Friday, 11 July 2008

Shareholders turn to sharecropping

CAMPTON TOWNSHIP, Illinois: In an environmentally conscious tweak on the typical way of getting food to the table, growing numbers of Americans are skipping out on grocery stores and even farmers' markets and instead going right to the source by buying shares of farms.On one of the farms here, about 35 miles, or about 55 kilometers, west of Chicago, Steve Trisko was weeding beets the other day and cutting back a shade tree so that baby tomatoes could get sunlight. Trisko is a retired computer consultant who owns shares in the four-acre, or 1.6-hectare, Erehwon Farm."We decided that it's in our interest to have a small farm succeed and have them be able to have a sustainable farm producing good food," Trisko said.Part of a loose but growing network mostly mobilized on the Internet, Erehwon is participating in what is known as community-supported agriculture. About 150 people have bought shares in Erehwon - in essence, hiring personal farmers and turning the old notion of sharecropping on its head.The concept was imported from Europe and Asia in the 1980s as an alternative marketing and financing arrangement to help combat the often prohibitive costs of small-scale farming. But until recently, it was slow to take root. There were fewer than 100 such farms in the early 1990s, but in the past several years the number has grown to close to 1,500, according to academic experts who have followed the trend.

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