Luther College offers CSA reimbursement program

Luther College's Center for Sustainable Community has partnered with local farmers to provide Luther faculty and staff the opportunity to participate in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and receive reimbursement for a portion of the share they choose to buy.

CSA has increasingly become a popular way for community members to access local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Consumers pay an up-front cost for a share, and in exchange receive weekly or bi-weekly boxes of produce for a specified amount of time, usually a summer season. CSAs come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate the needs and desires of customers. Some CSA farms even offer market shares where customers have the opportunity to select what they want from their CSA farm's stand at market.

When a Luther faculty or staff member purchases a CSA share, Luther will reimburse 50 percent of the cost, up to $100. In 2014 more than 25 percent of employees are taking advantage of this program.

According to Luther's 2012 Health Risk Assessment, 43 percent of Luther employees do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables on a regular basis. Since studies have shown eating more fruits and vegetables improves health, Luther hopes to decrease this number by making fresh food more available and affordable for employees through the program.

Participants of the program are required to engage in two food education events. Employees can take cooking classes that cover a variety of topics such as whole food smoothies, potluck pleasers and "Not your average quesadilla;" gardening classes that cover topics such as composting 101, saving seeds and techniques for extending the season; or engage in farm tours or work days like garlic harvesting and pulling onions. Food education events work to provide participants with new food experiences and also work to build community amongst faculty and staff working in different areas of campus.

Participation in the CSA reimbursement program has steadily increased since the pilot program in 2012, from 37 shares purchased in 2012 to 109 shares purchased in 2014. One outcome, based on 50 surveys conducted at the end of the 2013 season, is that 74 percent of the consumers increased their consumption of vegetables during the CSA season. 

Participants have said, "Being part of the CSA reimbursement program has been an incredibly positive experience. I am thankful for the wonderful classes I have been able to be a part of on top of the easy and affordable access to healthy, local food. I now know my farmer, have frozen pesto in my refrigerator and have learned to cook with vegetables I hadn't ever previously eaten."

Local CSA farms include River Root Farm, Patchwork Green, Canoe Creek Produce, Sweet Earth Farm and Annie's Gardens and Greens. These small farms enjoy the relationships they form and the support they receive from employees participating.

"The CSA Reimbursement program model that we have developed here at Luther is one way that we are working to promote wellness among employees. An increasing number of businesses across the country are recognizing the benefits of offering similar incentives to employees as a relatively low-cost way to bolster the consumption of more vegetables while also supporting local farmers," says Maren Stumme-Diers, sustainable foods educator at Luther.

Funding for the reimbursement program comes from Luther's Health Care Fund, the Center for Sustainable Communities and the Wellness Program.  

The mission of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Luther College is to promote sustainability and be a catalyst for change on campus and in the region through education, outreach and collaboration.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,500, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the bachelor of arts degree in 60 majors and preprofessional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college's website: www.luther.edu.