Perspective: Addressing the Challenge of Ownership in CSAs

Our summer intern from the Duke Engage program, Estefany Noria, recently visited Portland's Zenger Farm with her fellow program participants. She reflects on the experience and a recent New York Times article about Community Supported Agriculture in this piece from the Duke Engage Portland blog.

Learn more about Duke Engage here.

One of the strongest deterrents of ownership among South Bronx residents from the CSA program sponsored by Corbin Hills Road Farm would appear to be the large distance between the providers and the recipient community. A quick online map search of Corbin Hills Road Farm, located 160 miles upstate from South Bronx, suggests that the farm would only be accessible to future shareowners through a 160 mile, 3-hour car ride. Farm owner Dennis Derryck is likely aware of this limitation, and in fact his plan for “farm camps and weekend visits” as part of the ownership process would doubly serve to bridge the initial disconnect between the two communities.

Apart from providing logistical challenges for shareowner access, the distance between the CHR Farm and South Bronx has significant implications for civic engagement, and thus resident ownership, in their target community. As a CSA provider, the CHR Farm would likely be unable to offer South Bronx residents the breadth of recreational, volunteer, and work opportunities which characterize many successful urban farm-sponsored CSA programs.

Take Zenger Farm for example, with its myriad of opportunities for nearby residents to interact with the farm and its produce. Just one summer sees open farm days, farmer’s markets, farm stands, fieldtrip and workshops for all ages, weekly summer camps for children with adorably named themes focusing on cooking, plants, bugs, and fruit, internship and long-term volunteer opportunities, and a Healthy Eating on a Budget program which aims to “build community and empower participants to grow, shop for and prepare healthy and affordable meals.”

The importance of physically engaging, on a regular basis, with the farm sponsoring a CSA program in a community cannot be understated. The extent to which playing, teaching, learning, and socializing on Zenger Farm contribute to a communal sense of ownership by the surrounding communities appears to be unparalleled. What is it about picking a worm from a vegetable patch or plucking ripe raspberries from a bush that orients farm-goers in their respective food systems and inspires a more holistic connection to food?

Given the discussed interdependence of proximity, personal engagement, and ownership, it is likely that a successful CSA program in the South Bronx region would have to feature produce of a more localized urban farm. Farmer Richard Ball marveled at the health, social, and economic benefits of a CHR Farm-sponsored CSA system in South Bronx, stating, “If we simply got New York to be New York’s customer, we’d be in great shape.” I would challenge like-minded food entrepreneurs in the region to take CSAs one step further and begin to build the urban farm infrastructure necessary for South Bronx to be South Bronx’s customer.

However, it is important remember that locality might be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for CSA programs to successfully take root in the South Bronx region. Equally important are the engagement opportunities offered to residents, but a CSA program sponsored by a local South Bronx urban farm would be a step in the right direction to address the region’s critical food needs in a sustainable way. While this blog post has explored the challenge of ownership within the Schoharie County/South Bronx food system, ultimately this lesson of locality can be applied to CSA farms and their target communities nationwide.

See the whole DukeEngage program blog here.

About Estefany: Estefany is a rising senior at Duke University. Raised in Evanston, Illinois, she is an Environmental Science and Policy Major. She is working on a regional walkability project this summer at 1000 Friends.