Future Economy: rhetoric or reality?

There seems to be no shortage of “practical visionaries” with big ideas about how we’re reshaping our global and local economies to be more just, ecological, and responsible.  A joint initiative of EcoTrust and e3 (economists for equity and the environment) called Future Economy is producing reports that seek to answer the key question about such initiatives: are they mostly hype and hope, or are they something really new that’s emerging and can make a large-scale difference?

The first minute or so of this video gets at the purpose here:

Verde: Crossing the Green Divide from Ecotrust on Vimeo.

What first caught our eye about the Future Economy project was a nice graphic overview of some recent research on CSAs that asked the key question: do CSA farmers make a living wage? It includes some interesting insights:

Somewhat surprisingly, the total production and sales of local farms does not directly benefit social and economic wellbeing of the surrounding community. Instead, it’s the number of individual farms and farmers that encourages community-scale economic wellbeing. A Pew Commission report indicates that communities with fewer total farms have experienced lower average family income, higher rates of poverty, and persistent low wages for farm workers. The CSA model can intentionally support many small farms working side by side.

But not surprisingly, on the central question, the results were discouraging:

Despite its intentions to buck the system, CSA cannot escape the larger market and policy environment in which it operates: U.S. agriculture rarely supports a living wage for farmers or farmworkers.

Of the Pioneer Valley CSA farmers Paul spoke with, 81% responded that their full-time farming activities were not producing a living wage. What’s more, as farmers attempted to remain competitive, they frequently found themselves struggling to pay their workers a decent wage. At the same time, they acknowledged non-monetary benefits of their lifestyle as CSA farmers, including ample fresh food, community relationships, and a sense of purpose, which had great value for them.

The bright side of this dark financial picture: CSA farms provide higher average farm incomes than USDA averages. The median farm income of CSA farms interviewed was $1,280 above nationwide average reported by the USDA—but this still didn’t represent a living wage.

Other Future Economy reports look at a job creation network in Cleveland, the local food economy in  Vermont, how the sharing economy is actually working out, and more.  Check them out!

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