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Investing in Farm Futures

Families buy into fresh, local food

January 30, 2003 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Brian Confer
  Jim Sluyter nd Jo Meller, Five Springs Farm

Most people think of Wall Street when they buy shares of stock in a company’s future. But hundreds of families in Michigan think of the delicious salad greens, fresh flowers, and homegrown tomatoes they’ll enjoy every summer.

In northwest Michigan, for example, 23 families invest approximately $275 each winter in Five Springs Farm of Bear Lake, north of Manistee. In return they receive a two-person, weekly share of fresh vegetables from April through October, as well as some assurance that “their farm” will be around for them next year.

Five Springs Farm is what’s known as a “community supported agriculture” farm. It’s one of dozens that now exist in Michigan and one of thousands that have sprung up nationwide since the early 1980s. The central idea is to get cash to farmers in the winter, when they need it to prepare for the coming season.

“The crop is sold before it’s put in the ground most of the time,” says Jim Sluyter who owns and operates the farm with life-partner Jo Meller. Paying ahead means CSA members share in both the risks and rewards of the farm enterprise. If the weather is bad, their bags of lettuce, cucumbers, and potatoes are not as full. If the weather is good, their cups runneth over.
People across the country are embracing the risks and rewards of CSA investments because they want safe, fresh food from people they know and trust. They also want to help keep agriculture in their communities.

Ann Rowland, who is a member of a different CSA in Emmet County, says the “community support” part of her investment became clear when drought once wiped out the sweet corn she was expecting. “My feeling was: ‘Good. They’ll be able to go on and plant again in the spring because of the shares we purchased.’”

Most of the time, being a CSA member is just a joy for busy people. “Its like having your own organic garden but without the work,” says Five Springs Farm member Kim Joanette. “It’s an excellent value, and they’ve made it easy for me.”

Contacts: Five Springs Farm and its international CSA newsletter, The Community Farm, at 231-889-3216, csafarm@jackpine.com

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