Find ways to get involved with community supported agriculture initiatives.
Join a CSA. If you want to take a single step that simultaneously benefits your community, your health, local agriculture, and the environment, then consider joining a CSA. Find out what CSA is nearest to you by checking out the “CSA Farm Directories” section under Links & Resources. Even if you’re not ready to join a CSA just yet, you can still connect with your local CSA to find out other ways to get involved.
Start a CSA. If there is not already a CSA in your community, consider starting one. FoodRoutes and Local Harvest can help you find farmers in your area. Some CSAs are entirely volunteer-run, while others are hosted by an established community organization, and still others are run primarily by the farmer(s). No matter what model is chosen, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, as extensive resources are available. Of particular note is Elizabeth Henderson’s Sharing the Harvest: a Guide to Community Supported Agriculture, considered a “must read” for anyone involved in CSA. Just Food has also created an excellent toolkit which is geared primarily for New York City CSAs but can be adapted for CSAs elsewhere. See Suggested Reading and Links & Resources for further info on these resources and many more.
Protect your farmland into the future. Groups such as Equity Trust assist farmers and community members whose goal is not simply to preserve farmland by protecting it against development, but also to ensure that such farmland is actively farmed and, when it is sold, remains affordable for future farmers. Check out Equity Trust’s model documents for specific examples of steps that farmers and community members have taken.
Support the next generation of farmers. Impart your skills in CSA farming while gaining an extra set of helping hands by welcoming an intern or apprentice onto your farm. There are many programs (such as the CRAFT program in the Northeast, and parts of Canada) that link experienced farmers with those eager to learn farming skills, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service provides an excellent national directory that farmers can post to and prospective farmers can search. For other ways to support new farmers and prospective farmers, visit the New Farmers web resource of The Food Project.
Be an active member. CSAs are collaborative efforts that are only as successful as their members make them. Be ready to jump in and help to spread out the work it takes to run a CSA among all members. Work to ensure that your CSA is as beneficial as possible for its farmer(s), its members, and your community at large. Read on for some specific ideas…
Ensure that your CSA is accessible to all community members. In order to foster food justice in the truest sense, CSAs should be available to community members of all income levels. Since the traditional CSA model typically requires payment upfront, it takes a little creativity and flexibility to ensure that CSAs are fully accessible, and many successful models exist. Accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or SNAP (formerly “food stamps”); offering sliding scale and workshare payments; and using revolving loan funds that enable farmers to be paid upfront while members can pay over the course of the season are just a few of the ways that CSAs can broaden the range of members they serve. Check out Program Profiles and the “CSA & Low-Income Communities” section of Links & Resources for more information and to read about successful models.
Incorporate nutrition education and culinary arts into your CSA. Since joining a CSA can mean encountering new types of produce that one may never have cooked with or eaten (or in certain cases, even seen!) before, CSAs provide a great opportunity to share knowledge about nutrition, cooking, and food preservation. You can set up cooking demonstrations right at distribution or organize separate workshops on nutrition, cooking, and food preservation as community events. You can also provide recipes and tipsheets at distribution and encourage CSA members to share recipes and food preparation techniques with one another and with their neighbors. For more ideas and information, check out the Nutrition topic of the Food Security Learning Center.
Encourage community-building activities. CSAs can extend their benefits beyond their membership and the farm by hosting events that involve the broader community, such as community potlucks, cooking demos and culinary workshops, farm visits, harvest festivals, intergenerational activities and activities for youth, and more.
Expand CSA activities into broader food system change. Be sure not to operate your CSA in isolation. If there are other initiatives related to local food in your community, be sure to connect with them. For instance, connect with community gardeners to compost food waste from the CSA, demonstrate crops that are grown on the CSA farm, or grow additional crops to supplement CSA shares. Or connect with other community groups and advocates to conduct a community food assessment or start a food policy council. See the Policy & Advocacy section for more ideas on harnessing the energy of the CSA to foster broader food system change. The possibilities are endless, so be creative!