Buying the Farm

More CSAs Means More Options
by Amy Pennington
photo by Ann Vandeman

Community Supported Agriculture programs were set up to help support farmers in the off season by garnering them a dependable income. Come winter, farmers put their land to bed and tuck into seed catalogs for the upcoming season. That means little (if any) income, while money is being spent on seeds and equipment.

Many farmers have turned to operating CSAs as a way to help diffuse the financial stress of winter by encouraging people to purchase ‘shares’ in the farm for the upcoming year. A share is considered a small piece of the farm-to-come for the following year, and is delivered in the shape of a box full of farm goodies–always vegetables, and depending on the farm, there could be fruit, fresh eggs, or a bouquet of cut flowers.

Outside of supporting the local community, the beauty of a CSA is their guarantee of perfectly fresh produce come spring, often at a discounted price from farmers’ market tables. CSAs vary in their size and delivery systems, just as the boxes vary in their contents. Some farms will deliver to your home, but most have in-city locations where boxes can be retrieved on specific days of the week. Other farms offer only on-farm pickup.

Kristin Hyde has hosted a CSA pickup depot with Full Circle Farm for several seasons. “I must admit with the hectic life I’m leading–single mom managing my own business–getting a weekly box of the best organic fresh fruits and vegetables and more goodies like bread, coffee, and chocolate from my Full Circle Farm CSA helps keep us cookin’ at home and is a big time saver,” she said.

Along with pickup day and location, it’s important to consider the length of the farm’s season, the size and price of the box, and farming practices. Most participating farms operate organically or use sustainable farming techniques, while others have a separate form of certification for their land. Ones to look for are Salmon Safe (an eco-label that recognizes farmers who protect water quality, restore stream habitat for native salmon, and promote on-farm biodiversity), Biodynamic (a holistic organic method) and Certified Naturally Grown (a chemical-free system where farms use independent soil testing). CSAs typically stick with the summer season and offer a 20 to 25 week share; some carry on over the winter months and provide organic produce through partnerships with other farms.

Root Connection in Woodinville is widely accepted to be the oldest share farm in King County, having started their CSA program in 1987. Today, the farm sells over 480 shares each year. They offer three pickup locations in Seattle, otherwise encouraging members to pick up on the farm, where they can help themselves to additional u-pick flowers and herbs. Boxes are one-size-fits-all and are best suited for a small family. Their CSA program will run for 21 weeks this summer.

Boistfort Valley Farm, just outside of Chehalis, runs their CSA program in summers and offers only the family-size box. They have a unique suggestion for people committed to buying local, offering a “Sustaining Membership” to potential suitors. When you pay for three years up front, you pay the current price of the box and save yourself from inevitable annual increases.

Full Circle Farm, in the heart of Carnation, has expanded to provide organic foods grown or made off-farm. Basic boxes come in small, medium and large with a variety of twelve to fourteen veggies. A new Green Grocer program gives members the opportunity to add other organic items to their box, including Theo Chocolates, whole grains from Bluebird Grain Farms, and Stiebrs farm-fresh eggs.

Other farms are also providing options for their CSA members. Anna Salafsky and Susan Ujcic run the farm at Helsing Junction, in Rochester. In addition to a small box (feeding a family of two) or a large (feeding a family of four), they also offer a winter “Storage” box with long-lasting vegetables like shallots, garlic, onions and squash and summer-long flower shares.

At Garden Treasures in Arlington, owner Mark Lovejoy played with a different arrangement for his CSA subscribers. An on-farm pickup CSA, they allow customers to pack their own boxes each week. The farm sets up a generous display of produce every Thursday and prints out a newsletter making suggestions on what to take home and how to cook it.

They offer full shares (large boxes) or half shares, and go so far as to offer seniors a specially-sized box for a lower price, as they are often on fixed incomes. Mark also supports the food stamp program at the co-op farm stand, where he sells local fruit from Small Wood Farms, cheese and raw milk dairy from two local creameries, and fresh eggs. CSA customers get a small discount at the co-op.

If a five month commitment seems intimidating, shorter share programs do exist. Over fall, winter and spring Jubilee Biodynamic Farm in Carnation runs six-week CSA memberships. Including some produce grown off-farm, they offer two sizes of boxes in the cooler months, and deliver to several Seattle drop-off sites. Nature’s Last Stand offers both weekly and bimonthly CSA boxes, but allows you to cancel your subscription at any time, essentially making it a month-to-month decision.

Left Foot Organics in Olympia offers winter shares with the likes of mustards, leeks and cellared root vegetables. Both weekly options and full twelve-week shares are available.

With over 1,500 farms in King County there is bound to be a CSA share for everyone. Not only do CSAs benefit the farmer, providing steady income, they benefit the customer by providing healthy food at a healthy price. “By becoming a drop-off site (for Full Circle Farm), I am able to foster a sense of community when a dozen of my neighbors come to pick up their box on my porch every Thursday,” Hyde says proudly.Amy Pennington is applying for a work share at a farm in Carnation in exchange for a weekly CSA box this summer.

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