There are no food shortages in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Delivery drivers are still at work and the states’ grocery stores remain open and well stocked, save for maybe toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Yet, as this pandemic stretches on people begin to wonder how fragile the system is and think more critically about where their food comes from. In a time when anxieties about nearly every aspect of life are high, community supported agriculture can help relieve fears of future food insecurity.
Think of community supported agriculture (CSAs) as a magazine. Customers buy a ‘subscription’ from a local farming operation, essentially investing in that farm. In return, each subscriber receives a portion of the operations harvest. Most farms in this area focus on fresh produce, so those that invest in the farms receive regular boxes of fresh vegetables during the harvest season. Boxes can be filled with everything from tomatoes and onions to kale and spinach, depending on the farm and the time of year.
“There’s a relationship between us and that community of people we grow food for,” said Jody Lenz of Threshing Table Farms in Star Prairie, Wisc. “That relationship piece is really important to us as farmers. When we’re growing our food we can picture the people it’s going to feed.”
CSAs began popping up around the country in the mid-1980s. They came about at a difficult time time when larger and larger farming operations were eating up many if not most of the small family farms that dotted landscapes all throughout the Midwest. The financial burden for small operations was often too much to bear at that time — but sharing that burden with the community gave some farmers the chance to keep going.
“What community supported agriculture was attempting to do was say that the risk should be distributed between more people,” said Dan Guenthner of Common Harvest Farms in Osceola, Wisc. “If we all chipped in we could distribute that weight more evenly over more people.”
The farms focus not only on providing local communities with fresh food, but educating people on where their food comes from.
“We were at one time an agrarian society and our patterns of life were tied more directly to the land,” Guenthner said. “We’ve just gotten further and further away from that.”
He said CSAs offer a chance to reclaim a bit of that tie to the land.
“We have people who still remember childhood visits to a relative’s farm and then they realize their kids are growing up in the city and they’re not going to have that opportunity,” he said. “So there is a desire on the part of some to have a place to expose their kids to agriculture and farming practices and to get a feel for the place where their food comes from.”
This is especially important now.
“If every local community has its own thriving food system then it’ll be much easier if one community gets hit with COVID-19 or something else to know that the community right next can help out and so can the one on the other side of us,” said Lenz at Threshing Table. “Versus if we have all our eggs in one basket in a big box store.”
Lenz said people are craving security right now, but often times don’t know how to find it.
“I think of the stories of people hoarding toilet paper,” she said. “Having something like toilet paper is a symbol of security — but it’s not really security.”
Food means security to her. Real, honest security that can help families remain calm and prepared during difficult times. Lenz’ CSA grows fresh vegetables, and she knows she can get beef from the farm down the road and fruits and berries from another not far from there.
These small family farms and CSAs offer the kind of security everyone is craving and Lenz said her connection to them means she never has to worry about where her food comes from.
“I feel connected to my community and know that we’re here to take care of each other,” she said. “And I see people who’re connected to local farms having a better sense of security.”