Much has been written during the pandemic about the increased popularity of community supported agriculture, commonly referred to as CSA. On this week’s Special Sauce, we had a far-reaching conversation with Maggie Cheney, one of the owners of Rock Steady Farm, which is part of a special kind of CSA.
Rock Steady describes itself as a women and queer owned cooperative farm, rooted in social justice, growing sustainable vegetables, flowers, and herbs for our upstate and NYC communities. As you will hear, Maggie and her partners have withstood the many challenges they have encountered during the pandemic with sheer determination, a lot of hard work, and the support, both financial and otherwise, of the communities they serve. But it has not been easy.
Rounding out the episode is another Ask Kenji segment. This time Kenji answers a Serious Eater’s question about the whys and wherefores of salting vegetables like cucumbers and eggplant before cooking them. I don’t want to give away too much of his answer, but I will tell you that water balloons are repeatedly mentioned.
So there you have it, our very first all-vegetable Special Sauce, and it’s inspiring, surprising, and informative.
Please stay safe and healthy, Serious Eaters. And I hope you don’t mind me reminding you yet again that the pandemic dictates that we should do everything we can at this perilous moment to support both local restaurants, like Kenji’s Wursthall in San Mateo, CA, and farmers like Maggie Cheney. So long, we’ll see you next time.
Production note: With everyone hunkered down in place we are no longer able to record Special Sauce in a fully equipped studio with an experienced and skilled engineer. So if the sound quality of this episode isn’t up to snuff, know that we are working on all aspects of the production within the context of the new reality we’re all living in. Better things and better sound lie ahead.
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Ed Levine: During the pandemic much has been written about the increased popularity of CSAs (Community-Supported-Agriculture).On this week’s Special Sauce we had a far-reaching conversation with Maggie Cheney, one of the owners of Rock Steady Farm, which is part of a special kind of CSA. Rock Steady describes itself as a women and queer owned cooperative farm, rooted in social justice, growing sustainable vegetables, flowers and herbs for our upstate and NYC communities. As you will hear Maggie and her partners have withstood the many challenges they have encountered during the pandemic with sheer determination, a lot of hard work, and the support both financial and otherwise of the communities they serve. But it has not been easy. Rounding out the episode is another Ask Kenji segment. This time Kenji answers a Serious Eater’s question about the whys and wherefores of salting vegetables like cucumbers and eggplant before cooking them. I don’t want to give away too much of his answer, but I will tell you that water balloons are repeatedly mentioned. But first Serious Eaters, meet the extraordinary Maggie Cheney.
EL: So, first of all, tell us who you are and what you do.
Maggie Cheney: So my name is Maggie Cheney. I am one of the co-owners and vegetable farmers at Rock Steady Farm. So Rock Steady is a LGBTQ-owned and operated farm. We’ve been around for five years, so we’re still a pretty infant farm when it comes to a lot of other farms. We’re babies. We grow sustainable vegetables for a 380-person CSA in New York City as well as upstate. We also have creative partnerships with nonprofits, food pantries, and health clinics so that we’re serving lower income people as well as HIV/AIDS people in New York City. We also sell wholesale to large scale restaurant groups. We are also in a lot of intentional kind of community building within our own staff and trying to create a space where LGBTQ people can come from all over the country and feel like they can be themselves in a workplace. I think that that mission work of centering the farmer is something we’re really intentional about and leaning into more and more so that we’re not just constantly thinking about the consumer, the consumer, the consumer, but also, what are opportunities for each other and the cooperative model built that way so that there can be a lot of professional development and skill building.
EL: You have a sliding scale, right? You have people that don’t pay anything for their CSA boxes, right?
MC: Yes. Yeah. We have a sliding scale that’s made possible through higher income consumers paying more for their boxes, and that offsets the boxes for lower income people. So there’s that as well as we receive donations through a fiscal sponsorship so that we can get 501(c)(3) grants and individual donations. That goes into a food access fund and allows us to give fully subsidized shares to even broader amount of people. So some of our sites are completely subsidized, and some of them are partially.
EL: Can you give me a succinct explanation of how CSAs work? I know, but it’d be great for Special Sauce listeners to understand.
MC: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. So Community Supported Agriculture, CSA. The more traditional understanding of it is that there’s an upfront commitment from the consumer to receive weekly vegetables for 20 to 30 weeks, depending. That relationship is built on mutual trust where the consumer pays the farmer either all upfront, and so there’s a trust like, “Okay. I’m going to trust you with my money. I’m going to trust that you’re going to deliver every week.”
MC: Then, also, there’s different models like ours where we have payment plans. So there’s ways that you can get paid monthly, but there’s still that commitment. There’s still a signed contract that you can trust that we’re going to sign up and receive your food all year round. What they receive on their end is weekly a box of vegetables and fruits. Sometimes there’s eggs and meat. We do a full-diet CSA, so we collaborate with other farmers who provide the eggs, meat, cheese, yogurt. They usually get, depending on the size box, they can get six items, diversified items in their box or eight to 10 items with a larger share.
MC: What’s great is that it’s up to the farmer…
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