The craving hit around 10:00 p.m.; I wanted ice cream. I poked around my freezer, hoping to find a hidden pint nestled somewhere. No luck. I paced my kitchen. For a minute, I debated going to the store, but the evening dripped rain. I settled instead for leftover Halloween candy and went to bed unsatisfied.
The very next day a friend told me about Millie’s Ice Cream CSA which drops off a pint of ice cream every week to Pittsburgh porches. Every week. I immediately searched the web for information.
A traditional CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—is a partnership between community shareholders and local farms. A CSA member buys a share from a farm at the beginning of the growing season. Each week the member picks up a box of whatever the farmers are harvesting at the moment—could be greens, broccoli and kohlrabi one week: kale, garlic scapes and cabbage the next. The box of goodness varies throughout the growing season and part of the excitement comes with the not knowing what you’re going to get. Local Pittsburgh small businesses are taking note of this traditional CSA and giving it a nice twist.
Whiskey, ice cream and art lovers take note. Pittsburgh is stacked with a new wave of CSAs—they’re quirky, dynamic and delicious. There’s Millie’s Ice Cream CSA, run by husband-and-wife team, Chad and Lauren Townsend. Wigle Whiskey provides four CSA options and delivers locally made spirits straight to your front door (yes, please). The New Hazlett Theater cultivates a program that links community shareholders to “six homegrown performances delivered fresh every other month.” And CSA PGH—Community Supported Art Pittsburgh—connects its shareholders with an original box of visual art from six local artists working in a variety of genres. The shareholders take home the box of art to spruce up walls and conversation.
The common thread between these nontraditional CSAs is the idea of connecting with the community to create awareness and get people excited about experimenting with their product—whether it’s a silkscreen print from the CSA PGH art box or a new whiskey straight from Wigle’s tasting room. While the products may be vastly different, the visions are not.
“It’s about reestablishing a relationship with art and the community. It’s extreme. It gets people talking,” explains Bill Rodgers, the general manager of the New Hazlett Theater in Northside where their CSA program heads into its third year. At $100 per year, its shareholders are not only supporting the theater, but also investing in its community artists.
For the six annual performers—whose genres range from theater, dance, music, performance art and spoken word—it starts with a project proposal and application process to be reviewed by a select panel of local artists. (Applications now open online for the 2015/2016 CSA). The top six are selected and get one hour of their allotted month on the New Hazlett stage.
There is no opening night. There’s one night—one captivating hour where the hard work and artist’s vision binds together. The performer gets the spotlight and the sensation of a packed house. The shareholder gets a unique theater experience, and hopefully leaves with a broader scope on performance art. One shareholder recently sent his praises of a CSA performance by saying, “All 8 of us saw something totally original, exploratory, inspiring, unprecedented, etc, that without you, we’d never have seen the likes of: a fully expressed creative vision!”
CSA PGH creates boxes of art to “feed the public’s cultural appetite.” From the looks ot if, the community is hungry for these shares. In 2013, its inaugural year, 50 boxes featuring six local artist’s works sold out almost immediately.
Some things shareholders might find in the art box? Paintings inspired by the lyrics of Leonard Cohen on discarded book covers, a fantastical stop motion animated video or a photographic print of a collage formation created from everyday materials. The box is packed with original, local and engaging visual art.
This season there are a few shares left. Community members can invest in a full share ($450) stocked with visual art pieces from local artists Edith Abeyta, Cara Erskine, Alexis Gideon, Jennifer Nagle Myers, Lucia Nhamo, Barbara Weissberger. A half share ($225) includes art from Dave Montano, Jim Rugg, Jasen Lex and Alisha Wormsley.
A mysterious aspect and level of intrigue is attached to the CSA—the anticipation of not knowing what you are going to get and what you’re going to do with it. “The art becomes a really interesting object for them to think about and engage with,” says Casey Droege, the project manager of CSA PGH. “The pieces start a conversation and creates a relationship between arts and the community.”
Wigle Whiskey’s CSA—Community Supported Alcohol—hopes to push people’s boundaries and give its 100 plus shareholders the confidence to make a well-crafted, tasty cocktail in the comfort of their home. Wigle makes this mission easy for its participants by giving them everything needed to construct one of their signature cocktails and provides the dialogue behind the drink.
Their Cocktail Share CSA includes a small batch Wigle spirit, organic Wigle bitters and mixers. They throw in the necessary tools and cocktail accessories needed such as a muddler, sugar cubes, citrus or herbs. Wigle includes a recipe card to walk the stay-at-home bartender through the process as well as the history behind the cocktail. The distillery ships to shareholders in PA and Washington D.C.
“It’s cool to start connecting the dots and take away the mystery behind cocktail making,” says Meredith Grelli, co-owner of Wigle. “The Cocktail Share isn’t intimidating. It provides everything you need—the history, the recipe, the mixers and the alcohol. We hope the shareholders create events around their shares.”
Adventurous drinkers can sign up for Wigle’s Experimental Share, which includes seasonal, limited release batches. The most recent experimental batch debuted was the Wayward, a crisp, clean apple whiskey—the perfect accompaniment to a hot toddy and cold weather.
Millie’s Ice Cream CSA recently began taking new applicants for the next crop of shareholders. The eight-week share costs $75 and guarantees a pint of homemade, delicious, locally sourced ice cream delivered straight to your front door every week.
Shareholders can stay in their pajamas and chow down on decadence without having to leave the house. Chad Townsend, owner and half of the production team, explains, “I liked the idea of it, the old time nature of bringing ice cream to people’s doors. The flavors change every week and stay seasonal. The fruits, vegetables and herbs are local as possible, eggs are always local and the dairy almost all of the time.”
The production starts at Bar Marco, where Chad and Lauren experiment with dynamic and native flavors such as Pennsylvania Paw Paw, Lemon Verbena and Concord Grape. The Townsends get in touch with their 85 shareholders, set up a convenient time to deliver and then drive through the city, one pint to one shareholder at a time.
The process goes back to the old timey vision that Chad admires, and establishes a tight-knit relationship with the city he and Lauren serve. The couple hopes to open an ice cream shop come spring or early summer, and the CSA will provide a healthy backbone of community support.
Community and support. In the end that’s what these CSAs are all about. Pittsburgh’s got it.