Give the Gift of Local Food
Give the gift of Green. Not cold hard cash, but delicious and healthy local produce. Give a CSA share!
Looking for a great gift idea that helps Spokane’s local farmers thrive? Think about getting your family and friends a box of local produce every week during the harvest season.
When you buy a share of Community Supported Agriculture (a.k.a. CSA) for your loved ones this season, the lucky recipients get the gift of healthy, local food for months! Your gift is also an investment in the stability of local agriculture, giving a local farmer greater financial security, so s/he can focus their time and resources on growing great food. It gives back to our community with a stronger, more sustainable local food system. Most of the participating farms are smaller scale and committed to more eco-friendly practices. As referenced in an earlier article, these small local farms are often great sources for finding non-GMO foods too.
How Does it Work?
The standard model of a CSA encourages the producer and consumer to work together. Not to worry, it does not require customers to help out on the farm. It’s an arrangement where a customer commits to buying a certain amount of seasonal produce each week. They pay in advance of the season for their full “share” of the crop, available in weekly installments throughout the harvest season. A season typically lasts between 16-20 weeks from late Spring through mid-Fall. The cost of a small share, which early in the season might contain delicate salad greens, spicy radishes and fresh herbs, ranges from $12-$45 per week, depending on the size of your order and the types of products selected. The advance payment helps the farmer buy all the things needed to grow the food without going into deep debt and paying a premium in interest for those funds.
Good for the Consumer
The benefits to a CSA consumer are numerous. This direct exchange can decrease the cost of distribution, so for the same amount of organic produce in a grocery store, the price is typically a bit lower through a CSA. The food itself is allowed to ripen longer in its natural environment, not in a cooler or on trucks before it arrives at the store. This enhances the flavor and nutritional content of many foods.
Whether the CSA is certified organic or not, purchasing direct adds transparency to the food supply. Most CSA farmers will gladly invite you to come visit their farm and see for yourself how your food is grown. That’s one level of food security. The other, more political definition of food security that CSAs add is more good, fresh food grown closer to home. Less aggregation of the supply chain and more local production enhances a community’s ability to eat, if for some reason supply chains are disrupted.
Helping Small Farms
Buying in advance acknowledges the challenges our farmers endure to grow our food and helps them along the way. While observing a recent organic farm certification for My Square Garden, in Airway Heights, WA, a variety of conversations revealed the realities of farm life, and just how difficult farming can be. As farmer Lorie Troyer and her inspector compared her records from the past couple of years to this year, they talked about the stories and challenges of every day life, illustrating how random events can add to the cost of food.
On a small farm, as with any small business, even one adverse event can be detrimental. Without a larger base of business to spread the risk, small producers have to really watch the bottom line. In the week just preceding her organic inspection, Lorie lost 2 roosters, 7 layers and 16 new baby chicks to one smart badger building its own food cache, in preparation for the cold. The birds roost overnight in a coop, as recommended, but the badger worked its way in a slightly worn corner of foundation enclosed by fencing. Over the course of 5 days, poof! – almost her full egg-laying crew for 2014 was eliminated.
Another local CSA provider, Rocky Ridge Ranch, is one of the rare farms in the Inland Northwest that works to provide healthy local greens to Spokane-area residents during the winter months. The farm just lost a greenhouse full of winter greens when the temperatures plummeted and stayed near zero for a week. One of their propane heaters failed during the recent cold snap and in a matter of hours, several weeks of work and income disappeared. These are just a couple examples of the constant challenges farmers face, from hail storms that suddenly wipe out a crop to vet bills that suddenly wipe out a bank account.
As with most smaller-scale local farms, My Square Garden’s Lori Troyer also maintains full-time off-farm employment to make ends meet. With two full-tilt jobs May-September, there’s also the personal challenge of lifestyle. Gary & So at Rocky Ridge Ranch rely solely on their farm production to make a living. They raise a variety of animals and sell humanely-raised meats to increase their income potential, but adding more live beings to the mix certainly only increases the complexity, cost and risk of the operation.
How Does CSA Delivery Work?
In many cases, the weekly CSA share can be picked up conveniently at a neighborhood farmers’ market, where farmers also have a booth set up to sell ala carte. However, farmers’ markets don’t work for all farmers or all consumers. Specific days and times aren’t convenient for everyone’s schedule. CSAs can add some flexibility in securing local produce.
In the case of My Square Garden, after selling for three seasons at Spokane’s South Perry Market, Lori decided to have her customers come pick up their weekly allotment at the farm, any time between Friday – Sunday noon. It’s kept refrigerated and is donated to a good cause any week it’s left behind.
Another local CSA that newer on the scene and very urban is Urban Eden Farm, down in Vinegar Flats. Their CSA can be picked up at the Spokane Downtown Farmers’ Market or on-farm on a certain day and time.
In addition to different delivery / pick-up options, other factors may help you choose the right CSA for you or another lucky soul. Some things to consider include:
- Weekly share size,
- Pricing levels,
- Foods typically grown (with some room for your preferences), and
- Production practices (certified organic, non-GMO, etc).
Remember, this gift comes from Nature. Not every piece of produce is perfect. While farmers do their best to cultivate good looking, as well as good tasting, foods, an occasional bruise or blemish is to be expected, even appreciated. A badge of authenticity that the food has weathered the elements and will nourish us to do the same.
What a wonderful holiday gift to consider for friends and family… the gift of healthy, local food. And you are giving peace of mind. For 12-16 weeks of the 2014 growing season, a delicious part of their grocery bill is covered. And, together you are contributing to a healthier and more resilient community by supporting local farmers.
Here are some local options to help get you started. This may not be a comprehensive listing of all area choices, so please feel free to send additional information for our readers.
Where Can Spokanites Purchase a CSA?