A Growing Culture
  • July14th

    The Library for Food Sovereignty

    By Freya Yost – Director of Information Services

    For the past 5 years, A Growing Culture (AGC) has been developing an online library that collects farmer-led innovations and techniques from around the world. Many of you have shared success stories, debated methods, and confronted the leading challenges that face our food system today. The library now includes over 150 technical essays, a collection of farmer profiles, interviews and opinion pieces from a large and diverse group of agrarians. This growing collection, along with the feedback and enthusiasm we’ve received from the community, has led us to inquire further into ways we can improve intractability.

    AGC has been studying the information needs and trends of farmers and the traditional avenues of information dissemination and access. We learned that much of academic research does not reach farmers. While data-driven research is valuable for government, policy makers, and industrial farmers, it doesn’t always meet the needs of small-scale farmers and is often neglected by them entirely. In fact, policies and techniques derived from research communities alone are not successful, as the beneficiaries—the farmers—often don’t practice them. We also learned something even more important: most farmers conduct their own research and develop innovative methods as a result of that research. Farmer-led research has proven to be incredibly effective and empowering—especially for small-scale farming businesses. In an iPES report the New Science of Sustainable Food Systems (2015) the author writes,

    “Leaving out social actors in the stages of framing, conducting and analyzing research means leaving un-tapped the potential of the knowledge they possess; and it means limiting the transformative potential of that research.”

    In an evolving and increasingly digital world, AGC sees an opportunity for a collective and interactive library that encourages farmer-led information exchange. Using sophisticated digital technologies, AGC is planning a revamped library service that restores agricultural research back into the hands of the world’s farmers. The Library for Food Sovereignty will provide a platform for hosting, organizing, storing, and sharing knowledge, techniques, moving image, photos, data, slideshows and more. AGC is currently in the process of partnering with like-minded organizations to solicit content from their own networks of farming communities. These organizations will be “information hubs” and will help document and represent the innovations of the farmers they work with. Together with our partners, we will form a library steering committee that ensures the collection continues to serve farmers and the movements on the ground. The library and AGC mission are to serve small and medium sized farmers, encouraging an ecological practice of agriculture. We stand behind a free and open library for all communities regardless of race, gender, farming type, or jurisdictional borders.

    It has been an honor to work with some of the finest agrarians from around the world. Small-scale farmers produce 50-70% of the world’s food, make up 85% of farms, and represent 70% of the hungry and malnourished. The hard work, innovative practices, and resilience we have seen have been incredibly inspiring. AGC believes that harnessing these innovations—and providing access to them through the digital library—is key to encouraging farmer autonomy, independence, and amplifying the voices of the underrepresented.

  • December14th

    EPB Corporate CSA Gaining Ground Recipe Book DayBy Elizabeth Hammitt, EPB Environmental Coordinator

    In 2012, EPB, an electricity and communications distributor, partnered with Gaining Ground, a nonprofit dedicated to local food awareness, to develop a business plan that would make CSAs more accessible. Noting issues for potential customers like upfront-cost financial barriers and education, and issues for farms like program administration, the two groups developed a win-win-win plan that grew from a successful pilot to a solid program. Here are the basics:

    Who: EPB, Crabtree Farms, and Gaining Ground

    What: A program in which Crabtree farms will deliver produce to participating employees at EPB weekly during the 29-week growing season. Full shares are $850. Half shares are $425.

    When: Deliveries will occur at 3:00PM on Fridays. Program would begin in May and end in November. Payroll deductions will begin in April and run to April of the following year.

    How: EPB’s Payroll Team deducts $32.69 ($850/26 paychecks) or $16.35 ($425/26) per pay period for participating employees for the duration of one year. A check is sent to Crabtree Farms on a monthly basis. EPB employees sign a contract committing to the program, holding EPB harmless for anything relating to the CSA, and Crabtree Farms signs a contract outlining the payment structure and other details as agreed upon by both parties. Gaining Ground provides support like seasonal recipe books and other educational materials.

    KohlrabiWin-Win-Win: This program functions well for all parties. The Farm – gets a new customer base, a year round revenue stream, and a streamlined delivery process with little overhead. The Employer – get a no cost (excepting employee time) employee benefit while encouraging employees to eat healthier food, potentially decreasing healthcare costs. The Employer also benefits from the positive press and social/ environmental impact of the program. The Customer: gets a pay-as-you-go product that makes eating organic and local more affordable. In addition, the product is delivered at no additional cost and payment is convenient.

    Crabtree farms was selected to be the CSA provider due to its location within EPB’s service territory, its long standing reputation for quality produce, and its commitment to education.

    The Farm’s Executive Director, Joel Houser, believes the program has been a great way to sell produce: “For Crabtree, this has been a no-brainer. It is a unique, progressive program that we are proud to be part of. We are able to sell more of our food to customers that are within 5 miles of the farm who probably wouldn’t be in our CSA otherwise. It works well with our mission of connecting Chattanoogans with our local foodshed. This is a model that could revolutionize the way that small farms market their produce. If we could sell all of our food in this manner, we would,” says Houser.

    Gaining Ground helped in trouble shooting issues as they arose, creating a survey for pilot participants and brainstorming about solutions.

    Ruth Kerr, program manager at Gaining Ground, believes in the model:EPB has led the way in its commitment to support the local food economy. Their employees were able to experience first hand how local food is better for their health, community, and contributes to the local economy. Because of this commitment, EPB and Crabtree Farms collaborated in a unique way to make this program successful. We hope this model can serve as a springboard for other corporations who want to make local food more accessible to its employees,” says Kerr.

