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Harvesting chaos; other news

(Monday, May 16, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. American Young People Go Back To The Land
2. Harvesting Chaos
3. Opposed to Bill
4. Demand for Organic Foods Soaring
5. Support from city folk takes root on the farm

1. American Young People Go Back To The Land

By Sarah Schweitzer
Boston Globe Staff

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- There were no glitzy PowerPoint presentations, no assurances of high-tech riches. But they came by the dozens to a student center, young women with cat-eye glasses and young men sporting sideburns, to learn how to finance a John Deere tractor and market a crop. Farming is cutting edge, even hip, among a growing corps of ambitious 20- and 30-somethings. ''It's totally the new thing," said Samantha Tilton, a 25-year-old Mount Holyoke College graduate who attended a recent conference to prepare for buying land to till. ''There is this sense that we don't have to do investment banking or IT and work in a cubicle all day. We can live a more hands-on life."

As family farms are swallowed up by corporations and housing developers, young men and women, some from suburban backgrounds and families with no agricultural ties, are filling the void. They are opening small niche operations in Vermont and elsewhere in New England to grow hydroponic tomatoes and raise free-range chickens. Some are going back to the land to escape corporate culture, farming specialists say. Some of the young farmers and farmers-to-be say they are motivated by a sense that farming can save the world or at least some corner of it.

While Peace Corps volunteers of decades past sought to aid African countries facing famine, these young people see a dire state of agriculture in the United States. Many of the young farmers and college students studying for a life in farming said they worry that as family farms are sold to large agribusinesses, food has been corrupted by chemicals and produced with exploited migrant workers. They also say that sales of onetime farmland to housing developers are worsening sprawl and that with small-scale farming they can begin to reverse those trends.

''You hear about all these terrible things in the world, and you're told to go out there and change them," said Ian Irwin, 22, who plans to raise cattle after graduating from the University of Vermont. ''This is an enjoyable way to do our part." But if they are idealists, the young farmers are also business-savvy. They toss around corporate catch-phrases such as value-added and diversified. They have business plans and have taken accounting classes. Unlike farming of another generation, when producing and getting a crop or animal to market were primary tasks, the smaller enterprises require more of their owners. Because they often operate without middlemen or employees, the farmers must oversee production, marketing, sales, and distribution.

Jason Pappas, 26, a onetime music major at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt., who grew up in Tenafly, N.J., and Dave Demarest, 25, a graduate in environmental science from the University of Vermont who grew up outside New Haven, have become minor specialists in any number of agricultural and business fields. The pair joined forces two years ago to grow Reishi mushrooms that they use to brew an earthy-tasting iced tea, which is flavored with maple syrup and cranberry or lemon juice. They call it VTea and hope to sell 50,000 bottles this year in Vermont. They work on Demarest's property, 51 acres he bought three years ago in the town of Underhill, near Burlington. They prepare the mushroom seeds in a sterile lab, planting them in hemlock logs laid cross-hatch style under tree cover. But they also prepare and bottle the tea. They market it. They seek prospective buyers on the Internet. They deliver it by truck to local stores. And they sell it at farmers markets and fairs.

The infusion of young people into farming is a trickle compared with the mass departure of family farmers. The average age of American farmers rose to 55 in 2002 from 50 in 1978, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Just 5 percent of farmers in 2002 were between the ages of 25 and 34, government numbers show. The aging of the American farmer, agriculture specialists say, is due to global trends that have made middle-sized farms, the sort operated by families throughout much of the 20th century, unprofitable compared to bigger, more efficient operations. Many young farmers are entering the agricultural market at the other end of the spectrum, with small enterprises that sell products directly to local stores and farmers markets, rather than to wholesalers. The products they grow tend to appeal to a relatively small but growing group of health-conscious, educated, and well-off consumers who will pay more for organic lettuce, low-spray apples, and locally produced milk.

The entry into small-scale farming by young people is evident on both coasts. But Vermont, with its limited land mass and tendency toward smaller farming plots, is at the forefront of the movement. Enrollment in agriculture classes at the University of Vermont is up, particularly those aimed at teaching business skills. The Vermont Youth Conservation Corps -- a nonprofit that traditionally assigns workers, ages 16 to 24, to woods restoration of state parks -- will establish a farming component next year in response to demand. Young people crammed the recent conference in Burlington entitled, ''Young Entrepreneurs in Agriculture and Local Foods."

