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Published: 5/14/2006

Fresh food, from the farm to your table

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robin Ford-Parker and children Sydney Parker, 10, and Sam Parker, 13, participate in the program. Robin Ford-Parker and children Sydney Parker, 10, and Sam Parker, 13, participate in the program.
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In a few weeks, Cheryl McCormick of Sylvania Township will receive the first delivery of fresh vegetables from a local farm she bought a share in.

As one of 25 shareholders in nearby TenMile Creek Farm in Lucas County, she'll get a basket with enough to feed her family of four, including two young adult children, every week through October.

This is the second summer she'll enjoy such bounty, grown without chemicals and transported just a few miles to her home. Some of the produce she received last summer was new to her, such as various greens, but she learned how delicious they were when chopped and steamed with garlic or onions.

Not being sure of what will be delivered requires flexibility.

"I had to be ready to do the cooking and not let it waste," when it arrived, she said, noting that her family doesn't eat much meat. "I felt better about eating it knowing I was eating organic."

The McCormicks are participating in Community Supported Agriculture, a grass-roots trend that's embraced by an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 farms across the country, and many more internationally. Known as CSA, it is simply a relationship between local farmers and community members who pay the farmers an annual membership fee to cover the cost of seeds and production. Farmers plant a wide diversity of crops that will ripen from spring to late fall, and in return, members receive food harvested at peak freshness and flavor.

Each year, more than 100 farms, often with photos and types of crops grown, are added to the list of CSAs published by www.localharvest.org, said Guillermo Payet, founder and president of Local Harvest, which promotes family farms, buying locally, and organic agriculture.

"CSA is a market channel," said Mr. Payet, of Santa Cruz, Calif., and can include farmer's markets and restaurants. The average CSA has about 100 shareholders and charges about $550 a season for a family-sized share, he said.

"Very few are getting rich, but several small farms are staying afloat," said Mr. Payet, who raises chickens and bees.

Indeed, local farmers have been discussing the concept, said Paula Ross, research associate at the University of Toledo's Urban Affairs Center.

"A CSA might work better if it involved several farmers and a broader range of produce. There are many ways a CSA can work," said Ms. Ross.

Robin Ford-Parker grew up on the Berkey farm that's been in her family for 150 years. She learned about community-supported farms when researching a paper for her degree in environmental sciences at Lourdes College. She liked the idea of having a personal connection with the people who bought her produce.

"We were looking for a way to save the family farm," said Ms. Ford-Parker, of TenMile Creek Farm on State Rt. 295. "It's only 300 acres, so cash-crop farming isn't profitable anymore, especially with the cost of gas."

She had three customers in 2004, 19 last year, and this year has 25 who collect their baskets at Toledo Botanical Garden or the farm. She charges $330 for a full share, and $250 for a half share, which is enough for two adults.

She starts many plants in her small greenhouse and sows more by hand in three gardens totalling about an acre. This summer, her daughters, 10-year-old twins and a 13-year-old, will assist her.

At the Seeds of Hope All Natural Farm in Tiffin, the CSA expanded to include 18 memberships this year, up from six last year, its first, said Sister Rita Wienken, the farm director.

"The interest is really out there. People want food that's healthy, fresh, and local," said Sister Rita, who grew up on a farm. "It's all word of mouth."

Shareholders who work in the garden receive a discount on the $450 full share.

The farm, at the 385-acre convent grounds of the Sisters of St. Francis, will also sell produce at a market stand and to a few restaurants. It added 50 laying hens for eggs and hopes to sell meat and poultry next spring.

Most CSAs are organic, said Matt Steiman, and have higher production costs than nonorganic farms, so they especially need the benefit of eliminating the middle person.

"There's a good deal of consumer awareness emerging that not all food stuffs are created equal. People are looking for a connection with their own farmers," said Mr. Steiman, program manager of Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa., which lists 1,200 CSAs on its steadily growing data base.

Ohio has 33 CSAs, Michigan has 41, and Indiana has 12, according to Wilson College's Robyn Van En Center for CSA Resources. The top three states for CSAs are New York, with 107, California, with 81, and Wisconsin and Washington, each with 63.

Next week, Beverly Ruesink will deliver the first 60 boxes of the season to a market in Ann Arbor, and farmers' markets in Adrian and Tecumseh. They're likely to contain lettuce, garlic, swiss chard, sun chokes, radishes, bunching onions, and the herb lovage.

This summer, she'll invite her 60 shareholders and their families to a potluck on her Needle-Lane Farms in Tipton, Mich., west of Tecumseh.

Ms. Ruesink purchased the farm from her father and established a CSA last year with 44 shareholders.

"I'm young and single and don't have children," said Ms. Ruesink, 27. She noted that it's cost-effective to reside and work at the same place. "I don't need a lot of money because I raise all my own food."

The farm has two greenhouses, an unheated hoop house, and the two acres devoted to the CSA, which will yield 400 varieties of vegetables, 200 varieties of flowers, and 100 different herbs.

Shares range from $264 for a two-person, 12-week subscription, to $704 for a 20-week family-sized share trucked to Ann Arbor. She also sells cut-flower shares, which is 16 weeks of bouquets.

"That's a lot of fun for me because I get to be creative," said Ms. Ruesink, who earned a degree in horticulture from Michigan State University.

A CSA laying fallow this year is St. Mary Organic Farm in Monroe, Mich. An organic farm since 1998 and a CSA offering 20 to 40 shares since 2001, the farm is on the property of the IHM Motherhouse near downtown Monroe.

Its request that members volunteer six to eight hours a month hasn't always worked out, given busy schedules and stages of life.

"I've been the only farm worker," said Sharon McNeil, the farm coordinator who also works as a psychotherapist. "It was too much. I needed it to be sustainable for me."

Reevaluating the program, she has visited Maple Creek Farm north of Detroit, which grows 55 acres for 650 shareholders, and she plans to visit the 19-year-old CSA at Genesis Farm in Blairstown, N.J., which has 300 members. "I think there is a chance to evolve into something even greater," said Ms. McNeil, an associate of the IHM order. "It's the wave of the future."

The Genesis Farm grows dozens of vegetables, apples, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, and hardy kiwis, and has found fruit to be fairly vulnerable, said Smadar English, a Genesis farmer and membership coordinator. In a very wet year, some fruits won't fare well, and all members share the risk.

"That's the beauty of it. Everybody's in it with us. If fruit doesn't do well, something else will. Last year, we had huge amounts of sweet potatoes," said Ms. English.

A two-person share from mid-May to Thanksgiving is $606, and a family-sized 50-week share, including root vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, squashes, and beets, is $1,656. Growing greens in greenhouses extends the growing season.

"This is sustainable and will leave the land in a healthy way for generations down the road," said Ms. English.

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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