    Lessons Learned

    • CSAs will be left. It’s important to develop expectations early around the pick-up time. To ensure that the produce gets used, developing a process for these bags’ alternate “home” is key to keeping the program sustainable. EPB has a strict pick-up cut off time of 7:00 PM; after 7:00 PM, the custodial crew is free to take the produce to use or donate.
    • Corporate Customers are More Traditional. Our survey revealed that while employees will enjoy trying new vegetables and fruits, their tolerance for exotic items like kohlrabi is limited. This year, EPB asked for input in the farm’s crop planning process, and EPB employees are receiving fewer exotic items. This change seems to have increased satisfaction with the program.
    • Corporate Customers Value Structure. People working in a traditional office environment value things like CSAs & farm emails arriving at the same time every week, precise communication around what’s in their weekly bag, and as little dirt or bugs as possible on their produce.
    • Be Specific: Contracts between the employee and employer are a must. Ensure that employees understand that they may not opt out of the program and that they are responsible for their CSA.
    • Make It Fun: Employees enjoyed attending lunch and learns about local food and receiving recipe books.

    Bottom Line

    In last year’s pilot, EPB employees purchased 3,500 pounds of local produce from Crabtree Farms. In 2013, participation increased from 12 to 21.5 “shares,” and there was more interest than could be accommodated. On average, in 2012, CSA participants saved around 45% from the market value of organic, locally grown produce. In addition to getting LEED EBOM credit for the program, it’s an easily replicable way to invest in employees, the environment and local community at no up-front cost.

  • July20th

    We The TreesWeTheTrees.com has just officially launched their sustainability crowdfunding platform, bringing a new and exciting tool to the alternative agriculture world, and an ability to easily and creatively raise funds. This platform helps organizations and individuals around the globe gather the resources needed to meet their goals.

    With this in mind, the launch of the first and only crowdfunding platform focused on permaculture, alternative agriculture and sustainability brings renewed optimism to many in the movement. WeTheTrees was designed specifically to bridge the gap between idea / design and the resources needed to make it happen.  Read More | Comments

  • August22nd

    A Growing Culture

    Dear Friends of AGC,

    This letter is marking the six-month anniversary of A Growing Culture’s online launch and seeks to update our friends and family as to the progress of AGC.  We have been growing at a steady rate with site visits totaling almost 20,000 in 6 months from people all over the world. We are actively recruiting graduate students to share their research, while encouraging global farmers and educators to share their ideas, techniques and stories.  Our posts on Facebook and Twitter have had a profound impact on AGC’s development, with new people connecting each day. What started as a grassroots initiative amongst friends and peers in North Carolina has turned into a credible source of information with writers from four continents!

    As some of you may have noticed from following our site, we do not want to limit our target audience to just farmers and professors, as we would also like to include those with a growing interest or passion for the eco agriculture movement.  Consequently, some of our content is scientific and technique based, while some is simply entertaining and educational in an effort to help those not directly connected to eco agriculture, make better decisions in support of a sustainable food system.  We have incorporated in North Carolina as a non-profit and have recently finished working with an attorney and accountant to file our federal papers, which are pending approval as we speak. Once we become a tax deductible charity, we believe that we will receive more generous donations; but in the meantime, we have been getting by with the charitable actions of our friends and family who have devoted their time through editing, writing, designing, or helping to spread the word about AGC.  It is our hope that, when we are granted 501c3 status, A Growing Culture’s public resources and global impact will greatly increase.
    Read More | Comments

  • July9th


    Holy Crap, Batman!  Turns out we’ve been sitting on a fortune… and that’s no load of bull, either. In fact, we’re the ones that are full of it. We’ve been taking this resource and just flushing it down the drain. It’s time we grow up and re-examine our attitudes about this valuable commodity that we’ve been treating like, well, you know.

    Seriously though, A Growing Culture is proud to have presented the first installment last week in what will be a series of excerpts from Joseph Jenkins’ The Humanure Handbook. As we look forward to presenting the second installment from this “guide to composting human manure”, we’d like to take a moment to shed some light on the subject matter and the humble beginnings of what we deem to be a modern classic.

    In terms of a viable compost source, human manure has been viewed as a “little too gross” to be used within a sustainable food system.  A once highly valued agricultural asset is now being viewed as waste and disposed of in a manner that further pollutes our valuable finite resources. AGC hopes to bring this to the forefront of the discussion table.  We encourage everyone to follow the link and purchase Joseph Jenkins’ The Humanure Handbook for a full in depth look at maximizing this resource.

    The Humanure Handbook was something of an accidental literary phenomenon…  Read More | Comments

  • June6th

    Farm Bill 2012Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed the Senate Agriculture Committee last Thursday in the first official 2012 Farm Bill hearing. The hearing was held on the heels of a draft of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill put forward by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies on May 23rd, which proposed deep cuts to all sorts of funding.   Read More | Comments

  • May5th

    The Greenhorns“The Greenhorns” documentary film, completed after almost 3 years in production, explores the lives of America’s young farming community – its spirit, practices, and needs. It is the filmmaker’s hope that by broadcasting the stories and voices of these young farmers, they can build the case for those considering a career in agriculture – to embolden them, to entice them, and to recruit them into farming.

    On May 11th, “The Greenhorns” makes its NYC Premiere with The National Young Farmers’ Coalition at the Anthology Film Archives in New York, NY.    Watch the trailer here!

  • May1st

    Steven LeongA Growing Culture is proud to announce the first essay written by a contributor foreign to the United States.

    AGC aims at building an international community where farmers can come together and share their ideas and techniques, regardless of their education or competence in English.

    While AGC does edit all submissions we strive to have a minimal impact in order to maintain the integrity of the contributor’s piece.

    This is what we feel makes our site unique, and we look forward to more global contributors as AGC continues to develop.   Read More | Comments

  • February21st

    A Growing CultureNow that phase one of our website is complete, we encourage everyone to… Get Involved!