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CSA Farms: More than Fresh Veggies

By Peg Johnson of Treasured Haven Farm

As the sun rises over the snow covered fields, I gaze out and for a brief moment I see a vision of lush green plants and seemingly endless gardens glistening with the morning dew. The calendar may still read February, but the plans for the upcoming growing season are well underway. My mouth waters as I think of vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, tasty watermelon with juice running down my chin, and sweet corn so succulent I savor every bite. Oh, summer cannot come quite fast enough!

I am writing you from Treasured Haven Farm in Rush City, Minnesota, one of the many diverse CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farms that now dot the countryside. CSAs provide an option for folks to know where and how their food is grown, and to receive a fresh box of lovingly produced, chemical free veggies weekly through the growing season. CSA farms do differ in what they may offer and the actual farming practices and styles, but there are many common features.

CSA farms operate through a subscription, or membership basis, where members purchase, in the winter or early spring months, a “share” in the upcoming season’s harvest and in turn receive their weekly, or every other week, box of veggies grown on their chosen farm. Each farm has its own size, or sizes, of shares and selection of vegetables that they grow. Some farms offer additional items beyond just vegetables, such as eggs, meat, or other farm products.

Many local farms offer Drop Sites located throughout the Metro Area or pick up directly from the farm. CSAs work well for those with limited time, space, or desire to have their own gardens, or for small home gardeners who want to supplement their own produce and be part of the local food and environmentally conscious community.

This arrangement has many benefits for both the farmer and consumer. For the farmer, it helps them by marketing their produce before the long days in the fields begin so they are more productive with their valuable time during the growing season. It also enables them to rely less on borrowed money as member’s subscriptions help cover the up front farm input costs. Farmers enjoy and get to personally know, share their knowledge and way of life with, the people who eat their food.

For the consumers, they receive the ultimate in fresh produce with all the nutritional benefits still intact as this food travels mere hours, not days to their plate. They can experience different vegetables and find new ways to prepare, eat, or cook local seasonal foods.  Many farms encourage visits by members to see where their food is grown and to help in the gardens, or offer other educational or recreational activities relating to farm life.

CSA farms provide a great way for members of all ages to learn about farming and create, or recreate, a connection to rural America. Since most grandpas and grandmas no longer live on the farm, our populace has become further removed from its agricultural roots; this provides a great way for everyone to create farm memories and experiences, or to relive the old ones.

Many CSAs are family farms like ours, although some can be a collection of farms, or even organizations. Our farm has the joy of multiple generations working side by side. By marketing through a CSA, many small farms have become more able to withstand the financial pressures and risks they often face that threaten their mere existence. Through the CSA, we discovered a way to compete in this economy and provide an opportunity for our sons to work into ownership so this farmland can remain in production and be preserved for generations to come. CSA members, by partnering directly with their farmers, also help to preserve both the rich history and promising future of small family farms.

CSA farmers also tend to be creative in dealing with challenges, like how our family’s CSA is addressing the need for farm help at peak times by incorporating a new program at Treasured Haven Farm with opportunities for youth and community groups to help on the farm in exchange for fundraising donations, educational experiences, and other fun farm activities. We hope to expand our message and mission beyond our CSA members to create a mutually beneficial environment to enhance food and agricultural awareness, facilitate relationships between rural and metro, consumer and producer, and all ages working side by side.

For much more information about CSAs and CSA Farms in Minnesota, check out the following websites: Land Stewardship Project http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/csa.html   Local Harvest http://www.localharvest.org/csa  or Minnesota Grown http://www.minnesotagrown.com 

For more information about Treasured Haven Farm, our farm website is www.treasuredhavenfarm.com We look forward to meeting you at the Forum in March.

Think of the food you consume today and where it was grown!

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