- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (AP) - The concept of community-supported agriculture is gaining momentum in Lincoln County.

On Wednesday, Cathy Grauerholz loaded laundry baskets full of produce into a suburban and dropped them off at the West Center Research and Extension Center in North Platte. It was the first of many deliveries she will make every week through mid-October.

The North Platte Telegraph reports (http://bit.ly/1o4frQJ ) crops were raised on Grauerholz’s farm about 6 miles south of Hershey. People paid her at the beginning of the season and, in return, she gives them fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. The food is distributed at sites in North Platte and Wallace.

“CSAs are really popular in urban areas,” Grauerholz said. “My daughter was part of one in Denver, but they are pretty rare around here. I wish more people would get into them.”

She decided to pursue a CSA business this year as way to phase out another one. Grauerholz has been taking crops to farmers markets since the early ‘90s.

“I’m getting older, and the farmers markets are a lot of work,” Grauerholz said. “With the CSA, I can do business from home.”

She calls her venture SugarSand Farms. Grauerholz grows crops on an acre of land with the assistance of three seasonal employees. Two high tunnels allowed her to start the plants the first part of April, as opposed to waiting until mid-May.

“I raise almost everything except broccoli, cabbage and sweet corn,” Grauerholz said. “I have about five kinds of cucumbers, seven to eight varieties of tomatoes and three different types of onions.”

So far, sales have been through word of mouth. There has been enough interest that Grauerholz is not taking on any new customers this season. However, she does plan to start a waiting list for next year.

“I charge $225 for half a share, which feeds one to two people,” Grauerholz said. “A full share is $450, which is usually enough for three to five people.”

Shareholders run the risks with her when it comes to hail, insects and other factors capable of contributing to unforeseen crop failures. However, Grauerholz believes there are a lot of benefits to be gained from CSA food.

“You know exactly where your food is coming from,” Grauerholz. “Shareholders are welcome to come out to the farm and see how the produce is developing.”

Although she is not certified organic, Grauerholz follows organic growing principles. She doesn’t use chemicals on her plants and resorts to compost for fertilizer.

“Everything is fresh and pure,” Grauerholz said. “The fewer chemicals in our lives the better.”

More information is available on the SugarSand Farms Facebook page.

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, community-supported agriculture was developed in Japan in 1965. It was given the name, “teikei,” which means “food with the farmer’s face on it.”

The practice spread to Europe in the 1970s and started in the U.S. in 1985. More than 1,000 CSA programs are currently in operation in nationwide.

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Information from: The North Platte Telegraph, http://www.nptelegraph.com

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