Farm to Office: Workplace CSA makes fresh and local easy

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story by Julianne MesaricIf you’re sitting at a desk, you most likely have a Post-it note slapped somewhere near your computer, maybe reminding you to pay your electric bill, attend that 11:30 meeting or pick up something for dinner. Last summer, over 650 employees from 18 corporations, nonprofits and public agencies in Greater Philadelphia changed their Post-its to something like: “Farm share delivery in the office today: blackberries, grape tomatoes, peaches and mint!”

 As members of the Delaware Valley Farm Share program, these employees enjoyed fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs from local sustainably-minded farms delivered directly to their office twice a week from May to November. This summer, the DVFS is inviting more businesses to take advantage of this great program, alongside current member organizations like the City of Philadelphia, the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University and Independence Blue Cross.

A partnership between Common Market, which is a distributor of regional farm foods to large private and public institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region, and Farm to City, which connects regional farmers with consumer groups, the DVFS program was developed with two prominent social models in mind: community supported agriculture (CSA) and corporate social responsibility. The former helps companies achieve the latter by facilitating health and wellness among employees, strengthening links in their community and safeguarding the environment.

The CSA model sprouted in the U.S. in the 1980s amid concerns about food safety, diminishing availability of local food and the migration of farmers to cities as small farms became less viable. CSAs help provide financial security to small farmers. In a traditional CSA, individuals pay an upfront sum, usually several hundred dollars, for a weekly or bi-weekly share of farm produce to be picked up at a designated location. The CSA model helps alleviate the pressures of upfront costs faced by farmers at the beginning of the growing season, while increasing consumer access to farm direct produce. But it is not without drawbacks for some.

Many people are unfamiliar with CSAs, or unsure of how to connect with one, according to Sonja Claxton, Organizational Wellness Manager for DVFS, and former site coordinator for a company that participated in the program (see sidebar). Additionally, many people find it difficult to pay upfront for a farm share. Another common obstacle is long commutes, which can mean missing the pickup times set by CSA distribution locations.

“Before working for Common Market, I was commuting an hour each way between West Philadelphia and Wayne,” says Claxton. “Many days I got home at 7 p.m., so even if I could have afforded to buy into a CSA, I would have been too late to pick it up. Many people I talk with have this issue.”

With these challenges in mind, Common Market and Farm to City designed a logical framework for DVFS. This modified CSA model makes it convenient for working professionals to buy into a farm share.

The program offers members payment plans and payroll deductions (about $27 each delivery week, with an option to add on a dairy share for $11). Deliveries are made directly to the offices of participating organizations, in the city or the suburbs. Delivery days evoke a community feeling not unlike that at a humming farmers market on the weekend. As an added bonus, by involving multiple farmers, DVFS minimizes some of the uncertainty of supply that can come with depending on a single farm, as many CSAs do. And while the actual farmers aren’t present, their involvement is reflected through relevant recipes and write-ups that are distributed with each share (along with a copy of Grid).

In order to join the DVFS, employers within the city must have at least 20 employee participants; 40 if the office is outside of Philadelphia. Each office appoints an employee as a site coordinator, Common Market’s point person for the company. Site coordinators get free shares for the season, and there is no cost to employers to join the program.

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“This model killed so many birds with one stone,” says Claxton. “What’s awesome about DVFS is that it is employee-driven; it’s a grassroots employee wellness program. Human resources loves it.”

The program is a natural fit for organizations that exercise corporate social responsibility because it is in line with the values of a clean environment, engaged consumers, healthy employees and viable communities. Economists predict that the most successful businesses will be those who embrace these social responsibilities. Today, health and wellness programs for employees are a big part of many corporate social responsibility plans.

“Companies are placing more emphasis on health and wellness due to the growth in health care spending and as a way to contain medical costs,” says Josephine Hayes, Senior Human Resources Business Partner and Wellness Coordinator for Philadelphia Gas Works, and a DVFS member. “In fact, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [PPACA] includes wellness incentives for companies.”

Shire Pharmaceuticals in Wayne, PA has over 70 employees participating in DVFS, and reimburses those employees up to $350 of the cost of participation under the company’s Healthy Lifestyle employee benefit.

Beyond the buzzwords, health and wellness programs have been proven effective at lowering employer health care costs while increasing productivity, morale and loyalty. All of this makes supporting DVFS a smart move for employers.

To join Delaware Valley Farm Share, contact info@dvfarmshare.org or 215-275-3435 x10. For more information, visit dvfarmshare.org