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Wednesday, March 27,2013

Growing together

Community supported agriculture cropping up across mid-Michigan

by Laura Johnson

This story was corrected on April 1 to say that Thornapple CSA requires three hours of service a month, not a couple hours a week, for a reduced rate.

Rebecca Titus of Titus Farms in Leslie defines community supported agriculture as a subscription to local, seasonal vegetables.'

“You pay ahead and then you get it on a regular basis,” she said. Step aside, Netflix.'

Well, not quite. Local produce hasn’t yet surpassed television as our national pastime, but it is on the rise. According to localharvest.org, thousands of families across the country have joined CSA programs in recent years; in some places, the demand far surpasses the number of farms. Luckily, in the Lansing area, there are a lot of options.

But what is a CSA? Essentially, it’s the option to purchase a share (usually a weekly bag of fresh produce) in a farm and then share in the farm’s harvest over a season for a set number of weeks.'

“It’s a method that a lot of growers use to kind of create a shared risk between the consumer and the farmer,” said Rita O’Brien of Allen Neighborhood Center’s Hunter Park GardenHouse, which offers summer and winter CSAs.

“You accept the fact that some things are going to do better than others,” said Emily Freeh, farm manager of Cbi’s Giving Tree Farm in Lansing Township, where spring, summer and fall shares are available. “You experience something closer to what the farmer experiences, and you can see the results of the weather and feel the seasons change as the weeks go on. You can get a better sense of what seasonality is and what foods are produced in what season, and along with it you get some really great tasting food.”'

The desire to eat seasonally is one motivator to join a CSA, along with taste, education, socio-environmental impacts, health, cost savings and enhanced connection to community, farmers and food.

“I think when you invest in a CSA you become more conscious of the location of your food,” Titus said of Titus Farms’ 19-week summer CSA. “And people tell me the taste is much different — they haven’t had such fresh things before.”'

CSA provides the opportunity to incorporate more fresh vegetables and variety into daily diets, like leafy greens, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, herbs, root vegetables and onions. Some, like Titus Farms, have shares of eggs, chicken, organic apples and flowers available, too. Charlotte’s Thornapple CSA offers add-ons of pastured meat, eggs and local fruits.

“It definitely helps you eat more vegetables and experience vegetables and fruit that you’ve never tried before,” Titus said. Many CSAs provide fun, creative recipes to help you make the most of your share, along with information about the products and sometimes farm news and anecdotes.

Exchanging stories, asking questions and developing relationships are other benefits of CSA, which is easy to do with Titus Farms’ farmers market style. Instead of getting a set bag of produce every week, members can choose from a variety of items, ensuring they get what they like and can use.

“People aren’t just grabbing a box and leaving,” Titus explained, which encourages people to engage and ask questions. She tries to learn everyone’s name, including children — no small feat with 300 members each year.

There are many different styles of CSA. Some offer a combination of monetary payment and work shares, or what Diane Thompson of Thornapple CSA calls “sweat equity.” In exchange for full or partial payment, members have the choice to volunteer on the farm. Thornapple CSA, for example, asks for three hours of service a month for a reduced rate during their June to October season.'

“This allows our members more involvement with the growing of their food and creates part of our educational component,” Thompson said.

Hunter Park GardenHouse’s CSA offers options of all pay, half-work/half-pay, or all work. Titus Farms offers either an all-pay membership or the option to volunteer for 11 weeks in exchange for a weekly standard share from June to October.'

Most local CSAs also have flexible pay options, making it easier for more families to afford them; members have the option of paying one lump sum or in several smaller payments throughout the season. Hunter Park GardenHouse is one of the first CSAs to accept Bridge Cards during summer shares, making use of the Double Up Food Bucks program. And while all of Lansing’s CSA farms are close to town (if not in town), most offer convenient pick-up spots throughout Lansing, East Lansing, Okemos and Mason.'

Other local CSAs include Owosso Organics, offering an 18-week summer session with several share options; Wildflower Eco Farm, offering a 16-week summer share; and MSU Student Organic Farm, providing both summer and year-round memberships. Every farm has different styles, dates, offerings, prices and total available shares. You can pick your own food at some CSAs, like Cbi’s Giving Tree, and others have on-farm events, like Titus Farms’ Tomato Palooza. Whatever you choose, however, you’ll be supporting local agriculture and eating fresh, delicious food.'

“I like to remind people that it’s nice to support a local farm family who’s being responsible environmentally and supporting the local food movement,” Titus said. “If you feel that small, local, organic agriculture is important, then you should consider joining a CSA.”

Thinking about joining a CSA?'

Many local farms still have summer CSA shares available with deadlines in mid-late April. For more information, visit their websites.'

ANC’s Hunter Park GardenHouse: allenneighborhoodcenter.org/food/gardenhouse/csa

Cbi’s Giving Tree Farm: cbisgivingtreefarm.wordpress.com

MSU Student Organic Farm: msuorganicfarm.org

Owosso Organics: owossoorganics.com

Thornapple CSA: thornapplecsa.com

Titus Farms: titusfarms.com

Wildflower Eco Farm: localharvest.org/csa/M18432

Capital Village Trade Cooperative: capitalvillagetradecoop.com

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