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Family Farms Grow by Selling Shares to Neighbors

Upcoming conference shows how, why ‘CSA’ works

September 8, 2004 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service


Family farmers are supplying exceptionally fresh produce to residents who pay for fruits and vegetables before they are grown.

Every week nearly 90,000 Americans dig into boxes full of fresh fruits and vegetables picked and packed just for them by nearby family farms. This tasty and profitable local food connection — in which consumers purchase shares of a farm’s products before they are actually grown — represents one of the fastest-growing innovations in agriculture.

A national small farm research organization, the Rodale Institute, recently estimated there are as many as 1,700 such “community supported agriculture” farms in the United States, up dramatically from just two known CSAs in 1986. Another national survey found that CSA farms range in size from a few shareholder members to hundreds, with a median number of 52 shares per farm.

Now a major CSA conference in Michigan, entitled Growing Together and scheduled for Nov. 12 to 14, 2004, will give those eager to know more about community supported agriculture a chance to learn directly from some of the best of its practitioners. More information about the conference, including registration material, is available at http://www.mlui.org/csaconference.

Featured speakers at Growing Together include John Peterson of Angelic Organics, one of the largest CSA farms in the country, with more than 1,100 shareholders; and Elizabeth Henderson, author of Sharing the Harvest: A Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. CSA veterans from around the country will lead workshops on starting, managing, and expanding share-based farms and explain how this local food connection builds healthy and prosperous communities.

The upcoming Growing Together conference takes place in Tustin, Mich., and is hosted by CSA-Michigan, a group of CSA practitioners and supporters in the state. Growing Together takes place in the middle of some of the movement’s hottest territory. Michigan ranks eighth in the nation, according to one national directory of CSA farms. Michigan has 36 CSA farms on this list, and is one of six Great Lakes states in the top 10.

Entrepreneurial Agriculture
Community supported agriculture is just one of the many entrepreneurial directions — from focusing on local sales to developing specialty products for national markets — that smaller family farms are now taking to build their businesses and stay on their land.

Guided by the free market, these farmers are tailoring production to changing consumer demands, instead of taking the low prices global markets pay for bulk grain, tankers of milk, mass-produced meat, and other “commodities.” By capitalizing on new marketing opportunities, entrepreneurs are changing the face of American agriculture, saving farmland from pavement and pollution, and building a safer, healthier food supply.

They are also attracting a lot of attention, including listings in guides that connect consumers seeking truly fresh food with the nearby farms that offer it. In Michigan, the latest local food guide is Select a Taste of Traverse Bay, a directory of farms in northwest Lower Michigan that was produced by the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Entrepreneurial Agriculture Project. Select a Taste of Traverse is available online as a searchable database at www.mlui.org/foodguide.

Other Michigan listings include the Michigan Integrated Food and Farming System’s online guide, MIFFS Marketline, available at www.miffsmarketline.org, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s online list at www.mda.state.mi.us/market/u-pick. National local food directories and related information are at www.localharvest.org and www.foodroutes.org.

The next challenge for entrepreneurial agriculture? Helping local and state economic development leaders in Michigan and across the country recognize their new, important role in building entrepreneurial farming. Last fall the Michigan Land Use Institute promoted the potential for family farm growth and practical strategies for accomplishing it at its Seeds of Prosperity conference, sponsored by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Michigan Farm Bureau, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Traverse City Area Chamber Foundation, among others.

CSA-Michigan’s Growing Together conference on the how, why, and potential of community supported agriculture is another opportunity to gain information and insight from people with plenty of hands-on experience.

Journalist Patty Cantrell directs the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Entrepreneurial Agriculture Project, which is attracting attention from economic developers and assembling resources for building a new and profitable generation of family farms. You can reach her at patty@mlui.org.

Michigan Land Use Institute

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