Growing food and community with CSAs

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In between attending the births of baby lambs and transplanting early spring greens, Carmen Black talks about what she loves about farming.

“I love the actual work of farming — getting to be outside everyday and working hard. I love that every day is a little bit different,” she said.

She also loves the type of farm she works on — Sundog Farm, formerly known as ZJ Farm, is a diversified, small-scale operation producing vegetables for area families through Local Harvest CSA.

CSAs — the acronym stands for Community Supported Agriculture — operate in collaboration with their subscribers, who pay a fee at the beginning of the season in exchange for a share of vegetables throughout the summer. Typically, subscribers get a box of fresh, seasonal vegetables once a week for 16 to 20 weeks during the growing season. The upfront cash allows the farmers to invest in needed infrastructure at the beginning of the season, and farmers and their customers share risk — a poor season because of bad weather, pests or other factors won’t wipe out the farm’s income. Farmers often develop relationships with their subscribers by distributing vegetables directly to them, sometimes directly on the farm and offering community activities like potlucks and farm tours.

As the local food movement has grown, an ever-growing number of farmers have started CSA programs. Long before eating local was trendy, however, Local Harvest CSA was one of the first in the state to use the model — Susan Jutz, Simone Delaty and Jane Woodhouse started the program in 1997 with 18 families. This year, Local Harvest has CSAs for 120 members.

“I find it very meaningful to be growing food for people,” Black said. “I love the CSA model because it’s an opportunity to get to know the people I’m growing food for. Part of what I think is exciting about being a CSA farmer is right now the food system is very faceless, and people are very distant from the production of their food. I think it’s very exciting to be part of a community that’s trying something different.”

She grew up about a mile away from the farm outside Solon and raised rabbits for 4-H, where Jutz was her leader. While living on a student farm at Earlham College in Indiana, she fell back in love with agriculture. After college, she lived in Kentucky and come back to Solon to work on ZJ Farm in the summer. Now, at age 27, she’s purchasing the farm and Local Harvest CSA business from Jutz.

Black said without Jutz’s assistance, getting started as a beginning farmer would have been much more difficult.

“The name of the business and the community she’s built around it means a lot,” Black said. “Her mentorship has really been invaluable.”

Start your CSA Journey

Ready to jump into community supported agriculture? Several area farms offer subscriptions — here’s what you need to know to get started. Each CSA is a little bit different, so visit websites or make calls to learn more. Some distribute weekly shares at local employers such as Rockwell Collins, others at area farmers markets and others directly from their farms. Some offer community-building activities such as subscriber potlucks, farm work days or tours. Many offer spring and fall shares as well as summer — we’ve just collected summer share information in our guide. A number of farms also have add-on options such as eggs, milk, honey, meat or bread. Many offer small or large share options, depending on the number of people who will be splitting produce.

• Abbe Hills Farm, Mount Vernon. Distribution on farm, 10 or 20 weeks, $280 to $500. Details: (319) 895-6924, laura@abbehills.com, abbehills.com.

• Bass Family Farms, Mount Vernon. Distribution in Fairfax, Hiawatha, Cedar Rapids and on farm, 16 to 18 weeks, $425 to $727. Details: (319) 895-6480, chris@bassfarms.org, bassfarms.org.

• Bloomin’ Wooley Acres Commercial Gardens, Nashua. Distribution in Cedar Rapids and Swisher, 16 weeks, $400. Details: (319) 240-5540, bloominwooleyacres@gmail.com, bwagarden.com.

• Bountiful Harvest Farm, Solon. Distribution in Solon, Iowa City and North Liberty. 17 weeks, $495. Details: (512) 644-1623, ascharny@me.com, facebook.com/bountifulharvestiowa

• Buffalo Ridge Orchard, Central City. Distribution in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, 12 weeks, $70 to $270. Details: (319) 521-1353, buffaloridgeorchard.com.

• Calico Farm, Iowa City. Distribution in Iowa City, 18 weeks, $440. Details: (319) 321-6904, bonnieriggan@yahoo.com, calicofarm.wordpress.com.

• Echollective Farm, Mechanicsville. Distribution in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and the Quad Cities, 20 weeks, $395 to $630. Details: (319) 325-3910, echoCSA@gmail.com, echollectivecsa.blogspot.com.

• Grinnell Heritage Farm, Grinnell. Distribution in Altoona, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Grinnell, Hiawatha, Iowa City, Kalona, Norway and West Des Moines, 20 weeks, $590. Details: (641) 990-0018, grinnellheritagefarm@gmail.com, grinnellheritagefarm.com

• Kroul Farms, Mount Vernon. Distribution in Coralville, Mount Vernon and on farm, 17 weeks, $525. Details: (319) 361-6246, info@kroulfarms.com, kroulfarms.com.

• Local Harvest CSA, Solon. Distribution in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and North Liberty, 16 weeks, $450. Details: (319) 331-3957, localharvestcsa@southslope.net, solonsundogfarm.com.

• Matthew 25 Urban Farm, Cedar Rapids. Distribution in Cedar Rapids, 20 weeks, $440. Details: (319) 362-2214, eric@hub25.org, hub25.org

• Morning Glory CSA, Mount Vernon. Distribution in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Mount Vernon, 17 weeks, $460. Details: (563) 451-6676, donnawarhover@gmail.com, morninggloryllc.wordpress.com.

• Oak Hill Acres, Atalissa. Distribution in Davenport, Iowa City, Moline, Muscatine and West Liberty, 22 weeks, $250 to $600. Details: (563) 946-2304 or (319) 560-4826, webmaster@oakhillacres.com, OakHillAcres.com.

• Old School Produce Company, Vinton. Distribution on farm. 24 weeks, $15/week with no upfront fee. Details: (319) 929-1993, melwick3@outlook.com, oldschoolproducecompany.com

• Small Frye Farm, Maysville. Distribution in Iowa City and on farm, late April or early May to mid-November, $550. Details: (563) 285-5570, smallfryefarm@gmail.com, smallfryefarm.com.

• TD n’ Guy Garden Oasis, Coggon. Distribution in Cedar Rapids, Center Point, Coggon, Independence, Iowa City and Manchester, 16 weeks, $330 to $475. Details: (319) 435-8588, tdnguygo@gmail.com, tdnguy.com.

• Wild Woods Farm, Iowa City. Distribution in Iowa City and Solon, 17 weeks, $450. Details: (319) 333-2980, kate.wildwoodsfarm@gmail.com, wildwoodscsa.com.

Sources: Farm websites and Gazette inquiries. Know of one we missed? Email reporter Alison Gowans at alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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