The movement is different from the 1960s swell of back-to-the-earth hippies who piled into Vermont to escape urban unrest and the Vietnam War. The new ranks of farmers, specialists say, are not dropouts from society, but rather seek closer connection to society through farming. ''These are young people who are interested in community development," said Jane Kolodinsky, who heads the College of Agriculture and Life Science's department of community development and applied economics. Many are helping one another. There is a growing network of small-production farmers who band together in ventures known as community supported agriculture that lock customers into purchases before harvest. Some share distribution, bottling, and other facilities.

Farmers are also aligned with activists behind other causes, such as conservation, ecological repair, and fair trade. Nonetheless, the rigors, many know, are daunting, and failure rates are high. Tilton, for one, is conscious of the challenges. She is quick to point out that she has no land, little money. Yet asked what sort of farming she plans, she rattles off: ''Organic, well-diversified, no meat." Farming holds her future, said the daughter of an interior designer and oncologist, a product of the Delaware suburbs. ''It's a rejection of Seven jeans and the Ugg boots," she said referring to the designer jeans and footwear of the moment. ''And that's OK. You can also be pretty hip with dirty fingernails."

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at schweitzer@globe.com.

2. Harvesting Chaos

By Jason Mark
Wednesday 11 May 2005

Farmers in the US and around the world are likely to face serious challenges in the coming decades as new kinds of weather test their ability to bring us the food we all depend on.

Most keyboard jockeys would die for the view from Orin Martin's office window: apple trees in blossom, lines of citrus, dozens of varieties of flowers and neat rows of peppers, garlic and potatoes. Martin is a farmer in Santa Cruz, Calif., where for last 30 years he has been an instructor at the University of California's agro-ecology program, one of the nation's oldest organic agriculture curriculums.

Strong, stout and built like a tree trunk, with sun-bleached cornsilk hair, thick hands, and deep crowsfeet around his eyes from years of working outdoors, Martin loves farming, and it shows whenever he starts to talk about his craft, as he will happily do for hours on end.

In recent years, however, something has been amiss in Martin's idyllic setting. The weather is changing in strange ways. And for a farmer that's bad news.

"I don't know if you can talk about predictable weather anymore," Martin said on a recent walk through his three-acre plot. "Each of the last ten years has been anomalous in one way or another. The weather here used to be like clockwork. Around March 15 it would stop raining. But all through the '90s we had rain into April, May and even June. If you talk with farmers and gardeners, oh yeah, they think there's something off."

Martin is right. From New England to the Midwest to California, farmers and scientists are noticing that once-dependable weather patterns are shifting, and concern is growing that those changes will have a significant impact on our agriculture system. Farmers in the United States and around the world are likely to face serious challenges in the coming decades as new kinds of weather test their ability to bring us the food we all depend on.

The culprit is climate change, caused by society's burning of fossil fuels. When it comes to global warming, farmers - who are more attuned to weather patterns than most people - may be the proverbial canaries in the coalmine.

"Some of the changes in weather are consistent with climate change predictions, and that's real troublesome," says Michelle Wander, a professor of soil science at the University of Illinois. Wander recently published a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists which predicted that within 25 years Illinois summers may resemble the hotter climate of Arkansas. "By the end of the century, I think we will really be suffering."

The weather changes underway differ by region. In California, which has a typical Mediterranean climate with a wet winter and a dry summer, rainfall is stretching later and later into the spring. New England is experiencing a warming trend, with average temperatures up 1.8 degrees F over the last century. Winter warming in the northeast is even more pronounced; temperatures between December and February increased 4.4 degrees F in the last 30 years, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire. In the Midwest, the springs and summers have become unseasonably wet, while the summers get hotter and drier.

"What we're experiencing is rather abnormal," says Dave Campbell, who farms 225 acres of oats, wheat, corn, soy and hay in Maplepark, Illinois, land that has been in his wife's family since the 1830s. "It just keeps raining and raining. Last year, from May 10 to June 21 we had 13 inches of rain. Normally we have 38 inches of precipitation the whole year. Last year we had real trouble with our wheat crop because it was so excessively wet. We just get dumped with rain."

The weather, of course, has never been exactly dependable - farmers have always been at the mercy of the vagaries of sun and rain. But general weather patterns have at least been broadly predictable, allowing farmers to know when to sow their seed, when to transplant, when to harvest. As weather patterns become less reliable, growers will be tested to develop new rhythms and systems for growing crops.

