Putting a face on food


The Fleischman family knows where their food comes from.

Once a week during the summer and fall, the Lake Elmo foursome receives a box bursting with a cornucopia of fresh-off-the-farm produce. They know that their vegetables, fruits and herbs were picked only hours earlier from the fields of La Finca, a family farm about 100 miles north of their home.

The Fleischmans are 10-year veterans of a food movement known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). According to Natasha Fleischman, they’ve had prepaid CSA shares with both La Finca and Common Harvest Farm in Osceola, Wisconsin. Natasha, who enjoys the share with her husband and her 10- and 13-year-old boys, calls it “the best thing I’ve ever done. We get a greater variety of produce than ever before. It’s opened up a whole new realm of vegetables.”

For directories with detailed information on CSA farms that deliver to the Twin Cities, see the Land Stewardship Project or LocalHarvest Web sites.

CSA members pay an up-front fee to receive regular deliveries of an array of seasonal vegetables. While summer shares are the most common, some farms also deliver fall and winter shares. Some farms also give members the option of buying extras like fruit, flowers, honey, eggs and meat for an additional cost.

CSAs began in Japan more than 30 years ago as “teikei,” which translates to “putting the farmer’s face on food.” In 1985, the model of creating relationships between farmers and customers reached the United States. According to LocalHarvest.org, an organic and local food website, more than 1000 farms across the United States currently call themselves CSAs, with more than 30 in the Twin Cities area.

Interest in CSA farms has increased considerably in the past few years, according to Brian DeVore, communication coordinator for the Land Stewardship Project, which promotes sustainable agriculture.

“There’s a lot more people who want to know where their food is coming from,” said DeVore. He attributes the increased interest to growing concerns about food safety and apprehension about chemicals and pesticides in food. Consumers also are becoming more aware about the environmental impact of their food.

“People want food that doesn’t have a huge carbon footprint,” DeVore said. With the typical piece of produce traveling an average of 1500 miles from source to plate, the supermarket doesn’t cut it. Food from local CSAs requires far less energy to produce and transport.

DeVore says that people are also interested in becoming part of a farm community. CSA membership “gives them a connection to the land where they’re getting their food from. They can visit their farm and see where and how their food’s being produced.”

CSA farmer Charlie Kersey also notices increased interest in his operation. Charlie and his wife, Tzeitel Kersey, are in their seventh year of running La Finca (“the farm” in Spanish) a hundred miles north of the Twin Cities. Their 17-week summer shares include a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, all produced on their five acres of land. A typical early summer delivery includes everything from broccoli and spinach to strawberries and bok choi, while late summer brings tomatoes, leeks, carrots and potatoes.

La Finca also offers fall, winter and chicken shares. Four deliveries, each made up of two grocery bags filled with fall crops and storable vegetables, make up the October-November fall share. Vegetables include beets, potatoes, onions, winter squash and more. New this year, the winter share combines packages of the farm’s frozen vegetables with prepared foods like soup and pasta sauces. Chicken shareholders receive deliveries of La Finca’s cleaned, vacuum-packed and flash frozen free-range chickens.

Throughout the summer, fall and winter, La Finca makes Thursday deliveries to Twin Cities pick-up sites such as St. Anthony Park, Merriam Park and Macalaster-Groveland/Highland in St. Paul, along with Lake Elmo, South Minneapolis, Arden Hills, Hopkins and St. Louis Park. La Finca also delivers to Duluth, fifty miles north of their farm.

After witnessing the positive impact of small-scale sustainable farming as a college student in Costa Rica and a Peace Corps volunteer in VenezuelaPanama, city-bred Charlie became a CSA farmer. His members, he says, are local people looking for “super-tasty, super- fresh” produce.

But it’s not only about food quality. According to Charlie, CSA members seek direct contact with the people who labor over their food. They’re looking for a more “personal connection between the farmer and the eater,” which isn’t possible with food bought in a supermarket. As part of this relationship, “eaters” get to reap the benefits and share the risks of farming. A bumper crop of snow peas or tomatoes, for example, means more in each member’s delivery that week.

Margaret Pennings and Dan Guenthner’s Common Harvest Farm was one of the first CSA operations in the Twin Cities area. Pennings and Guenthner have been growing and selling shares of chemical-free vegetables and herbs for 19 years. Beginning in mid-June, Common Harvest starts summer deliveries of a variety of vegetables, herbs, fruit and honey to 13 Twin Cities pick-up sites throughout Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park.

According to Pennings, people are becoming increasingly concerned about their connection with nature and their food. Based on what she’s hearing from curious callers and new members, Pennings says “there’s a real awareness about wanting local, organic connections.” To encourage greater connections between members and their farm, Pennings and Guenthner welcome members to visit at any time, in addition to hosting an annual fall festival.

Pennings also notes that receiving regular shipments of nutrient-rich produce makes for healthier diets. Her farm’s shareholders say their weekly deliveries of vegetables “force them to eat the way they’re supposed to eat.”

Share arrangements vary from farm to farm. Most summer share deliveries begin in May or June and run through September and October. Some farms, like La Finca, deliver into the fall and winter for an additional cost. While some CSA operations deliver to neighborhood pick-up sites (and sometimes even doorsteps), others involve members in helping make deliveries. Some CSA farms ask members to work on the farms occasionally, while others require only a membership payment. Many host seasonal festivals and planting and harvesting events.

While some local farms already have sold all their summer shares, both La Finca and Common Harvest still have openings.