How to Start a CSA Program At Your Office

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Imagine picking up a box of groceries at work. Now imagine that the box includes strawberries, snap peas, asparagus, baby lettuce, and radishes all picked that morning less than 20 miles away; a dozen free-range eggs; local goat cheese; a loaf of fresh-baked bread; and a jar of honey. Start envisioning dinner: goat cheese and strawberry salad, asparagus frittata, stir-fry. Finally, imagine that this convenience cost you less than a trip to the store. Too good to be true?

Not if you’re a member of a workplace-based CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.

CSA share

CSAs create relationships between small-to-medium-sized farms and consumers: members pre-purchase shares of the harvest from local farms, which provide boxes of mixed produce weekly during growing season. I’ve been a CSA member for three years, and I love discovering varietals, trying new recipes, and teaching my children where our food comes from.

Workplace-based CSAs deliver directly to busy employees, helping employers to promote employee wellness and helping farmers with member recruitment and retention. Sound appealing? Just ask Liz Barrett of Lazy Cook, Crazy Cook: she encountered Harvest Moon Farms in the lobby of her office building in downtown Chicago. She writes, “I immediately became friends with Bob Borchardt, the owner, and signed up! I mean, how cool, how convenient, to get a weekly delivery of farm-fresh produce at work. […] They give members great insulated tote bags, too, so we can keep everything cool until we take it home that evening. I split a share with two co-workers, so I'd go back upstairs and we'd divvy up the loot! So much fun! And you go home with a haul of delicious vegetables and fruits. I love supporting their farm and I love eating their harvest every week!”

There are several models for workplace-based CSAs, depending on availability of producers, needs of the employer and the employees, and number of participants.

First, a single business can partner with a single producer. Each week at Janus and Google in Boulder, Grant Family Farms drops off a share for each participating employee. Partnerships can be internal; at universities like Rutgers and Colorado State, students in the agricultural science program manage both a farm and CSA.

Other programs, like the Research Triangle International CSA, are partnerships between a single business and multiple producers. Some vendors offer a variety of products, and some offer just one. Participants can sign up with one or more farmers, customizing their weekly share to include produce, herbs, meat, cheese, eggs, bread, seafood, even flour.

An employer’s investment can range from promotional (farmers use space for distribution and/or internal communication tools for marketing and information dissemination), to incentivizing (reimbursements, paid time off, food preparation demonstrations), to integrative (partnering with health insurance providers to offer rebates for membership).

Want to start a CSA at your workplace?

  • Gauge interest. Providers need a client base to make a workplace-based CSA worthwhile, and you need to know how many farmers to recruit. Take a survey. What do potential consumers want? Would particular incentives make them more likely to participate? Get commitments.
  • Identify a point of contact within your organization. Try your corporate wellness program, environmental stewardship committee, corporate sustainability program, or human resources. Getting employees to engage in healthy behavior can reduce healthcare and health insurance expenses, and supporting a CSA creates long-term value for an organization! Create an employee committee to ensure program sustainability.
  • Find farmers. Local Harvest is a great resource. Talk with farmers about the benefits of having a customer base in a single location. Some providers may even offer a discount to corporate partners.
  • Plan logistics. Which model makes most sense? A single provider? Multiple providers What will be your organization’s investment? Promotion? Rebate? Food preparation demonstrations? How and when will employees sign up? Where and when can drop-off or pick-up occur? Who will coordinate distribution?

Establishing a workplace-based CSA can be time-consuming. But in the end, your patience may pay off with a regular delivery of fresh, local produce, right to your office!

For more information, see Workplace Community Supported Agriculture: Connecting Local Farms to Local Employers

Justine blogs about food, wellness, and the delicate balance of parenting at http://ahalfbakedlife.blogspot.com.

Image Credit: thebittenword.com on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

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