“Four years ago, I realized we needed a model for an urban CSA,” says Craig Neal, founder and chief gardener of the Neighborhood Sponsored Garden (NSG) located in a backyard on Beard Ave. in Linden Hills.
Many of us have welcomed the delivery of fruits and vegetables that arrive each week when you own a share of a CSA. Usually, the growers own farms about an hour away, and for a fee to each subscriber, or “shareholder,” the farmers buy the seeds, grow the produce, and deliver each week into the city.
“Why not a Neighborhood CSA?” Neal asked. “You eliminate the environmental and financial expense: the driving, the gas, the time. Instead, your neighbors walk over on Saturday afternoon, so we all see each other once a week, catch up on the kids, you know, and then you walk home with a bag of groceries. Plus a bouquet of flowers.”
The concept is this, he says: “Hyperlocal, zero waste, everything recycled and repurposed. No pesticides of commercial fertilizers and we use biodynamic compost.And all the while we create community –because all of the shareholders live within 200 yards.
“NSG’s can be started by those who own their own home, love to garden, and want to be in community.”
How does it work?
“Friday we harvest; Saturday we wash/bag/bundle and deliver.”
He goes on to explain the details: the water bath, the sorting tables, the reusable bags that have lasted four years. He gives a tour of the plants: broccoli, kale, carrots and peas, micro-greens, tomatoes arugula, eggplant and cucumber... And flowers. There are flowers everywhere.
He points out one of the tall-growing orange blossoms. “Mexican Sunflowers. Monarchs love them more than anything. You’ll see a Monarch before you leave,” he says, and sure enough, before he can finish his next sentence, he points one out. Then he points to the garlic chives, which are buzzing with hundreds and hundreds of honeybees. “Garlic chives, they love them like no other plant.”
In September, when I ran into Craig at Woofstock, I was not surprised to hear he had a new endeavor; he and his wife Patricia Neal have been doing interesting and valuable things for years, including their work as co-founders of the Center for Purposeful Leadership.
I was also not surprised that this winter they’ll be creating a how-to manual and a website to start growing the concept of the NSG – the Neighborhood Sponsored Garden. “Patricia is very involved,” he says. “We’re partners. I’m ‘point’ for the vegetables, she’s point for the flowers and weekly newsletter.” And together, they have created a model that serves in three ways:
• Food Sufficiency
• Youth Involvement
The Kid’s Program welcomes their younger neighbors, who often show up on Fridays and Saturdays to learn and contribute. “The older kids have been coming for three/four years now,” he says, “and they get it. They now know more about the garden and where their vegetables come from. We spark lots of conversations.”
Neal estimates that a double-city-lot of this size maxes out production at about nine shares per year. These nine shares serve 40 people.
So, how does this pay? “Well,” he laughs, “we don’t get paid.”
“The economics of the deal is this: For $225 shareholders get a full share for one year. So, for 21 weeks in a row, you’ll get a bag of produce, and a bouquet of flowers. It’s roughly $10 a week. We try to break even at that number.”
“That $225 times nine equals roughly what I spend on seeds and water,” he says, with a smile.
Okay! So, who else can run a Neighborhood Sponsored Garden like this?
“Neighbor Sponsored Gardens are usually run by those who own their own home, who love to garden, and who want to be in community,” he says. “Patricia and I reap lots of benefits other than money, and we love it. It’s gardening. Sharing. Teaching. Welcome and belonging with our neighbors.” Feel free to call or text 612-281-1192.
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