One of the reasons we've chosen to grow vegetables is that we believe that more people in this world eating well-grown carrots and broccoli is a good thing. After all, we think it's pretty clear that the importance of food is undeniable. Being able to get enough food that suits your tastes, your body, and your values often means both better health and a deeper sense of security -- and it's often a prerequisite for managing much else. And in our experience, there are few pleasures greater than sharing a great meal with your favorite people.
But we're also reminded daily that we're all still operating within a system that doesn't make it easy for everyone to have this kind of relationship to food. It's a system that doesn't prioritize ensuring that all people are fed, and as real incomes continue to stagnate and fall (as they have since the 70's) a lot of people can't afford three meals a day - and certainly not meals made with healthy or locally grown foods.
At the same time, we're working within a wider food system that produces food cheaply, at the expense of farm workers & natural systems. But these are cheaper ways of growing food and we can't match the corresponding bargain-basement prices while using better (& more costly) production methods. So we charge $3.50 for a bunch of carrots. We think it's worth it, but that doesn't really mean a lot to the person who genuinely cannot afford to pay that price.
At the same time, we want food production to be politically transformative - to create opportunities for new and stronger communities to emerge, to provide sustenance for all members of these communities. We want better agriculture to be good for everyone, not just those of us privileged enough to be able to afford it right now. But figuring out how to make that happen is a challenge that farmers, advocates, and communities have been wrestling with for decades - no easy answers.
Since November we've been feeling that it's especially important - but also especially out of reach. As Trump moves his agenda forward at the federal level -- and Governor LePage continues to attack a lot of what we love about Maine -- poverty and inadequate access to food also grow. (Here's one scary fact: between 2010 & 2014 the rate of "deep poverty" among Maine's children, defined as family income less than $10,000/year, literally doubled. There are 23,000 children in Maine in this category, with only 10,000 of those children receiving TANF - Temporary Assistance for Needy Families - benefits.)
On top of that, immigrants have become even more vulnerable under our current administration in Washington than they were previously - both because of attempts to establish a travel ban preventing those from 6 predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, and because of the racist narratives and voices that Trump has magnified and encouraged. Stories from all over Maine of immigrants being targeted, harassed, and made to feel unwelcome are sadly really common. Facing poverty and discrimination makes for a pretty brutal combination.
So, like so many, we've been trying to figure out what to do and how to resist. So far we've been focused on continuing to read and learn and go to meetings and take to the streets. But we're also privileged: as white people from middle class families, but also as farmers. We are privileged in that we can take on financially risky careers in agriculture knowing that we have back-up. We're able to do work we enjoy and find fulfilling. And we have vegetables.
One way we're going to try act in recognition of that privilege is to contribute some food to a handful of families who are seeking asylum in Maine. We're going to work with Catholic Charities, an agency that provides refugee resettlement services of all kinds, ranging from interpretation to legal services and employment help. They will distribute the shares to people in need who access their services.
Supporting recently-arrived asylum seekers in this way isn't a new idea; Alex's colleagues at Cultivating Community ran a similar program in Lewiston last year and there are probably programs doing just this in other parts of the country. It's motivated by the fact that asylum seekers are often especially vulnerable, as they aren't eligible for the same benefits as other Maine residents. Asylum seekers are immigrants who have come to the USA using another type of visa (student, work, etc) and then claim asylum status once they're here. (Anyone who is physically present in the US or at a port of entry has the right to claim this status, based on the UN Refugee Convention.) Refugees, on the other hand, are those who have fled to a refugee camp elsewhere in the world and then gone through a lengthy refugee application process from that camp. So that means that when a refugee arrives, that person has legal status (as a permanent resident) while an asylum seeker doesn't; asylum seekers are stuck in limbo while their application is processed. Both asylum seekers and refugees are fleeing from situations that are directly threatening to their safety and both tend to be need help learning English, finding work and adapting to US culture.
Eventually an asylum seeker's case is evaluated and its decided whether or not they are "legitimately fleeing prosecution." But in the meantime, they are required by federal law to wait 5 months before applying for a work permit; and it can take a year (now maybe more) for that permit to be processed. Actually gaining full permanent resident status can take much longer. How do they provide for their basic needs before they're allowed to work? In Maine, a law was passed 2 years ago allowing them to collect General Assistance - emergency funds for housing, medical and other very basic needs - but its now becoming clear that individuals may be cut off from these benefits after 2 years. Since these folks are not able to access other parts of the social safety net - food stamps, WIC (food benefits for women, infants & children), TANF - they would be especially harmed. People with children too young to attend school, disabled people and others unable to work would be left with no legal way to pay the rent. This process is insanely complex and difficult to navigate - often leaving people in situations where they struggle to meet basic material needs of food and housing.
We're excited to grow even a tiny little bit of food for some families new to our community - and we're also excited to share with ALL our CSA members some new vegetables! (Inspired by this initiative.) We're planting a few crops that new Americans may be more likely to recognize & enjoy: African eggplant (also called "garden eggs"), cooking greens (like Molokhia, a super healthy middle eastern green) and African corn (which is eaten fresh but isn't sweet). We'll offer these -probably as "extras" - to our regular CSA members a few times in the summer.
Our goal is to raise funds to cover approximately half of our production costs. We'll see how much money we can raise over the next couple of months and this will determine exactly how many shares deliver weekly. We'll keep CSA members (and other donors) updated on exactly what we raise and how many shares we end up delivering. If you're signing up for a CSA Share, you'll notice a new addition to the sign-up form: a box where you can tack on a few dollars to your registration fee to make this initiative possible. Non-members (or members who have signed up already) can contribute too! Email us & we'll tell you how.
THANK YOU so much, in advance, for supporting this new first attempt to donate some CSA shares. We're looking forward to seeing how it works & how we can improve upon it in the future. (And GREAT WORK making it through this very long blog post!) We'd love to hear from you, too, if you have thoughts on this or on the state of the world.
Hillary and Alex
"2014 Continues a 35 year Trend of Broad Based Wage Stagnation." http://www.epi.org/publication/stagnant-wages-in-2014/
"Maine's Welfare Policies Have Taken a Turn, with Dire Consequences for Kids." http://bangordailynews.com/2016/03/08/opinion/contributors/maines-welfare-policies-have-taken-a-turn-with-dire-consequences-for-kids/
It's Time to End Child Poverty in Maine. http://www.mejp.org/content/its-time-end-child-poverty-maine#_edn3
Refugees and Asylees in the United States: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/refugees-and-asylees-united-states
"More Maine Children Live in Poverty, Fewer Get Help." http://bangordailynews.com/2016/07/05/opinion/contributors/more-maine-children-live-in-poverty-fewer-get-help-we-should-expect-the-opposite/