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Farmers: Coming to an Office Near You

Employers empower healthier workers with workplace CSAs

workplace csas

Photo Credit: Suzies Farm via Compfight cc

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture and has been a great way for smaller, local farms to ensure a steady income stream while giving consumers easier access to fresh and locally grown food. Typically a CSA-share is purchased by subscription. A customer purchases the share or subscription for a few months at a time, and once a week they go to a specified delivery spot to pick up a box of fresh fruits, veggies, eggs, or other products from the local farmer.

For people who work late hours and have families to manage or long commutes, finding the time to shop at farmer’s markets or pick up a CSA box is often not feasible. So a lot of people who otherwise would love to have easy access to local fresh food get left out of the equation. A growing number of organizations are trying to bridge this gap by bringing CSAs directly to workplaces. This gives employers a way to make their employees’ lives easier while indirectly lowering insurance costs as the health of their workforce improves. It also gives farmers a guaranteed customer base. For many farmers, a subscription base of just 5 people will make a workplace delivery feasible.

Sustainable Connections is one organization working to expand the reach of CSAs into the workplace. Based in Bellingham, Wash., they help businesses connect with local CSAs and can facilitate payroll deductions for employees who find the upfront cost of a CSA prohibitive. In 2012, 36 workplaces and 397 employees participated in the workplace CSA program. Based on their 2012 Workplace CSA employee satisfaction survey, 87% of participants were happy with their CSA experience, 83% tried new recipes in the kitchen as a result, and 66% of participants enjoyed better nutrition as a result of the CSA.

In New York City, some big firms like Goldman Sachs are joining the workplace CSA trend to a complement to their health and wellness offerings, according to the Wall Street Journal. Rabobank, a cooperative bank specializing in food and agriculture, subsidizes up to half the cost of a CSA share for its employees as part of its larger social responsibility initiative. Nazli Parvizi, commissioner in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Community Affairs Unit, explained in the WSJ article, “The great thing about workplace CSAs is that I spend more time here than I do at home, so the convenience of having bags come here means I always have staples.” Two of the organizations leading the workplace CSA initiative in New York City are Just Food, a non-profit focused on connecting consumers with local farms, and Great Performances, a catering company which owns the 60-acre organic Katchkie Farms in Kinderhook, N.Y.

A corporate wellness company called WellBe Solutions just started offering the Go Local Corporate Initiative. It’s an 8-week program delivered through an email campaign and an app called LocalSqr to educate employees about healthy eating and help connect them to sources of local food. Local vendors have the opportunity to run a loyalty program through LocalSqr, like a virtual “buy 10 get 1 free card.” Because we can ‘track’ peoples purchases of local food, we can reward them for doing so through reduced insurance premiums, employee sponsored rewards and discounts/deals from local and national businesses,” says founder Alastair Greer. They can also also healthier recipes into employee cafeterias and help companies source local food. WellBe Solutions tested the initiative with Saks Fifth Avenue employees in New York last fall and are rolling it out to 12,500 employees at their national locations this month.

Some of these workplace CSAs are initiated by employers, but others have been spearheaded by employees themselves. If you’re interested in starting one where you work, here’s a comprehensive guide developed by North Carolina State University.

Sustainable America supports CSAs and other initiatives that help to increase the production of local, fresh food and make it more convenient for people to participate in their local food systems. Our goal is to increase the availability of food in America 50% by 2035 by increasing the production of sustainable food in America while simultaneously decreasing food waste.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.