Every year in March, my CCSA Fair Shares suspends pickups for a few weeks to give the team a break, and frankly, by March even the most robust suppliers are running low on winter vegetables. When that first Wednesday without a pickup rolls around, I’m usually happy that I don’t have to fight rush hour traffic across town to pick up my share. However, by the second Wednesday, I’m missing my local yogurt and bread, and I’m running low on eggs. By the third week we’re eating supermarket eggs like the regular folk. The day we’re back on supermarket eggs is a sad day indeed. Suffice it to say that I am very happy this week that my CCSA is back up and running.
I am particularly grateful that Fair Shares came back from spring break because COVID-19 means that nothing is normal or guaranteed anymore. Luckily the dedicated team at Fair Shares acted quickly to ensure that our treasured farmers and suppliers could continue to sell us their products and that we could receive said products in a safe manner.
Fair Shares implemented best practices for keeping the facility disinfected, and for yesterday’s pickup we transitioned to curb-side pickup instead of going into the “mothership” to do our shopping. We place our orders online, then send a text message when we’re in the parking lot, and the staff and volunteers bring our groceries out to our cars. Yesterday was a beautiful and warm spring day and after a week of rain and home internment it was very pleasant to stand in the sunshine along with my fellow members in the parking lot while we waited for our shares (appropriately spaced apart of course).
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the acronym, CCSA stands for Combined Community Supported Agriculture, which is a little different from a traditional CSA. Here’s a quick rundown:
A traditional CSA is an agreement between a single farm and the CSA’s members. By paying for membership, members help share the farmer’s risks (crop failure, bad weather, etc.) as well as the benefits (bumper crops, great food). With a single farm, this can mean limited variety or an overabundance of certain items. As a Combined CSA, Fair Shares gathers food from many farmers, offering fantastic variety with little risk. That variety gives us lots of local food in every season—not just summer or fall. Members get fresh produce, plus tons of other local foods like eggs, bread, rice, and pasta.FairShares.org
As a full member I commit to spending around $50 a week on a selection of produce, dairy, bread, and meat (with the option to purchase anything additional we may need for the week). For my wife and I, our share represents 90% of our grocery shopping. The remaining 10% of what we buy (things that aren’t available locally like bananas, avocados, Cheezits, etc.) probably costs just as much if not more per week at the supermarket than we spend at Fair Shares.
Each share is comprised of whatever produce is available that week and then a selection of non-perishable or less-perishable items which can be traded. Due to a mild climate, long growing seasons, and greenhouses, we have great produce most of the year. Fair Shares does a great job of providing a variety of produce and avoids overwhelming us when nature provides an overabundance (zucchini season I’m looking at you).
It struck me at how essential a CCSA is in a time of crisis. First of all, my membership is helping to sustain our local farmers. We have a vibrant restaurant scene here in St. Louis which is fueled by diverse and delicious locally available vegetables, fruits, grains, herbs, meats, and dairy. All of those restaurants have stopped buying food, which means that the farmers are going to feel the pain almost immediately. We have been spoiled by the high quality of locally grown vegetables, and don’t get me started on how much better local meat and eggs (omg the eggs!!) are when compared to mega farm products that are available at the supermarket. We would be devastated if we lost access to such wonderful food. My dollars help to keep our local farmers in business.
More importantly, we need those farmers to keep us fed and safe now more than ever. As the country and the world sinks deeper into this crisis, the future is uncertain. Will there be supply chain disruptions? Will the lukewarm government stay-at-home order we have in place here in St. Louis become mandatory? Will the supermarkets get food deliveries? If they have products on the shelves, will it be safe to shop there?
I personally have been dreading the day when the fridge is empty and I have to go out to the supermarket for food. However, since Fair Shares is up and running again I no longer have that worry. Fair Shares has a personal relationship with all of our farmers and can therefore have more control over the supply chain which only has three links: farmer to CCSA to consumer. I feel much more confident in their ability to provide me with safe and nutritious food than I would with products shipped from across the world that have myriad points of possible infection across the supply chain.
All of that is a long way of saying this: if you have access to a CSA or a CCSA, you should consider supporting them, now more than ever. If you are in the St. Louis area, please consider joining Fair Shares. Support local food, support food safety, support short supply chains. And stay safe out there.