Thursday, October 23, 2008

Locavore Fairy Godmothers

--Dispatched by Olive S. Oyl

So...I'm not saying I don't belong in the Green Phone Booth, 'cause, well, we all belong here, baby. But the wind really gets beneath my wings when I am meeting other people, women mostly, who are up and making things happen in their neighborhoods. People of action who aren't just saying, "Sheesh, supporting local farmers should be easier." Not that I would be just sitting there, picking at my buttocks, thinking and not acting like that. People who are putting their money where their mouth is. What follows is a version of a love letter an article I wrote for our local paper about a couple women in our 'hood who started a CSA drop just for daydreamers like me. It might be a nice blueprint for action if you've been hankering for some local produce but your city's not quite organized yet (names have been changed to protect the innocent).

“We were not daunted,” says MD (Meditative Diner), after hearing a farmer present her with a “list of potential problems” she and her partner, LSB (what? she's not illicit - she's all about Less Scarfing Badness), might face in trying to organize a group of their DC neighbors around the idea of local delivery of seasonal produce. Known as community supported agriculture, or CSAs, farm shares have gained popularity in the wake of locavore bestsellers The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Yet until last February, our particular community was shut out of this vehicle for tasty, activist farm fare (the closest existing drops were in far-off neighborhoods).

Locavore Fairy Godmothers MD and LSB sent out an appeal to the community via the our local listserv after a presentation to our citizen’s association netted, as they put it, a couple of nibbles, but not enough bites to get the CSA off the ground: “We are two of your neighbors who decided last fall to purchase shares in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) As you may know, when you join a CSA, you pay a local farm an upfront fee to have freshly picked fruits and vegetables delivered to your neighborhood on a weekly basis. We were looking forward to supporting sustainable farming while enjoying the convenience, health benefits, and tastiness a CSA offers. Much to our dismay, we recently learned the Virginia farm we chose does not deliver to DC! The farm told us they might be willing to make an exception if we could gather a group of neighborhood CSA members. Would you be interested in joining us to form a CSA cluster?”

The response to MD and LSB’s offer was overwhelming. Says MD, “We were hoping to get 10 or 12 members, so we posted and got so many responses.” LSB comments, “We hadn’t secured a farm yet, and the day we posted, the Washington Post came out with a list of all the CSAs in the area.” The two women worried that the farmers in the area would be inundated with requests for farm shares. Would the hopes of the neighbors who’d come together in search of community as well as local peaches be dashed?

LSB worked as a community liaison to determine what folks wanted the most out of their farm shares (fresh fruit and lots of it won out over organic produce). MD contacted farms: “Most of the time, I got to talk to the actual farmers, who were very down home.” With a large group coalescing, the two still had no farm and no space.

“If it weren’t for a local church,” says LSB, “I don’t know how this would have happened.” Searching for space in the neighborhood, it wasn’t until they spoke to someone at St. 'Local’s' that everything fell into place. “It was just the easiest thing,” says MD. “They’ve been incredible.” St. Local’s provides air conditioned space (think no wilting) that is accessible during the day for the farm’s delivery (critical since the organizers both work full time), storage for empty bins during the week, and meeting space for the CSA members. In addition, St. Local’s helped the CSA establish a relationship with its men's shelter, so LSB and MD knew food wouldn’t be going to waste.

The CSA “runs itself” say the duo. Volunteers staff the food pickups. “What we really wanted,” says LSB, “is for it to have a community vibe. We used to go just camp out. It’s been such a good way to meet people.”

MD and LSB grow animated when they tell the tale of a CSA member who’s been learning about vegetables and changing the way she eats due to participation in our CSA. Says MD to LSB, “She was really into your kale recipe.” LSB responds excitedly, “Yeah, and her daughter gave her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle on tape. She told me, ‘I really feel like everything is coalescing around the local food issue.’”

Next up for the strawberry-jam and pickle-making duo? Trying to start up a local farmer’s market. They’ve entered into discussions with Fresh Farm (the vendors at our city's fancypants, Metro-accessible, hipster Sunday farmer’s market) and St. Local’s is enthusiastic about the idea of hosting in their parking lot. Says MD, “They really seem to relish their role as a community center.” One might say the same about MD and LSB. They really seem to relish their role as community builders."

True story, folks! I'm indebted to my neighbors for making it so easy to support a local farm all season. If you don't have a CSA delivery close by, take a note from their efforts and start one up by chatting with a local farmer -- and your neighbors -- today.


Burbanmom said...

Don't you just love those folks who get out in the community and "do" while the rest of just sit there and "wish"! I hope to be more of a "do-er" soon, but in the meantime, I'm just thankful there are so many great folks out there blazing the path!

Thanks for the story. I never would have thought about asking a church to participate, but it seems like the perfect union!

The Purloined Letter said...

Wonderful post. I think that "do" ability is what our capes represent. In other words, this blog is partly about trying to make ourselves go beyond wishing into doing. Of course, there is absolutely no irony (cough) in the fact we're just in our heads writing about it....

JessTrev said...

burbs and purloined - love you guys - are you REALLY up at 4 and 5am respectively? sheesh, talk about doers!

kale for sale said...

What a great way to start my day reading of locavore Fairy Godmothers and caped superheros (I love the cape references!). Seriously, I do think these stories work in us while we're doing something else and then one day there we are with the magic wand in our own hand taking action. Thank you.

Susannah said...

I love a fairy tale that ends with, "...and the whole thing really happened just like that."

The best parts of the CSA (I was part of it) were not only eating great local food, but meeting more of our neighbors at the pick-up point or walking to & from, chatting about the best stuff in our bags.

Green Bean said...

Awesome. I love reading about real people making real differences. Thanks for the inspiration!

Green Bean said...

And to The Purloined Letter, you are absolutely right. At Slow Food Nation, one panelist said we need less think tanks and more do tanks. I think that is what we mean when we write about becoming superheroes. It means getting outside our comfort zones - which often means getting outside our homes.

De in D.C. said...

What a truly cool story. I wish our CSA pickup was closer. I know the farm we get vegetables from does have some shareholders that do satellite pickups in their area (meets at one of the designated pickup points and then gets enough for 8-10 people) but no one I've talked to locally seems interested in joining.


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