Hope sprouts from the earth – sustenance, relationships, and community

To crave sustenance, relationships, and community is to be human.

Perhaps we do not think about these terms explicitly, but we reflect on them nearly constantly: remembering more colorful and exciting fare while watching a plate of Morningstar Farms “Chik’n Nuggets” predictably spin in the microwave; looking forward to Spring for its farmers markets and food trucks; thinking about the friend who’s laughter on your Zoom happy hour had you cracking up yesterday.

Goodies from the earth

A wonderful trinity of these needs can be found in Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. Have you heard of or considered joining a CSA?

I have a friend who would periodically surprise us at the office when she brought one of those cardboard produce boxes to work. Each time there’d be something different in there. Interesting shapes of tomatoes, unexpected colors of carrots, and radishes so vibrant that I’d happily take a couple even though I pass by them at the grocery store without a thought. Each of them still had a bit of their stem and leaves attached, and maybe even a trace amount of the field in which they grew. I belonged to a meal-in-a-box service called Hello Fresh. She belonged to a field. A farm. A farmer.

This experience predates my wife and I co-founding Food Cycle KC by only a year or so. Karen and I have both heard of CSAs, seen them advertised on Facebook, and folks who participated in CSAs, but we’ve never been a part of a CSA. What are they? Do I have to know how to cook things with names like kohlrabi to participate? Would I belong? Are CSAs for people like me?

As a foodie and a wannabe “green thumb”, I was not about to let these existential questions stunt my thirst for knowledge. Fortunately, I am friends with a farmer, leader, mother, nourisher, and champion of humans, Alicia Ellingsworth, who agreed to talk with Karen and me about CSAs in a Zoom call.

Alicia Ellingsworth, co-founder and executive director, KC Farm School at Gibbs Road

Good evening Alicia, and thank you as always for sharing your knowledge. Many of us have heard of “CSA”, but don’t really know what it means. What is a CSA?

It’s an agreement between a farmer and an eater. It’s about sharing. An acknowledgement that we’re in this life together, and it takes all of doing whatever we do well to thrive. The eater pays ahead early in the season so the farmer can purchase seeds and supplies, bring on a crew… the farmer’s commitment is to feed people the best we have out of the field every week.

Is this the new, hipster way to get produce?

Booker T. Whatley, father of the “Clientele Membership Club”

There’s always been trade back and forth: farmers grow and barter with locals for what they had – chickens, labor, schooling, other crops – and the community fed each other. German farmers were doing this in the mid-1900s. In the 1960s, an American professor at Tuskegee University, Booker T. Whatley, described his vision for the “Clientele Membership Club” as a way eaters and farmers could support each other.

What’s more recent is that we’re not feeding each other as well as we have in the past. What’s new is our understanding that we’re in this life together, and everyone is needed.

Many of us have this romantic idea of the connection between people and the land. We were raised with this image of all the farms across the country, but we didn’t grow up on the farm, so maybe this is how we can participate. Do you meet folks like me that want to participate in a CSA and have an image of what it’s going to feel like, but then stop short because they don’t know in practical terms how they’re going to do it?

Yes absolutely: how they’re going to do it, how they’re going to go through that much food in a week because they don’t cook every night… scared of the vegetables they’re going to get. They may go on vacation: what’s going to happen to my vegetables this week? Those people are smart to stop and think. If they want to learn about CSAs, they could connect with a farmer they like at the farmers market, or reach out to a specific farm to learn how they work through those issues.

Is it easy to know how to prepare what I receive in a given week?

A CSA is more than just the trade of money for food – it’s also sharing back. Sharing hope. Sharing recipes. A lot of farms do blogs and give recipes. My favorite website for recipes is tastespotting.com. It’s kind of like Google: you type in “kohlrabi” and it gives you 200 recipes that have kohlrabi in it. The recipes are awesome.

This is awesome. I’m loving the sound of a CSA. From an economic perspective, is it worth it to join?

Farmers, apprentices, and volunteers

We encourage people to check in with the farmer they’re talking with. Some farms are very generous… some give less generous amounts. If we give people too much, then they won’t know what to do with all of it, and they feel wasteful. But either way, is it going to be cheaper than getting produce at Price Chopper? Probably not. But you’re getting something the grocery store doesn’t carry. Veggies that are freshly picked, locally grown. If you’re talking with an organic farmer, it’s not been sprayed. If you want to value the people growing your food, we pay them $13 to $15/hr rather than $2 to $5/hr, spending money here with people who are dedicated to their work.

CSAs are great! Still, there are probably some folks who want to support CSAs, but who don’t necessarily want to commit to buying a CSA share for the season.

We recently added the option for people who want to donate to support our CSA, on farm education, or our pay-what-you-please market!

Pay-as-you-please market, KC Farm School at Gibbs Road

We loved our discussion with Alicia. Immediately afterward, Karen and I bought our first ever CSA share for this Spring. We are so happy to know that we are directly supporting farmers in KCK, and we can’t wait to pick up our first produce!

Where will you go from here? Tap or click one of the following. Action doesn’t have to cost a cent, yet can make all the difference.

Alicia is a co-founder and executive director of KC Farm School at Gibbs Road, a nonprofit serving a mission to empower individuals through on-farm hands-on experiences and vocational education connecting them to the land, food, themselves and their communities.

Thank you to Alicia for investing your time so generously in other human beings, including the two of us. We consider you a friend and fellow humanist.

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