Explore the smart and practical world of a CSA farm. Chelsea Chandler, Environmental Scientist and Certification Project Manager at Green Seal, takes us through her experience of managing a CSA farm outside Madison, Wisconsin.
How did you get into farming?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and was pretty removed from farming beyond some backyard gardening and a great appreciation for all the fresh food grown in my home state.
I had been a member of a few different Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms over the years, and then really just dove into farming. I learned how to drive a tractor at my godfather’s grass-fed beef operation and farm stay, which my partner, Scott, and I visited frequently while living in Seattle. Farm stays, a growing phenomenon in the United States, offer travelers an opportunity to vacation in and experience a rural farm setting. Scott had a little more experience doing a work share for a CSA farm outside of Seattle.
Scott and I started talking about pairing our sometimes more abstract environmental policy work with the tangible work of growing food that is good for people and the environment. I’m enthusiastic about creating a model for sustainable food production and consumption and empowering local communities to adopt healthier and more sustainable lifestyles.
Can you explain what CSA means?
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a model for food distribution where individuals purchase a share of a farm for a season in exchange for produce delivered fresh. These individuals become shareholders or members, and share both the benefits and risks of food production.
CSA members typically pay in advance for the season, helping the farmers with upfront costs and planning for the season with a greater degree of certainty. CSA members are encouraged to get to know their farmers and visit the farm where their food grows. There is much flexibility in how a CSA is set up, and everyone approaches it differently. For example, frequency of delivery, sizes of shares, on-farm events, pick-up sites and terms, and so on, may vary.
Tell us about your farm.
The name of our farm, Plowshares & Prairie Farm, reflects our commitment to pairing sustainable food production with strong conservation work. We work to maintain a diversified landscape which includes a restored prairie and a prairie remnant, which is a rare remaining piece of unadulterated, original prairie; a wetland to help mitigate any runoff; forest; organic produce fields; bee hives; an orchard/chicken run; etc.
I enjoy having a job so ingrained in nature, where schedules are flexible and revolve around the weather, and we remember there are many things we just can’t control as Mother Nature runs the show.
What is your main produce?
Diverse veggies and some annual fruits – see http://plowsharesandprairie.com/recipes-storage/ for a sampling.
How do you distribute the produce to your CSA members?
We have four pick-up sites: two sites in Madison (including one at the Green Seal Madison Office building), one at a farmers’ market in Fitchburg (a suburb of Madison), and one pick-up at the farm in Argyle. We serve both our CSA members and also customers at farmers’ markets.
How do people become a member of your CSA program?
Online! They can sign-up right here: http://plowsharesandprairie.com/sign-up/. We get many new members through word of mouth, and also by marketing through the FairShare CSA Coalition, including the annual CSA Open House.
What are the benefits of your CSA program?
The benefits for our farm include having a clear understanding of seasonal demand, help with upfront costs and planning, and getting to know our members. For the members, benefits include knowing where your food comes from, how it’s grown, and who is growing it.
As a result, our CSA members get fresh, organic, local produce that includes varieties picked for flavor and not just transportability; and more diversity, like heirloom varieties of produce, than you would find in a grocery store or even a typical co-op. We also provide our members weekly newsletters with recipes and storage tips, and host farm events.
Become a member at a local Community Supported Agriculture farm near you. Also, read our next blog post about the latest development for Chelsea’s farm—organic certification.