What would you do with five carrots, a quart of new potatoes, a pint of cherry tomatoes, two bell peppers, a bunch of arugula, a dozen eggs and a bag full of some odd looking vegetable which you can no more pronounce the name of than guess a use for? Get a share in a CSA and you may end up asking yourself that question.
Community Supported Agriculture, CSA for short, is an arrangement where customers support a local farm by paying at the beginning of a season for a share of the season’s produce. At its best the CSA benefits both the farmer, who gets the assurance of a timely income to insulate him from the ups and downs of farming, and the customer, who gets a steady but varied supply of fresh, nourishing, local produce.
But CSA’s are not without their risks. If the weather is bad, if there’s a crop failure, if the foxes get your chickens the farmer and customer are left trying to make the most of a scanty supply of eggs and an abundant supply of zucchini, because there will always be zucchini.
Let me tell you, as someone who has eaten at McDonalds and who has participated in CSA's, what some of the differences are.
Hunger might make you pull into the drive-thru, but it takes a real desire to have a new relationship with food for you to sign up for a CSA.
When it comes to fast food you are a consumer, and when it comes to the CSA you are a participant.
At the fast food restaurant you can choose whatever you want off a menu you had no say in developing. With a CSA you get whatever the farmer provides (and nature permits) from a range of possibilities that you had some input into.
With a fast food restaurant you get the comfort of consistency: your order will look and taste the same at any franchise in any season. With the CSA you have the charms and the challenges of variability, surprise, and seasonality: you must savor the fleeting blueberries and gamely accept the enduring rutabagas.
Fast food often pleases better than it nourishes, and CSA’s often do a better job of nourishing than pleasing.
Fast food involves no more effort than what’s required to eat the food and tip the tray into the waste bin. The arrival of your CSA order is the beginning of a great deal of effort: researching vegetables, looking up recipes, paring and peeling, cooking meals, putting produce up.
There are plenty of differences. And none of this is to suggest that one approach to feeding people is superior to the other. Many people live in places where only one or the other approach is an option, while others happily take advantage of both. But if you are someone who is interested in feeding hungry people you cannot be both a fast food restaurant and a CSA.
And this brings us to church.
For generations and generations most people related to their community of faith along the lines of a CSA. They bought into the church, they subscribed, because they knew that the church needed their support to thrive and that a thriving church was essential to their own flourishing and that of their family and community. If there were spiritual seasons of abundance they would enjoy that bounty with the other members of the church. And if there were spiritual seasons of drought they would make that deprivation lighter by sharing it no less equally.
The CSA approach to church meant that their preferences were only sometimes gratified. They had to make do with the share that the farmer/pastor gave them. And when they received that share it became apparent that all the work that had been done in the field would have to be met by a corresponding work in the kitchen if the value of the arrangement was to be fully realized. The pastor/parishioner relationship was not transactional and couldn’t afford any passivity on either end.
But the same cultural forces that led to the rise of fast food restaurants resulted in the “McDonaldization” of American Christianity. People wanted efficiency, consistency, ease of consumption, and value. The old model of church did not provide those things.
And so churches became programmatic franchisees and their parishioners became customers who came to order, a la carte, from glossy menus that were all very similar. And there were lots and lots of good things that came from that approach. Many thousands of souls have been “called out of darkness and into his marvelous light” through the ministry of such churches. And it has been, consciously or not, the model on which we have operated,more or less.
But if this cultural moment gives us a unique opportunity to reconsider and recast our church, maybe we should give some thought to going back to the historic approach, to being a spiritual CSA with a life giving “farm stand” on main street.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog