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Creating a Connection to Locally Grown Food
About 10 miles south of New Ulm, Dennis Jeske continues to farm the land that's been in his family for more than 100 years. During a typical growing season, Jeske's Windjammer Farm offers a cornucopia of fresh food, from sweet corn and squash to cabbage and kale.
Janice Guldan of Guldan Family Farm harvests asparagus recently the farm owned by her and her husband Dennis.
But instead of being packaged and trucked off to faraway towns, the foods are feeding families right in town. It’s a concept known as community-supported agriculture or CSA.
For the past six years, Windjammer Farm has been inviting residents to join its CSA. The CSA lets people experience both the risks and rewards of producing food. Residents pay up front for a share in the farm's crop. Throughout the growing season they receive a weekly supply of freshly picked seasonal fruits and veggies. The produce delivered each week depends on what's ready to be picked and eaten. The economic risks that come with farming are also shared. For example, if the weather is terrible one week it could negatively affect crops.
Building that connection is a way to build healthier habits, said Jeske. "The further away we get from our connection to the farm, the less likely we are to consume fresh, real food," Jeske added. "We want to educate people on the benefits of eating local and healthier food."
The Heart of New Ulm Project is working to spread the word about the CSA and create more opportunities for access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers Market Promotion Program, the project launched an effort earlier this year to raise awareness about local CSAs. Another goal is to encourage more farmers to form CSA programs.
Rebecca Fliszar, a registered dietitian at the Heart of New Ulm Project, said the effort fits in perfectly with her organization's goal of reducing heart attacks and helping residents adopt healthy habits.
"Every time you buy something locally, it goes back into our economy and our community," Fliszar said. "This is just one more thing that can positively affect our nutritional environment."
To connect residents and farmers, the Heart of New Ulm Project is advertising in local media, hosting cooking demonstrations and sponsoring training workshops on safe agricultural practices. In addition to encouraging the start-up of new CSA programs, Fliszar said she hopes the effort will attract more growers to sell their goods at the New Ulm Farmers Market. The farmers market sets up shop twice a week.
Fliszar added that she's already heard from a number of farmers who are considering forming new CSA opportunities.
"The biggest thing we can do for the grower is to bring consumers to them and help them see that this can be a profitable experience," she explained.
At the Growing Green Mini Farm at the Putting Green EcoCenter, residents can purchase a half share of the farm's CSA. As members, they receive a weekly box of fresh produce for up to 20 weeks, said Tracie Vranich, who manages the farm. Members receive recipe tips as well.
"The fun part about CSA membership is it gets you to be more adventuresome in your eating," Vranich added. "We give you things you're familiar with, but also some new things."
Vranich said she hopes the Heart of New Ulm effort will help boost CSA membership numbers. The Growing Green Mini Farm, which works with a local organization to provide employment to adults with disabilities, had 52 members last year. “This year's goal,” she said, “is to reach 60. I really hope we can increase awareness of where our food comes from and help change people's eating habits."
Janice Guldan, of Guldan Family Farm just outside of New Ulm, said she hopes the new effort will encourage more young people to start farming vegetables. She says it would show local growers that there's a demand for locally grown produce.
"It’s great for the growers and great for the eaters," she said. "It's a win-win situation."
To learn more about Heart of New Ulm's local food effort, visit the Heart of New Ulm website and click on “Farmers Market Program” under the “FoodWorks” tab.