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Sharing Health: Community Supported Agriculture for Families in Need

By Hannah Jastram, Communications Associate

At four sites in central Minnesota, community members, health care systems, and Extension are pulling together programs to make CSA shares available this season to individuals and families in need — at no cost.

A SNAP-Ed educator helps community members
choose health in Todd County.
Each program is tailored to the community, but what they all have in common is a commitment to the total health of each family they serve. All sites screen clients for food insecurity questions using the American Academy of Pediatrics’ two-question screening tool and include nutrition education from Extension staff for individuals and families receiving a share. Each community is partnering with chefs, dietitians, and local public health staff to do food demonstrations, for which Extension is providing recipes.

Sprout is the food hub providing a total of 175 CSA shares at the three sites in Todd and Morrison counties. Arlene Jones, founder and manager of Sprout, is one of the brains behind the program in Staples, MN that has inspired three other Central Minnesota communities to start their own programs.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the four CSA share programs.

Lakewood Health Systems

Three years ago in Staples, Hunger-Free Minnesota started funding a project called Choose Health, which includes free CSA shares for qualifying families. “It was such a relief to know that we would be getting fresh local produce biweekly,” said one participant. Today, Lakewood Health Systems is using a half million dollar grant from the Bush Foundation to fund the free CSA shares program. As a result, 100 area families are receiving free CSA shares.

CHI St. Gabriel’s Health (St. Gabe’s)

Forty miles southeast of Staples, another free CSA share program sprouted in Little Falls, MN. Regional Coordinator Stephanie Hakes already had a relationship with St. Gabe’s from working on the Live Longer, Live Better coalition in Little Falls, MN (Morrison County). The LLLB coalition’s Eat Smart program secured funding through St. Gabe’s to provide free CSA shares for 50 families in Morrison County. St. Gabe’s asks participating families to participate in at least two nutrition education events during the time they receive a share.

CentraCare Health

BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily) is a community collaborative in central Minnesota modeled after the LLLB coalition and funded by the CentraCare Health Foundation. With money from the SNAP-Ed Community Partnership Funding initiative, BLEND has hired a coordinator to assist CentraCare Health — Long Prairie to pilot a community network model that will fully incorporate SNAP-Ed participation. Part of this model includes subsidized CSA shares for 25 individuals and families, most in Long Prairie and one in Sauk Center.

Happy Dancing Turtle

Community members in Cass County liked the model Lakewood Health Systems established and put their own twist on it. Instead of partnering with a hospital, Happy Dancing Turtle — a non-profit organization in Cass County dedicated to promoting sustainable living — partnered with the Pine River-Backus Family Center to provide free CSA shares to 10 families in Cass County. Those families will also receive gardening education from Happy Dancing Turtle with the goal of helping families build self-sufficiency.

For more information about any of these sites, contact Stephanie Hakes. To learn more about the original Choose Health project, read Choosing Health in Todd County from Family Matters (2/13/2015) or Choosing to Make a Difference from Brainerd Dispatch (8/13/2014).

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