Vegetable Medley: Fresh Greens and Social Justice at Pursue’s CSA

Originally posted on Pursue: Action for a Just World.

On January 25th of this year, I was in a conference room at AJWS full of excited people brainstorming about starting a Jewish, social-justice-focused Community Supported Agriculture group, or CSA. We were committed to turning the plan into reality, but not quite sure how we were going to get there beyond making lists on flip charts. Yet just four months later I stood alongside some of those same people in the sanctuary at Congregation Mount Sinai in downtown Brooklyn, orienting close to 100 members of our new Brooklyn Bridge CSA. Season one was on.

If you’re not caught up in the local food movement, you might be asking, what exactly is a CSA? There are lots of great explanations of the CSA model online–Hazon, JustFood, LocalHarvest, and Wikipedia all have pages on the topic–but here’s the succinct description and motivation we share on our website:

“A CSA is a community that comes together to share risks and rewards with a local farmer. The CSA community pays the farmer up front for the season’s produce and the farmer repays this trust by delivering seasonal produce to a pickup location convenient to the CSA membership. CSA members come to the pickup location to get their share of the bounty. CSA membership is about eating great, local, seasonal produce. Membership is also about supporting local farmers. Farming is hard, risky, and costly, especially for small farms. Many local farms would fail without the support of CSAs.”

I’ve been involved in CSAs for about five years now and have found the combination of delicious, affordable, organic fresh weekly produce, neighborhood camaraderie, and the chance to support a local farm irresistible–not to mention the joy I take in playing my own private game of Iron Chef every week. I was drawn to the Brooklyn Bridge CSA because of its explicit focus on social justice. I wanted take part in this whole vegetable circus with other folks who care about some of the same things I do and are motivated to act. As our CSA coordinators Marina Berger and Avi Flamholz explain, “In some ways, we are different: the Brooklyn Bridge CSA is sponsored by Pursue: Action for a Just World, supported by Hazon, and will have an explicitly Jewish food justice theme. So in addition to delivering delicious veggies from Sang Lee Farms, we’ll have a meaningful and active justice component built into the CSA’s structure and programming.”

CSAs are completely volunteer led, so getting one off the ground for the first time is quite an undertaking. But after a few months of dedicated work by our core group of volunteers—I serve as the group’s webmaster–we have successfully recruited a full membership and have the first few distributions from Sang Lee, a farm in Peconic, Long Island, under our belt. Our members are eagerly showing up each week for their shares, bringing their children, chatting and sharing recipes over boxes of glistening greens, and giving farmer Fred Lee’s vegetables–like baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, and Italian parsley, to name a few–rave reviews. We can now breathe a little easier and turn our focus toward building up the justice component of the CSA. Our weekly newsletter editor Shari Rueckl already shares food justice related news, events, and opportunities with our CSA members and our website lists relevant events and resources. We’ve been distributing thought pieces via handouts along with members’ weekly vegetable share. Here are our first two: Race & the Food System and The True Cost of Cheap Food. Guided by the interests and actions of our members and building on the resources from Pursue and Hazon, we plan to develop a range of social justice and educational programming and opportunities for members to get more involved, particularly around food justice and access, as well as around issues relevant to farmers and farm workers. So stay tuned for more from us. And if you’d like to get involved or just be in touch about the CSA, please email us. We’d love to hear from you and see you at any of our events in the future.

Or just stop by Congregation Mount Sinai any Wednesday from 5-8 p.m. We’ll be there until November.