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In Season: How To Choose A CSA For Fresh Produce Deliveries

By Margaret Paulson in Food on Apr 12, 2015 4:00PM

Some of the fresh produce arriving from Farmer Tom's CSA.

Despite the fickle weather this past week, it really is time to “think spring.” One spring activity you can do—even indoors on a rainy day—is pick your CSA for the spring and summer season.

CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture, are becoming more popular because they allow the consumer access to fresh, local and responsibly sourced produce and other foods while supporting local farmers who are committed to sustainable and organic agricultural practices.

In a traditional CSA model, members pay upfront for an entire season of produce, and sometimes meat, eggs and dairy, all grown on a small, local farm. This helps shore up risk for farmers, allowing them to avoid taking out loans for seeds, equipment purchase and repairs and hired help. In return, CSA members receive weekly deliveries of produce year-round or during a particular season (depending on price and the agreement), and they get to learn more about where their foods come from.

However, there are many different models for CSAs. Some allow you to purchase weekly, while others involve purchasing several weeks upfront. Additionally, some CSAs offer home delivery while others offer central locations for weekly pickup.

Thankfully, Chicagoans have various options. Here are a few CSAs in Illinois and surrounding states:

- Grassroots Farm, LLC; Monroe, WI (2.5 hours northwest of Chicago): Grassroots Farm is very new, only founded in 2007, and it first began vegetable production in February 2009. Since then, the farm has grown rapidly. Today, Chicagoans can purchase a 16-week summer vegetable share that runs from June 24 to Oct. 7 and costs $424. There’s also an option to add-on fresh eggs, tomatoes, local dairy, flowers and specialty food deliveries for an extra fee. Grassroots Farm has pickup locations in the Loop, Andersonville, Lincoln Square and Evanston. Check out their site and the summer schedule to learn more.

- Angelic Organics; Caledonia, IL (90 miles northwest of Chicago): Angelic Organics is a Certified Organic and biodynamic farm that's been in operation since 1991. They offers full shares (20 weeks) for $740; half shares (10 weeks) for $400; and 17- and 14-week flex share options. This seems pricey, but each week you'll receive a 3/4 bushel box of seasonal produce, which has about 1.5 packed-to-the-brim grocery bags and comes out to about $37 per week— quite a steal for organic, healthful vegetables! Angelic Organics offers several pickup sites throughout Chicago and offers free home delivery if you purchase both a fruit and vegetable share. Check out their vegetable calendar and also learn what's inside the box each week.

- Farmer Tom's CSA; Chicago: Farmer Tom's is a CSA started in 2001 by farmer Tom Ulick, who had a farm in Wisconsin in 2007 until he lost the lease due to rising land prices. However, with 40 years as an organic vegetable farmer "guided by the principles of sustainability and responsibility and by a deep reverence for the earth and all life," Ulick was not to be deterred. Farmer Tom's has contracts with local Wisconsin farmers, most of whom are Amish, to make sure Chicagoans have access to fresh produce. The best part is that with only a $50 annual membership fee, you have the flexibility to purchase weekly shares and to customize your boxes. Farmer Tom's has many Chicago pick-up options. Learn more about the weekly share types they offer here.

If you want sustainable, grass-fed meats, too, check out Mint Creek Farm. You may have heard about Mint Creek Farm while visiting a Chicago farmers market or dining at Uncommon Ground and other Chicago restaurants that purchase Mint Creek's meats. Mint Creek offers various CSA options, including 3- and 6-month purchases, at either 5 or 10 pounds of meat per week. Their traditional CSA includes a mix of lamb, pork, goat, beef, veal and poultry, of which a 3-month share at 10 pounds costs $369 weekly and a 5-pound weekly share costs $198. There are other CSA options as well, including a weekly meat, milk and egg CSA, of which a 6-month share (26 weeks) is a steal at only $806. The farm is Certified Organic, the animals are grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range, and farmer Harry Carr is also a poet and pretty darn cute.

Check out Local Harvest's database to find other CSAs and local farms near you.