The peak of mass production has passed as more restaurants, grocery stores and people have begun sourcing their goods from local farmers and stores, switching from mass production corporate-owned companies, to homegrown fruits and vegetables and locally made products. buzz talks to Anna Barnes, the coordinator of the Prairieland CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), a group that takes sourcing local goods a step further.
buzz: What is CSA?
Anna Barnes: It’s a system in which people pay ahead of the season for a share of the harvest. They’re essentially, in some level, sharing a part of the risk. They don’t know what vegetables they’re going to get; if you have to depend on something locally, then you’re at the mercy of the weather.
buzz: How did it get started here?
AB: Actually, some of the early members of Common Ground, most of whom are not in town anymore, looked around and saw this town was big enough. They found a farmer and since then, there have been a couple other CSAs that have been developed by the farmers themselves.
buzz: How has this year’s weather affected the crop?
AB: There were floods early on, now there’s been a drought, it’s like a cascade. Animals too, they’re looking for scarce food. You had all these animals coming out and having their litters when there was no food available. We literally had the phenomenon of raccoons chasing people. They can take down a small field over night.
buzz: Why has CSA farming become so popular?
AB: I think a lot of it is just people over time, they want food that they can trust. Every time there’s a scare, they realize how tenuous everything is.
buzz: What’s the difference between CSA farming and community gardening?
AB: You’re just gardening. All the risk is on you, how skilled you are as a gardener, you don’t have a greenhouse. At least you have someone who is very knowledgeable doing it on the CSA.
buzz: What sort of people is CSA farming good for?
AB: It’s kind of all over the board, we have families with little kids, we have grad students, older people. They want food that tastes like what they grew up with. The only thing they have in common is that food is a priority for them. They’re not necessarily buying the cheapest food they can find at a grocery store, they’re willing to pay perhaps a little more than a grocery store because it was grown locally, and the people who picked it earned at least minimum wage. That doesn’t always happen at a grocery store.
buzz: What role have CSAs played between consumers and farmers?
AB: It varies. For some people, it’s just great and they want the vegetables; they’re still supporting the farm. For some people, they really do want to attach a face. They want to see the farmer and on some level, they’re family. I know that in 2005, our farmers had a serious drought and they would’ve had to liquidate herds. One of our members donated money, another sold hay at a discounted rate. It was really interesting because we had CSA members and parents of the CSA members. It was really community-supported agriculture, everybody doing whatever they could.
buzz: How many CSAs are in the CU area?
AB: There are three CSA farms in this area.
buzz: What farm does the Prairieland CSA work with?
AB: We work with Moore family farms out of Watseka, IL.
buzz: How much is a share?
AB: The share is $400, delivering a certain dollar amount.
buzz: What things are grown?
AB: We have a planting list, and anything on the list can come through or not. Some years some crops do well, some don’t. Tomorrow‘s drop off will have a small amount of cauliflower. It’s been too hot for cauliflower this year. With all the heat, some of the green bean plantings were staggered, not coming in that way. A lot of the green beans are ripening all at once in the heat.
buzz: How do people get their produce?
AB: It comes to two places. We have two distribution places in town, one place in Champaign and one in Urbana. You just put the things in the crates into your bags.
buzz: What produce will they be getting this week?
AB: Tomorrow — green beans, squash, onions, peppers, eggplant, red lettuce and cauliflower.
buzz: Where can people find more information?
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