Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News
It’s been seven years since I first wrote about Community Supported Enterprises (CSE), where individuals contribute money to a business and receive products or services — for themselves or their community — sometime in the future. It’s time to dust off that article and highlight some new CSE examples both near and far. I’d love to see more entrepreneurs in our region explore the CSE model as a tool for financing their business while strengthening community.
You may be familiar with one type of CSE, Community Supported Agriculture, but there are also CSBs, CSFs, CSRs and more — a whole alphabet soup of community support.
Community Supported Agriculture
First, a refresher on the CSA model. Community Supported Agriculture works like this: an individual or family purchases a share from a farmer — before the growing season begins — in exchange for a portion of the harvest usually picked up weekly. This model provides farmers with cash upfront to help pay for seeds, compost, and other needed supplies for the coming growing season.
As a CSA member, individuals cultivate a closer connection to a farmer and experience some of the realities of farming — how weather, disease and other variables affect crop quantities and quality, and how much work goes into bringing food from the farm to the plate. Members also broaden their palette for local food, trying different types of produce in new ways thanks to recipe suggestions from the farmer and fellow CSA members.
Community Supported Art
Another brand of CSA is Community Supported Art. Locally, the now-closed Sharon Arts Center offered CSA shares back in 2013. Beyond our state lines, ArtCrop in Saint Paul and Minneapolis, MN provides a unique CSA example. ArtCrop combines two types of CSAs (art and agriculture) into one by partnering with Hmong American Farmers Association farmers and local Hmong artists
to offer shares of both art and food to its members.
From ArtCrop’s website (artcrop.co): “Traditionally, Hmong farmers turned to their artistry in the winter months. Farmers were artists. Artists were farmers. From handmade textile and crafts to hand-grown foods that create our own distinct flavors and recipes, Hmong people have always captured our journeys through art and farming. When you sign up to join the CSA, you’re not only lifting up over 130 Hmong farmers and artists; you’re also building up wealth, community and culture for future generations.”
Interested in exploring Community Support Art more? Download this toolkit.
Community Supported Brewery
Moving on now to a CSB or Community Supported Brewery, Mobcraft Beer in Milwaukee, WI asks individuals to submit their favorite beer ideas. The brewers figure out the recipes, post each idea on their website and then put it out for a vote. Individuals cast their votes by making a pre-order of their favorites. The recipe with the most pre-orders gets made and those that pre-ordered get a pack of that batch. Learn more.
Community Supported Fisheries
Here’s the next CSE model: Community Supported Fisheries. Instead of a share of produce, CSF members receive — you guessed it — fish! (And other seafood too.) In New Hampshire, 98% of fish caught along our 13 miles of seacoast leaves the state. A CSF in Portsmouth, called New Hampshire Community Seafood, is working to change this statistic by connecting fisheries directly to NH eaters. NH Community Seafood also tries to drive consumer demand towards more sustainable types of fish. They encourage CSF members to try dogfish — a fish popular in Britain as “Fish and Chips” — by adding it to members’ weekly share along with information and recipes about this fish species. Read more.
Community Supported Organizer
A CSO is a Community Supported Organizer. Back in 2015, Carlo Voli worked as a CSO to push back on fossil fuels and climate change. Twenty-six supporters contributed $10-$150 a month to back Carlo’s efforts. The funding empowered him to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The Backbone Campaign, an organization that promotes CSOs, explains, “Being a CSO provides a way for a self-directed change agent to be innovative and responsive to emergent opportunities. They are not constrained by an organizational bureaucracy directed from afar. They are not locked into an inflexible plan or narrow mission. A CSO is accountable only to a diverse community of sustaining donors from whom they crowdsource recurring donations.” Discover more.
Community Supported Restaurants
Next up, Community Supported Restaurants. (It sure is hard to steer far from food when talking about Community Supported Enterprises!) The Gleanery in Putney, VT is one nearby example. Before opening, The Gleanery asked individuals to purchase CSR shares to provide start-up capital for this business. Members, in turn, received monthly food credits. View more.
Community Supported Retail
Finally, we turn to Community Supported Retail. In the Adirondacks of New York State there’s a department store called The Village Mercantile. It’s supported by 700+ individuals who bought shares in the company for $100 each. When the Ames Store in their town closed, community members came together to fill a void (the nearest department store was 50 miles away). “[We wanted to] take control of our future and help our community,” said Melinda L
ittle, Founding Board Member of The Village Mercantile. “The idea was, this is an investment in the community as well as the store.” The community opened its 4,000 square foot store in 2011. Learn more.
Now we ask you: What needs could a Community Supported Enterprises meet in our community? Which existing CSEs could you support more? CSEs are really about community supporting community. And in the words of Wendell Berry, “A good community insures itself by trust, by good faith and good will, by mutual help. A good community, in other words, is a good local economy.” Let’s build that good local economy together.