CSA farms keep consumer food dollars local
If things look a little greener around here this April, there's a good reason. Our editorial staff is busy expanding the ideals of Earth Day into a month-long celebration of energy conservation, alternative transportation, recycling tips and about a million ways you can be a better friend to the planet. Welcome to Green Month, Milwaukee.
In our efforts to be greener, owning a vehicle with good gas mileage is an important carbon reducer. But being conscious of your food's mileage can have a pretty large environmental impact, as well.
Yes, our food travels -- way more than we do in a day. In fact, in North America produce typically travels a minimum of 1,500 miles via various modes of gas-guzzling transportation before it reaches our plates, much of which could be avoided if we committed to eating locally.
One of the easiest ways to do so is through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a model of food production and distribution that connects local farmers with local consumers. Similar to a co-op, food buyers become members or shareholders of the CSA by financing the farm's whole seasonal budget, including seeds, tools, maintenance and land payments. In return, they get weekly or monthly baskets of fresh, organic produce, fruits, flowers, herbs, eggs, milk -- anything the farm can produce.
Unlike the consistency of grocery stores, CSAs create natural risks and rewards for both the farmer and consumer. Consumers agree to eat what the farmers can grow and must take into consideration geographic growing conditions. But with the assured funds and market for their crops, these small, mostly independent, family-run farms can focus on quality and growing a wide variety of crops using ecological, organic or biodynamic farming methods.
The system is salubrious to both our bodies and the environment, as predetermined customers allow for little production waste. Essentially, what it comes down to is understanding where our food comes from, keeping food dollars in the local community and creating personal, knowledgeable relationships between food supplier and food buyer.
David Kozlowski and Sandra Raduenz run Pinehold Gardens, a 21-acre CSA farm in Oak Creek. They are one of 14 Milwaukee-area CSA farms now preparing for the upcoming season, which runs June through early November.
Pinehold Gardens has been an active CSA since 1995 and can offer 180 shares per season. Its standard share is $330 per year and is good for one or two people, or a family who does not have a lot of time to cook. A large share, $495 per year, is 50 percent more food and considered a family size. It is also good for two people who cook a lot from scratch. Member pick up their weekly shares at one of eight locations: At the farm in Oak Creek, 51st and Vliet in Milwaukee, Bay View, Greenfield, Racine, Shorewood and Wauwatosa.
"We grow all our food using sustainable agricultural practices and hope to turn the farm into an urban farm for the purpose of growing food and educating people on sustainable practices," says Kozlowski. "We also work to increase the biodiversity of our farm both on the land and in the soil because we believe this not only makes for a healthier environment but healthier food as well."
This spring Pinehold Gardens began construction on a new equipment shed that will feature the farm's second 2.5-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system, which converts light directly into electricity. This reflects the innovation and resourcefulness that is common in CSA across the country.
The number of CSAs in the United States was estimated at 50 in 1990. Today, according to Wikipedia, there are estimates as high as 3,000. Wisconsin alone has over 100.
"Demand for CSAs this year is at an all time high," says Kozlowski. "We think that not only bodes well for local agriculture and food, but for the health and culinary interest of a lot of Wisconsin families."
Non CSA members can still get fresh produce from Pinehold Gardens at the South Shore Park farmer's market, every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Go here to find a CSA farm near you.
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