The Inland Empire Resource Conservation District (RCD), in partnership with Huerta del Valle Community Garden (HdV), worked to increase the effectiveness and reach of HdV’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSA programs are designed to offer weekly boxes of fresh produce at a set cost using produce grown seasonally at the farm.
CSA programs offer a great opportunity to introduce members to new vegetables and fruits as the boxes often contain less common produce items. The community surrounding HdV is primarily low-income and the surrounding region is considered a food desert. In order to increase access to healthy, local and organic produce, HdV began a low-income CSA program as a means of encouraging all residents to participate in urban agriculture and nutritional eating regardless of economic, cultural and social classifications.
A CSA coordinator was hired to work on expanding the low-income CSA and enroll new members. At the start, there were 10 families enrolled; a year later, over 40 families were being served by the program. In order to offer the boxes to community members at highly affordable rates, the CSA was also made available to community members who could afford a full-priced box. Each full-priced box allowed for a subsidized box that could then be offered to a community member in need. The coordinator took steps to ensure families had nutritional information on the contents of the box, healthy recipes for how to use the produce, and opportunities to provide feedback on what they would like to see in the CSA. Staff worked closely with the farmers to help plan the crop rotations to ensure produce was matching the demands of the CSA. The program will continue to grow and improve in future years.
In addition to expanding and improving the CSA program, another goal was to engage CSA members and other community members in nutritional workshops. Over the course of the year, the district offered four workshops ranging from herbal remedies, nutritional cooking classes, and a workshop on making refrigerator pickles. For each of these workshops, there were close to 60 attendees, and community members were consistently asking for more workshop opportunities. Each workshop was led by expert community partners, which guaranteed attendees were getting the best possible information while allowing the district and HdV to develop lasting partnerships.
The last goal was to work closely with farmers to encourage them to become involved in the CSA program, while also introducing them to programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve soil health, irrigation efficiency and other natural resources concerns. District staff organized four workshops throughout the year for farmers focusing on topics including pest management, soil health and irrigation water management. Through the connections at these workshops, NRCS developed conservation plans for seven new farmers, several of whom received funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
This project year has been invaluable both for the district and HdV in growing the CSA and connecting with community members and farmers. Several steps have been taken to ensure continued success for these projects. Additional funds have been secured for a coordinator, and through lessons learned this year, it is expected future sales from the CSA will primarily fund the position.
Through the four nutritional workshops offered this year, new partnerships were developed with organizations whose missions are focused on nutrition. The district and HdV plan to continue offering nutritional courses with these partners including Master Food Preservers of San Bernardino County and Carmel Connections Foundation.
The Farmer Outreach workshops brought the district’s attention to how many underserved groups of farmers reside in the 1,300 square mile area. In order to provide more direct services, the district has hired technical staff who will work alongside NRCS staff on soil testing, irrigation water management training, technical assistance and program outreach.