If you’d like to eat fresh, local vegetables all summer, now is the time to look into joining a CSA.
The acronym stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a term that stems from the biodynamic agriculture movement created by Rudolf Steiner in the northeastern United States in the 1980s. CSA members share the risk of farming by purchasing a share at the beginning of the growing season so the farmer can buy seeds and equipment. At harvest time, members get a weekly box of produce.
During CSA Week, which begins Sunday, farmers across the country will promote their offerings.
Clark County Grown, a program through Slow Food Southwest Washington, is celebrating by updating the CSA listings at www.clarkcountygrown.org/csa and encouraging local farms to post their information on the Clark County Grown — Marketplace Facebook page.
It’s best to choose a CSA based on practical considerations like pickup sites and cost. It’s possible to create a pickup site by organizing a group of friends and then finding a farmer who’s willing to deliver to your house or office. In addition, some farmers have payment plans, accept food stamps, or have subsidized shares to make fresh food accessible to everyone in Clark County.
Warren Neth, a marketing consultant and local food activist who posts on Instagram and Facebook as Cascadian Terroirist, organized Clark County Grown’s CSA Week this year. Clark County Grown is a program created by Slow Food Southwest Washington, a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire people to enjoy, grow and share wholesome local food.
“CSA started as a philosophy hippie thing, but now we’re evolving into farmers who are business savvy and using technology to determine customer demand,” Neth said.
In this new wave of tech-savvy farmers are Kelly Peters and Patrick Dorris of Flat Tack Farm on Heathen Estate in Brush Prairie. Peters and Dorris invested in software from Harvie last year. Using this software, they can track buying trends among their customers.
This season they’re planning their crops based on the data collected on Harvie. They’ll plant more potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, snap peas, beets, salad greens and strawberries. Harvie also provides a customer interface that allows CSA members to sign in and customize their weekly share or schedule share holds for weeks they’re out of town.
Given that salad greens were big sellers last season, Flat Tack this season will offer a salad share. Starting in May, salad share members get a weekly bag of salad greens, two side vegetables (like carrots or radishes), dressing and nut mix or croutons to top their salads.
Peters believes creating these innovative, customer-driven items makes joining a CSA more attractive and useful to members. Last season, Flat Tack offered share add-ons of locally made chorizo from Don Felipe Products and prepared foods, produce and eggs from Gather & Feast Farm. Other innovations at Flat Tack include a delivery option for an additional fee; a donated weekly veggie box; and a scholarship program that allows for different payment options including food stamps.
This season, Flat Tack bought some chicks so members can buy eggs as share add-ons. Peters and Dorris have also partnered with Sprout and Blossom Farm to increase production and draw more members. Other new add-ons include mushrooms from Columbia River/Bridgetown Mushrooms and fresh flowers grown by Sprout and Blossom and Flat Tack. Peters would like to add a local coffee company to her inventory.
“My dream is to partner with other farmers to help people not go to the grocery store and support local farmers instead,” Peters said.
Peters hopes to draw 100 to 125 CSA members this year. The farm has signed up 50 so far. She’s planning an email campaign to draw more members.
“The benefit of getting more members early in the season is not only getting the payment up front, but it gives us a better idea of what to grow,” Peters said. “We can plan sufficient crops with a wide variety of choices for our members.”