From the Chicago Tribune
Tollway oases among drop-off sites for expanding community supported agriculture movement
By Monica Eng, Tribune reporter; April 24, 2010
Chris Ruder of Wicker Park wanted to eat more fruits and vegetables. He wanted to support local organic agriculture. And he wanted to know the person growing his food.
So, like thousands of Chicagoans, he bought a share in a Midwest organic farm that would deliver weekly boxes of produce to the city in an arrangement called community-supported agriculture, or CSA.
“But the drop-off point was way on the North Side and at a time that didn’t work for me,” Ruder said of his experience last year. “And I figured if this was a hassle for me it must be a hassle for other people too.”
In winter, when the Microsoft employee was in a brainstorming meeting about making his office building — the Aon Center — more green, Ruder suggested adding a CSA drop-off site. The committee loved the idea, and this summer the city’s third-tallest skyscraper will become a delivery point for boxes of local organic produce more commonly dropped off on a neighbor’s front porch or the local church.
In another sign that CSAs have moved beyond the hippie fringe, six of Illinois’ tollway oases recently announced they will host CSA drop-offs from Harvest Moon, Scotch Hill Farm and Triple A Farms
Jim Slama, executive director of FamilyFarmed.org, said the developments reflect the growth of CSA in the Chicago area. His nonprofit group, based in Oak Park, helped connect the oases and Aon Center with potential farmers.
“When large-scale institutions like the Aon Center and the Illinois Tollway Authority begin to work with us to expand CSA drop-off locations into high-traffic locations, it is a sign that this movement is expanding into the mainstream,” Slama said. “We hope this announcement will encourage other companies, hospitals and schools to consider adding CSA drop-off spots.”
Restaurants have often supported CSA drop-offs, but this year SugarToad in Naperville has upped the ante. It’s offering social hours with free nibbles and recipes from chef Geoff Rhyne for customers picking up their Genesis Growers and Slagel Family Farm deliveries.
Less obvious players in the produce-to-commuter equation are building managers. Aon’s building management company, Jones Lang LaSalle, was integral in setting up the CSA drop-off, and the tollway oasis idea came from Sundee Wislow, the sustainability director for U.S. Equities, which took over building management of the highway structures this year.
Wislow said she hopes the oasis drop-offs can serve suburbanites who drive the tollways but don’t have convenient CSA sites in their neighborhoods. CSA deliveries cost about $200 to $700 a growing season.
Wisconsin farmer Bob Borchardt, a former Chicagoan, will serve the oases and the Aon building with his Harvest Moon Farms deliveries of seasonal produce along with additional shares of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, eggs from pastured chickens and organic flowers.
“We are big believers in the CSA model, but we also think this is a cool way to reach 6,200 people working in a building,” said Borchardt, who has set up sign-up tables at the Aon Center. Ads for his service also are broadcast in the elevators. “We’ve never delivered to this kind of workplace, but we think it’s great that co-workers can get to know each other by, say, splitting a farm share for the season.”
In places where CSA is much more common, like Madison, Wis., some health insurers offer stipends of up to $150 for signing up, on the theory that it will improve employee health.
Slama is trying to organize a Chicagoland CSA network that would encourage local insurance companies to do the same.
Whether these kinds of initiatives will produce more fruit and veggie eaters remains to be seen.
“We’re hoping that will happen,” Borchardt said. “In the fall I hope I’ll have some numbers on how many households we reached and how many trips to the grocery store we reduced with this new concept.”