Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts, was one of the founding CSAs in North America. Although at one point it seemed like the farm might go under, with the help of the local community, it now operates under a unique ownership model, with a land trust owning the land, the farmers owning the buildings, and The Nature Conservancy owning conservation rights. The farm is now a thriving business, focused primarily on its CSA program.

Buying into community-supported agriculture and picking
up your weekly share is the first level of engagement.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) in North America got its start in 1986, when two CSA programs, independent of each other, were founded: Indian Line Farm in South Egremont, Massachusetts, and Temple-Wilton Community Farm in Wilton, New Hampshire. The group behind Indian Line Farm, influenced by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, hoped to put into practice the idea of producing locally what is consumed locally. They formed an association to lease land from one of the founding members, Robyn Van En, and began farming as a CSA, selling shares in the farm’s produce to local community members.

CSA members also join in to help with maintenance and
other seasonal events, like fall garlic planting, providing
much-needed extra hands throughout the year.

In 1997 Van En died, at the age of 49, and her son inherited the farm and homestead. Unable to manage the upkeep, he was forced to sell the farm. The farmers who had been working the land, Elizabeth Keen and Al Thorp, wanted to buy it, but they couldn’t afford to. The local community, concerned with preserving the working landscape of the region and supporting the local farming economy, stepped in to help. Keen and Thorp partnered with a local land trust organization, called the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, and The Nature Conservancy to craft an unusual purchase-and-sale agreement.

The nonprofit land trust purchased the property, with funds raised from the local community. It sold conservation restriction rights to The Nature Conservancy, which had been working in the area to
preserve a stretch of unique wetlands. It sold the buildings on the property to Keen and Thorp, and it gave them a 99-year lease on the land. Having ownership of the buildings gives the farmers a financial stake in the farm, along with the eventual equity that comes from owning property. The land lease is inheritable and renewable, giving the operation a sense of a true family farm, and it is accompanied by certain land-use agreements, such as the land being used for a working farm, with sustainable farming methods, and certain limits set to keep operations within the land’s ecological carrying capacity.

One of the biggest issues facing new farmers today is affording land. At Indian Line Farm, the local community has relieved Keen and Thorp of the burden of land debt, allowing them to be economically viable and to focus on sustainable production. And by cooperating with and supporting the farmers in this way, the community has been able to preserve the agrarian culture and landscape that historically have characterized life in the southern Berkshires, and to honor the legacy of one of the founding CSAs in North America.

Excerpt from Reclaiming Our Food © 2011 Storey Publishing
Text © 2011 by Tanya Denckla Cobb
Photography © 2011 by Jason Houston
All Rights Reserved

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