Farming is typically hard work and long hours, without a lot of financial reward. With CSA farms, many have a mission that goes far beyond the bottom line and may include feeding people nutritious food, stewarding their land, training the next generation of farmers, and helping improve the food system. Most of the farms referenced in this book donate large amounts of food to local food banks and other social service organizations.
Many farms have some type of scholarship program that enables CSA members to contribute to reduced-cost, sliding scale or free shares for people with limited resources. At some farms, scholarship recipients can pay a portion of their share cost with SNAP Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funds, formerly known as food stamps. Zenger Farm, an urban nonprofit farm in Portland, Oregon, helped lead the way for CSAs tp accept SNAP payment in 20ll. About half of its 60 CSA shares are reserved for people using SNAP benefits; they can also qualify for partial scholarships. Zenger’s staff has trained over 500 farmers across the country through in-person sessions and webinars on SNAP payment and has written an instruction guidebook for farmers nationwide.
While some food banks now have programs to grow and harvest some of the food they give away, the 60-acre Food Bank Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, was started by the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in 1992. The farm was one of the first CSAs in the Pioneer Valley, and was unique in combining a CSA model with a food assistance mission. Over the course of 18 growing seasons, it provided about half its annual harvest to the regional food bank’s warehouse for distribution to people in need of food assistance. In 2009, the farm shifted its operation to a partnership with Mountain View Farm, a CSA farm in Easthampton, Massachusetts, in order to remain financially
sustainable. Today it provides 100,000 pounds of fresh produce to the emergency food network each season.
The nonprofit 180 Degree Farm in Georgia gives away over 20,000 pounds of organically grown food annually to people who are ill or in financial need through partnerships with Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newman, Georgia, as well as local churches and food banks. From day one, owners Scott and Nicole Tyson have had a special mission: helping people who are dealing with cancer as their own family has. Every week they set up an indoor farmers market at Southeastern Regional Medical Center for staff, patients and their families, selling some items and giving others away.
In the rural Methow Valley of north central Washington state, farmer Kelleigh McMillan grows organic vegetables for farmers markets and seed crops for Uprising Seeds. Concerned about local poverty and limited access to nutritious food, she decided in 2007 to dedicate an acre of her family farm, Sowing Seeds, to what she calls Red Shed Produce. In 2013, Red Shed provided over 3,000 servings of carrots, lettuce, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, summer squash, and other produce to local families through Room One, a local nonprofit health and social service center, as well as the local Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program and the Cove Food Bank. Between November and April, McMillan and her small staff teach weekly cooking classes at Room One for teens from an alternative high school. Class focus is on preparing low-cost, healthy meals. In September, October and May the students come out to McMillan’s farm to help plant and then harvest foods used in the classes.
Gleaning programs are another avenue for farms to donate food. Helsing Junction Farm in Washington state partners with a nonprofit, The Gleaners Coalition, that organizes volunteers to come to the farm to harvest its “seconds,” which are then donated and delivered to various food banks and shelters throughout the county. Recent harvests have exceeded 20,000 pounds of produce. Many of the volunteers are school groups, providing an opportunity for children to experience a working farm.