Mid-January probably seems like a strange time to bring up what you're going to eat this summer. But if you were a farmer, growing your own food, you bet you'd be thinking about it now. And if you want to buy into a local vegetable crop, now is the time to do your research and join a CSA.
CSAs (an acronym for Community Supported Agriculture) are a way for the food buying public to create a relationship with a local farm and to receive a weekly bag of produce, flowers, fruits, eggs, milk, meats, or combinations of different farm products during the growing season - typically late spring through early fall. By making a financial commitment to a farm, people loosely become "shareholders" - thus the term CSA share.
Last year I tried to sign up for a CSA share late in the spring, and I ended up missing out. The farm I had signed up with the year prior was on a travel hiatus, and I contacted another farmer just after she had sold her last share. I started wondering, if CSAs are hotter than pancakes, why aren't there more farms offering them?
The simple answer is that farming is hard work and growers who offer sustainably grown produce at an affordable price usually don't reap much profit. CSA programs appeal to people who appreciate the farmer's cost to grow food with sustainable and organic practices, to pay fair wages to laborers.
These small farmers also count on their CSA members to understand the limitations of a Central Oregon farm; the cool weather and short growing season in Central Oregon can limit plant diversity. "People who are committed to getting what they want when they want should go to the grocery store," says Gigi Meyer, owner of Windflower Farm in Alfalfa.
But with the right planning and a greenhouse or two for nurturing plants vulnerable to frost, Meyer and other local produce farmers grow an incredible variety of greens and vegetables. "You don't just get one kind of radish," says Meyer. She offers CSA share holders both rare and heirloom vegetables in addition to common vegetables.
Certainly diversity is one of the benefits of buying into a CSA. For me, it's a combination of the facts. The local farms who offer CSAs are all growing with organic and sustainable practices; the produce I receive weekly is harvested that same day; relatively little energy has been expended in its transportation; and, I'm giving my business to someone in my community. But mostly, it's because fresh, locally grown produce tastes so much better than anything I can buy in a grocery store, organic or otherwise.
"There's nothing like something that was picked the morning you eat it," says Meyer. This applies to the farm fresh eggs that she and others provide as an option to the CSA share. Really fresh eggs are readily identifiable by their glowing orange yolks, which beam like little suns when cracked into a bowl. Mmm, fresh eggs... But back to facts and figures.
Central Oregon's CSA programs offer shares for a set price, paid upfront, to guarantee a bag of fresh produce weekly throughout the growing season that can be home delivered or picked up at a predetermined location. CSA members can expect to get mostly greens early in the spring, opening up to a wide variety of vegetables and herbs in the summer, more greenhouse items like basil, peppers and tomatoes in late summer, and root vegetables, fall greens and beans into the autumn months.
Central Oregon's CSAs fill up every year. But the more demand that is out there, the more our local small, organic farmers will be able to grow. And nurturing the land and the local economy while we eat fantastic food seems like a good gamble to me.
CENTRAL OREGON CSAs
Big Star Farm
2009 CSA Sold Out
Contacts: Jessi Wojdak & Jim Lord (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dancing Cow Farm
Bend, Prineville or Redmond pickup
Contacts: Jerre Kosta Dodson & Sean Dodson (541.416.9019)
Downtown Bend pickup
Contacts: Jim & Debbie Fields (email@example.com)
Home delivery or downtown Bend pickup
Contact: Gigi Meyer (firstname.lastname@example.org)