For a city dweller who thinks that food comes from Safeway, rain may seem like an unqualified benefit when it comes to growing food. Farmers know better. Too much rain at the wrong time can make it difficult to plan or harvest crops. Above-average rainfall also contributes to fungi and insects that can dramatically reduce crop yields. Too much warmth is equally problematic. Some plants require a certain number of frost days each year in order to thrive the following spring. As temperatures warm, farmers who are accustomed to growing, say, blueberries in Maine or soybeans in Indiana may find themselves having to either shift to different crops or actually move their operations to new locales. Unreliable weather will make it harder for farmers to be as productive as we have come to expect.

"When it comes to the weather, we expect the unexpected," says Henry Brockman, 41, a vegetable farmer in Congerville, Illinois. "It's not as predictable as it used to be. It used to be that the ground was frozen all winter. Now in the winter it freezes and thaws, freezes and thaws. Some of the models show this part of the country getting very dry, and that would be a big problem. If the weather got any drier, I wouldn't be able to farm as I do."

Climate change is likely to impact different parts of the world in vastly different ways, climatologists and agronomists say. Scientists at a recent international conference in London reported that warming temperatures could lead to substantial harvest reductions in major food crops such as wheat, soy and rice. And for years the World Bank and others have been warning that climate change will be especially burdensome on poor countries in the tropics, where soil quality is generally inferior. According to a study conducted in the Philippines, for every one degree C increase in temperature, there will be a 10-percent reduction in yields for rice, a staple crop for billions of people.

But here in the U.S., most observers agree, it's doubtful that climate change could cause a food security crisis. The U.S. food system - though highly concentrated in terms of ownership and control - is geographically very diverse, which means that crops could be shifted to other areas if necessary. Also, the U.S. produces so much surplus grains for animal feed and food processing that it would take enormous crop failures to create real food scarcities. At least for residents of the U.S., a climate-change induced famine is unlikely.

The uncertainties wrought by global warming, however, could be make-or-break for many already-struggling farmers unless they are prepared to adapt to new conditions.

"For farmers, climate change is yet another darkness in the night, another stress for farmers facing uncertainties," says Bill Easterling, director of Penn State's Institutes of the Environment and a longtime researcher into climate change and agriculture.

Farmers are a famously adaptive lot, well accustomed to reacting to forces beyond their control. The worry among scientists is that if the agriculture establishment does not take climate change seriously enough, it will become much more difficult to respond effectively when weather disruptions hit. Easterling says the window for farmers to successfully adapt to new weather conditions is about six to 10 years - the time it takes for researchers to breed new seed varieties suited for specific conditions.

"What would worry anyone is if climate change starts to exceed the system's built-in adaptive response," Easterling says.

Among farmers and researchers, there is disagreement about which types of growers climate change will impact most - large agribusiness growing operations, or smaller, family-run farms. Some agriculture industry observers says that the bigger farmers will have an advantage in coping with weather changes, as they will have more resources to switch to new crops. Others says that since family farms usually grow a wider range of crops, their biological diversity will make it easier to cope with whatever changes occur.

"A large corporate potato farm may be more vulnerable because they have all of their eggs in one basket," says Vern Grubinger, a berry specialist at the University of Vermont. "It's very hard to find small, family farms that have only one thing. They may have 100 or so species. You won't be in nearly as bad a shape if you were growing only one or two crops."

"When you have a real diversified profile with what you're planting, you know that at least something will do well," says Santa Cruz farmer Martin. "And that's an advantage."

What all agriculture experts agree on is that farmers need to start preparing today for climate change. Growers ought to be thinking about what warmer temperatures, fluctuations in precipitation, and an increase in extreme weather events will mean for their farms, and how they can respond.

"This is change; it's not necessarily disaster," says Grubinger. "The disaster will come if people aren't prepared."

3. Opposed to Bill

Norfolk Daily News
Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Neligh - Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON) is not opposed to a checkoff on beef but is opposed to the passage of Legislative Bill 150. ICON has four areas of concern:

Who's required to pay for a checkoff?

Why does the bill contains such a complicated refund procedure?

Who benefits from this structure?

Who receives the funds and decides how the money is spent?

Why is a checkoff fee only levied on the sale of live cattle? Shouldn't every entity profiting from the sale of beef (the final product) participate in promoting the product? The rancher now receives less than 50% of the total beef dollar . Isn't it time that those making more than 50% pay their fair share?

LB 150 contains refund language, but mandatory fees are still collected. The producer is then required to file forms quickly if he wants is checkoff money return. Our concern is that the onus of supporting the checkoff will ultimately fall on the producer who can least afford it because the larger producers will have a greater incentive to ask for and received a refund.

