written by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
This week there were only 2 things in our CSA share I did not recognize!
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it works this way: We pay a set amount in the spring, so that those who raise our vegetables (+ herbs and sometimes even flowers) have a stable source of income and guaranteed customers for what they produce, eliminating waste. Every week for the duration of the season, we get a box of whatever is fresh that week.
Fresh seasonal produce just tastes like summer and the garden plot in my own backyard is too shady to produce much. So my family subscribes to the CSA of a non-profit that employs teen gardening interns to raise veggies in several community gardens around our urban neighborhood. Supporting this kind of thing makes me feel benevolent, but I am often surprised by how much it causes me to lean into the “Community” part of the name. Like a spiritual discipline, the contents of our share make me engage with others who live in our ethnically diverse area, redirecting my own inward-focused gaze outward to the needs and effort and potential of others.
But like everything, I start with the benefits to myself. Buying the foods I know we will eat is both a mental and physical limitation to our health. My household has eaten fresh lettuce salads every day this week in order to keep up with what our CSA has provided, and radishes which I would never buy, but apparently even the kids like. Veggie-loading our meals is great for our health, and sometimes taking the element of choice out of it is what it takes to do it.
So far this summer, I have also learned to cook pak choi, garlic scapes, mustard greens and collard greens, thanks to the recipes included with our CSA and the internet. Some of these veggies are probably more familiar to the Hmong or African-American gardening interns, but learning to cook them is a small realignment of my attention towards my neighbors and their families. It is a reminder that what I like is not normative for being a Minnesotan or American, wringing that prized individualism right out of me in a patriotic way. I can make a little extra effort to support employment and training for these young people. When a CSA comes from a larger farm, harvested by either generational farm families or immigrant workers, we are also supporting their livelihoods instead of large corporate growers. All of us are children of God created in God’s image, but it is too easy to dismiss our kinship with one another if we never get together for family dinners. In addition to participating in the “pizza farm” nights for our CSA or other farms, bringing the produce of their hands to our minds and mouths forges some ties, which open us to becoming more interested, more invested in each other’s lives.
“What we don’t know won’t hurt us” is both a physical and moral lie, especially when it comes to where our food comes from. How we eat affects the earth, and all our siblings living on it. The “community” in community supported agriculture can be a reminder that we are all part of the human community that needs less pollution to survive, healthy chemical-free soil, and a reduced carbon footprint. Avoiding corporate agriculture, a major polluter, and shrinking the carbon footprint of transporting produce over long distances, are choices we make when we choose a local CSA. Farmer’s markets are also a great opportunity to obtain and support local and minority farmers. Eating lower on the food chain, more plants than meat, is a choice that if we begin for the summer, could change our diets all year round. Are those who raise or pick our food making a living wage? Can they survive on what we are willing to pay for our food, without using pesticides to protect their yield? An intentional choice in the summer could instigate greater awareness year-round about where and how our food is raised. The value of chemical-free food and living wages for those who raise our food may start to out-weigh our desire for a deal, even when the CSA and farmer’s market season concludes.
(photo by Sri found at wikicommons: private garden)
Lee Ann M. Pomrenke is an ELCA Lutheran pastor in St. Paul, Minnesota.