Farm to office: Tips for starting a workplace CSA
Spinach, strawberries and sprouts freshly picked from the field and dropped off at your desk—this isn’t just for Earth Day. That service is actually a reality at our headquarter UMB offices.
CSA stands for community supported agriculture. The CSA model connects local farmers directly to consumers. Through a CSA, consumers can purchase a “share” of local, seasonal products directly from the farmer. Shares are generally delivered on a weekly basis and can vary in size and cost. A workplace CSA can be a great addition to your organization’s wellness or sustainability programs.
Benefits of a CSA and buying local
- Natural: Most CSA farmers grow their crops without pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) so the food tastes like it came from your backyard garden. According to a PBS Independent Lens documentary‡, 95 percent of CSA farms use organic or biodynamic farming‡.
- Fresh: In addition the food travels a shorter distance to get to you. Produce can be picked when it is ripe instead of being picked too soon which happens if it has to travel across the country. Some foods travel thousands of miles to get to our grocery stores. The shorter distance it travels means less fuel and emissions and time it takes — making it better for the environment.
- Local support: Buying local supports our community, our friends and neighbors. Family farmers are people that work hard to bring us fresh and healthy food.
How to get started
Since 2010 UMB has offered its downtown Kansas City associates the option of having farm fresh products delivered to the office. Through the years we have used a few different CSA farmers, and here are the lessons we learned:
- Determine interest: You can send out a short online survey (an online search will give you free options for simple survey tools) to test interest or you could even host a one day onsite farmers market to see how much interest it generates. UMB hosted a farmers’ market for Earth Day, and its popularity was a deciding factor for us to offer a CSA program.
- Choose a dedicated CSA coordinator to work with the farmer and your employees. This could be someone in HR or a volunteer from your green team or wellness team. Make sure this is someone you can rely on and that they know they will have to dedicate some time and effort to supporting and promoting the program during the CSA season.
How to choose a CSA provider
- Interview a few farmers to find the right fit. You can find a list of farmers who offer CSAs through one of these websites Kansas City Food Circle‡ or Local Harvest‡. Many CSA farmers use organic farming methods but may not have the financial means for certifications. Each farm is different, so verify farming practices when interviewing a potential farmer. Other things to keep in mind when looking for a workplace CSA farmer:
- Flexibility in share sizes, product offering – many CSAs offer meat, dairy, canned and baked goods in addition to produce, allergy sensitivities like gluten free and vegan options. Be aware that the more customized your CSA program the more complex it can get for you and the farm to coordinate.
- The farmer’s experience in providing workplace CSAs– Ask for a reference from a current company they are servicing.
- What the minimum/maximum number of shares the farmer can deliver to your workplace.
- How they will handle issues that arrive such as forgotten shares or replacement of spoiled products.
- Delivery logistics:
- Day of the week, time and place of delivery
- How will shares be distributed? — interoffice mail delivery, employee pick up at set time and location, etc.
- How will the share be packaged?
- Forms of payment – payroll deduction, online payment, etc.
- Ask to see a real life sample of what is in a share.
At UMB we have partnered with Gerry and Lisa Newman of Providence Farms‡, a small family-owned and operated farm in Trenton, Mo. The Newman’s use organic farming methods—never using pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. We get to choose from two share sizes which include produce, meat from Barham Cattle Company and Family Farm, and a rotation of eggs, baked goods, butter and more. The CSA season runs from June to October.
Lisa Newman of Providence Farm says,“We love fruits & veggies, and we love to share! We are very passionate about growing our food without the use of harmful chemicals. When companies allow us to deliver fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis to employees, they are opening up the possibilities of people eating produce they might not have ever tried.
We live in a society where we want everything fast; fast food, boxed foods, frozen foods and microwaved food. We are providing a service where employees don’t have to take extra time to do shopping and can take their CSA home and prepare fresh food that is only hours old!”
The net result of a CSA is the food is healthier for us and better for the environment.
Have you participated in a CSA or plan to start one soon?
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Ms. Shahane is a Vice President Healthcare Marketing/Sustainability Manager for UMB. She is responsible for managing marketing initiatives for UMB’s healthcare payments, HSAs, and benefit card products. In addition, she leads the UMB Green Team and promotes UMB’s internal sustainability initiatives. She joined UMB in 2001 and has 13 years of experience in the financial services industry. She earned a MA in Marketing from Webster University. She is a volunteer for Bridging the Gap and serves on the board for Northeast Neighbor to Neighbor.