Local CSA: Down-to-earth produce

John Shirley, Jr.

To most of us non-farmers, planting a seed in the ground and patiently waiting for your produce of choice to come out of the ground seems like the simplest and most natural thing in the world. 

It turns out most produce Americans consume are part of a very complicated system. A lot of chemicals, transportation, price supports, farmers being paid not to produce and politics are involved with simply getting that typical bargain cucumber to the local supermarket.

This system is also difficult for your typical farmer to navigate. Farmers usually need an enormous amount of land to survive and their fortunes can fluctuate like the stock market.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) offers a simpler, often-healthier and better-for-the-environment alternative that helps support the local economy.

The Twin-Ports CSA customer can also be happy to know farmers a short driving distance away are able make a decent living and keep doing what they love doing best.

This is much better than them fearing their lives become like the sharecroppers in The Grapes of Wrath or become the basis of a John Cougar Mellencamp song. Oh shoot, now I have that song in my head: “Rain on the scarecrow blood on the plow. This land fed a nation. This land made me proud. And son I’m just sorry there’s no legacy for you now.”

Rick Dalen of Northern Harvest Farm in Wrenshall is certainly proud of what he does and loves to talk about it. I’ve talked to him a few times and he is a writer’s dream interviewee.

He is the exact opposite of those occasional interviewees who I have to drag every word out of and don’t seem to be inspired about what they do. All I had to do was ask him a few questions and he can talk all day with passion about what he does.

He also always makes sure to give shout-outs to his fellow CSA buddies, like mentioning how the people at The Food Farm helped him and his wife get started farming.

I know. We still haven’t defined CSA farms. Listen to how Rick explains it.

“Well we are primarily a CSA farm, which stands for community supported agriculture,” said Rick. “This means we sell vegetables directly to families. They buy it with a kind of a subscription to the farm and they get a weekly delivery of vegetables throughout the season.”

It is really that simple. Someone who you can call on the phone or visit grows the food and you can see exactly where it grows. You agree to share in that risk that farmers have always faced and make things easier for people like Rick.

If crops are great that year, you get a bigger box of groceries. If not, you get a little less.

“If something catastrophic happens or otherwise, they are sharing in that risk. If we had a huge hail storm and it really affected the stock they would not get a refund they would still pay sort of in solidarity with us due to something catastrophic. So that is kind of our crop insurance is our members,” said Rick.

According to localharvest.org/duluth-mn/csa the Twin Ports has about 12 CSA farms nearby. Rick’s farm has won the Reader’s “Best of the Northland” award  for “Best CSA” the last four years.

When I talked to him about the award a few years ago, Rick, being humble, said he thought that might be due more to publicity about his farm and then was quick to put in a plug for some of the other CSAs.
The CSA deliveries mostly occur during the warm season (which is ending soon.) Still, many CSA farms have root cellars and deliver root vegetables during the winter. Most of these root vegetables subscriptions may be filled by now.

But, you can check out some of the local CSAs and see if any of them still have any of these winter-produce shares still available.