Recently we began collaborating with a local farmer who is working to create an integrated local food system. More soon on that collaboration with OriginalGreen. But, what really struck us was an insistence on creating a way for residents to share in the bounty of their gardens and urban farms with economic advancement and training skills and community building. Our favorite kind of building. Our friend emphasized cooking food in a collective way and it was right in line with a concept we’ve been reading about – Community Supported Kitchen or CSK.
What is a CSK?
Well, if you’re familiar with Community Suported Agriculture (CSA), you’re halfway to understanding the CSK concept. A CSK is a place, you guessed it a kitchen, where community members can volunteer to prepare locally-grown and produced food. As with a CSA, community involvement includes volunteering (in this case, the kitchen) and/or buying shares in the form of meals. Most of the examples I’ve seen have professional chefs, or people who have worked in the food prep industry. Most have a lot of volunteer cooks, too.
There are a few strong examples across the United States, with most placing an emphasis on the community and nourishing it. Berkeley’s, Three Stone Hearth highlights “nourishing traditions of a different part of the world each week.” While a goal of Salt, Fire & Time, in Portland, Oregon, is to provide a place for community and community empowerment and nourishment. Across the way, in Portland, Maine, Local Sprouts Cooperative supports local farmers and teaches youth and adults about cooking, with an emphasis on building community. And, they have a café. While an alternative model is the “private eating club” operated by the Food Nanny in Urbana, Illinois, whose background in local food advocacy prompted bringing healthy food to the community.
Each of these, in addition to others highlighted in a Serious Eats article, are useful models. They first and foremost focus on community building. So, how might this concept, based upon CSAs, work for poor people?
Maybe the real question is: should a CSK look the same as a CSA for poor people? In a traditional CSA, members pay in advance for a share of what a farm produces. It has been difficult to create these for low-income folks – especially those requiring financial assistance and benefits – because the USDA will not allow SNAP or EBT payments in advance. So the CSA is more like a produce stand or store. This is just one of the differences; and, such creative solutions should, of course, be carried over to the CSK in low-income communities. But, we believe a CSK should have additional economic development and support components.
We envision a CSK that is a part of the “integrated local food system” advocated by our local farmer friend. It will be specific to individual communities and address their needs. This kitchen would provide local residents with jobs. It would encourage and increase local gardens and farms, which in turn promote entrepreneurship and agricultural jobs. It would serve as a nutrition education center, teaching people about the benefits of fresh food and ways to use seasonal produce. It could even establish a retail food service component.
But, perhaps the most significant reward, would be that sense of community achieved by the CSK’s mentioned above. ..something that has the potential to bring even more long term benefits.