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Inside Carol Ford's greenhouse.

Inside Carol Ford and Chuck Waibel's greenhouse in Milan.

Winter greens, anyone?

UMM staff's greenhouse gives food to families via the Community Support Agriculture organization

By Crystal Oko

Feb. 23, 2007; updated Feb. 26

On weekdays, one can find Carol Ford as the "office goddess" in the Science and Math Division at the University of Minnesota, Morris, (UMM). (Her official title is principal administrative specialist.) On nights and weekends she's in a T-shirt in her 80-degree greenhouse tending to all her greens. Just two years ago, Ford and her husband, Chuck Waibel, made their dream come true when they built a greenhouse that now provides food during the winter months for families involved in an organization called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

CSA is a distribution system that provides food directly from the producer to the consumer. Families pay in advance to a get a share of the producer's weekly crop. Many families in west central Minnesota participate in CSAs, but only in the summer, which makes sense due to Minnesota's harsh winters.

Ford, who loves to do research, has combined this passion with another love: greenhouses and "green" initiatives. After much research and reading, she became particularly inspired by a passive solar greenhouse in Cheyenne, Wyo. that was run entirely by volunteers.

"I thought if they can do it in the harsh winters of Wyoming, why can't we do it here," says Ford.

Conference on locally grown foods

To explore how local foods can be an economic development engine for rural communities, Congressman Collin Peterson is sponsoring a conference, "The Home Grown Economy: Foods from Local Farms as an Economic Development Tool," in April (rescheduled from Monday, Feb. 26) on the Morris campus. Session topics include economic realities of the region, organic agriculture and consumer attitudes toward local foods. Registration is $35, $10 students. For complete details and to register, see the Regional Partnerships.

Ford and her husband have always had an interest in building a winter CSA, and together they attended a course through The Land Stewardship Project called "Farm Beginnings." Since then, Ford and Waibel have constructed an 18-by-24-foot greenhouse on their double lot in Milan, about 30 miles south of Morris.

They are now in their second year of providing fresh winter greens to 15 families. "It's going great, better than I hoped," says Ford. "I have not had as many sleepless nights this winter." Ford explained that their first winter included an infestation of aphids and was "a learning curve year." The 15 families, already part of a summer CSA, are thrilled that they can continue receiving fresh organic greens through the Ford's winter CSA.

Carol Ford
Carol Ford in front of her greenhouse.--Photo by Bill Zimmer of West Central Tribune.

Ford will be one of the presenters at The Home Grown Economy Conference, sponsored by Congressman Collin Peterson, in April (rescheduled from Monday, Feb. 26) on the Morris campus. (see sidebar)

"If [conference participants] see the potential of a CSA and get thinking about it and talking about it, the word will spread," says Ford. "All they have to do is have a salad from my greenhouse, and they will be convinced that there should be one on every block of every neighborhood in Minnesota."

Crystal Oko, Woodbury, is a senior in speech communication and a communications assistant in the Morris campus Office of University Relations.