Fresh From the Farm: A Northwest Guide to Community Supported Agriculture
While farmers markets, farm-to-table restaurants and backyard chicken coops are synonymous with Northwest culture, the term CSA is less known around these parts. Simply put, community supported agriculture (CSA) is an alternative form of food distribution. By joining a CSA, you pledge financial support to a farm for a season, and in return, receive delivery or pickup of healthy, seasonal produce and other goods grown at the farm. Sound enticing?
To learn more about CSA programs, we caught up with Ryan Lichttenegger from Steel-Wheel Farm, a small, family farm in Fall City, Wash.
Starting and maintaining a farm is a huge, ongoing investment. Staff, land, seeds and equipment all need to be financed long before a farm comes close to making a profit. Farms also take huge risks. There is no guarantee that a season will produce a bounty of crops. By joining a CSA (usually in the winter before the summer produce season), you’re helping to kick-start this process. And more importantly, “you’re supporting your local economy,” Lichttenegger emphasizes.
“When you support our farm, you’re supporting our business. But we like to support local business too, so we’re putting those profits right back into the local economy by supporting our neighbors.”
While you’re supporting your local farmer, you’ll reap the benefits as well.
“Getting produce straight from the farm is the best way to guarantee you’re eating the freshest, most nutrient-dense food,” Lichttenegger tells us.
“You’re also getting to know the farmer and your neighbors. It really brings the community together.”
Kids love it too! CSA members are encouraged to visit the farm, meet the farmers and learn more about where their food comes from.
CSA members enjoy access to a produce selection you won’t see at your local grocery store – with many lesser-known types of vegetables. Lichttenegger recommends rutabaga and burdock root – two vegetables that are definitely not on a typical shopping list. So don’t be timid! This is the chance to experiment and cook up creative new dishes. Steel-Wheel and many other CSAs offer recipes with their produce to give you new ideas for your kitchen creations. For a preview, try some of these healthy recipes on the Steel-Wheel website.
Signing up for a CSA
If you’re interested in joining a CSA, there are several to choose from and many price ranges available based on your produce needs. Often, many of your favorite farmers market vendors offer a CSA, so chatting with them can be the best way to find a CSA you know you’ll like. Here are a few on our radar.
- Steel-Wheel Farm (Fall City): Options for weekly delivery and pick-up for produce and eggs, summer through fall.
- Butler Green Farms (Bainbridge Island): Butler Green Farms offers a year-round CSA with biodynamic produce, island-raised meat, eggs and canned goods.
- Garden Treasures (Arlington): This farm offers CSAs with 20-week shares in sizes to fit your lifestyle.
- Full Circle Farm (Carnation): More of a farm delivery service, Full Circle partners with local farmers and delivers a customized box to your doorstep on the day you choose. This is a great entry into community supported agriculture, without the commitment to a full growing season.
- Rocky Ridge Ranch (Spokane): A great option for those in the inland Northwest, Rocky Ridge Ranch offers CSAs for produce and meat, as well as an extended season program in the winter months.
- Portland Area CSA Coalition (Portland area): This CSA coalition brings together 20 Portland-area CSAs that you can choose from.
- Willamette Farm & Food Coalition (Willamette Valley): Another Oregon-based coalition, Willamette Farm & Food partners with dozens of farms in the Willamette Valley area that offer CSA programs all year long.
- Denison Farms (Corvallis): A pick-up CSA with a 26-week growing season so you can get produce all the way through Thanksgiving!
We’re lucky to have access to hundreds of small farms for our produce in the Northwest. If you’re ready to sign-up for a CSA, explore your backyard, talk to your neighbors and find a farm that fits your needs.