Traditionally, churches or faith congregations reach out and serve those around them, meeting spiritual needs, of course, but also dealing with physical needs in the community. Food is a great way to fulfill both needs. The buying power of local churches can greatly impact the local food economy and allow your congregants to connect with farmers and those who are hungry in your community.
So, how can a church get involved in supporting local fresh healthy food and ministering to those who grow and eat it? There are as many models as there are churches! Here are some ideas that are working across the country. After you’ve explored the options, create a plan that will work for your congregation. Large congregations, small ones, even individuals alone, can have a huge impact on the community, the lives of farmers and those who are hungry.
Model One: Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Community Supported Agriculture is also known as “subscription farming.” You buy a subscription from a local farmer just like a subscription to a magazine, but instead of receiving a magazine each week; you receive a “share” a box or bag of fresh, locally grown or raised fruit and/or vegetables. Some CSA’s also offer farm-fresh eggs and/or meats.
CSA’s are the simplest model and one that can start tomorrow, just encourage your congregation as individuals to join a local CSA. Enrollment is limited, but they may be able to add more in a couple of months with your commitment to buy.
CSA’s are an excellent way for individuals to support local food production, but we can expand this concept to harness the buying power of groups. Churches large and small can focus their food dollars to support the growth of local healthy food for their members and the larger community. The church could buy “shares” to be delivered to the elderly / homebound or to low income members of the church to help them eat healthier. We urge you to look for truly local farms or farmer networks. This will cut down on travel time (and fuel!) for your produce as well as keep your dollars local. This model integrates well for churches that have Angel Food programs. Imagine having some fresh veggies or fruit to give out when folks come to pick up their boxes!
To find a CSA, visit LocalHarvest.orgor ask your co-workers and friends for references.
Model Two: A Church-Based Farmers Market
The Church Of Nativity has opened the “Greene Street Market” this May in downtown Huntsville. Farmer’s markets work well for small acreage farmers and are a great way for value added products to be introduced to customers.
A farmer’s market needs a customer base and farmers. Organizing and maintaining a farmers market is running a business. Someone has to be responsible for
- Recruiting farmers.
- Advertising the market.
- Arranging for the market to be set up.
- Deciding what ‘products’ can be sold and by whom.
- Clean up after the market.
Instead of ‘doing’ a farmer’s market, you may want to support a particular market close to your church. Encourage your congregation to buy there or perhaps fill a church van with people who need a ride to buy fresh healthy vegetables. You might consider buying leftover vegetables from a local market to donate to local ‘food for the hungry’ organizations.
For more information see the Alabama Farmer’s Market Authority
Model Three: Congregational Contributions To a Bonus Bucks or Double up Coupon Program.
This program can have a major impact on healthy food choices. The idea is to match “food stamp” (now called “SNAP”) spending at farmer’s markets with congregational donations. The church’s contributions are used as bonus coupons and allow low income market customers to double their purchasing power. Experience shows these type programs really increase sales to the people who need fresh food most.
Remember that this program also doubles sales for the local farmer. If this program is of interest to you, partner with a local farmers market and contact Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit founded by former Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, Gus Schumacher, which provides the technical assistance necessary to implement a double value coupon Program.
Model Four: A Congregation Based Buying Club
The idea here is to ‘pre-order’ food each week from a contracted farmer. It’s almost like a CSA but there is more customization involved. After committing to purchasing some minimum amount each week for the season, an order form would be available, say on Sunday, and the order would be delivered on Wednesday (for example).
This type of program involves a lot of planning, AT LEAST 90 days in advance:
- Choosing a farmer to work with.
- Product selection ~ what needs to be grown?
- Determining how much your congregation will commit to buy.
- How the program will work (forms/how much time between order and delivery).
- When and where deliveries can be made.
- How produce will be kept until picked up… etc
This year you might want to sample and interview several farmers and choose someone to work with next year. You may end up working with a vegetable farmer and another farmer for meat and/or eggs.
Model Five: Community Garden
Community gardens that survive long term have paid staff or VERY highly highly motivated and dedicated volunteers. Everyone wants to do this in the spring…but the heat of summer and the hard physical labor is tough. There is constant pressure from weeds and insects. People want to go on vacation; other programs compete for volunteer time.
That said, your congregation can grow thousands of pounds of produce each year on a typical church’s property. This would be a wonderful supplement to Angel Food boxes. Whether the food makes for a healthier congregation, better meals at a mission or improves the diet of elderly neighbors…your church will serve as a model for creation care and service. Volunteering at a local community garden is an excellent first step before committing to developing your community garden plan. If you decide a community garden won’t work, but you still have several ‘garden’ volunteers, look into programs around the community. The CASA garden on Bob Wallace always has work learning opportunities for whoever shows up!
For a list of community gardens in Huntsville, visit www.hsvgreenlink.com/storage/Community%20Garden%20Resource%20List.pdf and for more information about community gardens visit: www.CommunityGarden.org/learn/
Model Six: Give the Gift of a Garden.
Getting fresh vegetables and hope into the hands of the “least of these” is the mission. You’ve heard of food deserts? It is important to get fresh vegetables into low income neighborhoods…but the most pressing need is for children to have access to healthy food. What if we could get every child who takes home a ‘nutrition pack’ for the weekend a garden of their own?
Perhaps some members of your congregation could be mentors to a child and help with that individual garden once a week or so…perhaps others could commit money to buy tools, seed or other supplies… a congregation could adopt a whole street of gardens. Or work with a school full of children who do not receive proper nourishment over the weekend or during the summer, Morris Elementary recently started a school based garden, remember?
Elderly people also need Garden Angels. Perhaps these seniors only need someone to till in the spring… or they might appreciate weekly help for those tasks that are just a little too hard. CASA of Madison County can help you identify home-bound seniors for your congregation to serve. Perhaps there are shut ins that used to attend your congregation who would be thrilled with a garden maintained by church members.
What next? There are as many ways of supporting local food production and consumption as there are congregations…and these ideas can spread. Workplace and social groups are another “space” that can grow support for locally grown food in the local community. Buy local, eat local, serve local!