Food for the Common Good
Growing organic foods… in an environmentally sustainable manner… for consumer members in the local community. That’s exactly the kind of socially responsible endeavor you’d expect from a couple of Nebraskans for Peace. Cooperation, community-building and sustainability are our watchwords, our peacemaking stock-in-trade.
Yet, even for someone like me (who’s worked in the peace movement professionally for 20 years), there’s still something powerful and heartening about seeing people live their convictions and actually put their beliefs into practice.
… And, in a small way, be personally part of it.
Ruth Chantry and Evrett Lunquist’s “Common Good Farm” is located 15 miles northwest of my home in Lincoln, just north of Raymond, Nebraska. I’ve only been to the farm two, maybe three times in the past decade (once to ferry 20,000 bees in my little compact car to a hive that was being set up on the grounds). But I’ve been a consumer member in the Common Good Farm “CSA” for four years now, and religiously pick up my vegetable share in Lincoln 12 weeks each summer.
The concept of “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA) arose about 20 years ago and can be summed up neatly as ‘share the bounty, share the risk.’ Community Supported Agriculture engages both the local farmer and the local consumer in a relationship in which the consumer members annually pledge to pay a share of the farm’s economic operating expenses—and in return receive a share of the produce. At Common Good Farm, the summer harvest season runs weekly from about late May to early August, with a special fall box in October. As is the nature of farming, there are of course variables beyond human control... But as Ruth and Evrett phrase it, “we try to work with Mother Nature and based on our years of experience, we can usually work with most tricks she sends our way.”
Those “years of experience” though were acquired the hard way, as neither Ruth nor Evrett grew up on a farm. Both city kids, Ruth was born and raised in Omaha and Evrett hails from suburban Minneapolis. Still, they weren’t complete novices when they started out. Prior to founding Common Good Farm in 1996, the two of them worked on a community farm/CSA in Wisconsin, and Evrett (who earned a bachelor’s degree in “Sustainable Food and Agriculture Systems” at the University of Minnesota) had worked on market farms in his home state. It was a natural leap to return to Ruth’s roots in Nebraska and found a family farm to grow “good food through good farming in Lancaster County”—where, in their words, they provide much that is “delicious and hopeful and dynamic in CSA and sustainable agriculture.”
Common Good Farm is a small, sustainable, certified organic and certified Biodynamic® /Demeter farm—one of about 150 certified Biodynamic farms in the United States. The certifications, Ruth and Evrett say, are “just a reflection of our striving to grow the highest quality produce, eggs and meat through soil vitality and conscientious farming practices. We use Biodynamic and organic seeds as available, focus on open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and limit our use of hybrids… We’re a ‘mom and pop’ family farm, and food is grown at Common Good Farm from seed to harvest.”
As Ruth and Evrett state on their website, “Our impulse for farming Biodynamically comes from our experience with observing plants as living things—not merely as passive recipients of soil-based nutrients. With Biodynamics, farming is about creating a whole farm as a vibrant entity through the farmers’ impulses. Through it we develop ourselves as individuals and farmers to serve our land and our community through agriculture. Biodynamics and sustainable farming are exciting and creative endeavors... directed but not prescriptive.”
On their 34-acre farm, they currently grow over 45 different kinds of vegetables and annual and perennial herbs throughout the season—as well as eggs and pastured pork and grass-fed beef for market. Eggs are available year-round at the farm and at “Open Harvest Food Co-op” in Lincoln (which also carries their seasonal produce). Meat is butchered annually in late fall. Common Good Farm also vends at the “Old Cheney Farmer’s Market” in Lincoln the first half of the gardening season.
The hours are long and the work is never-ending. But you can catch a sense of the passion they feel for what they’re doing from their language:
Why do we farm the way we do? We feel called to grow good food, pure and simple... for people we know or come to know. Farming this way provides that which is uplifting nutritionally and spiritually for us and for our customers… We’re committed to sustaining a family farm in Lancaster County to provide delicious, healthful food for our neighbors near and far, to tend the soil, love the land, and to create a healthful community.
And like any good neighbor, they’re anxious to share what they’ve learned with others. In addition to regular public outreach events at the farm, Evrett teaches a delightful (and non-technical) organic gardening class through Southeast Community College that I’ve had the pleasure of taking. For those seeking an introduction to the wonders of home gardening, I can’t recommend it highly enough. You’ll learn everything you need to get started.
And the times warrant the learning of these basic domestic skills.
The twin crises of ‘peak oil’ and climate change (coupled with the staggering scale of our federal debt), all but condemn the U.S. economy to a state of permanent contraction. High fuel prices will drive up production and transportation costs. Climate change will wreak havoc with agricultural production… Both of which will increase the price of food on the shelf at Hy-Vee and Safeway. In the years ahead, growing and buying ‘local’ won’t just be a laudable idea; it will become ever more necessary.
What Common Good Farm is modeling with its Community Supported Agriculture and sustainable farming practices is nothing less than a blueprint for the economy and culture of the future… One we all need to start wholeheartedly embracing while we’ve still got time.