A hoophouse is constructed at Laura Krouse's Abbe Hills Farm  near Mount Vernon. The farm offers CSA shares throughout the growing season. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

A hoophouse is constructed at Laura Krouse’s Abbe Hills Farm near Mount Vernon. The farm offers CSA shares throughout the growing season. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

I’ve witnessed inspiring Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs at Grinnell Heritage Farm and at Laura Krouse’s Abbe Hills Farm near Mount Vernon and am always happy to spread the word about these great initiatives. Members of a  CSA receive weekly shares of a farm’s fresh produce for several months during the growing season and in return, the farmers have a guaranteed source of income.

If you haven’t yet joined a CSA, or need more information, you can meet local farmers and learn more at the Iowa City CSA Fair,  coming up from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013. The event is at the Mercer Park Aquatic Center Proctor & Gamble Room, 2701 Bradford Drive in Iowa City.

Dustin Vande Hoef passed on the following additional information from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, who notes that now is a good time to consider joining a CSA,  for access to fresh, locally grown produce throughout the growing season:

“CSAs are a great opportunity to partner with a farmer and share in the harvest of fresh, nutritious, locally grown fruits and vegetables,” Northey said.  “I know fresh Iowa grown produce may be far from mind during the cold days of winter, but it is a great time to sign-up for a CSA as it gives the farmer more time to plan for the growing season and ensure a good variety of produce for subscribers.”

 Through CSAs, farmers sell a certain number of subscriptions, or shares, and then provide a portion of their harvest to those members, typically on a weekly basis, throughout the growing season.  This allows the customers to share in the farming risk as they may receive an abundance of produce during good growing years, but less when there are difficult growing conditions.

 CSA members typically receive a box or bag of fresh produce, but some farms may offer other products such as eggs, honey, baked goods, meat, herbs, or flowers.  Most CSAs arrange convenient delivery sites for weekly pickup.  In addition, many farmers will invite customers to visit the farm to learn more about their operation.  Some also offer discounts to members who work on the farm during the growing season.

 Iowa has seen significant growth in the number of CSAs, growing from 50 in 2006 to more than 90 in 2012.

 A list of CSAs throughout Iowa can be found at www.localharvest.org or a list of CSAs in central Iowa can be found on the Practical Famers of Iowa website at www.practicalfarmers.org under “local foods.”