Community Supported Agriculture
The Land Use Committee has been casting about for new ways to preserve open space and protect natural areas from encroaching development. Parcels bordering natural areas should provide the best possible buffer from development and the most gradual transition between urban and natural environments. So we feel that diversified and sustainable small-scale agriculture is an appropriate land use in these zones. This type of agriculture almost always employs organic methods of production tailored to local soils, microclimates, and native ecosystems.
In order to promote conversion of existing monoculture farmlands into sustainable agriculture uses, the Farmland Protection SubComittee is actively investigating a number of ideas. One of the most promising is the possibility of helping different types of entrepreneurial farming get a foothold in McHenry County. “Entrepreneurial farming” is an umbrella term for non-conventional forms of farmer cooperatives, value-added merchandising of farm products, and direct connection to specialty markets. Most entrepreneurial farms thrive because they capture much more of the market value typically siphoned off into the costs and profits of corporate retailers and distributors.
One type of farm-direct marketing that has been expanding in the United States in recent years is a grassroots movement known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA farm can be organized in a variety of ways, but usually urban shareholders purchase a portion of a local farm’s product(s) in advance, and then receive the product(s) weekly during the harvesting season(s). CSA farms very frequently use organic or sustainable methods of production because of the greater end value of the crops produced. Fresh vegetables are the most common crop, but the only limits to what can be grown, harvested, and supplied this way are the natural constraints of the region and the artificial constraints of habit.
From a land planning perspective, the ideal location for CSA’s or other types of small-scale sustainable farms is either on the urban fringe close to the markets that the farms would supply, or adjacent to conservation areas where the farms’ open spaces act as productive buffer zones. Urging county and city planners to incorporate designated “sustainable agriculture” areas into their land use plans and zoning ordinances would be one way of promoting conversion or protection of strategically located open space. Well-established conservation tolls such as easements and purchase of development rights could then be used to help farmers in these zones make the transition to new methods of production and marketing.
Another way of moving toward the same goal would be to actively encourage and support farmers who are shifting into new forms of production and marketing, such as CSA’s. The environmental and economic potential of entrepreneurial and sustainable farming is readily apparent, though often minimized. It is becoming clearer every year that these types of farming initiatives are probably the only hope for preserving small-scale family farms, and the cultural values they embody, in the face of the cut-throat competition that characterizes the global marketplace.