Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Food Justice and Your CSA – a Starting Point

Suzanne Bring, Development Director of Jewish Community Action

In about 1992, I first purchased a share in a local farm. I admit that it had little to do with what the farm offered (organic, local, reduced carbon footprint, &c.) and everything to do with the bare facts of my grad student-y fridge—a half-consumed bottle of wine, a jar of Dijon mustard—you get the picture.
My farm share eliminated the need to grocery shop and plan meals. If there were beets, I boiled them and dressed them with Dijon. Kale was folded into bean soup and accompanied by a glass of that wine. Kohlrabi, however, I always surreptitiously slipped into someone else’s share.
Years later, I’m still a participant in a CSA, now with Easy Bean Farm, owned by Malena Sandeen and Michael Jacobs. Easy Bean has expanded its reach through the St. Paul JCC and Tuv Ha’aretz and is Minnesota’s first Jewish-owned, organic farm.
No longer do I see my farm share merely as a personal convenience. My access to fresh, delicious, nutritious food is part of something far greater. I, after all, could choose from among dozens of CSA offerings in the Twin Cities, and can shop at major grocery stores, farmers’ markets, co-ops, and boutique fooderies.
Not so for some of my neighbors in my inner-city community. They are hindered by lack of transportation, two- and three-job lives, little cash, inability to obtain government food benefits, even location. Walking distance from my house are several tiny stores in which junk food and cigarettes occupy the best real estate and where the very modest array of fresh vegetables and fruit are hidden, expensive, and unappealing. My CSA isn’t really an option for many of my neighbors; after all, it cost more than $300 for a half share, and even though Malena and Michael will accept payment in installments, it’s still not doable for so many.
Together, we can change the problem of “food deserts” that affects so many urban, lower-income neighborhoods. Here is what you and the other members of your CSA, congregation, or community can do:
· Some Hazon CSAs already do this, but if you don’t already, consider organizing your fellow CSA members to purchase extra shares for donation to a local food shelf or shelter. Make sure, however, that you work closely with the intended recipient organizations, to learn what they need.
· Ask your farmer if you can enclose action alerts with the members’ veggie deliveries. Action alerts are an entry point to food justice advocacy, and can encourage CSA shareholders to advocate for a better Farm Bill, for expansion of food stamp benefits, for extension of EBT (debit card for food stamps) use at farmers’ markets, and many other local, national, or even international policy shifts.
· Convene a house party (or a series of them) among members of your CSA, one in which all can share recipes and sample dishes—but also discuss what injustices people really find troubling. Use these meetings as the starting place for building a local campaign for change: Does change involve expanding farmers’ markets into lower-income neighborhoods? Making sure that local banks are lending in under-resourced areas? Working with city and state lawmakers to prevent foreclosure, homelessness, and destitution?
· Support Magen Tzedek, which will encourage excellence in kosher food production, by improving worker safety and training, wages and benefits, treatment of animals, environmental impact, and corporate transparency. Jewish Community Action is undertaking the Twin Cities pilot of this national initiative, but you can be part of its expansion nationwide.

Suzanne has been at Jewish Community Action since 2002, after having worked as a development consultant to a variety of Twin Cities nonprofits. She also attained doctoral candidacy and taught courses in English literature at the University of Minnesota, focusing her research on nineteenth-century Anglo Jewry. Suzanne is a past board member of Beth Jacob Congregation (Conservative) and a current board member of Southside Family Nurturing Center. Suzanne welcomes your comments at suzaane@jewishcommunityaction.org.

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