Alternatives to CSA: Utilizing Community Gardens for Low-income Communities

By: Long T.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that because government policies tend to favor large scale farmers instead of small farmers, small scale farmers have to rely on alternatives agricultural market like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). However, during the past 5 weeks, I have come to notice that the CSA model was only successful because communities, like those in Northfield, tend to be middle class who can afford the relatively high costs of becoming part of the CSA. It’s great to see that small farmers are supported by the local community; however, it’s disheartening to see that the model excludes populations that are in the lower class who tend to reside in inner cities or rural areas. These communities are often faced with the lack of access to fresh and healthy foods because supermarkets tend to locate miles away from these communities. Thus, these communities who can’t afford to utilize the CSA model are also the one that will benefit most from having organic and locally grown food that the CSA model provides.

During the last week of the program, I went to an urban garden at the HOPE community, which is made up of mainly Somali immigrants. Although the garden is relatively small, given its urban location, the organizers used this community space as an opportunity to educate Somali immigrants about food, food access, and food justice. The HOPE community made me realize that the idea of a community garden is an alternative to the CSA model for lower income communities.

Having access to a community garden will provide a reliable source of food to communities to reduce these communities’ reliance on large food corporations. However, community gardens are often managed by voluntary effort; thus, the success and longevity of the garden will be limited by the interest of community members. People’s interests will further dwindle when they learn about the huge time and work commitment required to maintain the garden. Moreover, since community gardens are usually divided into plots, they tend to not have a lot of diversity because gardeners prefer to grow one crop that they would like to eat like tomatoes, peppers, and other popular crops in their designated plot. When other gardeners happen like the same crops, monoculture follows. As a result, the garden will be susceptible to diseases and pests that could cause detrimental damage to a huge area of the garden. There are several modifications to the current model that I would like to see implement in order to address these problems.

Starting a garden will still involve having a community meeting to listen to feedbacks from the community and have the community seek fund to get the garden started. However, once the garden is established, it will still be managed by community members. But, instead of dividing the garden in separate plots and having each plot managed by a community member, the garden will be communally managed by all members of the community. Having a garden that is managed by the entire community this will address the problem of potential monoculture because the garden is more of an ecosystem with a diversified sets of crops. The amount of certain crops can vary depending on the community’s demand; however, it will be very unlikely that the garden will become monoculture because everyone will get the crop they wanted, and some other crops because it is shared at the end of the season.

To make this type of garden successful, garden coordinators will create various tasks that are required to maintain a productive garden. Then, any community members can come in and do the designated tasks in their own time. Garden coordinators will keep track of the number of tasks completed by each member, and at the end of the season, distribute the garden’s produce according to the amount of tasks completed.

First, tracking the amount of work by tasks instead of hours will give members more flexibility of when they want to come in and work in the garden. On the other hand, tracking by the hour will create unnecessary complications because some members may work harder than others; thus, it is unfair to give a member who do more work than another who got less work done within the same interval the same benefit. Moreover, the need to keep track of how hard each member work is eliminated because garden coordinators will only need to keep track of whether a task is completed or not.

Community members that do not have time to work in the garden, but still want to have shares at the end of the season can pay a certain amount of money to have a task completed by other people. The person who completed the task will receive the money, and the task will be marked as completed under the person who paid for the task. Through this process, the person will be directly supporting the local economy while also giving more incentives for people to work in the community garden.

This model of a community garden will be essentially a CSA, except that the shares are based on the amount of work that each member dedicated to the garden instead of basing on whether a person can pay to get into the CSA. Moreover, this type of garden is easier to get started given enough interest since communities can get funds through grants like the USDA Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program, dedicating to improve food access to low-income communities through funding community projects, or the AsGrow Seed and the America the Beautiful Fund that provide seeds to community gardens throughout the U.S. In contrast, the CSA model often require one farmer to gain access to land and work on their own to produce for the entire community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *