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CSA for the Soul: The Emotional and Community Benefits of Joining a CSA

June 26, 2024

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CSA for the Soul: The Emotional and Community Benefits of Joining a CSA

The Call of the Carrot

I’ll admit, I’m not much of a chef. The idea of spending hours in the kitchen, chopping, sautéing, and experimenting with exotic ingredients has never really appealed to me. But one day, a few years ago, something shifted. Maybe it was a deeper craving for connection, or a yearning to feel more grounded in the rhythms of the natural world. Whatever the reason, the thought of joining a local farm share suddenly became irresistible to me.

After a bit of research, I settled on the perfect CSA (that’s “community-supported agriculture” for the uninitiated) – the right balance of vegetables, not too pricy, with a convenient delivery drop-off that came highly recommended by friends. Once a week, I’d journey up the hill to a friendly stranger’s front porch, where I’d find my large, dewy cardboard carton waiting for me among the others. Opening it up was like unwrapping a little gift, as I’d transfer the fresh, seasonal produce into my bag, identifying each item with a sense of wonder – bok choy, fennel, a leafy bundle of radishes. It felt good to walk home with that haul, knowing it would provide me with a week’s worth of nourishing, flavorful meals. But it was more than just the promise of good eating. It was a direct investment in small-scale local agriculture, and a tangible connection to the community that was growing my food.

This combined spirit of sustenance and community is what inspired René Conrad, the executive director of Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, to launch a uniquely artistic spin on the traditional CSA model back in 2013. The New Hazlett’s Community Supported Art (CSA) Performance Series is the first and only program of its kind in the country, offering shareholders the chance to discover and support emerging local artists, while also enjoying a “box of quality surprises” throughout the performance season.

Feeding the Soul, Nurturing the Arts

Much like a farm CSA, the New Hazlett’s program invites community members to purchase “shares” in advance, which then go towards funding the development and presentation of new works by Western Pennsylvania-based artists and companies. But instead of seasonal produce, shareholders receive a series of eclectic, boundary-pushing performance pieces – everything from dance and music to theatre and multimedia experimentation.

“The keywords of the New Hazlett CSA program are ’emerging’ and ‘new,'” explains Bill Rodgers, the theater’s director of programming. “We’re looking for artists and companies that are in a prime position to most benefit from this level of support, and whose proposed works are novel, original, and perhaps even a little bit experimental.”

Through the CSA, selected artists are provided with essential resources like stipends, technical assistance, and equipment budgets – the kind of support that can be difficult to come by, especially for those just starting to make their mark. But the program offers far more than just financial backing. It also serves as an invaluable incubator, giving these emerging creators the platform and community they need to truly thrive.

“Being part of the New Hazlett CSA was a game-changer for my artistic practice,” says David Bernabo, a Pittsburgh-based interdisciplinary artist who participated in the program’s third season. “Not only did it provide me with crucial funding and production support, but it also connected me to this incredible network of fellow artists, arts professionals, and passionate community members. It felt like I had this ready-made cheering squad, all rallying behind me and my work.”

Discovering the Unexpected

For Bernabo and the other CSA artists, that sense of community and artistic kinship is just as nourishing as the financial support. Much like the weekly produce delivery that sparks culinary creativity, the element of surprise and discovery inherent in the performance series is a big part of what makes it so rewarding for the shareholders.

“You never quite know what you’re going to get with each new ‘box,'” says Rodgers. “But that’s part of the fun and the excitement. Our shareholders are essentially investing in the unknown, trusting that they’re going to be exposed to something fresh, innovative, and thought-provoking.”

And the range of work featured in the CSA is indeed breathtakingly diverse. From dance and music to experimental theatre and multimedia spectacles, the program casts a wide net, championing artists whose creative visions might not fit neatly into traditional performance spaces or funding structures.

“I love that the New Hazlett CSA celebrates risk-taking and unconventional approaches,” says Bernabo. “They’re really committed to elevating voices and perspectives that might otherwise get overlooked. As an artist, that kind of support and validation is invaluable.”

The Art of Community

But the benefits of the New Hazlett CSA extend far beyond the artists themselves. For the shareholders – those community members who have chosen to invest in this unique artistic undertaking – the program offers a wealth of emotional and social rewards.

“There’s just something so satisfying and nourishing about being a part of this creative community,” reflects Rodgers. “Our shareholders aren’t just passive audience members; they’re active participants, investing their time, energy, and resources into cultivating the kind of vibrant, dynamic arts scene that they want to see in Pittsburgh.”

Much like the farm CSA that connects people to the land and the hands that tend it, the New Hazlett model fosters a deep sense of belonging and investment. Shareholders aren’t just spectators; they’re stakeholders, with a vested interest in the success and continued growth of the artists and the organization.

“It’s not just about sitting back and enjoying the show,” says Bernabo. “There’s a real feeling of ownership and pride that comes with being a CSA shareholder. You get to watch these projects develop from the ground up, and then celebrate their final, polished presentations. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

And the opportunities for connection and community-building extend far beyond the performance space. Many CSA farms organize special events like member potlucks, farm tours, and volunteer work days – and the New Hazlett has embraced a similar spirit of togetherness.

“We try to create as many touchpoints for our shareholders as possible,” explains Rodgers. “Whether it’s pre-show receptions, artist talkbacks, or social outings, we really want to foster that sense of belonging and shared experience. These are the kinds of meaningful connections that often get lost in our increasingly digital, disconnected world.”

Feeding the Soul, One Performance at a Time

As I reflect on my own experience with the farm CSA that sparked my culinary awakening, I can’t help but draw parallels to the nourishment that the New Hazlett’s artistic CSA provides. Just as that weekly produce box ignited my creativity in the kitchen, the performance series has the power to open our minds, challenge our perspectives, and inspire us to see the world in new and unexpected ways.

“At the end of the day, art isn’t just about entertainment,” says Bernabo. “It’s about connection, community, and cultivating a deeper understanding of the human experience. And that’s exactly what the New Hazlett CSA is all about.”

So whether your passion is for fresh, locally-grown produce or boundary-pushing performance art, I encourage you to consider joining a CSA. It’s not just about filling your belly or stimulating your senses – it’s about feeding your soul, and strengthening the bonds that hold our communities together. After all, as the saying goes, “it takes a village” – to grow our food, to make our art, and to truly thrive.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

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