"A vision without a task is but a dream, a task without vision is drudgery, a vision with a task is the hope of the world." Inscription on a church in Sussex, England, 1730
Robyn Van En had such a vision. As the foremost pioneer of the CSA movement in North America, Robyn’s life was dedicated to establishing and supporting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in the United States. In 1985, Robyn Van En, together with a core group of like-minded producers and consumers initiated a project simply named Community- Supported Agriculture at her farm in S. Egremont, MA. The CSA concept, which reconnects producers with consumers and empowers members to "vote with their dollars" for ecologically sound, local agriculture, was brought to the United States by Jan Vander Tuin, a friend of Robyn’s from Switzerland. The CSA idea was not a new one in Europe; similar cooperatives existed there for decades as well as in Japan.
The group’s initial venture began with a small apple orchard operation at Robyn’s Indian Line Farm and grew from there. Within four years, the farm’s original membership of 30 shares expanded to 150. As word spread about the success of this new concept, Robyn quickly went from being a market gardener to the widely recognized leader of the CSA movement. Across the country, Robyn directly helped to pioneer more than 200 CSA’s.
Through Robyn’s tireless, creative and effective leadership, the movement quickly spread. As founder of CSA of North America, Robyn became a popular and effective speaker, organizer, educator and advocate for sustainable farming and food systems. From Washington to California, she made appearances as a regional workshop leader, national conference panelist and keynote speaker. A bright-eyed spirit, Robyn also took her energies beyond the North American borders to Russia to help the farms run by the state begin to see alternatives. Through her life and example, she gave both hope and encouragement.
Robyn demonstrated relentless determination and patience, taking an action that was new and difficult, and to making it accessible to hundreds of people. Beyond that, Robyn did something even more important. She helped shift thinking about agriculture and its connection to our lives, to the land itself, and to our communities. She did this through the sheer force of her commitment to agriculture, to the harmony of nature and community together, to providing for "the best hope we know of for the health and long term thriving of our earth and its people." (Roth, 1992)
Today, many active CSA’s can be found across the US, Canada, and a few other foreign nations, including South America, Africa, New Zealand, and Hungary. Members often have an opportunity to visit the farm, and to help with planting, weeding, harvesting, and packaging in a natural and community-enhancing work environment. The benefits to the consumers and the community, stemming from the covenant established between consumers, farmers and nature, are immeasurable. Robyn’s tireless efforts were instrumental in making it happen.
When Robyn Van En died unexpectedly at age 49 due to a severe asthma attack in January 1997, the cause of making the world’s agriculture more sustainable lost a valuable and precious advocate (Madden, 1997). Robyn’s son, David, inherited Indian Line Farm and later sold a large parcel of it to the Nature Conservancy (1989) and the rest to The Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, Inc. (1999). Together, the two entities raised funds to ensure the farm’s continued success, and brought two new farmers to lease and work the land. Indian Line Farm is still up and running today by these same two hard-working individuals, Elizabeth Keen and Alexander Thorp.
Some words have been stated about Robyn after her passing written by Kathy Lawrence, 1997.
- “Robyn was a tireless advocate for Community Supported Agriculture and for sane, healthy, supportive and sustainable communities. I know she was an inspiration to many of you, a visionary thinker, enthusiastic mentor and loving friend.
- Robyn was one of the world’s vital and beautiful souls. She will certainly be missed. Luckily for all of us, Robyn has over the years established a tremendous body of work and brought many people into a movement that will continue to grow. Even as we mourn her passing, we can carry on her work and dedication to creating systematic change and building life-affirming alternatives in our local and global communities.”
More information about Community Land Trusts can be obtained at the website of the E.F. Schumacher Society.
Formula to Create Community Supported Agriculture
By Robyn Van En
A guide on how to start up and run a successful CSA farm.
Sharing the Harvest
By Elizabeth Henderson with Robyn Van En
A manual that provides an overview of CSA, its history, philosophy, and how-to’s in operation, management, and production.
Eating for Your Community
By Robyn Van En
A report from the founder of CSA on the origin of CSA, the first CSA farm, and community support in action for success.