Clark County’s CSAs need customers for their locally grown food

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter



If you go

What: Meet the Farmers event.

When: 6 p.m. Friday.

Where: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 426 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver.

Cost: Free.

Information: CSA website.

If you’ve ever wanted to subscribe to receive a weekly delivery of fresh produce from a local farm, now’s your chance.

The popularity of community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs, has rocketed in past years to the point that you’d be lucky to find a farm that still had openings in April. This year is different. Farms find themselves under-subscribed, perhaps because of the extended economic downturn, said Luisa DePaiva, owner of Purple Rain Vineyard in Brush Prairie.

CSA shareholders pay to receive a box or bag of produce each week for the duration of the growing season, usually May or June through October or November. Some CSAs require members to pick up their produce at the farm and others arrange for some kind of delivery, if not to individual homes, then to a central drop point.

Last year, DePaiva’s farm had 145 shareholders. She has only 70 people signed up so far this year.

“This year has been a slow year,” DePaiva said. “There might be a perception that joining a CSA is a luxury because some CSAs require a lump sum.”

Although some farms require plunking down hundreds of dollars at the beginning of the growing season, more are dividing the tab into smaller payments, as Purple Rain has done. Purple Rain supplies produce for a 34-week season, with prices ranging from $580 for a small share to $1,093 for a large share for veggie-hungry families.

Most farms have a shorter season of about five months, with prices for a share generally around $500.

Those considering subscribing to a CSA can meet a number of farmers at 6 p.m. Friday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 426 E. Fourth Plain Blvd., Vancouver.

Quality and quantity

CSAs have proliferated here in the past few years, said Doug Stienbarger, director of the Washington State University Clark County Extension, which provides a searchable database of farms online.

When Stienbarger started working at the extension in 2000, he knew of only three Clark County CSAs. Now there are 22.

But he doesn’t thinks competition is the reason for the drop in shareholders any one farm may be experiencing.

“My feeling is that in normal times, there’s plenty of market out there for the local food dollar. I don’t think it’s saturated yet. I do think the economy plays a big part,” he said.

But as DePaiva and others point out, in an time of rising food costs, it can be a smart move to lock in how much you’ll pay for produce now.

“CSAs provide an excellent amount and quality for the dollar value,” she said.