Cultivating a culture
If you're anything like, say, the average overworked community journalist, you love the idea of growing your own produce, but just weren't born with a green thumb or the time and patience to develop one.
What if you could have someone else do the farming for you and still dine easy knowing where your next salad was coming from?
"Community Supported Agriculture — they're three long words that sort of describe it," Brian Shipman of Wild Roots Farm.
Elaborating, he explained how many don't take advantage of the more properly dubbed "farm shares" program because they don't know what a CSA is.
In essence, CSAs are a way for families to buy into where their food comes from. You simply pay for your membership once a year and then pick up your share of green goodness once a week. It's also a way for families to support the farm that produces their vegetables, and for farmers to have a direct link to their buyers and even educate them.
"It's exciting to take part in the education of people's appetites," Shipman said. "There's a lot of vegetables out there that you don't find in supermarkets."
Shipman and his wife, Mary Colombo, have run their CSA from the Headwater Farms farm incubator in Gresham for three years, and live and provide produce for customers around East Multnomah County and Estacada and Sandy.
Besides the "usual suspects," as Shipman calls them, Wild Roots grows a great variety of greens, root vegetables, seasonal fruits and both decorative and edible flowers.
They also have a winter share of vegetables and canned and preserved goods.
Colombo noted that "the progression of gardening and really falling in love with growing food," was the reason she and her husband left the "professional world" to live on a farm nine years ago.
"We worked in the nine-to-five world for five years," she said. "Right around the time of the financial crisis, we quit our jobs and went to live on a farm for nine months and fell in love with the lifestyle."
Now they have a strong bunch of CSA members and supply vegetables to eight different restaurants in the Portland metro area, but they say the CSA is their greatest source of support.
"With restaurants, we don't get paid until we start selling them produce," Colombo said. "In the CSA, a lot of people are paying us upfront."
"A lot of trust goes into that initial agreement," Shipman added. "CSA for us is definitely an important part of our farming and our business."
Support for freshness
If you become a member of a CSA, your money helps provide an income for the farmer and their employees, allows the farm to purchase needed supplies to feed their animals and grow their crops and much more.
"As a farmer it's really supportive to have that connection to your community," Lily Tova said. "I think there's something about having that connection (and) having that working capital up front at the beginning of the season."
Tova owns Flying Coyote Farm, a CSA farm just off Langensand Road in Sandy. The 32-year-old Florida native has been farming since she was 16 years old, and first planted roots in Sandy five years ago.
"Farming is the thing I love the most, and it's the thing I'm the best at," she noted. "I just always knew that's what I wanted to do."
After seven years of farming other people's crops in Florida and Oregon, Tova decided it was time to take the leap into building her own bounty.
Flying Coyote is a biodynamic and organic paradise, with Tova explaining that Biodynamic means the farm exercises "holistic land stewardship." They plant and cultivate their crops with an emphasis on "seeing the farm as one whole organism," and pay attention to how one part of the whole affects every other.
For example, Flying Coyote owns goats who provide milk that is fed to the pigs who create compost that the farmers then use on the fields.
"It really increases the flavor of the food and its shelf life," Tova said of her practices that sets the Flying Coyote CSA apart from others.
Prioritizing people and produce
Variety and quality are also of utmost importance to Tova, who grows "everything" veggie on her three-acre plot — from carrots to corn and peppers to peas.
She also raises and butchers pigs and chickens for sale.
"Not only are we trying to have food that's really healthy, but that's really beautiful," she added, explaining that to ensure quality, the farmhands wash the produce thoroughly before boxing it up for CSA pickup. "There's a lot of eye to quality and freshness here."
Emily Cooper, owner of Full Cellar Farms in Gresham, prioritizes her customers by giving them more flexibility with the products they receive every week.
"I've worked for two farms that did CSAs," Cooper said. She only started cultivating her own crops in 2008, and opened her CSA three seasons ago. "I modeled my program after what I learned."
Cooper observed that not every customer enjoys the more unique vegetables the farms offer.
"It makes it hard for people who are less familiar with cooking," Cooper said of some of the less-popular produce.
Staples are considered staples for a reason. She also added that she's "trying to have a more manageable-sized share for smaller households," so she has tailored her weekly boxes to fit her customers.
"I let people pick what's in their share," she noted. But, just because not everybody goes crazy for kohlrabi, doesn't mean she doesn't still have a large variety of items from which to choose.
Besides her crowd-pleasing carrots, Cooper grows 40 different types of vegetables as well as a few melons, and she also has a share especially for those into preserving and pickling. She provides the basil for your pesto, the dill, cucumbers and garlic for your pickles, and many other combinations to please her loyal produce-lovers.
Tova doesn't believe in monopolizing the concept.
"I would encourage people to sign up for any CSA — not just mine," Tova said. "I think it's a nice way to guarantee the freshest produce every week, (and) it's a great way to support farms in the community. We prioritize (our CSA members) because they've made a commitment to us. It's a way to have a direct relationship with the people who make your food. Our goal is to be feeding our community."
Facts on the farms:
There are various CSAs around Oregon, including many practically in your backyard. Here are a few:
Flying Coyote Farm:
• Where: 19779 S.E. Langensand Road, Sandy.
• Membership cost: $600 for a 24-week season.
• Sign up for their mailing list at www.fromfieldtofeast.com.
• Products available: Vegetables, pork, chicken, sauerkraut and salsa.
Flying Coyote is currently accepting sign-ups for its fall pig shares CSA, or visit www.fromfieldtofeast.com to learn more about buying your share.
Wild Root Farm:
• Where: 28600 S.E. Orient Drive, Gresham.
• Membership cost: $600 for a 26-week season.
• Find more information online at www.wildrootsnw.com.
• Products available: Vegetables
Full Cellar Farm:
• Where: 28600 S.E. Orient Drive, Gresham.
• Membership cost: $500 for a 23-week season.
• Find more information online at www.fullcellarfarmoregon.com/p/full-cellar-farm-new.html.
• Products available: Vegetables, melons, produce for preservation and herbs.