The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Canandaigua in Canandaigua, NY (about 30 southwest of Rochester, NY) is located in the midst of fertile farmland, where agriculture and wine growing are prominent features, sensitivity to and awareness of our connection with the Earth is a constant. A drive to the church from any direction leads past farm after farm. Although few of the parishioners are full-time farmers, a few who are employed elsewhere also farm their land and raise livestock.
Within this environment, it follows naturally that their Sunday services, Religious Education Curricula, and Social Justice initiatives are strongly influenced by an awareness of the precious resources placed under their care; a strong commitment to their preservation; and consistent exploration of ethical utilization of these resources. This is reflected in Sunday services through music, readings, and sermons. Many of the services involve the youth in storytelling and drama related to environmental issues.
In 2002 UUCC joined with two Rochester UU churches to applied for and received a grant for sustainability for the UUA. One of the purposes of the grant was to create a church-sponsored community agriculture program. In 2003 UUCC members met with a group of farmers to discuss their goals and requirements; however, for various reasons the plan was not executable. Instead, Peacework Organic Farm mentored them for a year on operating a community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Again, in 2004 UUCC members met with Canandaigua farmers to discuss forming a CSA; this time none of the farmers were ready or willing to take on their fledging CSA of approximately 20 members.
Undaunted and determined, leaders at UUCC contacted Andy Fellenz of Phelps, NY (approximately 18 miles west of Canandaigua) to find out if he would be interested in starting a CSA partnership. This time, UUCC found a farmer who was willing to take the risk.
“The CSA’s goals include:
- Spending money locally (support a local farmer)
- Buying locally to avoid the costs (e.g., fuel) of long-distance shipment of food
- Buying locally to get the freshest possible food–picked at peak ripeness, usually the same day it’s delivered
- Supporting sustainability by buying from a certified organic farmer
- Shouldering some of the risks of farming by paying up front, before deliveries begin. If it’s a good year we get more produce than average; if some crops fail we just won’t get those items”
Their deliveries usually run from mid-May to late October. The farmer packs the shares (in two sizes, per contract) in individual totes at the farm, and lets members take them home for the week, so there’s no bagging. A unique aspect of UUCC’s CSA is that they require members to do a small amount of work on the farm (8-12 hours covers the season). Typically they plant, weed, harvest, or wash produce. Some members find a spiritual component to doing their part at the farm.
From a membership of 13 in 2003, they are currently stabilized at 65 shares–the maximum the farmer can support along with his other two CSAs. Andy has delivered a substantive presentation during a worship service to invite participation in the CSA. He’s innovative and continually expanding, planting more acres and adding facilities. UUCC sees Andy as “their” farmer.
The CSA is promoted yearly within the congregation with a Sunday presentation on its benefits to the earth and its inhabitants and throughout the nearby communities through various media channels. The great majority of CSA members come from the community at large, indicating successful outreach. And they are bursting at the seams as Andy continues to explore was to expand – two years ago they had to turn away two dozen applicants; this year they turned away fewer than a dozen. Their retention rate from year-to-year runs around 40-50%.
In addition to running a CSA running the growing season UUCC collects surplus food from the CSA, contributions form members and non-members personal gardens, and contributions from CSA members and donates it to the Gleaners Kitchen in Canandaigua. The Gleaners’ Kitchen is an ecumenically run soup kitchen that appreciates receiving healthy, locally-grown, fresh produce for their meals.
UUCC was accredited as a Green Sanctuary on March 3, 2010. Check out the full list of accredited Green Sanctuaries at the UUA website.