Thursdays are fresh produce delivery days at Chippewa Valley Technical College, and even in late November people receive bags of fresh lettuce, carrots, baby radishes, onions, peppers and various herbs.
Students, meanwhile, receive practical lessons on running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, not to mention a bit of cash for the Horticulture Club. It’s a delicious arrangement that students thought of themselves.
As part of its Landscape, Plant and Turf Management program, CVTC has some small greenhouse and hydroponic facilities. Students in the Horticulture Club, who naturally like to garden, wanted to make the best use of the extended growing season the facilities offer.
“We wanted to continue growing stuff, plus there was food already growing there from the summer internships,” said Carrine Baldwin, a Menomonie area resident and president of the CVTC Horticulture Club.
Club members thought of various options for selling what they could grow and harvest, but most ideas weren’t practical. The answer came from Baldwin’s own career ambition.
“I want to do my own CSA,” said the third-semester student. “I did an internship this past summer with a woman who ran her own CSA near Boyceville.”
In a CSA, local people purchase a share of a farmer’s crops in advance through a subscription. The farmer receives cash to cover the costs of producing the crops, and a bit of profit too. The members receive fresh, locally grown produce at harvest time, probably cheaper than grocery store prices. CSAs support small farmers, the local economy and healthy diets.
“It’s shared risk and reward, too,” said Baldwin. “If you have a good year, the members share in the harvest, but if things get hard – they have to understand.”
In October, the students proposed setting up a mini-CSA to Horticulture instructor and department chair Susan Frame, who asked them to spell out their plan in writing. The limited amount of produce they would have available so late in the fall required that it be kept small, so they proposed recruiting 10 people to buy $20 memberships with the promise of receiving bags of produce once a week for a month or two. Frame approved it, and on Oct. 22 an all-staff email went out soliciting memberships.
“I thought it was going to be hard to find 10 people,” Baldwin confessed. The e-mail received 35 immediate responses, and the CSA was set in less than a day, with 12 members.
All the members are receiving lots of lettuces and greens like spinach, kale and Swiss char, plus lots of herbs like basil and tarragon. Members take turns receiving some of the harder-to-come-by produce like broccoli and beets. But they are not complaining – the program is a huge hit among members.
“They are so happy - that’s the most rewarding part,” said Baldwin. “Growing the food is fun, but when they get their food, they are so grateful.”
“I love the lettuce. I love the carrots, and I used all of the potatoes I got,” said member Candy Johnson, assistant to CVTC President Bruce Barker. “I love every Thursday when they come. I would definitely sign up again. I love the freshness.”
“I love the fresh produce I’m able to get, like the fresh herbs. I’ve gotten kohlrabi, which is one of my favorite vegetables,” said Pang Garcia, an academic services assistant at CVTC. “And I love the personal touch. They always have a note of what’s in the bag, and some recipes.”
Members report what they have received is well worth the cost of their membership, too. “If you went to purchase these items in a grocery store this time of year, you would pay four or five dollars for the herbs. My money has been returned ten-fold,” Garcia said.
The fall program will soon wind down, but the club is planning to bring it back in the spring – when the available produce will be growing as the weeks go by.
Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.