The partner distributor program offered through Brookford Farm is undoubtedly one of the coolest CSA formats I've seen. I love the organic nature of CSA sites - ranging from private homes to Crossfit gyms to farmers markets to places of business. It's a brilliant and efficient way to synergistically help local food reach more people. But there's one CSA situation that's especially noteworthy: the town of Salem, NH, where a portion of their employee wellness benefit is used to purchase fresh vegetables for employees. I recently had the opportunity to interview Molly McKean, Human Resources Director for the Town of Salem, and learn more about their program.
AP(That's me): Tell me about the CSA program for your town. How did it get started? How did the idea come to be?
MM (Molly McKean): The CSA program started in Salem when Jane Lang, of the Salem Farmers Market, asked me if employees might be interested in buying CSA shares. We thought it was a cool idea, and ended up talking about it with our health insurer, Cigna. They offered to let us use funds set aside for employee wellness to purchase shares to provide to employees and we decided to run with it.
AP: So how exactly does the wellness benefit work? Is it a benefit that most employers have, and something that other employers could easily implement in the same way? I'm curious how other companies might be putting their wellness benefit to use, or if it is something that tends to be underutilized?
MM: Our Wellness benefit is a specific amount of money set aside by Cigna for Wellness initiatives. We partner with them to decide what to do over the course of a year. Examples of initiatives include the CSA (of course!) and onsite Biometric Screening Clinics, seminars, employee incentives and educational programs.
AP: How many vegetable shares do you purchase with the benefit? How many employees do the shares provide food for?
MM: We started out with 6, and we spread them around to different departments. The only complaint was that there wasn’t enough, so now we are up to 12 shares. We have over 200 employees, so employees are not generally getting a huge amount of food, but they are able to sample and try new things, or take home enough to serve with dinner that night.
AP: How are the shares split up among employees? Has it taken trial and error to find a system that works?
MM: I’ve been pleasantly surprised that we haven’t had any veggie fights yet! We distribute the boxes to different departments (Police, Fire, Water, Library, Highway, Senior Center and Town Hall), and employees come take what they want. Our Fire Department cooks meals onsite, so most of their three boxes get used during that week. In other departments, employees take things home. People are good about not taking too much, and also good about checking back at the end of the day to make sure there are no “straggler” vegetables left behind. If we end up with extra, we usually take it over to the Fire Department – there are some good cooks over there, and they make smoothies with leftover kale.
AP: How have employees reacted to the program?
MM: They really like it. It is a fun thing to see what is in the boxes, but it doesn’t take a lot of time away from work, and they get to try things they might not buy for themselves. Sometimes we spend some time trying to figure out what things are. The ramps and kohlrabi provided some entertainment. The most popular items are strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and basil.
AP: Have there been any unexpected results from implementing this program?
MM: One of our Selectmen, Everett McBride, shared his Kale Salad recipe, and it got a lot of rave reviews! (See below for recipe)
AP: I host a CSA pickup site at my house, and always enjoy talking to people about the new foods they discover through the CSA. Has this program prompted people to try new foods, share recipes, become more interested in eating locally/seasonally, etc?
MM: Definitely. Many employees live locally, and so they go to the Salem Farmers Market to buy things from the farm there. People talk about what they did with last week’s veggies, and when tomatoes are in season, everyone is in a really great mood!
AP: Anything else you'd like to share about the program?
MM: I love this program. It has been a lot of fun to provide a little perk to employees that can positively impact their health. I like that it engages us with our community and with supporting a New Hampshire farm. We are really happy with it, and I’d recommend it to any workplace as a fun and healthy morale booster.
If you are an employer that would like to offer a similar program at your place of work, please let the farm know! And if you're an employee who wishes your employer would bring in some fresh, local food for employees, share this post with them!