Why a CSA Is Like The Body Of Christ

posted April 26, 2012

photo by Kris McCue

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.–1 Corinthians 12:12

How is a CSA like the Body of Christ? Glad you asked.

One of the first things I did when I moved to Massachusetts was be introduced to the joys of a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, but to anyone under the age of 12, you’d think the word was a synonym for “farm.” Farms offer a number of shares every year, and members of the community buy these shares, then show up once a week to gather their share of the produce.

My great aunt Sally, a Taoist gardener librarian who was single until age 64, married for 8 years and thereafter a widow and step mother/grandmother/great-grandmother to a family of 52, moved back home to Williamstown, MA the same year we relocated to New England; our first summer here was spent on 66 Hoxsey Street in downtown Billsville. The best thing among many many great things about that summer was connecting with Aunt Sally. And during our second tea-time visit, she said, “I just bought a share in this wonderful local organic farm called Caretaker Farm. Would you girls be so kind as to come with me to pick my vegetables?” And that started a tradition. We’d pick her up on Tuesday afternoons, drive her to the farm where she would sit in a rocking chair knitting while we picked two sacks of fresh local produce; one for her, and one (she insisted) for us. In those days, our diet consisted of raman noodles, hot air popcorn and the occasional fried mozzarella stick/buffalo wing combo at the sports bar when we could spring for it. Single-handedly, Aunt Sally was upping our nutrient quota a thousandfold. The great playwright, Jane Anderson (Defying Gravity) walked by our porch one June day as we were heading out to Caretaker. “Luckies,” she said.

Caretaker Farm

So of course when we settled down a bit from our perma-tour, I joined my own CSA here in the Pioneer Valley, The Food Bank Farm, whose mission was to partner with the Food Bank and reduce hunger and feed the community. Year after year, I filled bags with kale, chard, collards (the seasonal staples) and looked forward to August and September when we’d mix it up with carrots, corn, peppers, eggplants. And always there’d be local eggs for sale. Local eggs! With their orange yolks to match the rising summer sun; once I discovered the difference between a local egg and the kind that came from the Big Y in a styrofoam egg carton, I never looked back.

Goats from Red Fire Farm, Granby MA

I met Oona Coy one wintery day when we were both on our way to pre-natal yoga. I had just reached my 16th week and was cleared for exercise by my midwife. Oona came striding towards me, the most pregnant woman I’d ever seen, with a giant scarf around her belly, as if to add extra protection to the creature in her womb. We joined a class full of big bellies and slowly, tenderly, moved our bodies into downward dog, triangle, and our favorite: Goddess pose. I asked Oona over a grilled tofu salad afterwards what she did.

“My husband’s a writer and a professor, and we’re both studying to be farmers,” she said. A few years later, a poster appeared in town. It featured a gorgeous eggplant and an invitation to come to something called Tuesday Market. An email went out selling shares for their new CSA.

Tuesday Market handily answers the question, “Does Northampton really need another farmer’s market?” After all, the Saturday market was a grand tradition. What’s not to love about seeing all your friends spontaneously on a gorgeous summer day? When Elle was a baby, we’d regularly sally down to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings knowing we’d have instant society. But Tuesday Market surpasses even this; Ben and Oona have invited musicians to join the crowds, and every Tuesday afternoon into early evening, the square behind Thornes Market thrums with the sounds of Peter Blanchette’s gorgeous archguitar, or maybe Kathleen Edwards (or sometimes us…) The booths of local farmerpreneurs are pleasing and inviting to look at and the wares they sell are delicious. Kids cavort, local businesses thrive, we eat healthy fresh, beautiful food. Community is built. And when people come together in this way–where every aspect of communal life vibrates with righteousness and sustainable productivity (if you will excuse such utilitarian phrases), there is the body of Christ. Each one of us doing our thing. Oh, and also they take foodstamps. “Good food should be for everybody,” they say. And so they double the value of customer food stamps. “This means that when a customer swipes their EBT card for $10, they receive $20 in market tokens to spend on vegetables, fruit, meat, eggs, cheese, mushrooms, bread, jam, maple syrup, honey, garden plants, and more – all directly from the people who grow and produce these nourishing products.”

So of course, we joined Ben and Oona’s farm–Town Farm— which is right in town, amazingly enough. And yet when you are there, bent over your rows of sugar snap peas, you can’t see another house for miles around. Every Friday my family goes there, from June through late October, and even into November most years. We are given a good- sized canvas bag with the name Town Farm emblazoned in teal ink (natural and organic, of course)

and in the homemade three-walled shed decorated with huge poster-sized photographs of local children holding the farm’s baby animals, there is a chalkboard with directions for how much of what vegetable you may take. We go to the farm to get our share, but also to see our friends at pick-up. Outside of the shed is a cobbled together geodesic dome which our children have now learned to climb to the top of, a giant tractor tire roped up to a tree limb for swinging, a homemade slide from a tree-fort. The grown ups catch up in the sun while the kids play. Across the road are fields of You Pick–and the You Pick is different each week, depending on what’s ripe.

I have often told interviewers that being in a band is a lot like being a farmer. We write our songs, then watch them grow as the bandmates help to arrange them. We weed out the bad ones before (or sometimes during) the recording process. We send them to the record company who manufactures them into a disc, and then they go out to the world, and we do too, touring and promoting until the harvest is over. Then we go into our winter cave and hunker down, writing new songs, and the cycle starts all over again.

Farmers have a hard life, historically speaking. All that work, and a dry summer or a plague of locusts or a freak hailstorm destroys the entire crop. In these days of climate change, one of many freak weather events might doom a farm. But what’s brilliant about CSAs is that the community takes the hit along with the farmer. Last September when Irene came through, several fields were flooded, taking the entire winter squash crop with them. Ben and Oona were down to a third of what they usually reap. If they had not had us supporting them, they’d be out of business, and we’d be out our local farm. But because it’s community supported agriculture, the community sustained them. They sent out emails explaining the situation. Other farms shared their squash with us while Oona sent them truckloads of onions. The miracle with Irene seemed to be that while all the area farms suffered a loss, no one lost all. A modern day loaves and fishes. Everyday generosity.

photo by Kris McCue

This is what we do, as awake aware people. We get that our neighbor’s loss is our loss. We get that our neighbor’s great gift to us–these amazing family farms that keep alive tradition while teaching us how to grow food–real, good, healthy, unprocessed food–for the community can benefit all, body and soul.

photo by Ben James

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