With CSA, UUFR is building new community bonds

It was fall of 2020, and after months of pandemic and toxic politics, Donna Doran needed something positive in her life. That’s when she heard about a local nonprofit’s work to give farmers of color and women farmers new markets for their produce, by pairing them with faith communities.

“It just grabbed me from early on,” Donna says. “I think it was the thought of things growing. It was election time. I was so tired of being angry.”

So she threw herself into making UUFR a part of this new initiative and, thanks to the efforts of many, UUFR now has a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Each season, UUFR friends and members can sign up to buy a produce share from Rocky Ridge Farm, a Louisburg farm run by husband and wife Steve and Elke McCalla. CSA members pick up their boxes of locally grown produce in the UUFR parking lot on Saturday mornings.

It’s a project that crosses boundaries, supporting both a Black-owned business and environmentally sustainable eating— and building community along the way. A new and enthusiastic team has formed at UUFR, and they’ve built relationships not just with Steve and Elke, but with several local farmers, a local nonprofit, and members of other congregations participating in the initiative, including Yavneh, the Jewish congregation that shares UUFR’s space.

Donna’s work to turn the CSA from an idea into a reality offers a lesson in how members can work within the UUFR community and network with others to serve the world.

First, she talked with RAFI-USA, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that works with farmers of color. Then, she put out the word to the Anti-Racism and Environmental Justice Ministry teams, hoping to find at least five people who were interested in helping begin the project at UUFR. (Read more about the Rule of Five for starting a new project at UUFR.)

She decided she’d let the idea go if no one was interested. Instead, emails poured in. Soon, she had more than a dozen active volunteers and 63 people who wanted a produce share. A new social justice project was born.

Steve McCalla of Rocky Ridge Farm

The project, new to all involved, has meant dealing with the unexpected. In the spring, the CSA’s first season in operation, Rocky Ridge had a late frost and a critter invasion that caused them to be short on produce some weeks.

But the CSA has enabled farmers Steve and Elke to improve their operation to meet future UUFR demand. At the same time, they’ve worked hard to build relationships with the people nourished by their land. They welcomed CSA members for a blessing of the land and are hosting a chestnut roasting event for members this month. They even attended one of UUFR’s Pullen Park parties.

Donna and her co-leader, Judi Egbert, say they hope the CSA will become an enduring part of UUFR’s social justice work.

“If people are only thinking about it in terms of dollar amount for product, that’s not really the intention,” Judi said. “Over decades, black farmers have been pushed out of the market and off the land. This is an opportunity to rebuild resources in a win-win way. Everybody gets something out of it.”

If you’re interested in buying a produce share, email Donna. Signups will begin in January for the spring produce season. In the meantime, watch for opportunities to visit the farms involved in the CSA.