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BATTLE CREEK, MI --

Kathy Antaya has been surprised by two things while working as program coordinator for Gardening 365: Growing vegetables is easy and growing vegetables is hard.

As the program name implies, it can be easy to farm all year round. Friday's weather report said snow, but inside the Gardening 365 greenhouse it felt like May. Space that used to go to ornamental plants is now filled with rows of moist dirt and in-ground vegetables.

The Leila Arboretum Society program also has two hoop houses and outdoor space for growing food. Like many other farms, Gardening 365 is gearing up for the summer growing season.

On a table rented by a Burmese group, tiny leaves seemed far from being eggplants. But now is the time for citizens to think about buying shares in Community Supported Agriculture.

This is the first year Gardening 365 has offered a CSA, in an effort to raise money for the Leila Arboretum Society.

But for Antaya, the main mission is to help make Battle Creek a little healthier.

“The purpose was, and still is, to create an urban farm model that people can replicate here in Battle Creek," Antaya said. "That they can do in their own backyards, to both supplement their food — eat fresher, healthier food, more nutritious food — to save a little money by not having to pay for it in the grocery store.”

The hard part of growing and selling produce has been getting over the consumer's notion of the "perfect" vegetable.

"That’s really a painful condition because so many vegetables that people reject as too ugly or they’re not perfect enough are just as nutritious and just as good for you," Antaya said. "And because of that uncompromising American standard, we as Americans waste more food — it’s morally reprehensible."

She said it's led to a dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides that isn't sustainable.

While Gardening 365 follows organic practices, the program isn't officially certified. Certification takes money that would have to increase the price of the product, and Antaya wants good food to be accessible to as many people as possible.

“My goal is to provide healthy, nutritious food to everyone who needs it," Antaya said. "You shouldn’t have to be stinkin’ rich to buy good vegetables.”

The typical CSA program works like this: A customer buys a "share" in a farm, paying up-front for a summer's worth of produce. Once a week, the customer can pick up a box of the latest harvest.

But as CSA programs have caught on, so have the options. It's up to you to find what fits your needs (and wallet) the best.

There are different portion sizes or bi-weekly options or shares for only the "peak season." Green Gardens and Pleasant Hill Farm offer credit, so the customer can pick what they want from the farmer's market table or the farm itself.

Antaya pointed out the Sprout Box from Sprout Urban Farms as a good example of a flexible program. Sprout offers recurring payments instead of a lump sum up front.

“I think that’s a super-cool idea, to have people simply pay a week or so in advance to commit to a program, because again, families that are financially challenged can’t afford to spend $400 in April for a whole summer’s worth of vegetables. But they could afford to pay for next week’s vegetables.”

All CSA programs remind customers to keep in mind that fresh food depends on the season and the weather. Don't expect tomatoes in your box right away, but early summer does bring radishes, carrots and leafy greens.

At the arboretum greenhouse on Friday, Sunny Richards was picking spinach, her knees covered in dirt. She said it was the best job she's ever had.

“It takes a lot of patience, really," Richards said. "You’ve got to be careful, and attentive. They’re kind of like children, in a way.”

CSA OPTIONS IN CALHOUN COUNTY 

Gardening 365

Location: 103 Limit St., Battle Creek

Pick-up: Leila Arboretum

Sizes: weekly or bi-weekly

Length: 10 or 20 weeks beginning in June

Prices: $400 weekly, $250 biweekly

Product: produce

Contact: Kathy Antaya; 616-450-1884; kantaya@msn.com

Green Gardens

Location: 14201 H Drive N., Battle Creek

Pick-up: Battle Creek, Marshall, Richland, Kalamazoo

Sizes: Traditional Shares for family of four light vegetable eaters or couple of heavy vegetable eaters. Farm Credit is also an alternative: Use credit for items at farmers market or farm.

