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CSAs: The best local food you can find

I can grow microgreens in my kitchen with a grow light, but that’s about as far as the gardening tends to go at my house. Once the plants leave the safety of the windowsill, they must compete with shade so heavy that I can’t get grass to grow, much less tomatoes to bloom.

And while I love the Saturday farmers market, there are some Saturdays when I just want to go for a bike ride, road trip to see family, or simply sleep in and go to brunch with friends.

Thankfully, Champaign-Urbana is home to multiple Community Supported Agriculture programs that allow me to miss the occasional farmers market without missing out on local produce for the week. And if you sign up now, you don’t have to miss out either.

Community Supported Agriculture projects or CSAs are programs in which people pay ahead of the growing season for a share of the harvest from a local farmer. In a CSA, everyone wins. Farmers receive a stable income — an income that doesn’t depend on warm, sunny weather to draw customers to the farmers market. And, shareholders get first cut of whatever is ripe just hours after it is picked, often at prices slightly below what they’d pay at the farmers market.

Because they are supporting the farm, CSA shareholders get an implicit say over how their crops are grown, typically without pesticides and with fair wages and humane conditions for both workers and animals. Because produce can be grown on smaller acreages with smaller equipment, the startup costs for a CSA are considerably less than that of a conventional grain farm which can run into hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars when land and equipment are included. CSAs allow more young farmers to join their families’ operations, which helps ensure local food for decades. This is exactly what is happening with two Community Supported Agriculture programs in our community: Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture and Tomahnous Farm.

Prairieland Community Supported Agriculture works with Jim and Diann Moore, and their son Wes of Moore Family Farm in Watseka. The income from expanding the CSA market helped Wes join the Moore farm full-time in 2006 without having to go into debt purchasing additional land and equipment. For the 2011 season, PCSA is offering 150 shares. The shares are $400 for 20 weeks from May 18 through September 28. You can find pictures of shares, a crop list, and an online signup form at

Likewise, Lisa Haynes and Eric Thorsland hope that their son Maxwell, who is still in high school, will be able to join the family’s organic farm when he finishes his education. Their farm, Tomahnous, is offering 50 shares for the 2011 season, which will begin in mid-May. The shares are $400 for 25 weeks. You can find a crop list and an order form at


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