Restaurants are not just places we go to for a well-cooked meal. Chefs are not just good cooks whose talents are limited to the kitchen. The very best chefs are also curators of the finest foods available; their restaurants are the last link in a deep supply chain connecting us to our food. A supply chain that includes a community of farmers, growers, and artisans.
When measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 forced restaurants across the country to halt dine-in operations, a ripple was felt throughout this supply chain. Produce and livestock farms, fishermen, and so many others saw their customers, and in some cases their main sources of revenue, disappear overnight. In a matter of days, businesses had to reassess everything. Some were small enough or diversified enough to find new streams of cash flow while others face a much more challenging road ahead.
The lucky ones see some hope in the rise of direct to consumer sales, commonly referred to as community supported agriculture, or CSA. This 80s-era concept is re-gaining popularity as a result of the pandemic. It’s one way that smaller, family-owned farms may have a shot at surviving the disruption. But the benefits of community supported agriculture aren’t limited to the farmer. As any chef worth their salt will say, good food needs good ingredients.
Technically, CSAs are farm shares in which people “invest." Farms request a one-time up-front fee to cover expenses for the duration of the growing season, and in return, customers receive their share of seasonal, local, and typically organic farm-fresh goods. As with most investments, there is inherent risk to the arrangement — a bad crop or unseasonable draught, for example — but the model is meant to empower farmers and promote sustainable food systems.
CSAs were popularized in the US in the 80s and went mainstream alongside the farm-to-table movement. They were modeled after programs from Germany and Switzerland, but the ideology is also seen in the 70’s Japanese teikei movement and oft-overlooked African-American agricultural practices from the 60s. Today, CSA is a loose term applied to a multitude of arrangements. Farmers are evolving the model in new ways with weekly purchasing, a la carte and retail-style online ordering, and add-ons like meat, eggs, flowers, and baked goods.
For the first time, The MICHELIN Guide is launching a CSA-inspired pilot program in partnership with the upstate NY-based Norwich Meadows Farm. A limited number of boxes filled with produce that typically goes straight to the kitchens of Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern (and so many more) will be available for home delivery in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Chicago-based booking platform Tock will be the ordering hub for the program, which launches in early June.
Zaid Kurdieh is the owner of Norwich Meadows Farm and one of the region’s most sought-after growers. He plants over 1,000 varieties of produce at his certified-organic farm about three hours from Manhattan. Kurdieh has close relationships with the city’s top chefs and often grows special request crops that end up on the city’s most ambitious menus. He is also a star seller at the Union Square Greenmarket where home cooks shop alongside chefs for the very best locally grown produce.
For The MICHELIN Guide’s pilot CSA program, Kurdieh’s team will pack each box with a selection of his farm’s best produce alongside curated goods from a network of regional farmers and artisans. Items such as eggs, dairy, beans, flour, honey, and bread. As with most CSA shares, the exact contents of the boxes are never guaranteed, but typical produce at the tail end of spring might include asparagus, pea shoots, and rhubarb. The boxes will be carefully assembled and delivered contact-free, ensuring the safety of everyone involved.
Not only will the program support family-owned farms and artisans who have been affected by the pandemic, but thirty percent of the proceeds from each box sold will go to providing fresh food for Citymeals on Wheels and God’s Love We Deliver. Two critical organizations working to address food insecurity among underserved communities.
If restaurants are the last link in our food supply chain, then farms are the first. Their existence fuels every great meal and enables every accompanying memory. Join us as we support the growers and makers who continue to nourish and support us all.
For details on the program, including how to order, visit the hub at Tock.
Read our Q&A with Norwich Meadows Farm owner Zaid Kurdieh here.
Find more information about Citymeals on Wheels and God’s Love We Deliver here.
The Michelin Guide and Norwich Meadows Farm CSA pilot program is currently only available for delivery in Manhattan. To explore CSA programs in your area, try searching https://www.localharvest.org/csa/.
Hero Image: The MICHELIIN Guide and Norwich Meadows Farm CSA. Photo by Chia Messina.