community institutions like the school and the Grange have seen more activity.  

 

  1. Determine personal and social aspects of the share.

Are there implications for members’ health? For social relationships? For members’ personal finances?

Several members spoke forcefully about the health effects of being members of this CSA. One woman believes it is literally keeping her alive during an intense chronic illness; one family claims to have not been sick since joining the CSA; a local man believes his physical makeup has been completely changed. Others indicated that health, alongside sustainability and supporting agricultural livelihoods, was a big motivating factor in being part of the share.

Although the share is affordable when compared to the cost of similar products at the store, it constitutes a significant financial commitment for many members. A family of four in New York City, for instance, will pay more than $20,000 per year for the CSA (about $7,000 per adult and $3,000 per child). The local membership is much less expensive, closer to $4,000 per year per adult. While some believe that, especially in NYC, people would likely spend a comparable amount grocery shopping and eating out at restaurants over the course of a year, others felt that it was difficult to afford the share. Conversely, the farm struggles to pay a reasonable wage to its employees in addition to its debt payments, and has recently experimented with eliminating its sliding scale discounts as a way of accounting clearly for what it costs to produce a share.

Echoing much of the literature on CSAs, the farm has historically been an important source of community for many local members, who gather on Fridays for distribution and sometimes volunteer with emergency tasks. Relationships were also a primary way the farm was established and grew, as the owners were able to get inexpensive and sometimes free land, volunteer and traded labor, and are still often able to get low or zero-interest personal loans when income is tight. The social aspects on the farm have weakened over the years as the management structure has become more distancing, as the NYC and non-local shares expanded the membership beyond people who all saw each other weekly, and as the farm has employed new Amish laborers, who have rules and cultural norms about limiting interaction with non-Amish people. This situation suggests that although the social aspects of a CSA are often foundational, they are not necessarily permanent, and need to be cultivated.

This study highlighted the importance of sensory and meaning-filled connection between the farm and both membership and workers. Appealing to people’s senses—whether in the taste of food, visual stimulus of social media, or in the sensory engagement of visiting the farm—is often billed as “marketing.” While accurate, that term is more transactional than it is actually experienced by participants. The farm in this case engages membership and potential workers through farm visits, books, a newsletter, and Instagram, all of which feed connection to what the farm does and what its chosen actions mean on the spectrum of ways food can be produced. Research often reveals the importance of social connections in CSAs; this study showed that the farm share also had spiritual, metaphysical significance for workers and members, access through their senses. This finding echoes a tradition of transcendental meanings of organic agriculture and homesteading (see, e.g., Gould, 2005; LeVasseur, 2017; Robbins, 2019) and reveals its presence also in CSA farming.

 

  1. Gauge the environmental sustainability of farm practices.

How do the farmers conceptualize and practice environmental sustainability? Do practices align with established standards of sustainable farming?

The farm employs many different ecological farming practices, seemingly meeting or exceeding many established organic standards. Their practices include the following:

  • Compost of crops, manure, and feedstocks
  • Observations of crop and soil health, with some soil testing when required by grants
  • Compost temperature testing and turning
  • Annual crop rotation
  • Soil conservation, including livestock fencing, conservation or reduce tillage, riparian management, winter cover crops, strip cropping, crop residue management, crop rotation with sod crops, perennial crops, permanent vegetative strips on water courses, windbreaks, and quick cover of bare ground on erosion-prone areas
  • Soil biodiversity practices, including many of the conservation practices, and building soil organic matter and timing tillage and other farm operations to avoid compaction and erosion
  • Water conservation, including varietals appropriate for the climate, management to increase filtration, maintenance of watershed and habitat, vegetated riparian areas, and management of nutrient runoff
  • Restoration of native species habitat
  • Horse power for maple collection to reduce impact on woodland habitat
  • Wildlife biodiversity and ecological balance, including crop and cover crop diversity,

minimizing pesticides, using pest-specific or biodegradable pesticides, designing

fencing for wildlife corridors, and ecologically friendly barriers to invasive species

  • Establishment of legal conservation areas
  • Only using medications on livestock when absolutely necessary
  • Limiting livestock access to waterways and sensitive riparian habitats
  • Rotational grazing
  • Reseeding trampled or eroded areas

There were two main complications in management of environmental practices. First was that the concept of “sustainability” was an internally-contested one, and the farm did not have an agreed-upon way of deciding between two different ideas of what was more sustainable. For example, some farmers believed that it was unconscionable to use single-use plastics for packaging food, as they are wasteful, do not degrade, and will cause undue ecological burdens to future generations. They are necessary, however, for shipping greens and other products to New York City. This raises the question of whether it is more environmentally sustainable to limit single-use, petroleum-based resources and keep food distribution local, or to feed more people from an ecologically-minded share even if it means throwing away packaging. Different people had different opinions, and the farm does not have a mission statement or other decision-making tool to clarify such tradeoffs.

