To help kick off our 2021 CSA season, but more importantly, to commemorate the passage of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, we look at the life and work of Booker T. Whatley, the pioneer behind the modern CSA concept, PYO operations and many other sustainable farming practices.
Born in Alabama in 1915, as the oldest of twelve children, Booker Whatley was passionate about food production and land stewardship from a young age. After graduating with a degree in agriculture and serving in Japan during the Korean War (where he used hydroponics to safely grow food for US troops), he earned a doctorate in horticulture from Rutgers University. Dr. Whatley later returned to school, earning a law degree at the age of 73.
Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, recognizing a strong connection between self-sustaining land ownership and political decision-making, Dr. Whatley aimed to increase profits for small-scale food producers while introducing new ways to improve and popularize regenerative agriculture. As a long-time professor at Tuskegee University, he began advocating for ways farms can generate profits and attract sharers, particularly as Black farmers were routinely denied vital federal assistance. The CSA and PYO models allow farmers to utilize the resources they already have while forging long-lasting relationships with their local communities.
Tragically, like so many contributions of Black Americans throughout history, Dr. Whatley’s groundbreaking philosophy and methods were overlooked for many decades. Today’s national and local food systems would look radically different if even a few of his innovative approaches were adopted over the last five decades.
With the number of CSA farms and sharers increasing throughout the country each year, Booker Whatley’s life’s work is finally receiving the recognition and attention it deserves. To read more about Dr. Whatley’s profound legacy, check out these articles:
Photo credit: Mother Earth News