It seems that every week there is a new article about the dishonesty and misinformation from inside the food industry. Even Trader Joe’s, the California-based grocer that quickly made an identity for itself as a sustainable, healthy, non-GMO food source, is not transparent about the origin and quality of its food. Our confidence as consumers of the food industry is dwindling and the reason is because we continue to rely on big box stores and not our local farmers.
Picture this: it’s a crisp fall Saturday morning and with a fair-trade cup of coffee in hand, you’re walking through the neighborhood admiring the changing leaves. You come across a delivery truck from Westfield Farm and a crowd of people carrying canvas bags is gathering. Out of the truck comes Farmer Dan with his entire family and they start setting up boxes upon boxes and bushels upon bushels of fresh, organic, harvested tomatoes, apples, kale, broccoli, arugula, onions, garlic, rhubarb, peaches, nectarines, grapes, eggplant, squash, and potatoes. There are glass bottles of organic milk with the cream still on top. Small tubs of freshly churned organic butter and containers of goat milk yogurt are among the riches. Eggs? Plenty; transported in reusable porcelain egg crates. Members of the crowd are stuffing their bags and happily leaving the scene with at least 2 weeks of perfect groceries to feed their families. No plastic bags, no cash registers, no rotten food. You think to yourself, is this a dream? Who is Farmer Dan and where is Westfield Farm?
Westfield Farm is about 35 miles from your community and Farmer Dan is a local food purveyor contracted by your neighborhood association to provide everyone with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. A CSA is an environmentally healthy, humane, and plain awesome alternative to grocery shopping. As a CSA member, you and your neighbors all buy “shares” of food from a local farmer. You pay for this “share” up front, typically $400-$600 dollars total, and from June through November your farmer brings you shares of seasonal food each week for less than $20. Why the upfront cost? It helps your farmer plan in advance, purchase seed, make equipment repairs, and take care of his own family so that he’s able to properly provide for yours.
Setting up a CSA is very easy. Simply gather a group of interested people who live in your community. The organizers travel the state to visit farms and meet with famers. A farmer is selected, costs calculated and checks collected. The farmer is paid, a weekly drop-off site determined, and the CSA fun begins. Today, there are over 13,000 farms in the USA that cater to CSA’s – so the number of CSA’s in the country is likely triple that. The movement is growing as people become more and more aware that knowing where their food comes from is the only way to know exactly what they’re eating. Having a relationship with a farmer allows you to clue into how food is grown, cultivated, and harvested. Organizations like Farmigo can help you start a CSA in your neighborhood and JustFood has great resources for the process.
As Muslims, we have natural community structures that can serve as the foundation for a CSA. A shurah or MSA can perform the legwork of finding an appropriate farm. The masjid is a perfect place to recruit CSA members and the masjid parking lot is a perfect place for food drop-off. Another incredible feature of a CSA is the community building that comes with it. Being part of a weekly food pick up gathering is a great way to bring people together. In our Islamic tradition, food and generosity with food is central to community building; CSAs allow a natural place for this. Recipe sharing, share swapping (when you’re out of town), and carpooling are some ways CSAs can introduce you to members of your community.