If you’ve ever subscribed to one of Chicago’s many CSA (community supported agriculture) programs, you’re likely familiar with some of the internal conflicts that can accompany a weekly delivery of farm-fresh produce:
You love directly supporting local farmers, but a summer-long commitment can be pricey and intimidating.
You love receiving a fresh box full of fruit and veggie surprises every week, but you struggle to schedule a regular time to pick up the box.
You love the exposure to new veggies like ramps and celeriac, but you’re not sure what to do with seven pounds of beets.
Fortunately, some local CSAs are finding innovative ways to address these concerns, and Niles-based Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks is among them.
With Irv & Shelly’s, subscribers can order the amount of food, the price point and the commitment that best suits their lifestyles by choosing to receive CSA boxes once a week, once a month or once-in-a-lifetime. They also have a choice in what they will receive — a fruit box, a vegetable box, or a box that combines the two. All products are organic and are delivered directly to the subscriber’s doorstep.
Those who prefer not to commit to a subscription can buy items like apples, arugula and eggs a la cart.
Irv & Shelly’s makes deliveries in 95 zip codes in and around Chicago, with a particularly high concentration of clients in the Lincoln Square, Andersonville and North Center neighborhoods.
Kate Kinne, a registered dietitian at Swedish Covenant Hospital and Galter LifeCenter and the writer behind Well Community’s Eating Well blog, said that this customizable CSA model allows consumers to make healthful choices with greater ease.
“This is a great advantage for consumers, because it allows them pick out the fresh, local food and fit it into their meal planning for the week, so they can be proactive about what they're eating,” Kinne said. “I often counsel clients to plan ahead and make healthy choices when shopping to allow for nutritious meals and snacks. Irv & Shelly's Fresh Picks fits right into that idea.”
Irv & Shelly’s model also fits in with Kinne’s advice that eating local is good for your health.
The company work with more than 100 farmers throughout the Midwest to provide Chicago residents with fresh, local, organic produce — including Michigan asparagus, Wisconsin cranberries and Illinois meats — as well as meats, dairy, eggs and bakery goods. Unlike most CSAs, Irv & Shelly’s operates year-round, providing Midwest-grown items in-season (and often out-of-season from greenhouse growers), and produce from organic farmers outside the region during the winter months.
“When you are eating foods that are local, generally they are as fresh as possible and therefore taste better,” Kinne said. “When you consider how much less time it takes for local foods to make it to your kitchen, you may be eating the produce several days (if not weeks) earlier than you would foods that traveled further distances, allowing you to get the peak nutrition.”
She adds that it is also important to support local farmers and local businesses so they can continue to use the best and healthiest practices in how food is produced.
Irv & Shelly’s Fresh Picks is run by Irv Cernauskas and Shelly Herman, a West Town couple who, after years of subscribing to CSAs, decided to start a business of their own that was user-friendly, convenient and allowed for choice.
“The trend across the whole city is more and more people thinking, ‘I’ve got to eat more vegetables, I’ve got to be healthier,’” Herman said. “People want to buy from a local farmer, they want to buy from a local company, they want to know where their money is going and who they’re purchasing from.”
But at the same time, she adds, they want it to be convenient and affordable. Irv & Shelly’s delivers on all of the above.