Is This a Women's Movement? the Relationship of Gender to Community-Supported Agriculture in Michigan

By DeLind, Laura B.; Ferguson, Anne E. | Human Organization, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Is This a Women's Movement? the Relationship of Gender to Community-Supported Agriculture in Michigan


DeLind, Laura B., Ferguson, Anne E., Human Organization


Over the last 10-15 years, community-supported agriculture (CSA) has captured the imagination of farmers and eaters across the country CSA is both a model for marketing fresh, locally raised produce as well as an instrument for generating social and ecological responsibility through the food system. CSA promises greater economic opportunity and security for small-scale producers. At the same time, it advocates relationships that extend beyond the marketplace and transform consumers into citizens and community activists. Despite the dual nature of CSA, public promotion and research have largely focused on the technical aspects of farm and member management. However essential, this orientation overshadows other lines of inquiry and hides equally interesting patterns emerging within CSA, their possible origins and implications. One of these issues is the role of gender within CSA. Women, it now appears, constitute a majority of the active membership. What attracts them to CSA? What is the nature of their involvement and how can this gender relationship be explained? Using a Michigan CSA as a case study, this paper explores these questions and finds preliminary answers within the wider context of new social movements.

Key words: community-supported agriculture (CSA), gender relations, new social movements, United States, Michigan

The title of this paper was inspired by a comment of a working-share member of Growing in Place Community Farm (GIP) in Mason, Michigan. On her hands and knees in the midsummer sun, she had been weeding a bed of leeks and chatting with her neighbors about childhood experiences, family relationships, and personal lifestyle awakenings when she sat down on the woodchip pathway, looked about, and asked in an apparent epiphany of insight, "Is this a women's movement?"

No one had an answer for her then, but the question lingered and rankled. It was true that most of the members physically involved in GIP, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) operation, were women, and that they outnumbered men two and sometimes three to one as board members, as working-share members and daily on-farm participants and similar patterns could be pointed to in other CSAs across the country. But, did this make CSA a women's movement? And, whether it was or was not, what was the reason for such differential behavior? How might this gender-based relationship be explained? By asking her question, GIP's insightful member had given voice to an issue that previously had not existed and forced us to recognize something at the farm that had received little, if any, attention.

The purpose of this article is to consider these questions in a systematic way. It is an effort to initiate discussion on gender and community-supported agriculture (CSA) to see women more clearly within the context of alternative systems of food and farming and to see CSA more clearly as an alternative food and farming institution. We make no pretense of being conclusive or complete. We use the experience of Growing in Place as a case study and as a catalyst for further inquiry. We do this by first discussing CSA in general, and GIP in particular, within the context of new social movements. We identify the features and consider the fit of these collective social forms. Next, we outline four major theoretical arguments for explaining gendered relations to the environment. Using these as a backdrop, we explore the reasons GIP members-both men and women-gave for their participation in the CSA, as well as their explanations for why member involvement differed on the basis of gender. These are organized and contrasted around four themes: 1) explanations for participation; 2) reasons for joining and perceived goals of the CSA; 3) characteristics of the membership; and 4) resistance, activism, and empowerment. Finally, we argue for an explanatory framework that situates women's active involvement in CSA within a feminine as opposed to a feminist movement-an involvement whose form is consistent with that of new social movements. …

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