You Can’t Keep a Good Idea from Spreading

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With two feet of snow on the ground, and more on the way (yippee!), what a great time to begin dreaming of fresh vegetables and warm, friendly farmers. In February, LSP will be publishing the 2011 edition of its CSA Directory. This edition has an exciting twist: for the first time this guide won’t be exclusive to farms that deliver to the Twin Cities Metro. This change is a recognition that the Community Supported Agriculture model itself has evolved beyond something that’s only appealing to urban eaters.

When LSP started publishing its CSA Directory some 14 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that a full-time CSA operation had to deliver to densely populated metropolitan neighborhoods in order to be viable. That was partly because residents in such communities were more likely to be customers of food co-ops, and therefore had developed a taste for sustainably-raised local food.

The thinking was that people who lived in rural areas often had their own gardens. And those who lived in suburbs or bigger, outstate communities like Rochester or Saint Cloud were—so went the thinking—”just not prepared” to take part in a food model that requires one to purchase a “share” in a farm before the growing season begins.

Well, the CSA movement has come a long way, baby. I know of several CSA farms in the region that don’t deliver anywhere near Minneapolis or Saint Paul and still make a nice living. They’ve developed loyal client bases in places like Dresser, Wis. (pop. 732).

Part of the reason CSA farms have expanded their reach is changing demographics: older residents in rural communities are joining such operations when the desire to work a garden wanes, but the taste for fresh food remains.

But CSA’s expanding appeal beyond places like the Seward Neighborhood of Minneapolis can also be attributed to a growing understanding of the benefits derived from belonging to a farm. Mainstream media has gotten hip to the CSA story, and it’s the kind of movement that tends to build on itself as word-of-mouth spreads.

I’d also like to think that an increasing number of people outside our urban and suburban areas are recognizing the economic benefits of community food models like Community Supported Agriculture. As this blog reported recently, an Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll showed an increasing number of rural residents appreciate what eating a community’s home cooking can do for Main Street economies. It’s the ultimate way to put your money where your mouth is.

Technological communication such as social media is also playing a role in getting the word out. For a prime example, check out the excellent video work of enthusiastic CSA farm members Larry Schmidt and Katy Podolinsky. One video uses interviews with CSA farmers and members in the region to provide eaters background on what to expect when joining a farm. The other Schmidt-Podolinsky production provides a more direct taste (pardon the pun) of receiving vegetables for one season (June to November in this case) from a local farm. Warning: don’t watch this video when all you’ve got in the pantry is a box of mac and cheese and a sleeve of crackers.

Now that a growing demographic is learning about the advantages of joining a CSA farm, the next step is to make sure eaters are also just as aware of some of the downsides. After all, joining a CSA operation means sharing in the rewards, as well as the risks, of farming. The region’s CSA community is working on developing more education on what it means for a farm member when, for example, a June frost becomes an unwelcome visitor.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear from all CSA farmers in the region: those that deliver to the Twin Cities, as well as those that deliver only to spots in outstate Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Send me an e-mail at if you’d like to be in the LSP’s 2011 Minnesota-Western Wisconsin CSA Directory. (If you were listed in the 2010 CSA Directory, you should receive a letter from LSP by the middle of January.)

And if you’re an eater who wants to take part in this exciting food community in 2011, our CSA Directory will be updated sometime around Feb. 15.

If this helps you get through the next few months, remember one thing: all that melting snow will provide some nice soil moisture for all those CSA gardens. I know, it’s a lame attempt at putting a positive spin on giant snowdrifts and subzero wind chills, but if you’re going to belong to a farm you gotta start thinking like a farmer. And if there’s one mantra farmers live by, it’s that there’s always another spring around the corner.

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