Rutgers Church CSA, One Year Out

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After a vacation where the house his family rented included a vegetable share, Dave Mammen, Church Administrator at Rutgers Presbyterian Church, became hooked on the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). He dreamed of bringing it to his Upper West Side community. Soon after, Mike Fonseca, new to the neighborhood and unable to squeeze into existing CSAs, reached out to Dave about starting one.

Just Food connected Dave and Mike with farmer Ben Shute from Hearty Roots Community Farm, who was looking to add another CSA to his lineup. Now that they had a farmer, Dave and Mike needed members. Fifty members were required to make it profitable for the farm. Dave had recruited about half the needed members when he met Mitch Levine. Mitch was busy recruiting for a new CSA within his coop, the Schwab House, which was near the church. Dave and Mitch joined forces. Between canvassing church members, neighbors and Just Food’s network, they soon had almost 80 members.

“Just Food played an indispensable role by connecting us with Hearty Roots. Just Food staff brokered that introduction and nurtured the connection as it was beginning. They came to a meeting held by our partners at the Schwab House apartments where Ben introduced the farm and their CSA activities and met with prospective share owners. Just Food staff were then available whenever we needed them if we had a question or concern,” says Dave.

Just Food, Hearty Roots and the CSA got creative in order to cater to the needs of the community, Dave reports, “Our facilities did not lend themselves to a traditional CSA setup with crates and people assembling their own bags. Ben was interested in trying out the process of putting together the bags on the farm and bringing them to pickup sites, so we tried that and it worked great for us.” And, because the majority of their members were one- or two-person households, they lowered the share size.

Staffing pickup days ended up being one of the most inspirational aspects of Dave’s CSA work. “We asked people to volunteer to help with pickup and people ended up really enjoying it. The truck arrives at 2pm on Wednesdays. It was hard to recruit people for the first pickup but, by the next week, every volunteer and even the church employees were so excited to help unload the vegetables.”

Rutgers Church CSA members quickly began to form a community, swapping recipes through their Facebook group, attending farmer meet and greets, and taking trips to the farm together.

“At the first pickup of last year (our first season),” says Dave of his favorite CSA memory, “ I was on duty when a mom came in with her teenage daughter to pick up their veggies. The mom took stuff out of the bag and looked at all the items, and asked ‘What’s this?’ I said, ‘Japanese turnips’. She said ‘Well, we won’t use these’ and put them in the swap box. Her daughter then took them out of the swap box and said ‘Mom, I’d like to try the turnips.’ The mother had this amazed and delighted look on her face – wow, my daughter wants to try turnips?!”

As Dave prepares for the CSA’s second season, he hopes to plan more farm trips, pass the 100-member mark, and continue to cultivate this unique community around food.

Interested in joining a CSA in your neighborhood? Click here for Just Food’s CSA Locator.

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