NEIGHBORHOOD NOTES | What’s a CSA? Standish resident is happy to explain how it works and why getting your vegetables through one is valuable


Standish resident Michael Schuldt believes so strongly in the value of Community Supported Agriculture (more commonly called CSAs) that he serves as the neighborhood contact point for Ploughshare Farm, a certified organic farm located 18 miles outside Alexandria, Minn. Last year, he managed a drop-off/pick-up point on Thursdays.

Ploughshare farmer Gary Brever grows a wide variety of organic vegetables and some fruits on 160 acres of fertile soil bordering the Chippewa River in Central Minnesota.  Produce is locally grown, certified organic, fresh and full of flavor. A number of different shares are offered, including a full share, mini share, fall share, winter share, and strawberry share. Shares are on sale now.

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Can you explain what a CSA is?

Schuldt: “CSA” is an anacronym for “Community Supported Agriculture” which is basically an alternative economic model for food distribution.  Most people purchase their food primarily from a grocery store and have no direct interaction with the producer of their food.  With Community Supported Agriculture, a community of people purchase memberships; the money from these memberships is used by the farmer to operate the farm.  In return, members receive a portion of the farm’s produce.  Because members pay up front at the start of the season, they also share in the risk.  For example, if a hail storm damages the fields, then all of the members share in the disappointment of the damaged crops.  The goal of this alternative economic model is to provide your farmer a reasonable living and share in the risks which are ever-present in farming, and unlike the grocery store, members are encouraged to visit the farm, lend a hand, and see where and how their food is produced.

How long have you been getting vegetables from Ploughshare Farm?  Out of all the CSAs out there, why do you use them?

Schuldt: My family has been a member of Ploughshare Farm for five years.  We settled upon Ploughshare Farm after comparing the produce inside the weekly box with other CSA shares our friends and neighbors received, and from week to week, we all agreed that Ploughshare farm had the best variety of vegetables.

Why did you decide to be a drop-off point? What are your responsibilities?

Schuldt: This past year was my first year as site coordinator, and I decided to become the drop-site because I believe in Ploughshare Farm. There is something honest about providing organic vegetables and improving people’s diets.  As a site coordinator, I am basically here to promote Ploughshare Farm, help members with the pick-up process, and answer any questions.  

What do you enjoy about having a CSA? What do you look forward most to each summer?

Schuldt: Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about a CSA is the element of surprise.  The produce we receive is seasonal, so I find myself waiting with baited breath for certain crops to appear in the box.  Spring salads are wonderful, late June snap peas, then with late July and August a stunning mix of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumbers, and summer squash.  Every growing season is a little different, and opening that box each week is always exciting.  I have to plan a week of meals around the contents of that box, and let’s face it, I love food.  Food is fun.            

What sorts of questions do you get from people when you talk about your CSA?

Schuldt: Probably the most difficult question people ask me is, “What do I do with all this food?”  It took me a couple years to figure out how to utilize all the produce I receive.  Unfortunately, the typical American diet does not consist of many fresh vegetables, and many of us are ignorant about how to prepare and store these vegetables, so I do my best to offer support and suggestions, and I hope to do a better job this coming year at helping new members.

Do you find that people are very familiar with the concept of a CSA? What are common misconceptions about CSAs?

Schuldt: Because of environmental concerns and a push to purchase locally, I find an increasing number of people are aware of term CSA but lack an understanding about everything a CSA entails.  It is more than a box of organic vegetables delivered each week because there are always opportunities to visit the farm and help grow your vegetables.

Also, many people do not initially understand the seasonal nature of locally grown vegetables and become frustrated because grocery stores are now stocked with food grown all over the world, so you can purchase tomatoes or eggplant anytime at a grocery store because they are grown in California, Mexico, or South America, but a Minnesota based CSA will only have tomatoes and eggplant starting in late July or early August.  As a culture we have become very removed from the seasonal production of food, and people do not always seem to understand how the growing season works.   

Can you share a recipe using items you get from your CSA?

Schuldt: In the late summer, I often find my fridge overflowing with eggplant, summer squash, zucchini, fennel bulbs, and tomatoes.  I remember looking at all these items and thinking, how can I use all these?  My children has recently seen the movie Ratatouille, and then it struck me — why not ratatouille!  If you have never made it, there are many ways to assemble the same ingredients, but my children think its wonderful.   

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