Smile Politely

Yes Champaign, There Is a CSA

At a holiday luncheon last week someone made the mistake of asking me about the problems of agriculture in our country. Unfortunately, crop subsidy-inflated land prices, non-living wages, inhumane conditions for animals and workers, environmental degradation and malnutrition don’t make for merry party conversation. So, I’m not sure I’ll be invited next year. What I am sure about is that attempting to solve these problems on a national scale given the amounts of money on the line from competing interests like pharmaceutical/agricultural chemical companies, railroads, commodity organizations, banks, grain companies, grocery manufacturers, and others, would take a miracle.

That said, it is possible to do something about them on a local scale with programs like community supported agriculture or, CSA.

At its core, CSA is a program in which people pay ahead of the growing season for a share of the harvest from a local farmer. For their part, CSA farmers receive a more stable income because they don’t have to worry about going home with a lot of produce from a rained out farmers’ market. Meanwhile, their supporters get first cut of whatever is ripe just hours after it is picked. Because they often end up eating more produce than they otherwise would, CSA supporters often see lower cholesterol levels and other health benefits. So much so, that this year four Wisconsin health insurers gave their clients discounts for joining CSAs.

Because they are supporting the farm, CSA supporters get an implicit say over how their crops are produced, typically without pesticides and with fair wages and humane conditions for both workers and animals. Because CSA farmers receive their money upfront, problems like unequal access to credit become less of an issue. This allows more young farmers to join their families’ operations, helping ensure local food for decades. This is exactly what is happening with two local CSA projects in our community: Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture and Tomahnous Farm.

Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture works with Jim and Diann Moore, and their son Wes of Moore Family Farm in Watseka. The income from expanding the CSA market helped Wes join the Moore farm full-time two years ago without having to go into debt purchasing additional land and equipment. Such transitions are unheard of with conventional agriculture arrangements. For the 2009 season, PCSA is offering 150 shares. The shares are $400 for 20 weeks from May 13 through September 23. You can find pictures of shares, a crop list, and an online signup form at

Similarly, Lisa Haynes and Eric Thorsland hope that their son Maxwell, now in high school, will be able to join the family’s CSA farm when he finishes his education. Their farm, Tomanhous, is offering 50 shares for the 2009 season, which will begin in mid-May. The shares are $400 for 25 weeks. You can find a crop list at The 2009 signup form will be posted soon.

Granted, CSA isn’t a complete solution to the problems of agriculture, but it is one way we can retake control of our food system. And, just as you can’t expect to reserve a local turkey the week of Thanksgiving, you can’t expect to wait until spring if you want to get a share in a CSA. You need to act now if you want produce in May.

Full Disclosure: Anna Barnes is a volunteer with Prairieland CSA and moderates the international CSA farmer list serve, CSA-L. She will be participating in a panel discusssion on CSAs at The Midwest Organic Production and Marketing Conference in Indianapolis in January.

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