Farm shares: Investing in local growers
If you’re my age or younger, you probably grew up thinking of food as something that came from a store, and shopping for food as a matter of making a list (well, if you’re organized), getting in the car, going to the supermarket and filling your cart mostly with boxes and cans and other pre-weighed, packaged stuff. When you bought produce, you expected it to be washed and trimmed (and sometimes waxed) and perfect looking. A dark spot on an apple, a hint of green on an orange, beets and radishes with the leaves still on – these were all to be avoided. If you found asparagus in December or strawberries in March, you didn’t pause to wonder where they came from. Maybe you thought tomatoes were meant to be flavorless and kind of crunchy.
What a revelation it is, then, to discover the pleasures of locally grown food, even if it takes a bit more work. The flavors, of course, but also the sheer tactile pleasure of working with food straight from the farm: The rich golden yolks of eggs from free-range chickens, the delectable greens, the new forms of old friends such as garlic; the juicy, acid-sweet bliss of a truly ripe heirloom tomato. Strawberries that are red to the core. Lettuce so fresh it hardly needs dressing.
Bringing all these good things to market isn’t easy. It takes a certain kind of person – or family – to rise, pick and clean the produce, load the coolers and the truck and haul it – sometimes quite a distance – from farm to market, hoping the weather will be good and the shoppers will come and be in the mood to spend.
It’s not cheap, either, and that’s one reason increasing numbers of growers are adopting new strategies for keeping the farm going and connecting with the buying public.
You’ve probably heard of CSA – Community Supported Agriculture – and the typical CSA subscription service, which involves paying a set amount at the start of the season to receive a weekly box of whatever’s fresh and in season. Here in the mid-Valley, a growing number of farms are offering CSA boxes, usually delivered for pickup at specific locations on a given day of the week. And that can be great for those who are happy to eat whatever they get, who have big families or who have the time and energy to preserve an excess of, say, cucumbers or beans.
For others – those feeding picky eaters, or single people like me who can’t get through a whole box of food in a week – there are other options. One is the farm share, a sort of pay-ahead investment in a grower and their food. Farm shares (usually) differ from CSAs in that you pay a set amount at the start of the season, and then get to spend that credit as you please at the grower’s market booth.
Ive just bought a farm share from Wood Family Farm, the family meat-raising operation in Stayton. An unabashed carnivore, I love their lamb in particular, and have considered but never quite got ’round to purchasing an entire lamb’s worth of meat at slaughter time. This year, I opted for the farm share: A $180 payment that gets me $200 worth of meat over the course of the season. I can spend it from week to week, or – as I plan to do – fill out an order form in August and spend the whole amount on the cuts of lamb I prefer.
Other mid-valley growers have come up with similar schemes. Among them:
- Denison Farms, which in addition to a conventional CSA offers a Market Coupon plan (a $90 investment gets you $100 worth of coupons to spend at their farmers’ market booths)
- Midway Farms, between Albany and Corvallis, has a “Personal Shopper CSA;” pay in advance and you can fill a specific-sized box with whatever you prefer from their farmstand.
- Deep Roots Farm has a “Market Advantage CSA” program that works much the same way at their farmers’ market booths.
One advantage of farm shares over traditional CSAs, besides the aspect of choice, is that they are often available for purchase well into the season, whereas CSA subscriptions are usually available only at specific times of the year.
Farm shares, CSAs and similar schemes are the most direct way consumers can help out local growers. By paying at the start of the season, we provide the farms with capital to help cover their expenses. This is no small thing; small farms often have a difficult time getting contentional financing for the seed, feed and other costs of growing food and bringing it to market. It’s also a great deal for those of us who love fresh food.