CHUM is adding fresh produce to the food shelf.
The nonprofit is partnering with eight regional farms, from Cloquet, to Esko, to Bayfield, to bring 40 weekly CSA shares to its clients.
“The shares aren’t free,” said Scott Van Daele, director of distributive services, but with the help of donors, CHUM is picking up the tab.
Minnesota FoodShare's March Campaign is happening now, and that provides incentive dollars for cash and food donations. A portion of what CHUM receives this month will go to the CSA pilot project.
Last year, CHUM raised a little less than $127,000 and about 56,000 pounds of food; this year’s goal is $150,000 and 50,000 pounds.
Their clients really want fresh produce, Van Daele said, but it’s expensive to purchase, and it doesn’t last very long. CSA shares were the next best thing, and it supports the local economy, he added.
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The idea for this collaboration sprung from the mind of a CSA member.
Ryan Jagim approached John Beaton of Fairhaven Farm. Beaton recalled: “He said he wanted to get farm-fresh food in front of folks that wouldn’t otherwise have access.”
He presented the idea to an informal area CSA guild, and everyone was immediately on board, Beaton said.
They’re offering one to 12 shares each, and sizes will vary. For instance, Fairhaven’s are compiled for two people or a small family, Beaton said.
How CHUM will distribute the shares is still up in the air, but they’re aiming to match homes with suitable quantities to reduce waste. There will be a certain amount dedicated and earmarked toward CHUM’s housing program, Steve O’Neil Apartments and other areas, Van Daele said.
“You have to find folks that are ready for this. There has to be a bit of stability within their living situation; they have to have access to a cooking facility, a kitchen to be able to prepare these raw ingredients. A lot of these things are being taken into consideration when they try to find families to match up with different farmers,” Beaton said.
The pandemic directed attention to reliable and safe food supplies. All farms sold out of shares in record time last year, and they’re going fast this year, Beaton added.
This collaboration reflects the spirit of CSA, or community-supported agriculture; the community reaps the benefits and shares the inherent agricultural risk of potential crop losses.
CSA members are often middle-income people, said Heather-Marie Bloom of Rising Phoenix Community Farm, a CSA guild member and project participant.
“We really want to make an effort to expand that, so it’s accessible to more people and of more diverse economic background,” she said, adding: “I’ve been a recipient of food assistance … and I’ve had to go to a food shelf. I appreciate being able to have access to fresh food.”
Bloom sees potential for cooking and nutrition classes or farm visits, more opportunities to connect people with farmers. Community and access are important, Bloom said.
“It’s an intimate connection,” Beaton said. “We’re growing your food. That’s something we take pride in.”
Jagim, who conceived the idea, said he wanted to see CHUM clients receive a regular and predictable supply of veggies throughout the summer.
“It’s like having a birthday party every week. You pick up a present, and you don’t even know what it’s going to be,” said Jagim, who has been a Fairhaven CSA member since 2014.
Also, a big motivator to see this come to fruition is his faith.
“We talk about the Lord’s Prayer, the daily bread, and making sure that people have access to daily bread," Jagim said, "regardless of income or homelessness.”
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