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Supply and Demand for Free CSAs Remain Strong

By Hannah Jastram Aaberg, Communications Associate

Last year, 185 families in need in central Minnesota were able to enjoy the benefits of community supported agriculture (CSA) at no cost to them through four community-supported programs. This year, with the support of University of Minnesota Extension staff, each of those four programs are maintaining or expanding their services.

Community supported agriculture is a way for farmers and consumers to share the risks and rewards of farming. CSA shares are often more expensive than many families can afford, but the fresh produce a share provides is something that all Minnesotans need. For details about what all the programs have in common, check out Sharing Health: Community Supported Agriculture for Families in Need.

Let’s take a closer look at how four communities have maintained or are expanding their efforts to bring local, seasonal produce at no charge to families in need.

Lakewood Health Systems: Still 100 Families Strong

In Staples, MN, Lakewood Health Systems is in its second year of a three-year, half million dollar grant from the Bush Foundation that funds a free CSA shares program.

As a result, 100 area families are again receiving free CSA shares this year. If participants drop out, their spots are filled by other eligible families on a wait list.

CHI St. Gabriel’s Health (St. Gabe’s): CSAs for New Families, Community Garden for Past Participants

Forty miles southeast of Staples, another year-old free CSA share program is sprouting new shoots in Little Falls, MN. The 50 families who received shares last season are eligible to receive a plot in a community garden. A new crop of 50 families in Morrison County will receive shares.

This program grew from the Eat Smart program of the Live Longer, Live Better (LLLB) coalition. Eat Smart secured funding again this year through St. Gabe’s to provide the free CSA shares. St. Gabe’s asks participating families to attend at least two nutrition education events during the time they receive a share, hosted by Extension Health and Nutrition staff.

CentraCare Health: After Successful Pilot, Prairie CSA Program Continues this Year

Last summer, CentraCare Health-Long Prairie piloted a community network model that incorporated participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed). Here’s an excerpt from a December 2016 blog post about the pilot:
Each week, participants not only picked up their CSA box, but could learn cooking techniques and recipes from [University of Minnesota Extension] SNAP educators. Pre- and post-assessments revealed that entire families benefitted from the experience: children experienced new foods, family members chose fresh vegetables at the store, and cooking together meant more bonding.

This year, the same 25 families are invited to participate and will be required to attend a 6-week cooking course.

The program is implemented by BLEND (Better Living: Exercise and Nutrition Daily), a community collaborative in central Minnesota. BLEND is modeled after the LLLB coalition and funded by the CentraCare Health Foundation. Last summer, with money from the SNAP-Ed Community Partnership Funding initiative, BLEND hired a coordinator to assist the pilot of the community network model.

Happy Dancing Turtle: ­Half Again as Many Families, and an Option to ‘Share a Share’

Happy Dancing Turtle (HDT) — a non-profit organization in Cass County dedicated to promoting sustainable living — is again partnering with the Pine River-Backus Family Center to provide free CSA shares to 15 families in Cass County, up from 10 families last year. About half are participants from last year and half are new recruits.

Like last year, participating families will receive gardening education from Happy Dancing Turtle with the goal of building self-sufficiency. New this year, HDT is offering a "share a share" option for households unable to consume all the produce they receive from their share. The “share a share” option allows participants to split the bounty of their CSA share with another participant, family member, neighbor, or friend.

Stephanie Hakes, regional coordinator for SNAP-Ed, contributed to this blog post.

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