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Make a Winter Vegetable Garden Work for the CSA

A greenhouse helps gardeners make a successful winter vegetable garden to establish a winter CSA for delicious local eating.

| November/December 2010

  • Winter Greenhouse
    Sunlight provides passive solar heat to warm the snow-covered greenhouse. van der Velden
  • Farmers' Market Garden Bounty
    Heirloom purple carrots top this farmer’s harvest basket. Cline
  • Baby Lettuce
    An assortment of baby lettuce may be part of a winter CSA offering. Conlin Stevens
  • Greens in the Winter Greenhouse
    Greenhouse-grown lettuce is often the main attraction of a CSA provided in January or February. Dulins

  • Winter Greenhouse
  • Farmers' Market Garden Bounty
  • Baby Lettuce
  • Greens in the Winter Greenhouse

Imagine living in northern Wisconsin where winter temperatures are regularly measured in windchill. By January, one can’t help but dream of warmer weather, a winter vegetable garden and fresh-picked produce. Now, imagine bundling up and jetting across your yard to a 16-by-24-foot shed, throwing open the door and harvesting fresh veggies in a 70-degree greenhouse that costs less than $50 a year to heat.  

For organic Elsewhere Farm owner Clare Hintz, this dream is about to become a reality. This fall, while other farmers “up north” are busy pulling their final crops, Clare will be in full-speed-ahead planting mode. This comes after just two years of researching, planning and building a passive solar greenhouse. 


Clare first learned about this econom-ically feasible reality when she met Chuck Waibel and Carol Ford. The duo, which started Garden Goddess Enterprises in west-central Minnesota, provides 12 families with a winter CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Just recently, they released a how-to manual providing the backbone for others interested in a low-cost solution to year-round fresh produce. 

“I live in what is often called a food desert,” Carol says. In other words, getting local produce year-round is pretty much impossible. To Carol, this seemed ridiculous given that Minnesota is a huge producer of food. About 10 years ago, she determined that it shouldn’t be this way: “I had been a CSA member for three years and, in that time, I had fallen in love with local foods.” She knew enough about the gardening community to know that there were winter greenhouses in Canada and figured if they could do it, so could she. 

Growing vegetables year-round, though, wasn’t enough. “Anyone can grow tomatoes with enough grow lights,” Carol says. “But using a ton of fossil fuels defeats the purpose. We wanted to do something that wasn’t too expensive – something that provided the most bang for the buck, and a lot of produce.” The couple, who live in the town of Milan, also wanted something small and replicable. 

Turning to books about passive solar design written in the 1970s, the couple soon had a plan. Within a couple of years, the two had created a solid business plan and a greenhouse that was filling a produce void in their community. 

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