CU at the CSA!
Alright, Central Park is beautiful. Riverside Park, clearly spectacular. Prospect Park? Don’t even get me started. The big outdoor stars are all well and good, but cities all over the country have large parks. We think the most particular green space to NYC living is the community garden. These are small oases, mostly former empty lots that have been transformed by a community organization, usually made up of people living on the surrounding blocks. Each is a reflection of the particular community that runs it, and they bring people together in amazing ways. In addition to being an outdoor space for people to share, community gardens offer other terrific programming: vegetable gardens, after school programs, composting centers, even chicken coops or bee hives! And many serve as the meeting site for the local CSA.
For those that aren’t familiar with the term, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s smart, fantastic business model, and a throwback to how communities used to feed the people. Basically you buy a “share” of the yield from a farm, for one season. It is a flat fee at the beginning of the season, which usually runs June to November (though often you can buy in mid-season). The money goes straight to the farmer, and each week they bring whatever is ready that week, usually 7 to 10 different vegetables, to each of their CSA distribution centers. Then community volunteers are responsible for running the distribution. This process covers the farmer’s initial overhead and takes the pressure off the selling and distribution. They just need to grow it. Members share the risks and rewards with the farm. Amazing weather and a bumper crop? More tomatoes for everyone. But if there’s a disastrous storm (think Hurricane Sandy), and the farmer doesn’t go bankrupt.
Most CSAs have different prices for lower, middle, and upper income levels. And all leftover vegetables are donated to a local charity. I know, brilliant! It is a recent phenomenon in the US, but can be traced back to the both Japan and Europe, beginning in the 1960s. Then in the 80s, it was brought to the US, to S. Egremont, MA, to be exact (shout out to a favorite summer spot for me, The Berkshires!). And the first NYC CSA was established on the Upper West Side in 1991. Go Westside!
“So how do I find my local community garden and CSA?” you ask. Well, the CSA is simple, visit: www.JustFood.com. To join a CSA, you do not need to live in a certain area, you just need to be able to do the pickup every week. Some are bigger than others, some offer half shares, some have a meat or fruit share. All you need to know can be found at this website. The good people at Just Food connect the farmers to the community groups. They know all. Can’t find one that is convenient? They can help you start your own.
The community garden is trickier. Many are locked and only give a key to a select few. Fancy, right? Who needs a key to Gramercy Park? No bees or Chickens there?! The key to scoring entrance to a community garden is, unsurprisingly, through the community! You must live within a few blocks of the garden. But you’d be surprised how many there are. Walk your surrounding blocks and choose the one you want to zero in on. Then see if there are any signs about gatherings. Some have hours where they are fully open to the public. Some post phone numbers for the local contact. And if there is just no information, keep walking by. If you see someone going in or out, ask them what the story is. In a nice, neighborly way, of course. Usually if you offer to share in some garden upkeep, you can score a portion to plant yourself. Do a little legwork and perhaps you too can be one of the lucky few, with a key to your very own patch of green.