Mo & Marianne of Berkeley Basket CSA
I am so excited to introduce you to Mo and Marianne, local farmers, general badasses, and the team behind Berkeley Basket CSA. Berkeley Basket is a hyper-local Community Supported Agriculture program, co-founded 11 years ago as somewhat of an experiment to demonstrate the viability of localized agriculture in Berkeley.
Since its founding it has grown exponentially. Mo and their co-farmer Marianne are the ones who currently farm the total 1/2 acre of land, which is a sum
of three Berkeley backyard gardens. Mo & Marianne grow 40 annual vegetables as well as many perennial herbs, fruits, "weeds", and more, which feed about 42 local community members through their weekly CSA box.⠀
I love the work Mo and Marianne do because it provides a window into what a truly local food system can look like. Walking into the garden for the first time was a magical experience, and it made me wish that behind every house there was a secret farm with fresh snap peas waiting to be picked. Berkeley Basket fills me with optimism for the future, and I hope it does for you too.⠀
BAYDISH: How do your identities intersect with your role as a farmer?
MOE: I am a Black, queer farmer living and working on occupied Ohlone Land. My relationship to the land is always challenged as a Black person because of the exploitative history of our food system toward my ancestors and BIPOC people. I felt it was important for me to form a relationship to the land and to re-educate myself on what it means to be a farmer. It is in my Blackness and my queerness that farming has become a spiritual practice for me - it is a way to stay connected to my ancestors and has taught me what healing looks like.
BAYDISH: What are you most proud of with Berkeley Basket?
I am deeply proud of our new garden site, which we completed in January and is now our most productive garden! After meeting the homeowners early in 2019, we set to work building the garden - we tested the soil, designed and mapped the beds, designed the irrigation system, milled donated lumber for the beds, moved a LOT of wood chips, organized many community work days, moved 45 yards of soil, and much much more. We essentially took on the role of contractors, and we all took on tasks we had never done before. It was definitely a learning experience, one that I'm so grateful to have taken on alongside two other queer femmes - Moretta, and our co-farmer who moved away from the Bay Area last year, Rachel. Managing large construction projects and wielding power tools aren't jobs every femme identified person has the opportunity to take on, and it was definitely a challenge that I learned a lot from.
BAYDISH: What has been most challenging?
MARIANNE: Balancing living in one of the most expensive places in the country with doing work that isn't well paid. Mo and I both juggle multiple jobs to support this work, and as small business owners we're not always certain what our income will be from the CSA, either. Last year, for example, we launched a $10k fundraising effort to pay ourselves for the work that we were doing on the new garden. There was a lot of uncertainty about how much we were actually going to be able to pay ourselves, but we were still doing the work. There are a lot of benefits to living in the East Bay, and for me in my hometown, while doing work that I really enjoy - and it's also stressful! We have an amazing supporter who is helping us with our budgeting and accounting now, so that we don't find ourselves in a situation like we did last year - we are very grateful for his help. This is another challenge, one that many small business owners face - you get into the business because you're skilled at one part of it - in our case farming - and then you realize all that you need to learn to be successful, like accounting! I'm grateful for the skills I'm learning that were previously outside my wheelhouse.
BAYDISH: In the midst of so much uncertainty, what are your hopes for the future of eating local?
MOE: We need to have a decentralized approach to our food. This looks like moving away from monocultures, shifting to sustainable practices and growing food that is culturally appropriate and nutritionally dense. I often look to agroecology as the prime vision for our future, because it is so rooted in our past and influences our present. It tells us that farming is, in addition to our food growing practices, how we treat and honor the land, how we honor and empower each other and that all needs to start at the local level.
BAYDISH: How can an ordinary consumer best support their farmer(s)?
MARIANNE: Educate yourselves about our food system. Read publications from organizations like Food First and Civil Eats, to name a few, about the myth of scarcity (we don't need big ag or conventional monocultures to feed our growing population,) and about how on the whole consumers are not paying the true cost of food - low prices often reflect direct government subsidies to big ag, the exploitation of farmworkers, and farming practices that degrade the soil and have other negative environmental impacts. Educate yourself about your local food system! Here in the Bay Area we have tons of amazing small farmers and food justice organizations - Namu Farm, Shaoshan Farm, Feral Heart Farm, Black Earth Farm, Planting Justice, Urban Tilth, Phat Beets, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Gill Tract, and on and on! If you have the financial means, sign up for these folks' CSAs, buy their veggies at farmers' markets, donate to their organizations. If you qualify for these folks' services like free produce stands or subsidized veggies, sign up! Tell them how amazing their vegetables are, they'll appreciate hearing it from you.
Keep up with Mo at @mo_brxwne, and Berkeley Basket at @berkeleybasketcsa. Stay tuned for Marianne's mini profile and the full interview with both of them, coming soon!