The bill specifies that the director of the Department of Agriculture decides how the funds are spent the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) has been in charge of the existing checkoff since its inception. Our current ag director has a very close relationship with NCBA. NCBA's efforts to open the Canadian border to live cattle is in the opposition to the 1989 protocols on BSE developed by the World Health Organization and NCBA's opposition to mandatory country of origin labeling demonstrates to ICON that NCBA no longer represents the grassroots cattleman.

Therefore, we will not support a bill that could continue funneling our own money to an organization which, we perceive, is destroying the independent cattle producer.

We're not talking about a small amount of money here. In fiscal year 2004, Nebraska collected nearly $10 million in checkoff fees. Just over 6 million of that was ultimately sent to NCBA's checkoff division. Only $1,231,474 remained in Nebraska. That's our "tax" money going outstate to support jobs in other communities. Is this what Nebraska's cattle producers want?

Again, ICON does not oppose a checkoff. We believe that good has come from the promotion of beef. But let the producer decide at the point-of-sale whether he wants to help promote his product or not.

We want a checkoff where every entity pays its fair share, a checkoff which is independent of political interests and solely dedicated to the promotion of beef, and a checkoff which will promote Nebraska beef as the best and safest beef in the world.

David Wright
ICON board member

4. Demand for Organic Foods Soaring

by Rick Callahan, Associated Press, 05/09/05, http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/0509-10.htm

Dairy cows munch lazily on a grassy hilltop overlooking Traders Point Creamery as 23-year-old Marc Murnane strides into the organic creamery's store in search of chocolate milk lots of it.

In short order, he loads 12 one-quart bottles, at $3.50 each, into a box bound for Chicago, where his girlfriend's father is among the growing number of Americans who've developed a taste for organic foods.

"He just loves the chocolate milk and it really is the best stuff I've ever had," Murnane says, describing the rich blend of sweet milk from grass-fed cows, organic sugar and cocoa.

The farm northwest of Indianapolis is part of a nationwide move to put organic foods in consumers' reach.

Nationwide, the market for organic foods has soared from $3.57 billion in 1997 to $10.38 billion in 2003, according to Organic Trade Association. The group predicts sales will reach $14.5 billion by the end of 2005 as Americans buy everything from radishes to beef grown without conventional pesticides and fertilizers, biotechnology, antibiotics or growth hormones.

Indiana was late to join the organic food movement, which arose in the 1960s in response to modern chemical farming, but the state is starting to make up lost ground, said Cissy Bowman, executive director of Indiana Certified Organic, LLC.

As the state's only government-approved organic certifier, she has given the stamp of approval to more than 50 Hoosier organic farms and expects that to double this year.

Herself an organic farmer, Bowman said the organic market has undergone incredible growth since she began raising organic vegetables 20 years ago on six acres near the Hendricks County town of Clayton.

"Any food you can think of, you can buy an organic version now. It's not just that bag of whole wheat flour on the store shelf anymore," she said.

Traders Point Creamery delivers to about 70 area stores, with weekly shipments to Chicago-area stores, but demand often outpaces supply, particularly during the winter and summer.

"The cows can't keep up. We sell pretty much everything we produce," said David Robb, the creamery's manager of business development.

Cathy Greene, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, said the retail market for organic foods continues to grow about 20 percent each year.

Most people buy organic out of health concerns, she said. Some want to support environmentally friendly farms, but for others, it's a quest for food with superior taste and nutrition.

"Whether the food tastes better or not is kind of subjective, but whether it's more nutritious is something researchers are just starting to study," Greene said.

According to the USDA, certified organic cropland in the United States grew nearly 75 percent between 1997 and 2001, the last year for which figures are available, and accounted for more than 2.3 million acres in 2001.

The USDA found an estimated 4,175 acres of certified organic cropland in Indiana in 2001, but Bowman said the 54 organic farms she's certified in the state account for only about 2,370 acres.

Barbara Haumann, a senior writer with the Organic Trade Association, said there is no clear gauge of the nation's organic agriculture industry. "The numbers are quite hazy," she said. "The government just needs to do some better tracking."

Although organic foods can cost two to three times more than their conventionally raised alternatives, Corinne Alexander, a Purdue University assistant professor of agricultural economics, said people, herself included, are willing to pay.

"I like the idea that right now the organic farmers are being rewarded with premium prices for their hard work. It's really backbreaking work," she said.

