From Farm to Fork, CSAs Connect You to Your Food

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Environment

Laura Green


CSAs have been bringing fresh produce to Madisonians for years now, and a Madison Environmental Group event informed attendees of what CSA actually stands for.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a rising trend that’s good for the environment, good for farmers, and good for one’s health. Kay Jensen, co-owner of JenEhr farms in Sun Prairie, explained how CSAs work and the pros and cons of CSAs. Members of CSA purchase a share of a farm’s harvest, which to Jensen means “sharing the risk and sharing the bounty.” Participants pay a fee to the farmer upfront at the beginning of the growing season in exchange for the produce the farm will produce throughout the season. Therefore consumers are taking a bit of a gamble because they pay before receiving anything. What they get for their money depends on how well the crops do that season.

CSAs form a reliable link between grower and consumer. The farm sets a schedule to distribute produce to members, usually once a week. At a location that is ideally convenient for both grower and consumer, members pick up a share of produce from the farmer. Jensen explained that a share of their CSA consists of a box of 7 to 12 different produce items. A list of the produce items in that week’s share is included to assist members in figuring out how to use all of the produce in the share.

A four-year CSA member and MACSAC (Madison Area CSA Coalition) representative was also present at the event to give a member’s perspective of CSAs. She said that this list of produce can be useful because members might receive something they’ve never heard of before, like sun chokes. People new to CSA might have to figure out what to do with these new vegetables, but the CSA member offered this advice: if you don’t like it, share it with someone who does.

While CSAs tend to focus on vegetables, some CSAs offer fruit shares in addition to the basic share. Jensen informed us that this fruit may not be local. She explained that in Wisconsin it’s hard to grow most types of fruit, especially on an organic farm like hers. According to Jensen, there are only two organic apple orchards in all of Wisconsin because the conditions for growing apples organically just don’t exist in this area. So, if farmers can’t grow the fruit themselves, they source it directly from another farm that can to ensure that members are still directly supporting the growers.

After explaining how CSA works, Jensen and the MACSAC representative discussed the benefits of this method of going local. The event consisted of about 15 people, including a noticeable representation of Edgewood students. The casual setting of Madison Environment’s home-like sitting space encouraged discussion and questions by audience members. Some wondered why a person wouldn’t just go to the farmer’s market if they wanted to eat fresh, local produce. Jensen felt that CSAs offer a much stronger connection between consumer, producer, and the food. “It’s not only about the food, it’s about the people raising it.” With members picking up produce directly from the farmer once a week or every other week, they develop a relationship with the person who grows their food. Members could get a true sense of how the produce was grown and know that the person growing it is getting paid a fair price.

Unlike purchasing food at a farmer’s market, CSA offers support to the farmer before any of their produce is grown. Some farmers would not be able to grow as much food if they had to wait until harvest to receive money for their work. CSA members offer the support needed for growers to get the season started and ensure that growers have a steady source of income. For a grower, CSA can be crucial in continuing to raise a variety of food. For a member, food from their CSA share keeps them healthy. According to the CSA member, some health insurance companies even subsidize CSA shares because of the known health benefits of eating fresh local food.

Jensen started the discussion at this event by asking how much local food the audience typically ate during the summer. Most of those who answered the question held up four fingers or less, indicating that the most local food anyone ate was 40 percent. Jensen then asked how much local food everyone would like to eat during the summer. All who responded held up more fingers than they did for the first question. While participants might not currently eat much local food, they wanted to try to include more local food in their diet. Jensen said that thinking about this issue will allow everyone there to improve. Events such as this one not only inform people of how to make the environmental and health changes they wish to make, but they give the audience the motivation and encouragement needed to make these changes.


More Information:

Madison Area CSA Coalition(MACSAC)

MACSAC aims to connect consumers to CSA farms. People interested in becoming part of a CSA can search the list of local farms participating in MACSAC. The program’s website also offers a variety of CSA- related resources: information on health insurance rebates, funding for low-income families to purchase a CSA share, and links to recipes.


~ MACSAC’s Annual CSA Open House

Sunday, March 13th 1:00 to 4:00 at Monona Terrace

~ Winter Farmer’s Market

Madison Senior Center 8:00am to 12:00pm

Saturdays until April 9th

~ First 2011 Outdoor Farmer’s Market

April 16th Capitol square




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