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Colorful area CSA offers subscribers four months of produce, local connections

Photos by Steve Dzubay Elephant garlic will be ready for delivery by mid-summer, Barry predicts. The garlic bulbs were planted last October.1 / 2
Willa Barry exchanges grins with Cookie, one of SunRush's eight dairy goats.2 / 2

A southeast breeze rippled spring green stalks on a patch of Elephant garlic. Crimson early strawberries peeked out from deep green leaves surrounded by golden straw mulch. Two long rows of purplish Cimarron lettuce hunched up between longer rows of Norland red, Nicola and Russet potato vines. Heads of sweet red clover bumped against spiraling lime-green tentacles from snap- and snow pea vines while emerging spinach and radish shoots awaited thinning near the south end of the patch.

Welcome to SunRush Farm, a CSA or "community supported agriculture" project situated on 22 scenic acres about 12 miles east of River Falls near the Rush River.

A CSA is a business model through which people share both the risk and the bounteous rewards of the farm. Rainbow Barry is the proprietor but she gets help from husband Ben Toppel, a fifth-grade teacher at River Falls' Rocky Branch Elementary, children Morris, 6, and Willa, 2, and a few volunteers.

If Rainbow looked a bit weary that morning - it's understandable. She was a little overwhelmed. Within a matter of days, she'd promised to make the first of some 18 deliveries of fresh produce to 30 families who'd purchased shares for the 2012 growing season.

"Right now, we've got a whole bunch of lettuce but not much else," Barry sighed. "I'm feeling obligated - a little anxious. 'Am I going to have enough?' Later in the season there's a lot but early, it's touch-and-go."

She'd likely do a little bartering with a neighbor who grows strawberries and perhaps supplement a variety of greens with some farm-fresh eggs from the plus or minus 40 hens that come and go from SunRush's coop-on-wheels - a hen house situated atop a hayrack that gets regularly relocated to a fresh paddock. Chickens share the property with eight dairy goats and two cats.

The fact Rainbow's first name mirrors the Jay Mankita folk song she cited while talking about the merits of eating fresh is just a coincidence, a conversational segue in the presence of two-year-old daughter Willa.

I like to eat like a rainbow red, orange, yellow and green tastiest colors I've ever seen. Like to eat foods that are purple and blue, colorful foods are healthier too. I like to eat like a rainbow ...~ Jay Mankita

"We were just singing that this morning, weren't we?" she swooned to Willa. "'Eat like a rainbow ...' Eat lots of colors. There's high nutritional value and eating seasonally is what our bodies have evolved to do."

Along with helping the community to eat better, the CSA concept can help the community to shop and buy local.

A statement on her web site sums up her background this way:

"I, Rainbow Barry, am pleased to be your local farmer. I have been growing organic vegetables for more than a decade. My university studies in ecology and my love of gardening compelled me to pursue organic farming. 2012 will be my third year running a CSA business. My interest in CSA grew out of an internship at Blue Moon Community Farm in Madison, WI, and a long- time interest in community gardening.

Families basically pay a farmer up front for a season's worth of food. The growing season is typically from mid-June through most of October. Each part of the season yields something different.

Barry says the food variety differs by farm, but CSA's generally focus on fresh vegetables and fruits. Some also offer eggs, milk and meat. Barry for example, has eggs and hopes to add goat milk products. The weekly take is usually enough to fill a half-bushel, waxed produce box for each family. Empty boxes are swapped out the following week for a new produce delivery.

Early season yield is usually light, while the late season is usually heavy. Early crops can include spinach, snap peas, lettuce, beets, nasturtium flowers, radishes, onions, salad greens, rhubarb and herbs. Mid-season crops consist of carrots, cucumber, eggplant, garlic, green beans, kale, kohlrabi cabbage, melons, pepper, tomatoes, potatoes, summer squash, zucchini, chard, broccoli and green beans.

Late-season food includes winter squash, potatoes, storage onions and apples. Many food items may overlap seasons.

In her first year of operation, Barry invited shareholders to stop by the farm and retrieve their week's foodstuffs. She loved the sense of community those visits yielded and was something of a social hour as adults talked and kids ran, played and introduced themselves to the animals. This season, Barry will shuttle produce packages the 10 or so miles to River Falls to meet clients at a designated location one evening each week. She'll miss the interaction but hopes the central delivery will make it easier for everyone.

Barry uses organic growing practices but hasn't become certified because the cost of application and compliance checks. She doesn't use any pesticides, synthetic fertilizer or chemicals. Fertilizer comes from a nearby horse farm. She uses techniques that regenerate the soil naturally and create a healthy growing environment.

She tills her gardens with help from an old Allis Chalmers tractor, using accessories like a disk and a spring-tooth, along with a walk-behind tiller and a plain old hoe. Fortunately, cabbage moths haven't been a problem and potato bugs are handled with personal intimacy; she squashes them between her fingers.

This year, Barry's 30 investors is each paying $400 for a season's worth of produce. Along with the edibles, she tries to provide information and recipes, updates and nutrition information via her web site or a printed note with each box.

She likes the educational aspect of the farm and how her young children and members' kids learn a lot.

She clarifies that nobody gets rich from CSA farming, but it is an enjoyable lifestyle and meaningful work.

"It appeals to people who like a challenge and are creative," said Barry, adding that it's fun to get an idea then follow it through.

Contact Barry at 715-688-3112 or visit