If you want to eat healthy—and local—there is an awesome opportunity that might be practically in your backyard: Community Supported Agriculture (or CSAs)!
CSAs are local farms run by local farmers who are passionate about working the land and providing quality fruits and vegetables. CSAs are often small compared to their larger production counterparts, but they produce more than enough for several dozen to several hundred families, who enjoy fresh produce all through the growing season.
CSAs have roots around the world, but the national CSA community emerged in the northeastern US in the 1980s, brought by European immigrants. As of 2007, The US Department of Agriculture estimates there were approximately 12,549 farms using this distribution method. The Pacific Northwest is a prime place to participate and have fresh produce delivered to your door—Portland Area CSA’s Farm Directory lists 70 CSAs in and around (or that deliver to somewhere in or around) Portland!
Why and How to Pick Your CSA
Why It’s Great: We all know that lots of fruits and vegetables play a key role in a healthy lifestyle; so why not support local farmers at the same time? Plus, it’s hard to know the complete story about grocery store produce, and when you know the CSA farmer personally, it’s easy to get information about the vegetables, including how they’re grown. Some CSAs even provide opportunities for young people to intern and be more connected to their food, like CREST Farm . Others will let you sign up to help with the cultivation and harvest, and many offer suggestions for how to prepare and enjoy unfamiliar produce. CSAs cultivate community connections as much as they help you learn about and enjoy fruits and veggies.
How It Works: Community Supported Agriculture is exactly what it sounds like:
- Community members pay dues each month (or at the beginning of the growing season) that keep the farm running and provide income for those doing the labor. The money goes toward a “share,” a portion of the produce that is delivered to you or made available for you to pick up each week during the growing season.
- For example, you might pay $600 up front in May for your weekly boxes of produce that could contain rhubarb, asparagus, onions, and strawberries in May or pumpkins, raspberries, apples, and cabbage in September. Quantities vary by farm (e.g., six to 12 different kinds of fruit and/or veggies each week) and sometimes you can select different box-size options (e.g., for a single individual, a couple, or a family).
- Some farms include the option of purchasing a “meat share” from their own livestock or in conjunction with another local farm; others offer only vegetables, but the variety is endless!
- Some farms will offer half shares; so you’re not overwhelmed by a full box of veg each week, you can split that box with another member.
- Some CSAs will deliver right to your door. Others require you pick up your share on specific days and times. The beauty of this local option: you’ll find many CSAs in and around Portland and you can certainly find one that meets your needs!
How To Join: If you think buying a share or half-share would be a good fit for you and your family, the Portland Area CSA Coalition can connect you to local farms and help you find the right one for you. Some popular CSAs:
- 47th Ave Farm in Southeast Portland has been feeding members and growing for local award-winning restaurants for over 20 years. They even offer a winter share!
- Adelante Mujeres in Forest Grove is a multi-farm coalition run by Latino farmers who focus on sustainability.
- Food Works in Northwest Portland employs and mentors 14-to-18-year-old young people in all CSA aspects, helping them grow in business, responsibility, and leadership. Their farm is also all organic.
- CREST Farm in Wilsonville has three internship rotations for students from the Wilsonville-West Linn School District during the growing season, teaching students about food and its production.
- Stoneboat Farm in Hillsboro is a sustainable, horse-powered farm. They partner with other organic farms to offer fruit shares, organic poultry, a fish monger, fresh-baked bread, dairy, and eggs. I personally belong to this CSA; it’s so convenient with so many options. They even have a winter share for year-round seasonal foods!
There are many more options, so check out the coalition’s website. And, you can always ask me to help you find recipes for all your new produce!