by Kirstin Kelley
A year ago my boyfriend, Kevin, and I were earning so little that we were skipping meals and eating nutrient-deficient ramen noodles to keep the hunger pains at bay. I looked for more work and took on my role at the Center for Partnership studies as social media manager and a few other odd jobs that would work around my schedule as a graduate student. I finished school in December and found more work as a professional writer, a job that I find incredibly fulfilling, and Kevin and I started to look for our next opportunity. Kevin was offered a job that paid considerably more in another state, and we found we could also get more affordable housing, so we packed up and moved. All of our changes still weren’t enough to find ourselves eating as well as we would have liked, even though we were in a much better place, so I started exploring new options.
In college, our campus farm was part of a movement for sustainable agriculture called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). The idea is that community members can pay a fee to get a portion of whatever the farm has available on a schedule. I thought this could be a solution for Kevin and me, so I looked into local CSA programs to find a farm that would fit our needs best- affordable with a good variety and in an amount and frequency that made sense for us. One farm stood out, so I went ahead and ordered our first box.
Now, for $80 each month, Kevin and I get plenty of fresh produce to cover most of our needs. We still have to supplement our farm box with other types of foods, but it keeps our grocery bill much more manageable and helps keep our diet more varied. And the improvement is showing; my parents came to visit after our first box arrived, and noticed that we looked physically healthier- and we felt it, too. All told, we’re now spending between $200 and $400 every month for food- a far cry from the $1000 we’d needed to try to budget before.
Kevin and I had been experiencing food insecurity. We couldn’t depend on our incomes to guarantee regular or nutritious meals, but through finding a CSA in our area, we’ve been able to mostly overcome that particular economic challenge.
CSAs represent a strong example of partnership culture- they connect farmers directly with consumers, circumventing industrial agriculture and reducing the cost by eliminating the need for grocery stores to serve as a middle man and for fossil fuels to transport produce long distances. They’re better for the environment because the impact of small-scale farming is much less than a more industrial model, and they often reject the use of pesticides that kill bees and seep into the soils and groundwater. It’s rare that a single program can make positive changes in so many different arenas.
This food option has been gaining popularity recently, but it still has a long way to go to become viable for most people suffering from food insecurity. Overwhelmingly, CSAs serve high-income communities, but that is starting to change, and some are doing even better than the one Kevin and I are using.
In our area, another CSA is operating a community garden in an underserved part of town where residents can help with the growing process to get food at a more reduced cost or can pay a fee for their own plot in the garden to grow their own food. This garden is also teaching kids in the area about where their food comes from. And having this garden is also giving community members a space to spend time outside that is safe and unpaved.
Maybe we’ll see more CSAs and community gardens help fight food insecurity in the future.