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Northland CSA guild, CHUM aim for another fresh food shelf

"It’s supporting an entire community, not just people that are hungry, but people who will produce food and create food," CHUM distribution director Scott Van Daele said.

Marci Strack, from left, Jen Gilbertson, both from Whole Foods Co-op, and Scott Van Daele, of CHUM, share a laugh with Heather-Marie Bloom, of Rising Phoenix Community Farm as she rearranges food in a display
Marci Strack, from left, Jen Gilbertson, both from Whole Foods Co-op, and Scott Van Daele, of CHUM, share a laugh with Heather-Marie Bloom, of Rising Phoenix Community Farm, as she rearranges food in a display before a news conference Feb. 28, announcing the start of the annual fundraiser and CHUM partnering with Community Supported Agriculture.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — CHUM and the Lake Superior CSA Guild are teaming up again to bring fresh produce to the food shelf.

That means during the spring and summer, you can access canned tuna, ramen and locally grown carrots, broccoli, cucumbers and much more. And while it’ll be free for visitors of the food shelf, it comes with a cost.

So, CHUM aims to raise $200,000 for the Minnesota FoodShare's March Campaign. The first $60,000 will cover the community supported agriculture shares from the guild’s 12 area farms that span from Barnum to Bayfield.

“That people want to get good food to families in poverty that need it. … More than anything, it’s the kindness,” Steve O'Neil Apartments resident Amber Pelfrey said.

"It’s supporting an entire community, not just people that are hungry, but people who will produce food and create food,” CHUM distribution director Scott Van Daele said.

CHUM launched this pilot program last year with the help of the CSA guild, and their efforts led to nearly 4,800 pounds of fresh produce for folks in the Twin Ports and up on the Iron Range.

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“To see the reaction of folks that aren’t having to scrounge through one or two bad bananas or a half-pint of strawberries or blueberries that obviously have gone south. … It was an incredible luxury for our clients,” Van Daele told the News Tribune in September.

Standing in the food shelf earlier this month, Van Daele reflected on current conditions. The pandemic has made food insecurity worse, and pre-COVID levels aren't expected to return before late 2022 or early 2023, he said.

In Minnesota, farms and agribusinesses generate about $184 million in annual economic activity, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. A system of local food production is more resilient whatever happens globally — climate change, market upheavals or COVID.

Heather-Marie Bloom, of Rising Phoenix Community Farm talks to the media during a press conference
Heather-Marie Bloom of Rising Phoenix Community Farm talks during a news conference.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Since the pandemic started, every CSA in the region sold out early, said Clare Hintz, guild spokesperson and Elsewhere Farms owner. Local food provides a stable supply, and the more we can reinvest in our infrastructure, the more food secure we’re going to be, she continued.

Community supported agriculture, or CSAs, allows consumers to buy local food directly from a farmer. And those who purchase shares get the produce of the season while investing in a farm’s long-term development, Hintz said.

CSA shares are often sold months before growing season, allowing farmers to buy materials and repair machinery, all ahead of the season. Memberships mean fresh vegetables and often perks such as farm visits, community events, recipe sharing and more.

Shareholders are accepting the risks of the season, and they’re trusting their farm to do the best job they possibly can, Hintz said.

She has been farming full-time for 10-plus years, and her members have been an integral part of her building her operation from the ground up.

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Clare Hinz headshot
Clare Hinz
Contributed / Clare Hinz

“We live in a really remarkable area where there's a really strong local food ethic. I would not exist as a business, no exaggeration, without my shareholders,” she said.

Her income on a rainy Saturday at the farmers market would be one-quarter of what it’d be on a sunny Saturday, and you can’t build a business around that. Having a CSA gives you assurance that you’re going to have a viable year, she said.

“This farm exists because of the community around it.”

Farming is a big gamble — with changes in climate, weather, critters, drought. You have nerves of steel. We have our own unique flavor up here, some harsh growing conditions. It takes a certain amount of tenacity and creativity that other parts of the country don’t necessarily need to exhibit, Hintz said.

Also, you have to be really good to be a CSA farmer. Many have years of experience growing and selling; they know their planting calendar and what they can produce in a week. “You need to fill those boxes,” she added.

It’s these unique challenges that led to the guild.

In January 2012, Rick Dalen of Northern Harvest Farm, and Food Farm’s Janaki Fisher-Merritt sent an email in response to a rise in area CSAs:

“This group could become something quite valuable. … There are undoubtedly many issues for us CSA farmers to discuss,” it read.

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They started simply, with an annual spring CSA open house, which was a way for people to shop for the farm that fits their needs. And: different farms, different flavors.

Area farmers pose for a photo during the first gathering of what's now the Lake Superior CSA Guild.
Regional farmers pose March 17, 2012, during the first meeting of what’s now the Lake Superior CSA Guild. The group, which consists of 12 farms from Barnum to Bayfield, serves around 1,000 families in the region. Front, from left: Rick and Karola Dalen (Northern Harvest Farm); Heather-Marie Bloom (Rising Phoenix Community Farm); Janna Goerdt (Fat Chicken Farm); Sara Weik (Yker Acres); and Lise Abazs (Round River Farm); back: Dave Hanlon (Food Farm); Charlie Kersey (La Finca); Janaki, John and Jane Fisher-Merritt (Food Farm); Catherine Conover (Stone's Throw Farm); and Matt Weik (Yker Acres).
Contributed / Janaki Fisher-Merritt

Hermit Creek and Food Farm focus on larger shares for families. Elsewhere Farm, Fairhaven Farm and Small Wheel Farm offer half- or smaller-share sizes. Today, the guild serves around 1,000 families in the region.

Their goals are to share info on the CSA model, their operations, support each other and help incubate other businesses. They’re interested in fair trade and shopping ethically, and their experience ranges from decades to a few years.

Their current members:

Guild members purchase supplies in bulk together — compost, potting mix and seeds — to cut expenses and shipping costs. Some share farm equipment, and work closely together in purchasing.
They’re striving for a model similar to Madison, Wisconsin-based FairShare CSA Coalition , which is a go-to location for area operations and Bike the Barn events. The coalition also produced the “Asparagus to Zucchini Cookbook.”

And while their CHUM collaboration is their first, there’s potential for more ahead, said Heather-Marie Bloom, an original guild member and owner of Rising Phoenix Community Farm.

For now, the heart of this project runs deep for Bloom.

“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.

"Who can afford a CSA share is a small niche of people. We’re challenged by that fact and we all are aware of it. This helps bridge that gap to get shares to more people," Bloom said.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of food assistance," she said. I’ve also gotten to the food shelf and there are hardly any fresh vegetables. For someone who’s a vegetarian and has food issues, it was pretty dispiriting to walk away with hardly anything or lots of cereals or breads. Fresh vegetables are important, and with the CSA shares, the veggies are available to anyone."

For more on the Lake Superior CSA Guild, visit lakesuperiorcsaguild.com.

To support CHUM’s Minnesota FoodShare's March Campaign

  • Drop donations of food or funds at CHUM, 120 N. First Ave. W.
  • Visit chumduluth.org/chumfoodshelf.htm or call 218-727-2391.
  • CHUM is the recipient of this month’s Whole Foods Co-op’s Give campaign. Roundup at the register, and/or give another dollar amount. All donations go to CHUM and Minnesota FoodShare.  
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“It’s great we have this opportunity to buy a protein source from somebody down the road.”

Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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