CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The concept is growing more familiar locally and nationally as more farmers and families choose CSAs as a way to take care of each other.

Here's how it works: Ahead of the spring planting season, a CSA farmer decides what and how much food to raise and then offers "shares" of this food for sale.

People who buy the shares pay in advance, which gives the farmer some money to get things planted. It also gives the shareholder, or CSA member, a stake in what happens on the farm. When the forecast calls for a killing frost, for example, CSA members are sometimes out in the cold with the farmer working to protect tender seedlings.

CSA in northwest Michigan

Community Supported Agriculture started in the late 1980s in Massachusetts. It came to northwest Michigan in 1991 when Phyllis and Mike Wells first offered shares of the harvest to customers of their Wells Family Farm near Williamsburg. This year, northwest Michigan boasts more than 15 CSA operations, and new farms start up almost every year.

Yet that's not enough to meet demand from people who really want the close food and farm connection that CSA provides. "We still need more CSA growers," Mike Wells said.

Marty Heller, of Birch Point Farm at the southern end of Lake Leelanau, agrees. "We haven't had any trouble filling the shares we wanted to offer. And we haven't done any active advertising."

What to expect

Typically, CSA members receive a weekly share, often at the farm; other CSA farms provide delivery. Increasingly, CSA farms offer additional products like fruit, eggs, meat, bread, root vegetables for storage and leafy greens grown through colder months in passive solar greenhouses, or hoophouses.

Most CSAs use organic growing methods, though many are not "certified organic" because their members don't need the extra assurance -- they know and trust their farmers.

CSA can be profitable but also demanding for farmers that must juggle lots of people, products and timelines. The Michigan Land Use Institute's Get Farming project will offer a CSA mini-school Nov. 21 for prospective CSA growers. Call coordinator Jim Sluyter at 941-6584 or e-mail jimsluyter@mlui.org for details. Visit www.

localdifference.org to find CSA farms and learn more about Get Farming workshops. Learn more about CSA and local operations at www.csafarms.org.

Jim Sluyter is coordinator of the Get Farming! program at the Michigan Land Use Institute and has been a CSA farmer for 16 years at Five Springs Farm.

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