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How to start a CSA: Helping farm get to table

Photo Credit: Just Food

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has gone from an acronym that needs explaining to a much-used shorthand. In fact, there are 100 CSAs operating in NYC, according to Paula Lukats from Just Food.

Buying food directly from farmers, in the form of CSA shares, has become so wildly popular that many neighborhoods now have multiple CSAs and still can’t meet demand for local heirloom veggies. A large percentage (particularly long-standing, established CSAs) are closed to newcomers, and have extensive wait lists.  The Upper East Side takes the cake (or the kale) with six CSAs. (And we thought they just ate Eli’s take out.)

If getting into a CSA in your ‘hood is like scoring a table at Momofuku, then Just Food has a refreshingly entrepreneurial solution: Start your own. If you want to become your neighborhood’s Emperor of Endives, you need to start sowing the seeds now. Just Food recommends enlisting a friend and/or a neighbor with a passion for spreadsheets and heading to one of several  “How to Start a CSA in NYC” workshops happening in the next month.

As the name suggests, the launch and success of CSAs depends entirely on community, and Just Food has created an easy-to-follow model.  “Starting a CSA is a joint venture between city residents and the farms,” says Lukats. “Just Food helps to connect the two during the winter and then the group and the farm work together. Just Food also provides technical assistance to the organizers for tasks such as finding a distribution site, advertising their CSA in the community, signing up and tracking new members, and creating outreach and sign up materials.”

Just Food makes starting a CSA as easy as fresh, organic apple pie.

While you will have to roll up your sleeves, Just Food does not leave you wandering aimlessly searching for farmers and customers. They offer a workshop series for organizers, a CSA Toolkit, and a CSA Resource Center on their website. There’s also a clever mentoring program between new and experienced CSAs. And Lukats herself is available by phone or email to deal with missing apples or rotten rhubarb.

‘How to Start a CSA’ Workshops:

Saturday October 16, 2010, 11:00-12:30, Queens Botanical Garden, 43-50 Main Street, Flushing, First Floor Conference Room

Wednesday October 20, 2010, 6:00-7:30pm, Just Food Conference Room, 1155 Avenue of the Americas, 3rd Floor, NYC

Wednesday, November 3, 2010, 12:00-1:30PM, Just Food Conference Room, 1155 Avenue of the Americas, 3rd Floor, NYC

To RSVP or if you are interested in starting a CSA but are not able to attend one of the workshops, please contact Paula Lukats at 212-645-9880 x233 or

-Lisa Elaine Held