From the farm to the table

ONTONAGON – Andrea and Scott Corpolongo Smith have been farming vegetables on their Wintergreen Farm near Ontonagon since 2007, and they have been involved with Community Supported Agriculture since 2009.

Community Supported Agriculture, which is expanding throughout the country, is a system which provides produce and other locally- or regionally-grown foods from the growers directly to consumers.

As found on the United States Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Library website, CSA, “consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or ‘share-holders’ of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer’s salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production. Members also share in the risks of farming, including poor harvests due to unfavorable weather or pests. By direct sales to community members, who have provided the farmer with working capital in advance, growers receive better prices for their crops, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing.”

Since vegetables are picked at the height of ripeness for local consumption, and not before they’re ripe for shipping long distances, the nutritional value is maintained.

Andrea and Scott graduated from Michigan State University in 2005. Andrea received a bachelor of science degree in botany, and Scott got a B.S. in fisheries and wildlife management. Scott also worked on the MSU student organic farm.

In 2007 and 2008, Andrea said she and Scott were selling their produce at local farmers markets and the Keweenaw Food Co-Op in Hancock.

In 2009, they started their efforts with CSA, and Scott said they started modestly.

“We had five members, and we took (the vegetables) door to door,” he said. “It was a trial year, to make sure it was going to work.”

Andrea said this year, they have 70 CSA members, who either pick up produce at the Corpolongo Smith property or at local farmers markets.

Scott said the family owns 58 acres at their home on U.S.-45. They own seven acres at the former Northwoods Candlelight Inn on M-38 near Ontonagon, and have a smaller garden there. They are farming a total of five acres.

“We grew about two acres last year, so it’s a big increase this year,” he said.

This year, they are growing 45 crops, Scott said.

Andrea said the farm-to-table movement is gaining momentum in the Copper Country.

“We literally see it growing this year,” she said.

The number of growers locally is expanding, with a variety of food offerings, including animals, Andrea said.

“We have a seen a big expansion … in the last two or three years,” she said.

Scott said some growers will concentrate on a single crop, such as potatoes.

Andrea said the CSA and farm-to-table concepts are becoming fairly well known by the general public, and she doesn’t have to explain what they are as often as she used to.

Natasha Lantz, co-leader of the U.P. Food Exchange at the Marquette Food Co-Op, said the purpose of that organization is to be a resource for farmers, institutions and the general public regarding the farm-to-table concept.

The UPFE formed in November 2012 with a regional food system grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Lantz said the work done by the UPFE is gaining in popularity.

“The demand for local food is growing,” she said.

Many of the people looking for local food sources are also looking for food grown without synthetic chemicals, Lantz said, and knowing who the growers are can make that easier to determine.

Lantz said the UPFE is broken into western, central and eastern units. The Marquette Food Co-Op is the hub for the central unit, and the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department Hancock office is the hub for the western unit. Michigan State University Extension is the hub for the eastern unit.

The website for the UPFE is at upfoodexchange.com.

One local CSA member, who puts locally grown food on the table is Mark Pitillo, Portage Health food service director and executive chef, who said three years ago, he started buying a wide variety of vegetables form a local grower, including greens, zucchini, peas, raspberries, tomatoes and squash, among others.

Pitillo said the local produce he serves at the Portage Health cafeteria are very popular with the regular customers.

“People have gotten to know the vegetables are going to be fresh,” he said.

Eventually, Pitillo said he would like to get all food for the cafeteria from local growers and producers.

By the end of this year, Pitillo said he will have bought 20,000 pounds of produce from the local grower.

“That’s pretty spectacular,” he said.