CSAs Madison Style or Insuring Good Nutrition

Mom was right.

We should eat our vegetables.  Now even some insurance companies want you to supersize your salad (read about this below).  But more than that, if we choose vegetables that are produced locally as much as we can, we will improve not only our own health but the health of our local food producing network.CSA-onions

An up and running local food network will be doubly welcome when gas prices start to make the current system of flying in or trucking our broccoli and blueberries from California or Peru or apples from New Zealand untenable.  (I’ve been to New Zealand. I did not step off the plane feeling fresh, and I suspect that your Granny Smith arriving on the return flight isn’t feeling very fresh either.)

Fresh is sweet corn picked this dawn and stacked up in gorgeous pyramids on a table at your local farmer’s market.  Fresh is crisp lettuce with a little dirt still clinging to the base of the leaves and real baby carrots (not those old ones ground into baby shape by a giant carrot mill).  Fresh is picking up your produce once a week from your CSA.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an arrangement between households and farmers who work together.  Households pay an annual fee in the winter or spring and then collect a share of the season’s harvest all summer, which is delivered to a garage in their neighborhood for regular pick-up.  Many CSA farmers also hold special picking events in their fields to connect you with the place your food comes from.

The CSA I belong to, Vermont Valley Community Farm,  just held a Pea Pick last weekend in which hundreds of CSA members came out to the pea patch and picked 2,400 pounds of peas!  That saves the members a bit of the cost and brings you very close to the peas that you will put up and eat for the rest of the year.  I simply KNOW that the fruit and vegetables I pick myself taste better.

CSA-butcher-blockBut, you say, local food is just for rich people.  It’s too costly.  True, local farmers don’t enjoy the subsidies that allow agribusiness to sell for less than it cost to produce.  Remember that when you pay a local farmer, you are paying the true cost and a fair price for your food.  It’s the right thing to do, but it’s not always easy.  So I want to spread the word about the way we do it in Madison, Wisconsin.

Madison, WI, the biggest city near my land, is home to the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC), which coordinates 35 farms that serve Madison, Milwaukee, Dubuque, the Twin Cities and surrounding areas.

MACSAC  also coordinates a program called Health Plan Partners, which includes several pioneering insurance companies that offer  rebates of up to $200 a year to their customers who eat local food from CSAs.  (So now it’s not only your mother telling you to eat your vegetables because she loves you – your insurance company is telling you because they don’t want to pay your medical bills, and they have the stats to prove you are healthier if you  eat those veggies.)  That includes my insurer, Physicians PlusGroup Health Cooperative SCSDean Health Plan,   and several others.

CSA-medleyBarb Perkins, who with her husband owns Vermont Valley Farms, says, “A lot of people who normally wouldn’t have heard about CSAs are learning about them through their HMOs.  And many people are willing to take the chance and join because they get the rebate.  It’s amazing to me that these HMOs have made the connection between health and healthy eating.”

She continues, “My husband and I go to conferences around  the country.  We tell people what Wisconsin in doing, so the word is getting out, and there are going to be people in other states pestering their HMOs to do this.”

Area CSAs have another way of making healthy, local eating available to people who might not be able to afford it.  Their sign up sheet asks members to donate to help low-income people get a food share.  This year Vermont Valley Farm members alone donated $8,435, and are subsidizing 29 shares.

CSA-pattypan“We have never turned anyone away,” Perkens says.  “If we know of a member who needs help, for example some members couldn’t rejoin this year because a family member had lost a job, we were instantly able to respond and say, ‘We have financial assistance for you.’ We work with MACSAC too.  They do a lot of outreach to identify people who could use assistance.

CSA-raspberriesMACSAC coordinates a Partner Shares Program which raises money for an Assistance Fund to help subsidize CSA shares for low-income households through fundraising, grants and donations.

The only thing that makes that fresh food taste better than buying from local suppliers or picking it yourself, is sharing it.

My next post on Tuesday will be a summary of an article I wrote recently for Organic Broadcaster on Climate Change and what experts predict for the Upper Midwest.

What are your experiences with a CSA?  Please click on Commnet and sound off!

7 replies

  1. This is very cool.

    In the past few years I’ve noticed signs at my local farmer’s market that the farmers accept food stamps. While some may argue that buying organic, locally grown produce is not what food stamps should be used for, I disagree. I’d rather see a low income family use their food stamps to buy farm fresh fruits & veg for their family than bags/boxes of processed food!

    • I totally agree, Katy. And I believe that there are farmer’s markets in Milwaukee which have equipped their vendors to take food stamps. I think it’s a move in the right direction.

  2. To buy the same types of produce (and not necessarily the same quality) that I’m getting every week from my CSA would actually cost me more money at the grocery store or even the local farmers market. I think the farm is more profitable with a guaranteed market for the oddball items that might not sell out at the farmers market. Memberships also guarantee that X amount of produce picked on Thursday is definitely not going to waste.

    Interesting ideas on the low-income assistance programs.

  3. Wanted to respond to your comment on Minneapolis Downtown Journal website. While not state wide, this is a good start. Check out these links to see CSA’s and Farmers Markets that accept Food Stamps (EBT):



    • Thanks for your comment on foodstamps. I believe many of the Madison Farmers Markets also accept food stamps. We have an organization called REAP that works hard to get local food to everyone who wants it. I couldn’t pull up the first web address but I enjoyed reading about the lakes and valley CSA. It really makes me happy that these kind of efforts are underway.

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