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Published June 05, 2010, 12:00 AM

More regional consumers buying their produce directly from farms that grow it

Instead of heading to local grocery stores for produce and meats, some area consumers are buying directly from the farm.

By: Heidi Shaffer, Forum Communications Co., West Central Tribune

Instead of heading to local grocery stores for produce and meats, some area consumers are buying directly from the farm.

Shares in area community-supported agriculture operations, or CSAs, which sell portions of each year’s crop in the spring and deliver produce throughout the growing season, are mostly sold out for the summer, growers say.

Thor Selland started a garden in 2006 on his farm near Shelly. Today that garden has expanded and provides produce for more than 200 members through his Red Goose Gardens CSA.

Meanwhile at Anne Morgan’s 440-acre farm near Park Rapids interest has nearly overwhelmed her CSA, which blossomed from about 30 members 10 years ago to 106 this growing season.

“I hate turning people away, but we really, really can’t take any more,” she said.

Both Selland and Morgan said this method of selling helps keep farming profitable because they know how many people they’re growing for at the beginning of the season and have money up front instead of hoping to sell it after harvest.

Maree Pesch, owner of Lida Farm, a CSA near Pelican Rapids, said the money her family takes in from shares helps to buy plants, seed and equipment instead of taking out loans to pay back after the crop is sold.

Pesch also sells produce at the Detroit Lakes Farmer’s Market, but business there can be hit or miss depending on the weather and other factors, she said.

Each CSA has a different share plan, but most growers offer half- or full-sized shares in which consumers receive enough produce for two or four adults. Some producers also sell eggs, chicken and beef as a separate add-on option, according to LocalHarvest.org, a national directory for local food producers.

Morgan said the full shares she provides have enough produce for four adults for the week and additional food to freeze or can for the winter.

Each week, growers leave share baskets at designated drop points throughout the region. Morgan and Selland both have drop-offs in Fargo and Moorhead, where their largest number of shares are located.

For the entire growing season, which begins in June and generally runs through October, prices range from $375 to $400 for the half share and $630 to $675 for the full share.

“If you were to go buy in the grocery store everything that the member gets in their box, the CSA is a bargain,” Morgan said. “Everything is really, really fresh, picked that morning. I think it’s really an exceptional bargain.”

Deb Pullen of Fargo, N.D., has bought a share in Morgan’s Lakes and Valley CSA for the past six years and said cost may be more than what she’d normally pay, but she likes what it supports.

“You’re not paying for the middle men, advertising, but you are paying for the real work and the real food,” she said.

Selland said another benefit of selling his crop through a CSA is the relationship established between the farm and his consumers.

“It’s a good way for people to experience what a season can offer,” Selland said.

Noreen Thomas, a farmer north of Moorhead who also operates a buying group in which consumers can meet with area niche farmers, said the increasing popularity of buying locally produced foods is helping to keep small family farms in business.

“For small farmers, it’s very important that they have a voice and they have a market,” Thomas said “Because if we don’t support them they’re going to be gone.”

Heidi Shaffer is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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