Second, and relatedly, the growth of the farm has necessitated increased use of things like tractors and diesel power, a departure from the original intent of using animals and solar power to cultivate and harvest food. As more food is produced, as more inexperienced farmers come to work on the farm, it has become less logistically feasible and less safe to use horse cultivation. In this and similar ways, the success of the farm, which has caused it to grow, has also caused it to deviate from some of its initial ecological practices, a catch-22 of CSA success.

 

  1. Analyze the adaptability and scalability of the model.

Is the model meeting farmer and member needs? Does the model seem replicable in other contexts?

This CSA model is mostly meeting member needs. Although many members supplement with other products, doing so is not a significant drawback for them. It is meeting farmer needs to a degree, although workers on the farm discuss the fact that they are choosing a life of relative material poverty in order to do this kind of work; the model supports farmer livelihoods, but in a way that keeps them in marginal financial circumstances, a fact that contributes to farmer turnover and workforce instability. The hourly wage has risen in recent years, but starting rates are considerably lower than the national and New York state averages for farmwork, and unlike on many farms, workers do not receive food for free. Although Mark Kimball is satisfied with his work level and lifestyle, by objective measures, there is still a degree of owner labor self-exploitation, in terms of number of hours worked and compensation. This is not unlike other CSAs.

It seems that this model is not easily adapted to other contexts, for a number of reasons. The owners co-created special economic circumstances, including leasing land for very little money, which is not impossible for others, but requires creative land access arrangements. There are a number of personal connections with wealthy members or allies of the farm that are also integral for keeping the farm afloat during precarious times. The first memoir of the farm has been instrumental as a marketing tool, for members but more significantly for farmers, who read Kristin’s book and decide to join the labor force for idealistic, rather than material, reasons. More recently, personal connections with an Amish community that is migrating from Pennsylvania to upstate New York have resulted in a more stable, inexpensive Amish workforce on the farm. The farm also began in an area that was at the time not saturated with CSAs and thus did not have competition in early years. Such circumstances exist in some parts of the agricultural northeast, but not in all. Finally, the Kimballs are aware of a few other farms who have attempted a full-diet farm modeled on theirs and who failed as a business, which is evidence that the model is not a surefire solution. There is at least one CSA in Vermont that is instead slowly instituting more of a full-diet approach, adding pieces over time rather than starting out with this kind of full-on approach from the beginning. Some farmers suggested to me that it makes more sense to institute full-diet farming from a landscape perspective, in a team of multiple, specialized producers who do not have to manage either the production or the membership logistics required by one farm’s providing of an entire diet.

One potentially replicable activity on the farm is its use of grants especially in building infrastructure. Anecdotal evidence outside this case study suggests that small operations can benefit if they take advantage of federal and state programs, but that doing so requires a level of time, interest, and ability in managing grant applications and reporting.

To institute such an ambitious approach to CSA farming appears to require affordable access to land, a workforce motivated by things other than a secure livelihood, a managerial ability to corral a huge diversity of production tasks, a membership able and willing to prepare mostly unprocessed foods in a market filled with easier options, personal connections for financial continuity without undue debt, and effective outreach to support all of these aspects. This is not impossible, but neither is it straightforwardly replicable.  

 

  1. Assess the full-diet CSA as a comprehensive project in multiple meanings of “sustainability.”

How do different goals (economic, environmental, social) on the farm complement and or compete with others? If there is conflict, which goals get prioritized?

The farm’s primary goals are social and environmental ones and farmers usually talk about economic goals as in service of those two. However, one of the primary contradictions of the farm is that although acting as a business is not the main reason for existing, it must survive as a business in order to keep pursuing this particular way of farming for community and environment. Sometimes, the financial considerations actually get in the way of more lofty goals, as with eliminating sliding scale shares, requiring farmers to have their share cost deducted from their paychecks, or using tractors when ideally they might use horse labor instead. The financial pressures on the farm are intense, from payroll to mortgages to loans to operating costs, and the farm is operating in a political economic context that, among other things, subsidizes industrialized food that makes it hard to compete as a small farmer, does not provide affordable health care, allows enormous levels of college debt with huge interest payments for individuals, does not provide low-cost land that is to be farmed, and generally allows economic precarity that makes it harder for people to afford high-quality and local food and be able to afford farming as a vocation.

