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Eating From the Earth

by Darrell Smith, UEC Community Program Coordinator

Eating locally grown produce is a delicious and rare treat for city residents. When shopping at a supermarket, we usually find a wide variety of fruits and vegetables that have every appearance of freshness. But most of our produce has traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles before arriving in our stores. The seemingly perfect red apple may come from the Pacific Northwest, the broccoli from California, the just-ripe banana all the way from Costa Rica. We live a great distance from our food sources, and often we know little about where it comes from and how it is grown. In an effort to shorten the distance from the farm to the kitchen table, some city residents are forming partnerships with local growers known as Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs. In a CSA, consumers purchase a “share” in a local farm and receive regular deliveries of fresh produce throughout the growing season. Most CSAs grow organic fruits and vegetables, and some offer fresh herbs, flowers, and naturally-raised meat and dairy products. The greatest appeal of a CSA is the intimate connection that people can make to their food and to the earth. Subscribers know who is growing their food and what practices are being used in all aspects of crop care and harvesting. Produce is guaranteed to be fresh, grown naturally, and delivered to specific pick-up points across the city. CSAs also bring the grower and consumer together to share the risks and the rewards of farming. Shareholders pay for their food in advance, enabling farmers to purchase seeds and supplies for the upcoming growing season. In a good year, farmers and shareholders benefit from a large harvest. In a poor growing season, the effect of the smaller harvest is shared by all. Wellspring Gardens, a non-profit in Newburg, Wisconsin, has been operating a retreat center and CSA since 1988 and provides certified organic produce to 60 subscribers each year. Mary Ann Ihm, founder of the organization, sees CSAs as a way to promote holistic health and more harmonious ways of living on the earth. “We believe that our overall health is linked to the food we eat, which naturally is linked to the health of the earth in which our food is grown,” says Ihm. She also sees CSAs as a way to preserve small farms. “The food is paid for up front, which provides the farmer with a guarantee and ensures that everyone, not just a single grower, shares the burden and bounty of nature.” Peter Seely has operated a CSA at Springdale Farm in Plymouth, Wisconsin, for the past 15 years and has a waiting list of subscribers. He says CSAs make economic and ecological sense. “By working locally, we avoid the energy cost of shipping foods across the country. And it’s a good deal,” he says. “A share in a CSA is cheaper than buying organic food from a natural food store, though you have to be willing to eat what the grower provides you.” CSAs offer produce in season, which may be an adjustment for people used to choosing from the widest variety possible at the supermarket, though it allows for the benefit of eating foods picked at the peak of ripeness. To aid their shareholders, CSAs often provide a newsletter describing the weekly produce and offering suggestions for food preparation for those who are unfamiliar with a particular variety. So how much does it cost to join a CSA? Wellspring subscriptions run for 25 weeks, from late May to early November and cost $335 including delivery to a local venue. A subscription provides enough produce for a couple or a small family that eats out once a week. A full share at Springdale farm is $465 and feeds three to five people over a 24 week season, with half shares available as well. Rare Earth Farms, based in Belgium, charges $470 for a share and delivers to the Riverwest Co-op. Some CSAs also offer work shares. Those interested in learning more about CSAs can attend the open house at the Urban Ecology Center, 2808 N. Bartlett Ave., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. The evening will feature local growers who will talk about their CSAs, answer questions and provide information about signing up. Come and learn the simple joy of living and eating more closely to the earth. For more information, contact: Mary Ann Ihm, Wellspring Gardens, West Bend, WI (262) 675-6755 Peter Seely, Springdale Farm, Plymouth, WI (920) 892-4856 Steve Young, Rare Earth Farms, Belgium, WI (262) 285-7070 Kim Blair, Stella Gardens, East Troy, WI (262) 642-3303 (ext. 111). A regional directory of CSAs is available at www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/csa. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 2 – February 2003
by Darrell Smith, UEC Community Program Coordinator