Chuck Waibel and his wife, Carol Ford, live in the tiny western Minnesota town of Milan, Minnesota, population 350. Throughout the winter, even in the harshest weather, they provide fresh produce to 18 families who have purchased Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) member shares. These members pay $450 and receive a standard share box equal to five-eighths bushel of produce every week, beginning in September or October and running through mid-April. A share box is about one foot wide, eight inches tall, and 15 inches long. It is comparable in size to a small picnic cooler.
A December 2008 share was typical, including a bag of greens, a head of cabbage, a rutabaga, a couple of pounds of carrots, some potatoes, two onions, and two butternut squash. Share members also received a jar of jam, a gift from Waibel and Ford.
Community Supported Agriculture helps put fresh, local produce on people’s tables while helping to sustain the area farmers who grow it. According to Waibel, CSAs are the fastest growing alternative food distribution system.
Community supported agriculture. A means of food distribution where consumers, or shareholders, agree to pay a fixed sum to a farmer at the beginning of the growing season and receive regular deliveries of harvested produce. [from The Northland’s Winter Greenhouse Manual]
CSAs began in Japan more than 30 years ago and were called “teikei”, which translates to “putting the farmer’s face on food.” In 1985, the concept was introduced in the United States; today there are more than 1000 CSA farms across the United States, with more than 30 located in the Twin Cities area. These CSAs operate in the summer/fall growing season.
In an e-mail, Waibel wrote that growing fresh produce in Minnesota winters is possible because of the low energy greenhouse that he designed. He said that the greenhouse uses less than $100 in propane in an entire year.
Waibel and Ford have been running their greenhouse business, Garden Goddess Enterprises, for nearly five years. Waibel wrote, “ We actively promote local foods in our region, telling people that they can do much more for themselves than they would think.”
Waibel said that the couple has a waiting list “several times as long as we can service.” While he said they are planning a major expansion of their greenhouse, Waibel said they especially want to help others build similar greenhouses. He said, “We see this as a responsibility to the community.”
Mary Thoemke (email firstname.lastname@example.org), a lifelong resident of Saint Paul, is a free lance writer for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
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