The turn of the century marked a new age in America—the age of industry. Big business took over labor-intensive jobs and entrusted our country’s survival to iron-clad machines and methods that would yield the heartiest produce, not necessarily the healthiest. A group of dedicated, recent college graduates are doing their part to ensure agriculture’s legacy is not forgotten in the wake of mass production. Community Cooperative Farms (CCF) is dedicated to returning to the “traditions of high-quality, holistically produced agriculture products” that fed our countrymen and women of old. Tashiana Colston of CCF sat down with UBW for a brief interview:
How did Community Cooperative Farms come about?
It came about in a funny way—a lot of late night apocalyptic-end-of-our-civilization talks, hypothetical dreams, real fears and a real drive to help people. The five of us met at Pitzer College, Justin and I were next door neighbors in our freshman dorm while Alex lived on the floor beneath us, Mael, Justin and Jane all had the same freshman seminar course. I don’t know if we all sat down and hung out in the same room together until our senior year, though. Early on in the spring semester of our senior year (Jan. 2010) we started having meetings with about five other people who were also interested in starting the farm about how to operate a cooperative, what materials we thought we would need, and who could be out to Massachusetts from California when.
I think it’s fair to say the farm is Justin Torrico’s brain child, and I would credit him with spearheading the project (finding the land to farm, organzing the people, ensuring that we had CSA members, initiating the purchase of our seeds, securing housing for us, and without his small town relationships, we might not have had the amount of support we’ve received). The farm is a convergence of his passion for food, his studies of the Political Economy at Pitzer College, and his drive for social justice. I think a lot of us, including myself-his girlfriend- thought these were just musings but as he built a case as to how fragile our economy is and how dependent we are on non-renewable resources and industrialized farming, we all began to see farming together as a viable, realistic and revolutionary act. I think we all came to the decision to farm for different reasons, and we all have different strengths, and that’s what has made the potential of this cooperative farm so intriguing, different and capable of change.
Do you remember the first crop sold?
The first things we sold were radishes, bok choy, swiss chard and kale. We sold it at our first small farm stand in front of Justin’s brother’s house. Looking back at it now, it looked pretty sad but we were working our butts off. The town of Mt. Washington where the farm stand was, and where we currently have farm stands three days a week has been incredibly supportive. Their support has really kept us going. From different families we’ve been given dishes, tools, we’ve been offered more land to farm, the opportunity to speak to the entire community from a living room, lunch on long days at the farm stand, as well as their business through our CSA and direct market farm stand.
Do you have any crops that you are most famous for?
We’re becoming well known for our red currant tomatoes. They’re this cute little tomato the size of a blueberry. Most people haven’t seen them, and once they try them it’s all over from there. Our top sellers are our tomatoes. We have 10 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.
How can someone who is not near one of your three locations purchase your product?
Well, we’re a small local farm and we intend to sell locally. This is a political and social decision to focus on the local economy rather than cater to the needs of a consumer who is across the country or even 100 miles away. The transportation of our goods outside of the local community would only add to the external cost, and injure the environment more. We would encourage someone who is not near one of our three locations who wanted to purchase our product, to instead support a small responsible farm (not necessarily organic) near them. If someone wanted to specifically support our farm, they could purchase a CSA share for a family in need, visit the farm and volunteer time, invest etc.
With most people being invested in technology and remaining glued to their computers, ipods,etc, how have you been able to market CCF and its mission of returning to the basics to sustain a healthier life?
We recognize that these technological gadgets can have their advantages to spreading a good message. We don’t see technological advances as an inherently bad thing, only that our current societal use is focused on short term cultural phenomena. We seek a long term vision, and as we seek to attain a sustainable healthy life we know that we aren’t going back to the complete basics. I see it much like the Adinkra/Ghanian word and symbol Sankofa, meaning “go back to fetch it,” or “go back and take”, a symbol of the wisdom in learning from the past in building the future. We aren’t shirking all technology by honoring practices of our ancestors, we can learn all the healthy sustainable practices and use new things to help build a better life for everything and everyone. So we have embraced Facebook, blogs etc. to a certain point to market our message for social profit. However, we do understand there are lives being risked to bring us the materials that make our laptops and resources being depleted, which is all unacceptable, and if we can get the message out now, perhaps someone will hear us before it’s too late.
Where do you see CCF in five years?
We’d like CCF to be a non-for-profit organization that runs a farmer apprenticeship, facilitates short-term internships on our farm sites with inner city youth, and works with local schools and organizations. We will be looking to buy land in the future to construct a center for the farm and organization, with a fresh produce, meat, and crafts market. We also have plans to expand the bio-diversity of our crops and animals, save more seed, and produce more secondary goods.
The mission of Community Cooperative Farms is to foster community, sustainability, sufficiency, permanent agriculture, living with the patterns of nature, spirituality, and ancestry through the production of high-quality food. In order to deconstruct interlocking systems of domination that deny all of us the right to live healthy productive lives, we are committed to addressing issues of race, gender, and class that continue to be ignored.
To find out more information about Community Cooperative Farms, visit: http://sankofa-soul-farmer.tumblr.com. What do you think?
Written By Ra’Kenna J.