'Stalk Market' Lures Veggie Lovers
Bob and Jody Windy buy their produce in a whole new way.Skip to next paragraph
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For a $450 annual investment - and a weekend's worth of farm chores - they harvest everything from lettuce and cucumbers to peppers and melons.
It's a win-win for farmer and consumer.
By selling shares in their operations, family farms can offset economic risks. By investing in small-scale agriculture, shareowners reap some of the freshest returns around, plus produce prices comparable to store-bought vegetables.
"It's great to get out of the city, but it's also like getting back to roots," says Mr. Windy of Chicago. "You get a feel for the people. It goes beyond the produce to exchange of ideas, a way to nurture good thoughts."
The movement behind selling shares in farms is called community-supported agriculture (CSA). Started in the 1960s as local collaborations between farmers and nonfarm neighbors, CSA farms now pull in a wider audience.
Urbanites, looking for some rural wholesomeness for their lives and diets, are beginning to invest in small farms. Shares typically cost $300 to $600 a year, depending on the area of the country.
"They appeal to people seeking to connect with where food comes from, urban people wanting to compensate for how their city lives separate them from the rural places where food grows," says Donna Neuwirth, co-owner of Neu Erth Wormfarm in Reedsburg, Wis. The former Chicagoan and her partner, Jay Salinas, serve 45 Chicago shareholders, including the Windys.
In June, the farm parcels out, to each shareholder, about 10 pounds of spring vegetables - a lot of lettuce, spinach, chard, cucumbers, green onions, and a little broccoli. Later in the summer, the bounties will mushroom to heaped-over boxes with all of the above plus tomatoes, peppers, beets, melons, pumpkins, and several varieties of squash.
Many of the farms specialize in organic, pesticide-free produce.
"The strongest CSAs are those formed from the community side," with hungry consumers seeking out farmers, says Wheyland Southon of CSA West in Davis, Calif. The organization links Californians to local CSAs, which have multiplied in the state from two in 1990 to 100 today.
The CSA movement now stretches from coast to coast.
But as urbanites join in, challenges of longer-distance transportation crop up.
Only the largest CSAs can afford to deliver to distant shareholders. Angelic Organics near Rockford, Ill., has served 400 Chicago area families for years. Last year it began delivering to its 18 city-area pickup sites in a refrigerated truck.
But for small farms, delivery exacts too much energy away from farming.
Neu Erth Wormfarm solved the problem by incorporating another common CSA objective: involving shareholders in rural and agricultural life. All Wormfarm shareholders visit the farm once a year.
"They can plant, weed, or harvest as much or as little as they like," Ms. Neuwirth says. Returning to their Chicago area homes on Sunday, the guest families carry a portion of vegetables to one of three pickup sites.