For most Americans, choosing organic food is a simple matter of aligning their budget with their values. Organic production is more labor-intensive than chemical farming, which adds to the cost of the harvest. But consumers who go organic are happy to pay a little extra for food that provides higher nutrition without the chemicals—and that tastes better, too.
For many in the U.S., however, food choices are complicated by poverty. Nearly 50 million Americans, including 15 million children, live in poverty, according to the organization Feeding America. For these families, a few dollars here and there make a big difference, and that can put organic food out of reach.
A growing number of programs work to address this problem. Some provide coupons that low-income people can spend at farmers markets. Others “glean” vegetables from local farms to supplement food pantry offerings. One organization, FairShare CSA Coalition, takes another approach: Building relationships between farmers and people of all incomes to create direct-to-consumer sales.
Founded in 1992, FairShare wasn’t focused on poverty issues at the outset. Back then, “community supported agriculture” was a new idea, and the group was formed by farmers and consumers who were determined to bring the concept to Madison, Wisconsin.
Today, the notion of purchasing advance shares in a crop of vegetables is ubiquitous. Indeed, FairShare farm members now total nearly 60 across southern Wisconsin (up from 8 in 1993), while CSA shares rose from about 1,000 to more than 13,000 during the same period. Coordinating these farms and connecting them with consumers remains a primary goal of the organization. For farmers, FairShare offers information and workshops on a host of practical topics, including growing and marketing. And for would-be CSA members, the group serves as a one-stop portal to connect with farmers who specialize in their interests as consumers.
And as it has matured, FairShare has increasingly added issues surrounding poverty and hunger to its plate. FairShare’s Partner Shares Program is the cornerstone of this work. The program is quite simple. It’s designed to offset half the cost of a CSA share, up to $300.
“Our coalition was founded on the belief that everyone in our community should have access to healthy, fresh, local, organic produce through community supported agriculture. Partner Shares is our way to come together to support this shared value,” explains FairShare’s director, Erika Jones.
The program is funded by a variety of sources, including grants and donations, as well as through sales of FairShare’s cookbooks and the group’s two popular annual Bike the Barns events. FairShare also helps coordinate health care rebates and applying SNAP/food-stamp benefits to farm purchases for those eligible. Currently, about 175 households take part in the program.
For Jones, this focus on food availability is a key component of the organization’s mission. “We don’t want to see members of our community struggling or suffering because they can’t afford quality food for their families. After all, sharing the harvest is the foundation of community supported agriculture.”
Organic Valley is committed to building a just and sustainable food system and is proud to support FairShare CSA Coalition in its efforts.