Department of Health sponsored CSA wraps up healthy year in Chicago

By Ben Krause-Decorah

Usually when you hear the word “CSA,” thoughts of the HCN child support agency resurrect in your mind. However, the Department of Health Wellness Division has its own version of the word. CSA stands for Community Shared Agriculture. This program was started by the Wellness Division to aide tribal members in more than providing a box of vegetables. Rather the program provides nutritional education, organic farm-to-table produce, variety in cooking choices, and investment in tribal member’s health. The Wellness Division sponsors the program by providing the entire cost of the program to the farm, less a $20 or $30 co-pay that Tribal Members pay at the time of application.

This year 8 families in Chicago benefited from this tribal sponsored program. This number has more than doubled year to year in the last two years. “It’s a step in the right direction” says Chicago Branch Office General Manager Alma Enriquez, “I think it is amazing to see more and more interest in this program. I don’t think many tribal members realize that it is available anywhere in the US that has a CSA program that is willing to work with the tribe.”

This year the Chicago Branch Office and Department of Health partnered with a new farm in the Greater Chicagoland area called Heritage Prairie Farm in the western suburb of Elburn, Illinois. This farm is located just 35 miles west of the Branch Office off of state highway 38. The Branch Office staff drove to the farm once a week to pick up the CSA boxes for its 8 participants for the summer and early fall. “By driving, we were able to bring the fresh produce into the city and closer to our tribal members. All the while preserving nature of unnecessary greenhouse gasses” said Enriquez.

Participant Vanessa Casillas of Chicago participated this year for the fifth consecutive year. “I liked that we had a different and better experience with a different farm” said Casillas. Besides there being a new farm, she loves that the tribe works with and supports USDA Certified Organic Farms, “[Eating organic] aligns with our values as Native Americans. We are being responsible stewards of the earth. Organic farms are better for the waterways surrounding the farm, the land where the produce is grown, workers picking and handling produce, and the Tribal Citizens that are ingesting the produce.” Casillas said that is important to choose an organic farm when considering CSA and that she and her family have never participated in a farm that wasn’t organic. 

Being environmentally responsible isn’t the only selling point of the CSA program. It also sharpens cooking skills of tribal members and educates members of different kinds of produce. “I am not that skilled as a chef. Having to research recipes and ingredients definitely made me a better cook and skilled chef. I was already a really good cook” said Casillas. “Comparing recipes and notes with the branch office staff and other tribal members was great. It was really cool and interesting to see the different ways that we prepare the same produce ingredient. It made me a healthier cook.” On the same note, Casillas is happy that her mother Sharon, a tribal elder, gets fresh vegetables with minimal cost thanks to the tribe. “Having to pay the $20 application fee is a steal to get this produce…It just makes sense to invest $20 into a summer worth of produce. I hope that the tribe continues to sponsor this program.”

CSA Program Recruiter Lyndsey Killian says that the program is here to benefit ALL tribal members regardless of location and will be sponsored by the Tribe again in 2019. “Community Supported Agriculture shares (CSA’s) are a great opportunity for all Ho-Chunk Nation tribal members (including district 4 – at large members), giving access to fresh vegetables to hundreds of Ho-Chunk families across the United States. The cost is very minimal and the sign up process is simple. Applications will be released starting Feb 1st, 2019 and will be accepted through April 15th, 2019 for the 2019 summer shares. Watch the nation’s e-mail, the paper and the Health Department Facebook page for application release information. The Health Facebook Page Web Address: