Alyssa Charney is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Red Lodge.
When I think about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), I usually think about communities supporting their local farmers through a commitment to purchase regular shares of produce throughout the season, taking on the risks and successes of the farm’s season. CSAs are essential to the infrastructure of local food systems, but recently Red Lodge has taken the concept of CSA to a whole new level.
With only a few weeks to go before the first farmers’ market, in the heat of the summer and growing season, our friend and local farmer, Dick Espenscheid, was faced with the unexpected departure of his garden manager. Four acres of garden were already planted, orders were already placed, and customers were excited for the locally grown, organic produce from Wholesome Foods. But without anyone to manage the garden, and with an overload of work on the ranch, Dick felt he had no choice but to let the garden go for the season.
Upon learning of the news, members of the Food Partnership Council refused to believe it. Driven by much more than our desire to eat good food all season, we wanted to support the land and the farmer who had already given so much to our community. Dick has always been generous to Red Lodge–donating his produce, his wisdom, and even his cattle’s manure to enrich our local food initiatives. And he tells the students I work with that he believes it is important to get healthy, local food into the school cafeteria because “the schools are the future.”
After many emails, phone calls, and a visit to the farm, Dick finally caved to our insistence on “saving the farm.” And so for the past few weeks, carloads of volunteers have left Red Lodge at 6AM to put in more than 120 hours of weeding, moving pipe, and harvesting for market. We work and laugh as we talk about “the great produce rescue of 2012” and how we are “liberating the vegetables” with each row we uncover, and at the end of the day, volunteers get to go home with bags of delicious vegetables they harvested themselves.
What struck me throughout this process, especially as I get ready to begin my second year as a FoodCorps member in Red Lodge, is how the motivation behind what I do on a daily basis has shifted from simply being part of my job description to being driven by my desire to support a food system and a community that I have very much become a part of.
This past Friday I was excited about the success of our first farmers’ market and about the beautiful community supported produce that Wholesome Foods was able to sell. But about ten minutes into the market, the park’s sprinkler system went off, aimed directly at many of the booths. The response was incredible. Customers, vendors, and volunteers lunged across the grass to cover up the sprinklers with whatever they could find. Shopping bags. Trash cans. Buckets. Bare hands.
The absurd image couldn’t have been more illustrative of the way this community has stepped up when a need presented itself. Whatever challenges this next year may bring, I’m confident in Red Lodge’s ability to pull weeds for hours, dive to stop sprinklers, and give all that it takes to support our community’s local food system.