The (re)Birth of the Community Kitchen

Just when you thought food sourcing couldn’t get any better than the farm-to-table movement, in comes an even more radical movement: the community-supported kitchen. If you’re into buying local foods, you’ve got to learn about this new phenomenon. And if you get in on one while they’re in these initial formative years, you may even be part of a revolutionary food movement.

You may have heard about community supported agriculture by now (No? Learn here). CSAs, as they’re called, are businesses set up and run by small farmers to put their food directly in the hands of the community — by means of weekly, monthly or seasonal memberships. As a CSA member, you pay into a particular membership from the farm, and this “food subscription” buys you a regular “share” of that farmer’s bounty — usually fruits and vegetables, but sometimes including dairy and meats from the farm. It’s like buying stock in that farm — you pay them your dollars directly to support their business, and in turn, you get a share of the profit every season.

But we’re not talking about CSAs, we’re talking about CSKs: community-supported kitchens. These CSKs take the platform of a CSA and apply it towards an operational kitchen that produces food staples from locally-farmed ingredients. The CSK is supported not only by the community’s memberships (as with a CSA), but also by direct participation from the community. In a community-supported kitchen, you go beyond just getting raw goods from your local farmer. Here, you step inside the kitchen, learn about the foods, learn about the farmers, work with the chefs and learn to make nutritious, wholesome meals from those raw goods. It’s a fusion of local food with education, inspiration and participation. And it’s spreading like wildfire.

The first kitchen to develop the CSK model was Three Stone Hearth, situated in the all-too-appropriate Berkeley, California (home of legendary food reformer Alice Waters). This kitchen collaboration is run by five co-owners and is supported by volunteers who come in on a daily basis to help cook and prepare meals for the community members. Three Stone Hearth not only creates weekly boxes of food staples made from locally-sourced foods, but they make foods that follow time-honored methods of traditional food preparation that date back hundreds of years. Grains are sprouted, whole animal fats are used, animal organs are used in pates, fermented drinks are made from whole herbs, and cultured dairy products are created — all on site, and all with the help of community members.

Three Stone Hearth, as other CSKs, has created a type of kitchen sanctuary where locals can come by and truly become a part of the food community, rather than remain mere spectators. Monthly dinners with seasonal feasts, cooking classes and educational speaking series may all be a part of the integrated CSK model. Bring your kids, bring your friends, bring a camera and a notebook, and bring a full appetite — all things in the name of good food come to fruition at a well-run CSK.

In a world of mass production where we’re struggling to find value in the products we buy, the people our dollars support, and the way we live our lives, it brings hope and inspiration to find ideas like the CSK popping up in our culture. Get a bit closer to your food, to your farmer and to the friends you never knew you had in your own neighborhood. 

To learn more about community-supported kitchens, check out these fine models around the country:
Local Sprouts Cooperative, Portland, Maine
Salt Fire and Time, Portland, Oregon
Three Stone Hearth, Berkeley, California

Image: chuck.miser