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The Hidden Benefits of a CSA Membership
Joining a Community-Supported Agriculture model farm means more than getting your hands on fresh, locally grown vegetables for 27 weeks. Membership in a CSA brings with it a sense of community, a feeling of reconnecting with the land and an opportunity for respite from the busyness of our lives.
When you become a member of a CSA, you agree to support the farmer in his or her endeavors while accepting both the rewards and the risks of the growing season. Without a doubt, in good years there is an abundance of produce. One August week in 2009, my CSA provided each shareholder with 35 tomatoes bursting with the sweet taste of summer. We gathered quarts of green beans from the U-Pick field and brought home bouquets of cut wildflowers.
In the less bountiful years we can be satisfied knowing that whatever we receive has been produced using sustainable growing methods without traveling hundreds of miles to reach us.
But there are benefits to being a member of a CSA that go beyond receiving luscious organic vegetables every week. Fostering a sense of community is equally important. I’ve been a member of La Vista CSA in Godfrey, Illinois for about five years. During that time, I’ve marked the passing of each growing season by our shareholder gatherings: The Welcome and Orientation in May; the occasional barbecue in June; the August Tomato Fest with its tomato-themed games and recipe contest; and the Harvest Party that signals the closing of the season in November. Each is designed to bring members together, sharing food and fellowship in a celebration of what the land has to offer us.
Our CSA expects shareholders to volunteer three hours a month to support the farmer, whether that is through office work, fieldwork, publicity efforts or other ways that make use of their talents. When shareholders actively participate in ways that are meaningful to us, we have the satisfaction of knowing we contributed directly in growing some of the food we eat. We also gain a sense of being part of something larger than ourselves as we provide nutritious food for members of La Vista and the surrounding community. One of La Vista’s missions is to offer a percentage of our shares to low-income members in the area as well as to share excess produce with the local food pantry. Doing so brings the fight against hunger to a local level.
As society has become increasingly urbanized and fast-paced, there’s been a corresponding increase in our disconnection with nature. Recent studies show that even small-scale contact with the natural world – gardens, tree-lined streets, pocket parks – provides mental, physical and spiritual benefits, including feeling less stress and restored mental clarity. For some shareholders, supporting the farmer means nothing less than helping with the weekly sowing, weeding and harvesting. There is joy in digging into sun-warmed earth, sowing seeds that will eventually yield a bountiful harvest
Located on private property, La Vista offers shareholders a break from the frenetic activities of our lives, the to-do lists that never seem to end. Once I enter its gate and drive down the lane, I’m in a completely different state of mind. I automatically reduce my speed and turn down the radio. Picking vegetables in the field with the soft buzz of insects and birds’ songs in the background is almost an act of meditation as my mind quiets and I search for just the right-sized okra pod hiding among the stalks.
I feel blessed to be part of La Vista, especially because we came so close to shutting it down in 2010. As a member of its board of directors and chair of the search committee for a new farmer in 2009, I was among several who were faced with the dilemma of how to keep the farm operating in 2010. Fortunately, we hired a couple in February who brought with them boundless energy and new ideas.
As the 2010 season comes to an end, I’m already looking forward to the benefits La Vista will bring me in 2011 – the tangible as well as the intangible.