Tom Milano is the head of Vedic Village, an example of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), located in Whitmore Lake. A CSA farm provides people with boxes or baskets of fresh food for the "shares" of the farm they purchase. The farmer receives a lump sum of money in the beginning of the growing season and he can focus on growing good quality food and making sure that his clients receive a weekly share of what's in season. The concept originally came to the United States from Europe in the late '80s, and has grown to comprise 1,500 CSAs in the country now.
Metro Times: Contrary to the agribusiness that has, to a great extent, taken over the nation's food supply — providing genetically altered food that has a longer shelf life and better appearance, while sacrificing flavor and nutritional value — you seem to be trying to get back to the days of small, independent farming.
Tom Milano: That's precisely what we're doing. We feel strongly about interesting people in horticulture, young people especially, and reviving the family farm concept. We want to show how two or three families can make a viable living selling their produce directly to the consumer, without the middle man. We want to specialize in providing the best food possible directly to people who are interested in getting really good quality food and to show how that it can be financially viable.
MT: What are the long-term goals of Vedic Village?
Milano: To begin with, we've only been working the land for four months. The long-term goal is to make this the best quality food available to people who can't afford it. The fast-food industry has made the worst food available at very low prices. We want to be a counterpart to that and make the best food available at very low prices. The overriding stigma against buying organic food is that it's more expensive than buying ordinary food. It really shouldn't be like that. People are entitled to eat the very best food. So we want to break through that stigma and make this good quality, fresh, organic produce available at very, very reasonable prices. Right now we're getting a foothold and we have many CSA customers. Maybe a third of our customers are in Detroit.
MT: What benefits are there for the community, in particular, the Detroit metropolitan community?
Milano: There are drop-off points in the Detroit area, and for some people who are not able to go to a drop-off point, we will drop it right off at their house. The long-term goal is to make this food available to people in the Detroit metro area, especially low-income people. Eventually we'd like to have restaurants — very healthy counterparts to the fast-food restaurants that we have today — sit-down restaurants with a nice drive-through with all-organic, fresh food from the farm, with wonderful preparation at affordable prices. We see that Detroit is one of the unhealthiest cities in the country with obesity and diabetes, a lot of which is attributable to the food: the processed food, the fatty food, the sugar-laden food.
MT: There was an item in the news recently that stated that organic food is no healthier than regular food.
Milano: That is totally untrue. Commercial food comes from soil that is practically inert. I have a friend who teaches organic horticulture in West Virginia who said that the soil basically keeps the plant upright so that it can receive a chemical enema of the many chemicals that are applied to the soil. There are no living organisms in commercial soil. A plant is the result of the nutrients that it derives from the soil. How can anybody say that organic produce is no better? The produce at Vedic Village is receiving the full spectrum of elements, up to 108 elements in the soil. We had our soil tested. We have a full array. Every element that is known is there in our soil. A head of organic broccoli is far superior to a head of commercial broccoli, and there is a big difference in the taste.
MT: Is organic food more expensive to grow? For one thing, you don't have the cost of the chemicals, the pesticides.
Milano: I've always questioned why organic produce cannot be the same price as commercial. It's true, you don't have the cost of synthetic chemical supplements to add to the soil, but there is the cost of natural chemicals that are added to organic farm soil. At our farm, we have bulls and we are going to have cows. We're going to use their fertilizer. We're going to use oxen to plow just like the Amish use horses. We won't have to use petrochemicals for tractorization. The oxen actually aerate the soil with their hooves. Their dung is extremely useful as fertilizer, and there's a homeostasis that takes place, a divine harmony between the animals and the land. Eventually the whole farm becomes one healthy living organism.
Getting back to your question, there's no reason why organic produce can't be provided at the same price. It may be more labor-intensive, but that's what we want to do, to create jobs. We're not here to make money. We're here to serve the community by providing people with the best food they can possibly receive. Not only is it organic, it's also locally grown and fresh, which makes a big difference. Our CSA subscribers receive their shares two, three hours after we pick them. Most have said that they never tasted produce that tastes so good.
Contact Tom Milano by calling 313-434-5121 or 313-823-3815, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.