It’s a busy Wednesday afternoon and Shannon Barrett, human resource manager for the City of Asheville, is standing in the lobby of Asheville City Hall. Employees and visitors are rushing to appointments upstairs, but Shannon has a reason to slow down and think about her health today.
“I’m getting ready to open my CSA box,” she says. “ I’m really excited!”
She opens the box and pulls out a bag of green beans, brightly-colored rainbow chard, and a bunch of radishes.
Shannon Barrett is one of 13 City of Asheville employees who are participating in a CSA pilot program this fall. A CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a partnership between farmers and community members. Customers pay upfront for a season’s worth of produce and receive a box of seasonal farm-fresh food each week. CSA pick-up spots are usually at a farm or farmers market, but in this pilot program, Shannon and her colleagues can pick up their vegetables at work.
“It’s kind of like being able to go to the farmer’s market, but you don’t have to leave your office,” she says.
This CSA pilot program is part of the City of Asheville’s workplace wellness efforts, which incorporate community connections with local food and farms. ASAP worked with city staff to expand a program that allows employees to earn “health points” that reduce their health insurance premiums.
Employees can earn points for participating in activities like cooking demonstrations, presentations about acupuncture and chiropractic care, and workplace yoga and meditation classes. Now employees can also earn points by engaging with local agriculture.
“Some of those examples are making a healthy dish featuring a local ingredient or touring a farm. It can be as simple as planting a garden or participating in a community garden. For some of the fall and winter events, we’ve highlighted picking apples and pumpkins with friends or family, or finding a Christmas tree, or ingredients for one of your holiday meals from a local farmers market,” explains Amber Weaver, sustainability officer for the City of Asheville.
ASAP and city staff have continued to work together to identify intersections between health and local food and farms, including piloting the five-week CSA. Within 48 hours of sending out the sign-up email, all of the CSA slots were filled with a waiting list.
This demand for farm-fresh food couldn’t come at a better time for the farmers who grow the vegetables for the CSA. Danielle Keeter and Mark McDonagh from Stonecrop Garden in Marshall, North Carolina jumped at the chance to participate in the pilot program, especially when they learned that it would take place during the fall, a time when their summer CSA ends and farmers markets are slowing down.
“Normally, during fall production right now, we’re both kind of settling down and working other jobs and just getting by through winter. But we were really committed to extending this season as long as we could. Having that support right before we’re winterizeing everything, it was incredibly helpful,” Mark says.
While there are fewer vegetables that can be grown during the late fall and winter, it’s not necessarily a slow time for farmers. Like farmer Mark McDonagh said, he and Danielle often work other jobs during the winter as a way to fund spring expenses like seeds and equipment. Having an influx of income as winter approaches can ease some of the seasonal stress of farming.
“It is the time of year where we would normally be gearing down. Having all of these people interested in supporting us and receiving fresh food, it’s just the extra kick you need to bump it up a notch and keep going,” Danielle says.
The City of Asheville’s CSA pilot program is still small, but Mark is encouraged by the possibility of opening it up to more customers in the future.
“I hope we can build off of it,” Mark says. “I think that the model we’re doing right now is really working. I hope it’s the start of a bigger offering of the same program.”
ASAP has resources for employers and employees who are interested in adding a CSA to their workplace. More information about workplace CSAs can be found here.