Traders Point Creamery's 140 acres of pastures are planted with a mix of grasses and meadow plants that make its milk superior to that produced by grain-fed cows, said Robb.

The pastures are enriched with natural compost and by tilling under cover crops. The nutrient-rich droppings from the 60 Brown Swiss dairy cows also help green the fields, he said.

The fields thrive, Robb said, because they work in concert with nature. "The soil is a really a living entity, and chemicals kill all the good things in the soil when what we really need to be doing is stimulating those," he said.

5. Support from city folk takes root on the farm

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY

A new way of farming is quietly sowing seeds of change. It has brought new life to family farms in Illinois, let city dwellers cultivate deep relationships with the people who grow their food in Rochester, N.Y., and allowed new farms to sprout up in Tulsa. The ultimate harvest may be the preservation of the family farm.

Community-supported agriculture - CSA - has grown from a few pioneers in the late 1980s to as many as 1,700 farms that feed about 340,000 families a week, according to Local Harvest, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Web site that tracks CSAs and farmers markets.

Here's how it works: For $13 to $25 a week, a family buys a share of a nearby farm's yearly harvest. Each week the family gets a box of vegetables - and, at some CSAs, fruit - either delivered to the house or a designated drop-off point. Though CSA farmers take their shareholders' likes and dislikes into consideration when they're buying seed, once it's in the ground, there's no changing the menu. What's ripe is ripe, and that's what's in the box.

The number of CSA operations is only a tiny fraction of the 2.1 million U.S. farms counted in the 2002 Census of Agriculture. But they represent a new way of keeping small farmers on the land in an era of agricultural consolidation. Every year, CSA farmers figure out how many shares their harvest can support - anywhere from 25 to 1,000. Once those are all spoken for, the CSA is sold out until the following year.

Jim and Diann Moore were on the verge of losing their nearly 100-year-old farm in Watseka, Ill., when the Prairieland CSA in Champaign-Urbana came looking for a new farmer in 2003. "My husband was working road construction, I was working in a grocery store (and) we'd spent our boys' savings accounts," Diann Moore says.

Then in December, the CSA checks started to come from the group's 60 members. "It's been a lifeline," she says with a catch in her voice. "Spring is when we need the money. It's when we buy the seeds. It's there when the propane bill comes for the greenhouses."

Farmers often have had to take out loans at the beginning of the growing season and pay the money back with interest when the crops come in. But CSAs turn that age-old pattern on its head.

"I get my money upfront," says Leigh Hauter, who has run a CSA out of his family's Bull Run Mountain Organic Farm in The Plains, Va., for 12 years. "With the CSA, people join up in the spring, and that pays our expenses."

CSA shareholders pay in advance. Some pay monthly; others pay for the season with one check. Either way, the money's in the farmer's bank account when it's needed.

Today the Moores' farm has 143 members who each pay $405 for 33 weeks of vegetables. Though Moore says the family income "is still probably below the poverty line," they're earning enough that they've been able to quit their off-farm jobs. Best of all, their oldest son, Wes, 17, will get his wish and be able to farm with his family when he finishes school instead of leaving for a job in town.

The Moores feel blessed to have their shareholders, who have become like family. "We get Christmas cards. We've gone to people's funerals. If it weren't for this group of people, we wouldn't still be farming," Moore says.

'Rude awakening' for some

Not that CSAs are right for every farmer, says Greg Bowman, editor of NewFarm.org, a Web magazine.

"It's been rather a rude awakening for some farmers, going from selling by the ton at a local feed mill to growing things by the pound for people who believe they have a stake in deciding what you're going to grow," he says.

But when it works, it's great for both sides, says Kathryn Jensen of Rochester, N.Y. She has been a shareholder in Peacework Farm for 10 years and says she's in tune with the seasons and the struggles of "her" farmers. "Supermarkets have almost completely isolated the consumer from the natural food production cycle," she says.

And that's why CSAs are "a revolution in agriculture," says David Ward, director of the Rodale Institute, a non-profit educational and research organization in Kutztown, Pa., that works to promote sustainable farming.

"Just the act of going and picking up a box puts the consumer much more into the mind-set of 'Where is this food coming from?' and 'Why is it available now?' "

It has been a huge shift in the Jensen household. Her sons now know that asparagus is available in the spring and strawberries in the summer, and neither will be on the table in December. They're also much more adventuresome eaters, she says. "My older son, who's 10, loves kale, collard greens and Brussels sprouts," she says. "I tell people that and they're floored."

