Healthy Home-Grown Harvest

Eggplant, squash, sweet corn, strawberries, peppers, broccoli — these are just some of the healthy fruits and veggies that consumers have at their disposal by choosing the countryside over the corner grocery.

Community Supported Agriculture farms (CSAs) are an attractive option for consumers who want to purchase a “share” of a local farmer’s produce at the beginning of the growing season, offering them a veritable cornucopia of home-grown, organic vegetables and fruits free from pesticides and fertilizers. The only downside: the fresh-from-the-ground produce might still, at its worst, have a little bit of garden soil still on it.

Moira Blake, wife of Mount Mercy President Christopher Blake, has bought local, homegrown produce since the family moved to the United States from London in 1995, and in Iowa since 2006. Every week during the summer Moira, and occasionally the Blake’s two sons, Lewis and Sam, drive to Abbe Hills Farm in Mount Vernon to choose from a wide array of cabbages, beets, onions, greens and more.

CSAs are growing in popularity because both consumers and farmers benefit from the unique partnership that is formed during the growing season,and the economic benefits are tangible.

Consumers like the Blakes have the opportunity to eat the freshest, most nutritious fruits and vegetables possible while witnessing first-hand where their food is grown. Farmers profit from the added cash flow of receiving the payment early in the season, allowing them to concentrate on what they do best — farm — rather than worry about making ends meet.

Perhaps the greatest advantage comes from personally knowing who is growing your food and who is eating it, a connection lost when one shops at a chain grocery store. Moira recognizes that her boys have benefited in numerous ways from the experience of buying locally. “They get to see the produce, they know exactly where it comes from and they know the farmer,” says Moira. “They now relate to it all.”

CSAs typically offer families two options when purchasing a share, or a weekly basket of produce; a large share or a small share. The Iowa growing season lasts from mid-June to late October, and families who purchase a regular share spend approximately $20 per week — making it not only healthy, but affordable.

For Moira and her family, a regular share is more than enough to last a week; she often donates what the family cannot use to the Sacred Heart Convent.

The Blakes’ weekly trips to the farm yield more than a basket of fresh veggies; the family takes pleasure in making the short drive and spending time together.

Buying healthy vegetables is important to Moira, who does much of her own freezing and canning in preparation for the winter months. “I like to know where my produce comes from, and that it’s not sprayed with chemicals,” she says. “Plus, when it’s the middle of winter and I want to make a dish that requires peppers I have them right here.”

To Moira, participating in CSAs makes sense economically and environmentally. Buying close to home prevents supporting food production that was shipped from out of state, which necessitates the use of fossil fuel and the emissions of carbon dioxide. “When you think about it, you can’t get anything here from California without having some effect on the environment,” she says. “Iowa has such good soil, why wouldn’t you use it?”

Creating a positive local economic impact is an added incentive. Support for local farmers helps sustain jobs and opportunities locally, and more farms mean fresher, wholesome food. “If more people participated we would have more small farms,” says Moira. “And having more small farms would be a good thing for both the local economy and environment.”

Moira’s participation reflects a greater umbrella effort in Cedar Rapids to support local businesses and to keep opportunity and resources in the community. Last spring Mount Mercy joined the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce’s BUY IN initiative, which encourages area businesses to shift five percent of their current out-of-area purchases back into the local economy. The move was a natural shift and dovetailed with the College’s mission of serving the local community.

“Our students and graduates have an enormous economic impact on the community already, and we are grateful as an institution for the opportunity to provide yet another asset to the local economy,” says President Blake. “In the spirit of service derived from our founding as a Mercy institution, we hope our participation will help in the re-building of our local community.”

Cabbage, anyone?