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Co-op takes CSA model to new level with WEDC help

October 27, 2021
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Community Kitchen Co-op members spent the summer preserving local produce. The group started serving
locally sourced meals to subscribers earlier this month.

A group of southern Wisconsin farmers and food producers have opened the Community Kitchen Co-op, which uses a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model to provide fully prepared locally sourced meals, bakery, dairy, eggs and more to subscribers.

The effort is more than an easy and delicious way to get dinner on the table, and it’s being supported by a $48,900 Capacity Building Grant from WEDC.

“As a community effort, this truly helps address economic well-being for rural residents,” says Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of WEDC. “This model, which organizers hope can be replicated elsewhere, gives farmers and food producers reliable income and ensures that everyone is making a wage of at least $15 an hour. Their commitment to local food and preserving produce also cuts down on waste and aids the environment.”

For a monthly cost of $165, subscribers receive a weekly allotment of two fully prepared dinners that each serve two people; two portions of a lunch soup or salad; two portions of crackers, bread or rolls; two portions of vegetables or salad; and an additional two portions of a prepared grain or additional seasonal vegetable. Additional local food and customization options—including regular and gluten-free breads and desserts, eggs and more—can be added.

Food can be picked up at locations throughout the area, including Monticello, Monroe, Brodhead and Madison. It can also be delivered within a 20-mile radius of the kitchen, including to residents in Madison, Verona, Fitchburg and other nearby locations.

The first “Eater” shares were sent out the week of Oct. 5; Dela Ends, president of the co-op’s board, says the staff spent the summer preserving local produce “like crazy” in a rented restaurant kitchen while the group worked to finish and license its own building at 209 N. Main St. in Monticello.

“People are thinking more about where their food comes from,” says Ends. “There are really a lot of people who don’t like to cook but they want to have healthy and local food.”

Sam Rikkers, WEDC deputy secretary and chief operating officer, and Marcy West, the director of WEDC’s Office of Rural Prosperity, visited the co-op to learn more about this model, which organizers hope can aid other communities.

“We all know how important agriculture and food and beverage production are to our state,” says Rikkers. “It’s important that we look at ways to ensure that rural areas, where so many of our food producers live and work, share in the prosperity the industry creates.”

Ends, who has run a CSA business with her husband for many years, said the idea—which organizers had talked about for years—is a way for rural communities to have some control over their food supply and their economies.

“Watching our neighbors go out of business is terrible,” says Ends. “When farmers go out of business, other businesses go out because they don’t have the customers.”

Everything from the distances residents have to travel to shop for goods and services to the number of children in the school system is impacted by smaller farmers leaving agriculture, says Ends—and that’s why this model is so important to try.

“Farmers are better supported,” she adds, “and consumers can buy locally.”

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