Length: Traditional Shares: 21 or 10 weeks beginning in June; PLUS: 25 weeks; Credit: 33 weeks

Prices: $295 biweekly, $540 weekly; $675 PLUS; Credit: $300-$1,000

Product: 8-12 seasonal vegetables per week, along with fruit, herbs and recipes. With credit, you can also buy beef, chicken, pork, maple syrup, honey, Bakewell Company quiche and seeds and tomato plants

Contact: trent@greengardensfarm.com; ruthie@greengardensfarm.com; 832-1317; greengardensfarm.com

EarthSmith Food & Forest Products

Location: 415 Sunset Drive, Dowling

Pick-up: information not found on website

Sizes: varies

Length: information not found on website

Prices: $500 pastured meat CSA; $200-$600 pastured pork CSA; $225-$400 pastured poultry CSA; $50 Thanksgiving turkey

Product: chicken, pork and turkey

Contact: 268-3409; earthsmithfarm.com

Long Valley Farm

Location: 8350 East O Ave., Kalamazoo

Pick-up: Wednesdays at Battle Creek Farmer’s Market

Sizes: family share, single share

Length: second week of June to second week of October

Prices: $450 family, $250 single; 4 hours of volunteer work suggested

Product: seven to 10 items in a family share, recipes

Contact: 903-7706; longvalleyfarm.com

Sprout Box

Location: 245 Kendall St., Battle Creek

Pick-up: home delivery in Battle Creek, Springfield ($10 recurring or $210 full); free workplace drop-off if five or more participants; pick-up at Wednesday Battle Creek Farmer’s or Saturdays at Sprout Farm Stand, 245 Kendall St.

Sizes: whole box, half box

Length: 21 weeks for full or join at any time between May 23-Oct. 17; commitment must be for rest of season; subscription can be canceled

Prices: $20-$25 weekly; $399-$504 full season; juice add-on: $10 weekly or $210 full; meat add-on: $12 weekly or $231 full; egg add-on: $3.75 weekly or $78.75 full. EBT/SNAP accepted

Product: Fill your box with seasonal produce or have Sprout choose for you. Juice, meat and eggs available as add-ons.

Contact: sproutbcsales@gmail.com; 962-3003; sproutbc.org/shop

Pleasant Hill Farm

Location: 8711 G Drive S., Ceresco

Pick-up: Battle Creek Farmers Market or come to the farm by appointment

Sizes: farm credit

Length: cards expire Dec. 31, 2016

Prices: $100-$500; shares purchased before April 15 receive 7.5% bonus, after April 15 receive 3.5% bonus

Product: beef, chicken, eggs, pork, plants and maple syrup

Contact: 979-8101; facebook.com/PleasantHillFarmMI

Snick’s Farm

Location: 8375 Homer Road, Jonesville

Pick-up: Wednesday Albion Farmer’s Market; Saturday Marshall Farmer’s Market

Sizes: small family or large family

Length: 10 or 20 weeks

Prices: $200 peak season small family, $400 full season small family, $600 full season large family

Product: organic-certified produce

Contact: 517-499-8940; snicksfarm.com

QUESTIONS TO ASK FARMERS

What kinds of products are available in your CSA?

How many weeks does your program run?

How much food will I get in a typical share? Does it vary throughout the season?

Are the CSA shares pre-packaged or do I get to pick out some or all of my own items?

Will my share be dropped off or do I need to pick it up? On what days? Where are the drop-off or pick-up locations?

What happens if I go on vacation when a pickup or drop-off is scheduled?

How long have you been running a CSA program?

Tell me about your growing practices.

Do you grow all of the food in the share yourself? If not, can you tell me about the other farms?

From Mariel Borgman, MSU Extension community food systems educator. If you have more questions about CSA, call 548-3315 or email mborgm@msu.edu.

TIPS FOR STORING PRODUCE

• Sealed bag in fridge: cabbage, carrots, cut produce, green beans

• Loose in fridge: shallots, berries, new potatoes, Brussels sprouts

• Crisper in fridge: apples, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, leeks, mushrooms, peas, peppers, radishes, summer squash, sweet corn and turnips

• Cool, dark place: shallots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, eggplant, garlic, onions, potatoes (never store onions and potatoes together)

• Room temperature: cucumbers, melons, pears, stone fruit, strawberries, tomatoes, winter squash

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