Serious Green: Community Supported Kitchens

"A CSK doesn't just deliver local, sustainable product, it provides you with a ready-to-eat meal."

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[Flickr: Neighborhood Notes]

You try your best to be green, buying local when you can, recycling, conserving water, the list goes on. But when it comes to participating in a Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) share, you stop short. Unknown quantities of a random assortment of vegetables piling up on you week after week? Eeek.

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If this sounds like you, or maybe you don't like too cook or find it too time-consuming or too isolating, Community Supported Kitchens to the rescue!

A Community Supported Kitchen (CSK) is a new idea to connect farmers and eaters, especially those eaters who wand to eat locally, but currently don't. CSKs are a totally new model: they're not a catering company and not quite a private home chef. These cooperative kitchens take away the mystery of what to do with those vegetables and all the cooking that comes along with them. They buy fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs from local farms and transform them into meals for sale to that same community, all the while using super-high standards for environmental stewardship.

A CSK moves beyond the original idea of buying into a share of a farmer's harvest or even the second-wave idea of buying into a share of bacon, preserves, pie, or fish.

Instead of buying into the vegetables from a CSA, you're buying into the prepared food made from those same vegetables. A CSK doesn't just deliver local, sustainable product, it provides you with a ready-to-eat meal.

The CSKs below all emphasize a sustainable model for producing prepared food and meals on a community scale, not on a corporate or home scale. The people behind the kitchens encourage members to get involved and stress that preparing and sharing food is an important human activity, an essential part of any community.

And yes, it's expensive. And no, this is not the answer to getting fresh, local, sustainable food to all people, regardless of income or socio-economic level. But, it is a new way to get more people eating good food and for communities to feed themselves.

Here are four CSKs in different parts of the U.S.

Three Stone Hearth: Berkeley, CA

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[Photographs: Linsey Herman]

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Sauerkrauting. [Flickr: cheeseslave]

Berkeley's Three Stone Hearth, was the first CSK and has paved the way for others around the U.S. It's run by five worker-owners along with a slew of apprentices, interns, and volunteers.

The kitchen adheres to the dietary ideas of the Weston A. Price foundation. They follow a model of using nutrient dense, local foods including: traditional fats, fermented foods, raw and cultured dairy products, soaked or sprouted whole grains, unrefined sweeteners, animal products from pastured livestock, and avoid processed and chemical ingredients.

All food is packaged in reusable containers, like mason jars. Some of this week's menu includes: beef barley stew with mushrooms, split pea soup with bacon and pork broth, three bean salad with pickled peppers, pink passion sauerkraut, and nectarine raspberry crisp. Along with the meals, customers can order specialty products and pantry items like fermented sodas, local cheese, multi-grain crackers, and coconut oil. Food can be picked up on-site, at drop-off sites, or delivered door-to-door.

Here is an in-depth 30-minute video on the workings of the kitchen:

Salt, Fire & Time: Portland, OR

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[Flickr: Neighborhood Notes]

Salt, Fire & Time was started by a former apprentice of the Three Stone Hearth kitchen in Berkeley. This CSK offers similarly delicious, traditional food options organized around a weekly pick-up at their kitchen. In addition to meal options like lamb burgers and beet salad with citrus and vanilla, Salt, Fire & Time sells snacks like crystallized ginger-date truffles and spiced almonds. They also organize seasonal community feasts, classes, and volunteer opportunities.

Sweet Deliverance: New York, NY

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Kelly Geary is the one-woman powerhouse behind Sweet Deliverance. Geary trained at Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Little Giant but felt she was missing a connection with the farmers growing the food she was cooking and people eating the food she was making.

So she teamed up with Hearty Roots Farm and Paisley Farm to bring busy New Yorkers healthy, hearty food like shepherd's pie with caramelized onions and cheddar smashed potatoes, citrus roasted beets, and pear and cardamom tart. A 12-week basic share starts at $265 along with a delivery fee. Geary also offers special packages to help keep new moms healthy and full. Sweet Deliverance delivers to your doorstep (if your doorstep is in Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, or the Bronx).

Here is a short video of Kelly taking the food from the field, to the kitchen, and finally packing it all up for delivery:

Local Sprouts Cooperative: Portland, ME

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The worker-owned Local Sprouts CSK started in 2007. They offer "Local Choice" memberships, allowing you to pick and choose when and what food you want or a "Seasonal Membership" where you pre-pay for a week's worth of food for the season. A Seasonal Membership for two costs $384.

The weekly menu for pick-up might include carrot ginger soup, Southern style greens with bacon, roasted tomato and garlic haddock over homemade herb pasta, and baked apples for dessert. All food is packaged in reusable fabric bags, boxes, and glass jars. Local Sprouts also has opportunities for worker members, who can work in exchange for food credit. Local Sprouts is opening a Community Supported Cafe in 2010, which will feature a local foods menu, community events and workshops, local food retail, and art.

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