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Meet Community Supported Agriculture Farmers at Local Farmer Open House

Community supported agriculture (CSA), a model in which consumers buy a share of a farm’s harvest each growing season and get direct access to their fresh, locally grown produce, fosters connections between farmers and consumers while encouraging ecologically sound farming practices. At the 17th annual Local Farmer Open House, attendees will have the opportunity to talk with farmers about their produce, growing methods and CSA subscription options. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., March 9 at the Riverside Park location of the Urban Ecology Center.

“The commitment of the Urban Ecology Center has always been to encourage people to live more sustainably, and the food choices we make have a big effect on our environment,” said Anne Steinberg, a long-time volunteer with the Urban Ecology Center. Steinberg began helping with the Local Farmer Open House in 2006. The event began in 2002 as a way to invite farmers to talk about all aspects of their farms and CSAs with urban residents.

Participating farms in this year’s Open House include Cream City Farms, which has been instrumental in the redevelopment of Milwaukee’s 30th Street Industrial Corridor; LotFotL (an abbreviation for “live off the fat of the land”) Community Farm, in Delavan; and Yang Family Farm, a Hmong family that has been farming for many years and will be coming to the Open House for the first time. Most of the farmers offer produce-based CSA, with additional add-on options like eggs, meat, dairy or heritage wheat products.

The Local Farmer Open House will feature two free educational workshops: CSA Basics, at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., to educate people about how CSAs work; and Cooking From Your CSA Box, at 12:30 p.m., featuring local chef Ann Wegner LeFort of The Mindful Palate. “Cooking from the CSA box is new to some people,” Steinberg says. “Rather than going to the store and picking up things for your recipe, you start with what’s in the box, cooking seasonally, which some people might not be used to.”

Kathy Papineau of MKE Localicious will be on hand offering healthful lunch items for purchase. Attendees that sign up for a CSA subscription with a farm during the event will be entered into a drawing to win one of two gift baskets.

Changing CSAs for Today’s Needs

In the past, CSA models might not have worked for everyone because they provided too much food, or people received produce they didn’t want. Steinberg emphasizes that farmers have been listening to those concerns, and now many have different sized shares for all households. Some farms also have online accessibility so people can see and choose what goes into their weekly or bi-weekly CSA box. One farmer established a mobile mini-farmers market, where their truck comes to a designated site and members can pick what they want for that week.

In addition to smaller shares with more flexibility and choice, Steinberg says they also understand that buying a CSA share can cost a lot of money upfront, so many farmers now offer flexible payment plans and options for people to pay for a share. “A lot of the farmers have an assistance fund from money they’ve collected from other members that will help pay for part of the share,” Steinberg explains. “Some farmers also take Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, so people can use SNAP to pay for their share.”

There are also CSA membership rebates available through health insurance companies such as the Wisconsin Education Association Insurance Trust, a health plan that insures many University of Wisconsin system employees (WEATrustStateHealthPlan.com/value-added-services).

Although organic food has become readily available at many grocery stores, Steinberg notes there’s a lot of “green-washing” or “local-washing” and consumers don’t always know where that food came from. “When you see organic food at a big grocery store, it could be coming from China, or you don’t know how it’s grown. Belonging to a CSA is a direct relationship with a farmer—you have a relationship with the people who grow your food,” Steinberg says.

Cost: Free. Location: 1500 E. Park Pl., Milwaukee. For more information, visit Facebook.com/events/2108646336114293 or UrbanEcologyCenter.org/csa.

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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