For those who want to feel close to the land without digging in the dirt, community supported agriculture offers a rich, sustainable option. In community supported ag, or CSA, consumers sign up for a weekly or biweekly share – a rotating harvest of vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese, eggs, flowers, honey and more, depending on the local farm – and producers gain cooperative investors who help absorb risk while reaping the rewards.
“CSAs are created through a community of people who pledge to support a farm by purchasing produce before it’s even grown,” says Kietra Olson, manager of the Wisconsin Foods Program at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. There are now about 85 CSAs in Wisconsin, some of which have been around for decades. Vermont Valley Community Farm in Dane County’s Driftless Region, for example, celebrated 24 years in 2018. Besides offering vegetable share options and worker shares (that let consumers trade labor for produce), Vermont Valley provides recipes and farm news and hosts fun events like the annual corn boil, pesto fest, pumpkin pick and tomato U-picks.
“Most Wisconsinites are several generations removed from farming, but CSAs help consumers understand all it takes to produce the food that feeds a community,” Olson says. “You learn the hardships and the rewards alongside the growers themselves. Soon they start watching the weather and thinking about what it might be doing to the crop, and farmers feel more supported.”
“One of my favorite things about CSA as a model is that it connects me directly with the people who eat my food and I am able to tailor my planning and growing to them,” says owner-operator Katrina Becker, who has managed the 150-acre diversified organic Stoney Acres Farm with Tony Schultz since 2005. With the new CSA option, Becker hopes to educate members with recipes and videos, as well as improve her own practices based on their feedback.
“CSA is unique, in that by placing money directly in farmers’ hands at the start of the season, consumers help spread out the risk and eliminate the need for seasonal debt,” Becker says. “This means farmers can focus on being excellent farmers first and foremost, and can grow more challenging but desirable crops for consumers, and it creates a more stable farming and rural community.”