Keeping the "C" in CSA
By Stevie Tryson
In our modern Western world, we’re starved for community. We’ve arranged our lives - or, the pressures of society and economics have seemingly arranged them for us - in ways that keep us totally cut off from even those physically closest to us. We speak with longing about how “it takes a village,” and reminisce about “old days” where one could pop next door to “borrow a cup of sugar.” Truly, though, how many of us feel connected to our neighbors now?
I was, rather ironically, thinking about this as I stood in my front hall on Monday afternoon, having a conversation with Chelsa, the farmer who had grown and was delivering the greens that would end up in my family’s dinner that evening. The conversation went to all of the places you’d expect when getting a locavore and an urban farmer together; we spoke of local suppliers, subtle segregation through zoning, local farm markets, and ultimately the white picket fence boxes we are all in out here in the suburbs.
As we talked, my babysitter arrived, as did my new babysitter - we’re in the middle of a changing of the guard, as the old sitter has graduated and found a career-track job. My three and a half year old son careened around with matchbox cars and pretend food while I found myself saying: “This. This is what I wanted out of parenthood. This happy chaos and connection is what I wanted.” Ultimately, big-picture,
it’s what I want out of all of life, and I’d wager that many of those drawn to the CSA model would say the
Sure, I write a blog that’s focused on the vegetables. I share my adventures cooking and strategies to use all of the goodies I get in each share. Sure, learning to minimize waste, eliminating unnecessary packaging, and supporting environment and health-friendly farming practices is a motivator for choosing to source our food this way. Sure, health concerns, especially veering away from highly processed foods and toward cleaner, more nutritious ingredients, is a noble reason to choose the CSA life. But underneath it all, down to the name itself, is community. Even my chronicle of cooking from a CSA share is a way of building a bridge, connecting with others through the recounting of experience.
Experience is the name of the game when it comes to the CSA life. One would be hard pressed to think of a grocery trip as a noteworthy “experience,” yet so much of the process of sourcing food locally becomes just that. Choosing to support your local farmer through a CSA is a way of plugging yourself in to a network, of feeding the community in which you live. There’s a deep satisfaction in knowing that the money you’re spending will be directly supporting someone’s livelihood, rather than being funneled into the middleman void. But, it’s more than that.
In my experience, the farmers and other CSA members are also passionate about keeping things local wherever possible. So, what starts as a quick conversation during drop-off ends with a list of local businesses you need to try. “If you like this… you should try that.” This same feeling of reciprocal recommendation is what led me to start my blog. Every week at pickup, someone would be sighing, “What do I do with THIS?” and others would chime in with suggestions. At one pickup site, the coordinator would leave recipes out with some ingredient from the week. Members post occasionally on the CSA facebook group, but that interface is clunky, so to more comprehensively share what I cook, I started a long-form blog.
In the interconnectedness of life, my constant patter about CSA life - particularly in my internet presence - connected me with Coeur et Sol. Facebook’s algorithm managed to get Chelsa’s initial winter CSA ad in front of my eyes, and with that connection, my farm-share-community has expanded. By following that link, I was not merely making a transaction that ends with some greens on my plate. I was connecting in to a web of other small businesses, entrepreneurs, urban farmers, restaurants, and most importantly, the people behind these ventures. It’s striking, to me, that these new connections have all been right here, almost literally in my backyard.
I firmly believe that this is what the future of community looks like, no matter how ubiquitous and indomitable the big, faceless corporations may seem. Because, at the root of it all, we are all looking for that connection. We are all looking to reach across the fences. We are all looking for our food to nourish more than just our bellies. We are all looking for the community involved in Community Supported Agriculture.
Stevie Tryson is an educator and mom who is a serious locavore. Her passion for eating healthy, eating fresh, and eating local led her to the CSA model. To share her enthusiasm for new and exciting ways to celebrate and consume the bounty, she created her blog, OMG CSA, where she shares recipes, photos and commentary on the joys and challenges of abundance. To follow her adventures, visit her blog at http://csafoodfest.com and follow her on twitter at @omgcsa.