What is a CSK? : January 2011
This is long overdue. Folks ask me all the time what does Community Supported Kitchen mean? I know that for the sake of marketing purposes I am supposed to get that down to a few sentences that would encompass the whole biz and that ain’t easy. It’s not a soup kitchen, it’s not an incubator kitchen, and it’s not even really a shared kitchen. It is community supported by virtue of being driven by community labor to serve community need by selling products and information to a local community of eaters! In truth, Community Supported Businesses are on the rise, because of the demand to seek greater support from the community, during a difficult economy, to share the burden of business development. Even in business there are seasons of growth: feast or famine! The one thing we have in common, as community supported businesses, is asking for the community to participate in the life cycle of a business itself as was demonstrated in the initial Community Supported Agriculture model, introduced in 1986! But Community Kitchens go back even farther to the aspirations of Eleanor Roosevelt whose crusade for low cost cooking, that included fresh and nutritious ingredients in simple preparations, goes back as far as the Great Depression.
The commitment to participate is just one small formality of the process. A CSK becomes a living animal that integrates tradition, local economies, community and learning. It is futuristic in this way because the model seeks to include not only its customers but everyone in an effort to create a reflection of healthy communities. This process means that it becomes a space for folks to meet their fellow community members around a common hearth and as such destroy this very American illusion that independence is sustainable. In community, we create our right to healthcare, our right to free speech, as a matter of mutual respect rather than law, and in doing so honor the generations that came before us as well as those that are yet to come. We honor our place in a grand system of interrelated wisdom and relationships as members of humanity and this is only a tiny window into seeing how that walks, talks breathes and feels.
This kitchen, for me, is certainly a business. It is what allows me a livelihood and I honestly believe it is integral to the integrity of the kitchen that it be so. To create a model that would help create professional identities for me and employees and volunteers and customers and farmers is important to a sense of purpose and responsibility to one another as we work to create seasonal menus and continued success on a multitude of levels.
So it’s not easy to explain…the main focus of the business is selling memberships to the CSK Club, which is a weekly box of prepared foods. Those foods are sourced locally from farmers with faces and families. These menus are intended to reflect our regional food heritage as well as the seasons. By working in collaboration with Mother Nature we ready ourselves to endure the challenges that come with living in this part of the country.
But then there’s more…there exists a traditional wisdom in any cultural style of eating that is important to healing our bodies and creating balance within and without. It is a system of restoration via proper food preparation techniques that continues to prove its value and heal even those illnesses that have developed with the industrialization of our country and the stress of our modern lives (i.e.: mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, autism, digestive disorders, etc.). In this way, it is a ritualistic wisdom that reflects the tides of change we experience in our life cycles — respectively and in community. It would be ridiculous to believe that we could supersede that kind of ancestral wisdom in a few generations of experimental civilization. Much of the fatalism of our industrialized food culture survives on the mythology that there is no connection between what we eat and our health. These weekly boxes of food honor that older wisdom, represented in the menus as a variety of cultural food traditions and vary weekly. Though the kind of menu is set – there is always room to customize your experience of the boxes with additions/substitutions from the pantry. It is meant to help the process of eating at home to be something nourishing and shared – get all kinds of families back to the table. We have given up our experiences of food and made them something distant rather than something necessary daily and done in community. We have taken away our ability to feed and heal ourselves in simple ways and these boxes are a tiny step in bringing that into the modern world. They are not exclusive menus and are meant to be added to with fresh ingredients, setting the stage for your own menu planning and creative food experiments — but in such a way that you’re guaranteed nutrition. The more folks participate, the more this is able to expand in variety and cost accessibility.
Outside of this comes the volunteering, the classes, the community meals and events – other places for people to come together, to teach and share information – not only with one another as consumers, but also the cottage artisans, the farmers, the food advocates, the teachers, the doctors and other members of our food economy that offer hopeful and sustainable solutions to the health and environmental crises we face. We are not the community of island universes that we have become. We are so much stronger, patient and healthy in collaboration and the more ways we participate in experiences as a community the more we foster proof of a changing world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to develop such a business. I am thrilled every day to go to work as I engage and offer what I can to the local food movement. As my knowledge grows, so does that of every person that comes into my kitchen in some form or another. Thank you for your help in making this possible, available and accessible.