For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. — 1 Corinthians 12:12
Farmers have a hard life. All that work, and a dry summer or a plague of locusts or a freak hailstorm destroys the entire crop. What’s brilliant about CSAs is that the community takes the hit along with the farmer. 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 part of the produce.
I first encountered CSAs through my great aunt Sally, a Taoist gardener librarian who was single until age 64, married for 8 years and thereafter was a widow and stepmother/grandmother/great-grandmother to a family of 52. She moved back home to Williamstown, MA, the same year we relocated to Massachusetts. The best thing among many about that first summer back 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 ramen 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 quotient a thousandfold.
So of course when we settled down a bit from permanent touring, I joined a 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.
I met Oona Coy one wintery day when we were both on our way to pre-natal yoga. I asked Oona over a 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.
Community is built
Last September when Irene came through, several fields were flooded, taking the entire winter squash crop with them. Ben and Oona lost a quarter 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.
We get that our neighbor’s loss is our loss. We get that these amazing family farms — that keep alive tradition while teaching us how to grow food, real, good, healthy, unprocessed food — are a gift to the entire community, body and soul.