Illustration by Megan Piontkowski
The concept of the CSA (community-supported agriculture) is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both ends of the farm- to-table movement. The farmers get a predictable, steady cash flow throughout the growing season, and your dining-room table gets aonce-a-week bonanza of fresh-from-the-field produce (and frequently other great local food products, too). The most common model for CSAs is the purchase of a “share.” Each week during the growing season, CSA operators put together boxes of the best produce, which are either delivered to or picked up by the share owner. Some offer half shares or smaller amounts of food; in cooperative-style CSAs, share owners are required to volunteer time on the farm or do administrative duties.
Here are some of our St. Louis–area favorites. The best often sell out their shares, but almost all of them will allow you to join a waiting list. Ask whether the CSA you’re considering sells at farmers’ markets; it’s a good way to preview the offerings before you commit. Local Harvest (localharvest.org) also provides a searchable list of CSAs in Illinois, Missouri, and across the country.
EarthDance began as a vehicle for maintaining Mueller Farm, an oasis in the middle of suburban North County that may be the oldest organic-style farm in Missouri. After it was founded in 2008, EarthDance expanded its role and became a training ground for would-be farmers interested in sustainable agriculture. Along the way, it garnered national recognition and eventually moved from tenant farming to buying Mueller Farm outright. Co-founder Molly Rockamann and her staff have also built a reputation for introducing unusual types of produce—rare heirloom vegetables and ground cherries, for instance—into EarthDance’s CSA selection.
Fair Shares CCSA
Now in its seventh year, Fair Shares is a CCSA (combined CSA), meaning it serves as a clearinghouse for multiple farmers and producers. It’s the brainchild of sisters Jamie Choler and Sara Choler Hale, who came up with the idea for sourcing food from multiple farmers after the CSA they had been using shut down. In addition to produce, the weekly shares often include meat, dairy, baked goods, coffee, chocolate, and preserved food. Fair Shares also has an almost year-round season. And a portion of each membership fee goes toward sending extra produce to nonprofits that support low-income families.
Lakeview Farm CSA
Dustin Ostmann farms land in St. Charles County that’s been in his family since his grandparents purchased it in 1955. Since then, suburban St. Charles has seemingly grown ever closer, but Lakeview Farm still stands as an oasis on Towers Road. Ostmann describes his growing techniques as “organic farming practices,” meaning he uses no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer, and he won’t grow genetically modified organisms. In addition to fruits and vegetables, the weekly shares sometimes include honey and cut flowers. Subscribers can also order a dozen eggs weekly.
Our City Farm CSA
OK, wrap your head around this: The main farm for this CSA is at 4539 Delmar, near the Central West End. The Villarreal family raises produce there; grain, beans, and sunflowers about three blocks to the east; and chickens and eggs on the Mueller Farm, where thefamily rents space from the farmers of EarthDance.Carlos Villarreal is a native of Monterrey, Mexico; his wife, Jeri, calls herself a “city girl” who grew up in St. Louis. In another innovative step, the Villarreals financed the purchase of their city properties from the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority with a Kickstarter campaign. Our City Farm practices biodynamics, environmental sustainability with a healthy dose of social consciousness, and like several other local CSAs, it’s Certified Naturally Grown.
Vesterbrook Farm CSA
Mike and Carol Brabo have been farming here since 2008, but the land has been in Carol’s family since 1927 and was originally cultivated as a farm in 1902. Some of St. Louis’ top chefs—including Gerard Craft, Kevin Nashan and Jim Fiala—have tasked the Brabos with growing heirloom veggies on the farm to a set of precise specifications for their restaurants. That means that a Vesterbrook Farm CSA basket is likely to incorporate new and unusual produce in addition to more standard selections, all of which are Certified Naturally Grown. Vesterbrook runs its CSA all year round, providing 15-week subscriptions for summer and fall and 10-week subscriptions for winter and spring. The next available segment, the summer one, starts May 26.
La Vista CSA Farm
La Vista has operated a CSA for more than a decade on the grounds of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate is the religious order that operates the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill. La Vista overlooks the Mississippi River from the bluffs in Godfrey, Ill. The farm is managed by Eric Stevens, a farmer who joined in 2010. Members are encouraged to submit requests for what they want grown. In addition to the mandatory volunteer work, membership at La Vista has a significant social aspect, with frequent dinners and other events at the farm.