Robyn Van En
Secluded on a winding country road In South Egremont, Massachusetts, Indian Line Farm has been making history as a model for small-scale, economically and environmentally sustainable agriculture for the past twenty years. The late Robyn Van En, former proprietor of Indian Line, co-founded the farm in 1985 as the very first community supported agriculture (CSA) project on this continent. She is widely acknowledged as having been the foremost pioneer of the CSA movement in North America.
Based on a partnership between farm, farmer and community, CSAs provide for a simple, yet innovative method of community support and financing of small, locally operated farms. Committed consumers provide operating capital up-front to farmers, with the guarantee of a regular, sustained share of organic produce during the growing season.
The benefit to farmers and the community is profound. Farmers can plan for the future without the burden of interest-bearing bank debt, while consumers can rest assured that their food is produced in a manner that nurtures the local environment and the local economy. In the face of a quarter of a million annual small farm foreclosures across the United States, CSAs have spread and taken root as a proven and effective means to support the family farm.
Motivated by similar working models in Europe, and inspired by the writings of E. F. Schumacher and Rudolph Steiner, Robyn and other community leaders started Indian Line Farm CSA in 1985 supplying apples, cider and vinegar to its members, harvested from a small apple orchard located nearby on land of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires. The first vegetable share at Indian Line Farm was in 1986. By 1989, membership had grown from 30 to 150, and farmers around the country began to take notice.
Along with Clemens Kalischer and Cathy Roth, Robyn co-founded the Berkshire Regional Food and Land Council, known today as Berkshire Grown. Now under the direction of Barbara Zheutlin, Berkshire Grown promotes locally produced food, flowers and plants in the Berkshire region and builds partnerships between farmers, chefs and consumers.
By 1992, Robyn founded CSA of North America, a nonprofit clearinghouse to support CSA development. From coast to coast, she spoke, educated, organized and advocated for CSAs and sustainable agriculture. In a little over ten years, she directly assisted in the formation of more than 200 CSAs across the country.
The world suffered a great loss when Robyn died unexpectedly at age 49 in January of 1997. But her work lives on in a tremendous body of resources and a movement that continues to grow. Today, more than 3,000 active CSAs can be found across the US, Canada, South America, Africa, New Zealand, and Hungary.
After her death, Indian Line Farm was inherited by Robyn’s son David, who sold the farm to a partnership of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, The Nature Conservancy, and farmers Elizabeth Keen and Alexander Thorp. This partnership has further revolutionized CSAs by modeling a way for the community to provide permanently affordable access to land to farmers who maintain ownership of the buildings and other improvements.
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Indian Line Farm and its Partners
Indian Line Farm – The first CSA in North America, co-founded by Robyn Van En. Now operated by Elizabeth Keen and Al Thorp, in partnership with Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires and the Nature Conservancy, Indian Line provides 60 varieties of organic fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers and eggs.
Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires - increasing local self-reliance, preventing land speculation, keeping housing affordable, and encouraging full community participation in land planning
Berkshire Taconic Landscape Program of the Nature Conservancy – The Nature Conservancy has designated the Berkshire region as one of the “Last Great Places.”
Resources from the Schumacher Center for a New Economics – Based in Great Barrington, the Schumacher Center for a New Economics is named after E. F. Schumacher, the author of Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, and works towards linking people, land and community by building local economies.
The Schumacher Center for a New Economics' Community Land Trust Page – includes a national directory of Community Land Trusts, events, articles and resources, as well as a Community Land Trust Online Handbook
Article by Susan Witt, Executive Director of E. F. Schumacher Society, for March/April issue of In Business Magazine – describes current partnership between Southern Berkshires Community Land Trust, Nature Conservancy and Indian Line Farms
Information on the personal library of Robyn Van En, held at the E. F. Schumacher Society in Great Barrington
More Local Links
Berkshire Grown – Originally The Berkshire Regional Food and Land Council, co-founded by Robin Van En, Clemens Kalischer and Cathy Roth. Berkshire Grown continues to promote locally produced food, flowers and plants in the Berkshire region and builds partnerships between farmers, chefs and consumers.
Berkshire Historical Society - non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the region’s history
Info on Robyn and Community Supported Agriculture from Wilson College
Resources from the Robyn Van En Center at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania - a national resource center about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for people across the nation and around the world
Home Page - https://www.wilson.edu/robyn-van-en-center
Robyn Van En Biography
Robyn’s CSA Resources – includes brochures, a CSA handbook, books, videos and slide shows
Eating for Your Community By Robyn Van En - A report on the origin of CSA, the first CSA farm, and community support – 1995 article printed in In Context Magazine
General Info on CSAs
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center on Community Supported Agriculture
New Farm Regenerative Agriculture site – Article on CSA Grower’s School
UMass Magazine Article on CSA
History of CSA from the Rodale Institute, which promotes the vital connection between healthy soil and healthy people
Local Harvest – searchable National Map of CSA farms
USDA Community Supported Agriculture Resources for Farmers
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Farmer Direct Marketing, Farm Direct Marketing Bibliography on CSAs