Interview with Laura DeLind
My interest in agriculture and the food system began quite innocently
when, in the 1980s, I began to wonder why family-scale farmers -- good,
productive, efficient farmers (many of them friends) -- were suffering
economically. This puzzle led me to consider the larger agri-food system
-- how it was organized, what were the national policies, and who controlled
the industry. It didn't take too much time to realize that neither farmers,
consumers, nor the environment were benefiting. Rather, mega-farms and
corporate giants (now called transnational corporations) were reaping
the financial rewards from our predominantly monocultural, capital (and
chemically) intensive, and long-distance food system.
It is hard (and ultimately unhealthy) to stand in front of a speeding
locomotive and demand that it stop. After writing academic papers arguing
that the existing agri-food system was inequitable and unsustainable,
I began to consider alternative ways to support farmers and the eating
public. One of the models that caught my interest was community supported
agriculture (CSA). Here was an arrangement for overcoming the distance
(eliminating the middle man) and bringing farmers into a direct relationship
with persons who eat. It demanded a change on both sides -- farmers
would have to grow food for a local population, and local "eaters"
would have to understand (and support) farmers' efforts. Both
would have to assume responsibility for each other and their mutual
While CSA and other local/regional food enterprises are not gender
based, they tend (unlike commercial agriculture) to be equally accessible
to both men and women. They rely on human labor and knowledge (not capital);
they depend on maintaining social relationships (not technologies); and
because they are relatively small in scale, they reflect the values
of community life and the diversity of people in place. It is hardly
surprising that half of the CSA farmers in the US are women and that
women are now actively engaged in the production of fresh, local food
and in the re-integration of the ecological, social, and spiritual dimensions
of food and farming back into our collective bodies and lives.
As an anthropologist, I am fascinated by this process and continue
to write about -- to critique and to celebrate -- these alternative
arrangements and awarenesses. Here are some of my more recent publications:
With Jim Bingen. Publication pending. Chapter 15: "Be Careful What
You Wish For: Democratic Challenges and Political Opportunities for
the Michigan Organic Community." In Remaking the North American Food
System, edited by Thomas Lyson and Claire Hinichs. University of
With Terry Link. 2004. Chapter 6: "Place as the Nexus of a Sustainable
Future: A Course for All of Us." In Sustainability on Campus: Stories
and Strategies for Change, edited by Peggy F. Barlett and Geoffrey
W. Chase. MIT Press. Pp. 121-137.
2003. Chapter 11: "Considerably More than Vegetables, A Lot Less Than
Community: The Dilemma of Community Supported Agriculture." In Fighting
for the Farm: Rural America Transformed, edited by Jane Adams. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press.
2003. "Community Supported Agriculture 2002: The State of the Art in
Michigan." Research report published by the National Farmers' Union.
2002. "Place, Work and Civic Agriculture: Common Fields for Cultivation."
Agriculture and Human Values 19:217-224.
2001. "Interactive Foods for Children: Marketing Child's
Play vs. Playing in the Garden." Gastronomica 1(4):74-79.
2000. "Transforming Organic Agriculture into Industrial Organic
Products: Reconsidering National Organic Standards." Human Organization
59(2):198-208. Summer 2000.