Jonathan Hunter likes to bike. He likes to eat organic foods. Combining these two passions, he and friend Kevin Walsh hatched a plan one summer's day while touring the backroads west of Madison: organize a bike ride around a few local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms. It could be a fund-raiser, an awareness-raiser, a two-wheeled agricultural happening!
And so it will be. The Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC), in which Hunter is an active member, will raise funds for their Partner Shares Program by hosting a Bike the Barns ride on Saturday, September 29.
This first annual "Tour de CSA" is looking to lead some 250 riders along a moderately challenging 60-mile route around the region. Starting with breakfast at Troy Gardens on Madison's north side to supply a little starting fuel, the tour will proceed through western Dane County for a full day of harvest-season scenery, locally produced foods, and community-building camaraderie.
A mid-morning cheese tasting and farm tour is scheduled at Dreamfarm, northwest of Cross Plains, before riders swing south of Black Earth and into Iowa County for lunch at Vermont Valley Community Farm north of Blue Mounds. As the ride loops back towards town, an afternoon break at Primrose Community Farm will precede a final sweep through downtown Madison before ending again at Troy Gardens.
As promoted by Vermont Valley, CSAs connect consumers with the people and places that produce a bounty of organic fruits and vegetables throughout the growing season. These centers of rural industry promote local economies, employ responsible land-use ethics, and put taste and nutrition above exorbitant profits or a "yield for yield's sake" approach to farming.
"People are going to ride because of the same reasons they might join a CSA," says Erin Schneider, MACSAC coordinator. "They want a connection to place, a connection to their food." Indicative of the growing mainstream success of CSAs and the recognized health benefits of organic foods, Physicians Plus now offers a Good Health Bonus rebate to family or individual members of any MACSAC farm.
As CSA members, Schneider says, "we are able to enjoy our green beans along with our green spaces." She also touts the community-building aspects of MACSAC's mission. Since 1997 it has been able to offer qualifying members half-off their membership costs. Members get a box of fresh produce each week throughout the growing season. This year, she says, 53 households participated in Partner Shares; their goal is 70 to 80 households
Meals along the Tour de CSA route will be provided by Café Soleil and the Underground Food Collective, operated by brothers Jonathan and Ben Hunter, among others. Other en-route treats include artisanal cheeses from Fromagination and handmade chocolates by Gail Ambrosius.
Although registration has been steady, Hunter says, more riders are welcome. There will be limited support, however, for those who find the ride too challenging. Participants should be used to riding routes that are at least 30-plus miles in length. Volunteers are also needed to help serve and clean up after meals. For those who aren't up to making the ride but still want to participate, a special registration rate is available for the lunch and farm-tour option at Vermont Valley. More information about registration and volunteering is available from MACSAC.