Community-Supported Ag: Farmers use CSA to get back to roots

Photo by Boersma Family Roots CSA The Boersma Family Roots CSA selling fresh produce at a farmers market.

CALUMET — With young farmers looking to get a start in agriculture and locals looking for access to fresh local fruits and vegetables community-supported agriculture (CSA) farming can be a perfect match.

CSA involves an investment by community members in a farm at the start of a season. In exchange, members receive produce throughout the growing season. What the member receives depends on what can be harvested.

In the Keweenaw Peninsula, North Harvest CSA and Boersma Family Roots CSA and Farm are using the CSA method as well as selling at local farmers markets. North Harvest CSA has even begun turning customers away having reached capacity.

The untapped market is one reason the Boersma family chose to put down roots in Calumet, and it has seen growing interest.

“There’s not a lot of people doing it, and there’s a need for it, so I figured I might actually be able to find a niche in the community,” said Matthew Boersma.

On the family’s second year as a CSA, the work is hard, but the rewards and community connection are worth it, said Nichole Boersma.

“The work that goes into farming is unending, but what you reap is beyond worth the work,” she said. “The time spent working outside is amazing despite it being hard and long.”

North Harvest CSA, run by Ashley Kronshage and Jake Tenharmsel, is starting its sixth season with a full 30-member organization. That is their preferred limit, to keep things manageable and high quality, Kronshage said in a talk to local teachers interested in classroom gardening last week.

The responsibility of getting members their money’s worth after they have paid upfront can be stressful, Kronshage said, but the relationships make it worth it.

All the members have been with the CSA previously, and the farmers have come to learn their quirks. One member might not like cilantro, so that can be withheld and given to a member who likes it.

“It’s just nice to have a relationship with people and what they like,” she said.

CSAs can be a testing ground for people looking at farming with low risks, if they find the work doesn’t suit them after a season.

It does not take much land to run a successful CSA, compared to a larger operation. For North Harvest, it was growing and helping on someone else’s land in the beginning. Now it has two growing acres of its own, Tenharmsel said.

“The land can sustain a lot,” he added.

Low property costs are another draw to the area, as locals look for more fresh area produce from a known grower.

As people become more educated on large-scale farming, Nichole Boersma said she sees more interest in small-scale operations like theirs.

“I think knowing your grower, where your food comes from, is becoming a pretty popular idea,” Boersma said. “There are not as many young people willing to put in the hard work, monetary losses and huge amount of time that comes with farming, but the ones that are and take the leap are going to carry all of us back to our roots.”