While the majority of Wisconsin residents were throwing back green beer and enjoying St. Patrick’s Day festivities, the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee hosted the 10th annual Local Farmer Open House on March 17.
Residents were able to interact with dozens of local farmers on hand promoting their farms and CSA programs. A CSA, otherwise known as community supported agriculture, has become a popular way for the community to purchase local, seasonal food directly from an area farmer.
Kimberly and I attended the event with hopes of signing up for our very first CSA. Boy were we surprised at the number of great local farmers and the services they provide.
Before we made our decision on what farm we would choose, we were able to sit in on three educational workshops. The first was on how to choose a CSA and what to expect, presented by Jamie Ferschinger, community program coordinator with the Urban Ecology Center. Next, Chef Annie Wegner LeFort led a discussion on how to get the most from a CSA purchase with some helpful tips on planning menus, cooking and preserving fruits and vegetables. Lastly, Lynn Markham from the UW System, led a discussion on how pesticides and food choice affect our health and water quality.
Armed with some great information, Kimberly and I navigated our way through the three levels of farmers’ booths. What better way to know where our food comes from than the farm owners themselves. Each gave us a run-down on their farm’s philosophy, how they care for their land, and how they operate their CSA.
Common questions we learned one should ask when searching for the CSA that is right for them are:
- What do you sell?
- What are your growing and production practices?
- How do I order and buy from you?
- Where and when are your pick-up sites?
- What is the length of the season?
- Can you describe the cost and size of your shares?
It is important to pick a farm that has an ideal drop-off location and time that fits into your schedule. While some farms do offer home delivery, most have drop-off sites where participants can pick up their box on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Pick a CSA that fits the style of food you cook with or eat. Otherwise, you might have a box full of produce that goes to waste. Growing season and the length of the CSA is also important to consider. With pesticide use being a big decider for us, we sought answers on how the farmers fertilize their crops. Some do in fact spray, but have adopted techniques allowed by certified organic farming practices.While purchasing produce through a CSA can be a financial commitment that some may find difficult to make, many farms offer payment plans split throughout the growing season and accept food stamps and worker shares. Along with your box of produce, many farms provide newsletters that include recipes and tips on how to cook from what’s in your box, as well as the farm’s weekly happenings.
An up close and personal introduction with the farmers that are growing your food is an experience in which everyone should partake. Know your farmer, know your food.