Donna Camp joined the Moores' CSA a year ago. It has taken her Urbana, Ill., family a while to get used to eating things she didn't know existed before, such as the green, knobby ball called kohlrabi, a mild member of the broccoli family.

"We didn't know that cabbage could taste that good," Camp says. "It's really made us question what we have been eating before."

An idea is born

The CSA movement got its start in the USA in 1986 from farmers who had spent time on Swiss and German organic farms. In those countries, the idea of producer-consumer alliances was inspired by the co-op movement in Chile in the 1970s. The first CSA farms in America were the Great Barrington CSA Garden in Massachusetts and Temple-Wilton Community Farm in New Hampshire.

Today, not all CSAs are alike. There are farms on which the shareholders work a certain number of hours each season. And there are others in which shareholders just leave the farmer a house key so a driver can drop off the food.

The harvest itself is growing more varied. CSAs began as vegetable farms, with some fruit thrown in. Today there are all kinds of shares that include flowers, herbs, milk, butter, yogurt, cheese, poultry, eggs and meat - often lamb, pork and sometimes beef.

Anecdotes and recipes

One thing as crucial as sun and rain to a thriving CSA is a newsletter. It gives members weekly updates on what's in the greenhouse, the ground and the reaper.

Hauter has been writing a newsletter for the 400 members of his Virginia farm for nine years. Each week they get a dispatch on his ongoing battle with a bear over who controls the beehives, an update on an errant billy goat and some musings on farming. It has become so popular that his members are pushing him to turn it into a book.

Newsletters also provide another piece of the CSA puzzle: recipes. CSA customers, especially new ones, can find themselves with unfamiliar vegetables in quantities they'd never buy at the market. So almost all newsletters include recipes for that week's vegetables. (Hints: Rutabagas make great oven fries, and even kids like kale when it's cooked with raisins and pine nuts.)

CSA also are a way into farming for young people just starting out, because the certain income gives them a safety net. It's how Emily Oakley and Mike Appel, both 27, have made it on a 2-acre spread on leased land in Tulsa.

The couple met more than eight years ago in their first college course on agriculture, Oakley says. After apprenticing for three years on CSA farms, they moved to Oakley's hometown with $20,000 and a dream: to start one of their own.

It has been a struggle. The first year they lost peppers to torrential rain, lettuce to heat and broccoli to hungry cabbage looper larvae. But even so, they were astonished at how much they could reap.

"One week in July we harvested 1,000 pounds of tomatoes," Appel says. They had 10 members their first year, drawn by postcards sent to everyone they knew in town. "Our dentist had fliers up in his office," Oakley says.

This year they're up to 35 members who pay $15 a week each during the 20-week harvest season, which brings in about $10,500 a year. In addition, they sell about $25,000 a year at the farmers market and another $6,000 to restaurants and wholesalers, bringing their total yearly gross income to a whopping $20,750 each for the privilege of doing back-breaking labor 52 weeks a year.

But they wouldn't have it any other way. "I'm sure people look at those numbers and think 'Holy crap! That's not enough money for two people,' " Oakley says. "But it's sort of a choice you have to make."

Oakley and Appel are examples of CSA farmers who diversify, selling at farmers markets, to restaurants and to wholesalers to add income without having to work off the farm. After all, "we want to be farmers," Oakley says.

"But that CSA cash flow in the winter is critical," says farmer Judith Redmond of Full Belly Farm outside of Guinda, Calif., north of Sacramento. Full Belly makes about 25% of its income from its CSA, about 25% from farmers markets and 50% from restaurants and wholesale sales.

Truly a family operation

A growing CSA customer base is made up of parents who want to give their children a sense that food doesn't just sprout out of the supermarket vegetable case.

At Full Belly Farm, Redmond is one of four partners who grow food for the farm's 1,000 shareholders. "We especially get a lot of people with kids who really think it's important for them to get connected to where their food comes from," she says.

Like most CSAs, Full Belly fosters its community by holding yearly potlucks in the spring, with tours, tractor rides and chances to see cows, goats, sheep and chickens.

But to the Rev. Mike Mulberry and his flock at the Community United Church of Christ in Champaign, Ill., there is a larger constituency. To them, the CSA is a kind of Christian ministry unto itself.

The parish buys three shares of the Moores' CSA and donates the food each week to a local food pantry for the hungry.

As Mulberry sees it, the Moores support the community, the parish supports the Moores, both support the social service agencies and everybody "is transformed."