This case study suggests that it can be nearly impossible to achieve all three levels of sustainability simultaneously. The farm has achieved success in several ways, including the fact that it still survives in a precarious agricultural economy, that it has grown, that it has consistently fed its membership for over 15 years, and that it has been instrumental in a regional agricultural renaissance. At the same time, it still struggles financially, and its social and environmental goals are often not achievable simultaneous with its economic imperatives. As farm owner Mark Kimball put it, “I think that our environmental shortcomings are outweighed by our social success, and I think our economics is right about at zero, we’re not making money, we’re not losing money, it is what it is.” The data further suggest that as a society we are putting high, multifaceted expectations on the small- and medium-scale alternative agriculture projects in a context without any structural supports for their success, especially supports for pursuing multiple goals that ultimately become tradeoffs with each other.  

Research conclusions:

Full-diet CSA is a compelling model for diversified regional agriculture and a move toward regional self-sufficiency. That said, in the context of the current food system of subsidized convenience food and relatively limited governmental support of small- and medium-sized operations, the model requires a membership with the time and inclination for extensive food processing and, in the absence of sliding scale pricing, disposable income. It also may require creative land access and a highly dedicated, low-income workforce in order to compete with lower, industrial food prices. In other words, a full-diet CSA faces similar challenges to normal CSAs, but requires greater commitment on the part of membership and greater complexity of growing operations on the part of the farm.

The issue of ownership in such a model is one that deserves more attention. In this case, farm workers often showed high levels of personal investment while having no actual financial or managerial buy-in. This seems to discourage longevity in labor as people burn out, search for more lucrative employment, or start their own operations. It may be worth pursuing whether full-diet CSAs have more sustainable working arrangements when they are cooperatively owned, or managed as a collaboration of several farms.

As mentioned above, this study calls into question whether it is possible to satisfactorily pursue all three facets of sustainability (environmental, economic, and social) at one time on one farm. It appears that although they sometimes complement each other, each aspect of sustainability can also become a tradeoff with the others. If this is true, it will require larger structural change in the food system to allow farmers to provide accessibly-priced food and reasonable livelihoods while also stewarding the land and surviving as a business. While this farm has had remarkable success, its continuing struggles balancing between these needs suggest that even outlier agricultural projects need more support in being truly sustainable.

Participation Summary
18 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

1 Journal articles
2 Published press articles, newsletters
6 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Other educational activities: Community outreach meeting about the challenges of local eating/local agriculture
Two-day conference on the future of regenerative agriculture in the northeast
Participation in other state-level meetings about the future of agriculture, informed by this research

Participation Summary:

10 Farmers
3 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

Outreach related to this work has been diverse. There have been a number of academic presentations about what can be learned from this kind of economic model in agriculture. We held a community meeting about different forms of local CSAs and what they mean for consumers. We organized a two-day conference on the future of regenerative agriculture in the northeast, which was attended by many farmers, including one representative from the farm researched here. Researchers have also been a part of other state-level conversations about agriculture, informed by this work. We have also published an op-ed on how policy a Green New Deal could better support farmers.  

Project Outcomes

2 Grants applied for that built upon this project
2 Grants received that built upon this project
$80,000.00 Dollar amount of grants received that built upon this project
3 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

One of the primary project outcomes is the dissertation that includes this project as a case study and will be publicly available through the University of Vermont Howe Library (https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/), in the dissertation published by Caitlin Morgan, in Chapter Two.

It is not yet clear how this project will affect agricultural sustainability; this will depend on how participating farmers receive and use the information from the case study. I hope it will contribute to future sustainability through hard, necessary discussions of how difficult it is to maximize economic, environmental, and social benefits simultaneously on a small but highly complex scale. 

Knowledge Gained:

My own knowledge and attitude about sustainable agriculture became much more complicated during the course of this research. I witnessed how hard it is not only to farm but also to keep a farm running as a viable business, and how creative sustainable farmers have to be in marketing because they do not have access to the same production chains as industrial farmers and have more complex ecosystem and labor concerns. This has affected my future career path in a number of ways, including a commitment to being transparent in the kinds of tradeoffs farmers are forced to make, to advocating for political and social supports for people who are practicing sustainable agriculture, against economic odds. 

This project has also influenced other research in many ways that are difficult to quantify. One example is a visioning conference I co-led on regenerative agriculture, in which farmers from this project participated, and which spurred some conversations and connections that continue today. Another example is a book chapter on regenerative working landscapes. A third is a project that my advisor is leading and I am involved in that is developing metrics for measuring social embeddedness in small-scale agriculture, a project that is directly and indirectly informed by the experiences I had in doing this research, which illuminated many facets of social embeddedness of this CSA. This project has and will continue to affect my understanding and perception of agricultural research throughout my career. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.