Farm to Table: Community Supported Agriculture

By: Amber Ogden | February 4, 2015

When there’s this much snow on the ground, fresh produce may be the farthest thing from your mind. However, thanks to the agricultural industry of southeast Michigan and its dedicated farmers, we are able to stay nourished no matter the season.

Sure, you won’t find an outdoor farmers market flourishing in the beginning of February, but you’ll certainly find a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm or two in the area. What does that mean? Basically, a CSA farm provides consumers (that’s you) with a share of fresh produce throughout a particular season. Typically, that means you’ll receive a box of fresh, assorted veggies every week or biweekly, depending on the farm and what type of CSA you sign up for.

Community supported agriculture is great not only for you, but for farmers as well. And even though it’s a little more than chilly in Metro Detroit at the moment, local farmer Tomm Becker finds that his fall and winter CSA shares at Sunseed Farm, 5000 Boyden Dr., Ann Arbor, are his most popular.

“During the summer months, there are many options for purchasing fresh, local food, such as farmers markets. Many people grow their own gardens as well. During the fall and winter, however, there aren’t a lot of options for really fresh, really good vegetables,” Becker said. “With Sunseed, you can get freshly harvested vegetables all the way through the deepest part of the winter, though, which is when people really begin to crave them.”

Sunseed Farm, which opened in 2009 and began its first CSA share the following year, produces over 60 different kinds of vegetables, 20 of which are grown in hoophouses through the winter. That includes fresh greens such as spinach, kale, salad mix, lettuce and more, as well as roots like carrots, radishes and turnips, and also fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, oregano and thyme.

You may be thinking, “what if I sign up for a CSA share and I’m given a foreign vegetable that I have no idea how to prepare?” Well, Sunseed always makes sure to introduce new veggies in its newsletter, along with recipe ideas and preparation techniques.

“Many of our members tell us that joining Sunseed has made a huge difference in the way they relate to food, both in adopting a more varied and healthy diet, as well as learning new, fun and delicious ways to cook.”

If you’re interested in a CSA share (they are available during the winter, summer and fall), sign up for a winter prorated share online. Half and full orders are both available, so depending on your passion for veggies and/or family size, you may find yourself leaning one way or another. Summer shares are already available for pre-order, as well!

Should you purchase a share, you’ll be able to pick up your produce at one of two distribution locations (the farm and a second site near downtown Ann Arbor).

If you’ve ever dined at The Root, 340 Town Center Blvd. E106, White Lake, you’ve probably already sampled some of the produce Sunseed has to offer—the farm supplies the restaurant with its produce! Summer and fall 2015 shares are also available for pickup at The Root.

“Beyond getting a great deal on really fresh, delicious produce that is much more flavorful and nutritious than produce from a grocery store shipped from across the country, CSA also connects you to the land and the growing seasons in your area, and often to a farmer that stewards the land,” Becker said. “Learning how to cook and eat with the seasons lends a richness to our lives. Food has always been a great place to start in relationships; the dinner table is where our family comes together; we offer food and drink to our guests. Care and attention to the quality and integrity of our food deepens these moments even more.”

City Commons

(Photo provided by Alice Bagley of City Commons)

City Commons is a cooperative of five Detroit farms that shares in the responsibility of growing food for its CSA program. Alice Bagley, one of the owners of City Commons, is responsible for doing most of the bookkeeping and managing City Commons’ budget, as well as running Fields of Plenty, a small vegetable and herb farm in Detroit.

While the CSA season at City Commons doesn’t begin until mid-June (and runs through the end of October), interested Metro Detroiters are encouraged to sign up as soon as possible. If you register for a summer share before Friday, March 20 (the first day of spring!), you’ll receive $25 off of a full share or $15 off of a half share.

“This year we’re planning to grow over 50 different types of fruits, vegetables and herbs,” Bagley said, adding that a blog on the City Commons website is an excellent resource where CSA participants can find recipes and cooking inspiration. “We also try to share ideas and resources on our Facebook page.”

Later in the year, there is an optional Thanksgiving CSA share as well as a flower share, both of which can be found alongside the full and half produce shares in the online shop.

“CSAs are great for a number of reasons. For the consumer, it is a great way to get more produce in their diet, try new fruits and vegetables, get produce that is fresh and seasonal, and get a closer connection to where their food comes from,” Bagley said.

Four of the five farms that participate in City Commons are founding members of the co-op, and most of the farmers worked together as apprentices for the Garden Resource Program as well as had previous experience growing produce and running small farms, so passion is not lacking amongst these seven farm owners.

“All of us who are involved in the CSA want to be able to make a stable livelihood at least in part by growing fruits and vegetables,” Bagley said. “City Commons is just a great way for us to do that while getting a close connection to the people who are ultimately eating our food.”

An additional CSA farm in southeast Michigan includes Community Farm of Ann Arbor, 1525 S. Fletcher Rd., Chelsea, which is currently accepting commitment forms for its 2015 CSA season.

Whether you’re the farmer or the consumer, CSA farms are incredibly beneficial, no matter the season. Sign up for a CSA share today and better your health and the economy at once!