Adam Saunders is the Public Outreach Coordinator for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture.
Columbia business leader Brent Beshore is helping his employees and the area community improve their access to healthy, locally grown food. He is doing so through a novel business-local farm partnership that is well developed elsewhere in the country, but is just starting to take root locally. It’s called Workplace Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Distribution. Here’s how it works:
- It starts with an initial contact between a business leader and a local farmer. In Brent’s case, he and his wife Erica became members of Liz Graznak’sCQ Happy Hollow FarmCQ. CSA membership works like a local food subscription program;: you sign up at the beginning of the season and you get weekly boxes of fresh seasonal produceAC. Liz’s farm is +USDANOPspell out? Certified Organic,CQ but not all farms choose to be certified. Members visit the farm several times during the growing season to help with tasks like harvesting and packing CSA shares, and for social events like potlucks or farm-to-table eventsAC. This gives members a chance to build a connection with the farmer and the farm.
- Brent wanted to offer the CSA program to the employees of his company and made steps to use Museao’sCQ co-working space as a weekly distribution site. Members of the CSA from the larger community also use the site as a pickup spot.
- Brent wanted to take it a step further and provide an incentive for employees to enroll. He offered a 25 percent and 35 percent cost share on the subscription through his companies Adventur.esCQ period is correct and Influence and Co.CQ, respectively.
- The remaining payment to the farmer from the members is facilitated through payroll deductions, so it is easy to set up and maintain throughout the season.
Brent is starting small, but has hopes of growing the partnership in the years to come. In the current (and initial) season, 5 employees are participating and another 8 CSA members from the community use Museao as a pickup site for their weekly subscription.
"We view the health of our employees as the bedrock of our companies and good health starts with access to fresh vegetables,” said Beshore. “The CSA has created an easy way for people to try new things, get into cooking, and eat better."
This model of food distribution makes significant impacts in the local farming industry. Connecting through local employers opens relationships with new customers who may not be able to make the weekly farmers markets to purchase local food. Furthermore, it has the potential to connect farmers to large numbers of hungry consumers and thus increase the capacity of local farms to grow and sell food.
When I visited Museao recently for a weekly pickup, I met three CSA members who represent a range of experiences, but have a rich commonality around their love of good food.
- Beth Perrin and Sarah Perry are core members of Liz Graznak’sCQ CSA. They are long time members and now volunteer to help coordinate pickup logistics.
- Nancy Daniel is a longtime buyer of local food through the farmers markets, but switched to a CSA share after 2012 when the drought made green beans in short supply. She noticed that farmers had them at their market stand, but the fresh beans were reserved for the CSA members. She wanted to ensure that she didn’t miss any of the season’s best fare.
- Courtney Mudd is an employee of Influence and Co. and grew up on a farm near Fulton. She grew up eating fresh veggies and beef directly from the farm, but lost access to fresh food after moving to Columbia. The CSA share proved to be an easy option to reconnect with high-quality, fresh produce.
- All these members visit Happy Hollow Farm several times a year to help out with work days and attend a seasonal potluck for members. Beth particularly enjoys the work days, calling them “an adventure for the day,” while getting to see the farm, the chickens and ducks, and getting out of the city for a while.
Business leaders interested in replicating the program have a good opportunity to learn from others and still have time to make plans for the next growing season. Columbia is not a first mover in this type of marketing, but there are some great models available to replicate. The general lesson provided by Communities Involved in Sustainable Agriculture (an industry leader in western MA) is to start slow and gradually build the program so that both the company and the farmer grow into the program together; the needs and capacities of both are matched the whole way.
If you work for a company and are interested in integrating local food into your wellness plan, please share this story with your co-workers. Reach out to Adam Saunders (Adam@ColumbiaUrbanAg.org) at the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture if you’d like to discuss the idea further and connect to more resources on the program. Contact Brent Beshore at (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more about his experiences. Contact Liz Graznak at (email@example.com) to learn more about Happy Hollow Farm and her CSA program.
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