CSA Cares: Good People, Good Food

Many nonprofits who receive Design For A Difference makeovers provide food services to support those in need. But few deliver the abundant farm-to-table lifestyle offered by CSA Cares of Mountain View, California.

For over 60 years, CSA has been the community’s safety net, providing critical support services that preserve and promote stability, self-reliance and dignity. And when it comes to feeding people, they have taken the idea of a “food pantry” to a whole new level.

Unlike ordinary pantries, common staples like canned goods, boxed macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter are not the fare with this program. Rather, the clients here receive fresh dairy and produce five days a week, along with a holistic approach to encourage a healthy lifestyle, all from people who care.

Today, we’re talking to the Food and Nutrition Center’s Director, Christine Flego, and Associate Director, Nicole Fargo Nosich, to learn more about how CSA is making a difference from farm to fork.


Location. Location. Location.

What’s true about real estate is also true when it comes to food. And living on the Golden Coast of California, fresh produce is readily available year round. For CSA, this means that 44% of the groceries they provide to their clients are in season, locally grown, organic, or hand-picked right out of orchards and back yards from residents of Mountain View.

“Being able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables is something we feel good about and our clients look forward to. We see everything from your common vegetables, like potatoes, carrots, and onions, but it’s not uncommon to get a lot of the gorgeous summer squashes that are out there,” says Nicole. “We also get kale, fresh chard,

and unique items that come in, like bitter melon, sweet potato greens, and sometimes even foods that we have to look up to learn how to prepare because it’s so rare.”

Nowhere else in the country can a nonprofit provide a variety of foods like this. Christine agrees, “Our clients really look forward to our fresh selections, and we feel good about giving them locally grown food. This is especially helpful to our seniors, who need extra nutrients that only come from eating fresh.”


Community Effort

This all sounds incredible, but one has to wonder, how it actually gets from the farms and orchards to the table? Christine explains:

“We’ve worked partnerships with other organizations, like [Villa] and Village Harvest, and our local food banks, so this makes it easy for us to provide additional resources, which may not be the case for nonprofits in other areas of the country. We also have a group of volunteers who go out every Sunday to our farmers market here in Mountain View and Palo Alto and come back with 500-2000lbs of product that we’re able to sort out and distribute each week. It’s a great thing to see our clients take fervently to that; they really look forward to getting that fresh produce.”

She goes on to tell of local residents who deliver fresh oranges, lemons, and plums from their personal gardens, and there is no doubt that this is a tremendous collaboration among the entire community. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nicole shares more:

“We actually have a program twice a month, where we get anywhere from 8-12,000lbs of produce from our great partners at Second Harvest, and with the help of some wonderful volunteers, we transform our parking lot into a miniature farmers market. It’s truly amazing; within a two hour span, we serve up to 200 clients, and they walk away with plenty of fresh produce that will last them a couple of weeks.”


Teach Them Well

CSA has receiving and distribution down to a science. Add to that their holistic approach, and you’ve got a complete system that keeps clients interested in learning about how to prepare their food while developing healthy habits.

“Once a month we have a nutritionist from the county come in to teach a class on different ways to prepare our foods. Our clients really enjoy this, and we make sure to send them home with recipes and the ingredients they need so they can feel confident in trying it on their own,” says Nicole. “There are also on-site cooking demonstrations that are helpful for clients who might otherwise shy away from unfamiliar foods, like eggplant or kale.”

Christine continues, “Kale is a big one; many clients are not a fan of kale, and as abundant as it is in CA, it’s one of those things that we have year round, so providing them with easy ways to prepare it can be a challenge. The trick is to find simple ways to add it to other items they might be receiving from the pantry and encourage them to try it; if you can take away the ‘fear factor’ of the unknown, more times than not, they will discover they love it and come back asking for more.”


The Fruits of their Labor

And nothing makes those who work at CSA happier than sharing a success story:

“We’ve definitely had a few of our clients with health conditions directly impacted. By having access to healthy nutritious food, it helps to keep them in compliance with their diet. Some are able to do things like reduce their blood pressure, or reduce their A1C scores if they’re diabetic,” tells Christine. “In fact, our Challenge Diabetes program partners heavily with the food nutrition centers and has reported that 47 of our clients who were in a pre-diabetic category got back to a normal category. A lot of that was due to the fact that we were creating an intervention by giving them specialty food bags that contained diabetic friendly food items.”

Nicole puts it all in perspective:

“It’s making sure that they walk out at the end of the day with the confidence they need to go to a farmer’s market on their own, or navigate the grocery store and make those healthier choices on a budget. Just because you’re living on a budget doesn’t mean you’re stuck with macaroni and cheese and frozen burritos from the supermarket.”


Pass the Generosity Please

There are charities across the country and in your neighborhood always looking for a helping hand.

“We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers. Whether you have two hours a week or two hours a month, all you have to do is call and ask. You’d be surprised by how many opportunities there are to give back,” reminds Christine.

So where should you start? Your local city hall is a great go-to. They will have a list of all the local organizations and their services in your community. United Way also has a 211 line with a complete database of non-profits where you can search by category to find the right fit for your skillset, schedule, and interests. Learn more at www.UnitedWay.com.

The Design For A Difference makeover at CSA Cares was sponsored by IDG Showroom owner Fred (Interiors & Textiles), and his team in the Mountain View area. To learn more about CSA, please visit www.CSAcares.org.

Watch the entire DFAD makeover here at www.designforadifference.com/#makeovers.