In a fast-paced world, we often don’t have time to think about where our food is coming from, and going to the grocery store becomes another tick on a list of things to do. However, when we do finally slow down to enjoy a meal among friends or family, there is comfort in knowing the care that goes behind our food’s journey into our home. Food, after all, is built on relationships. Where we get our food from and who we build those connections with should be nearly as important as who we are choosing to share the meal with. This is why Community Supported Agriculture programs—or CSAs—are carving their path through Central Oregon and beyond.
What is a CSA?
CSAs remove the grocery store or third-party distributor as a main source of produce. Instead, there is a direct relationship between the buyer and the farmer. At the beginning of a growing season, a farmer will sell shares of their farm’s production for an agreement of a certain amount of fresh produce—and sometimes dairy, meat or eggs—to the buyer on an established schedule throughout the season. According to Pacific Northwest Community Supported Agriculture, the bond between customer and farmer fosters a mutual understanding of the risks and rewards of contributing to a CSA. This may include unexpected environmental factors at times leading to a smaller amount of produce for a part of the season. On the other hand, the reward is the security of knowing you are receiving fresh, nutritious food with each share.
The benefits of participating in a CSA can be equally advantageous from the perspective of both the farmer as well as the consumer. The money paid towards a share at the beginning of a growing season allows farmers to better prepare for the rest of their season. In turn, customers have access to fresh produce directly from the farm and the security of knowing where their food is coming from.
The value of contributing to a local farm doesn’t stop at the human–level; the impacts of joining a CSA show a ripple-effect throughout the surrounding environment. “[Local farmers] understand how to cultivate soil health, preserve water, and grow fresh food to nourish our community,” said Annie Nichols, agricultural support manager for High Desert Food and Farm Alliance. “You are also reducing the food miles that your food must travel to get to you, in turn decreasing the associated pollution and emissions associated with transportation.”
Finding the Right CSA
With the number of CSAs growing in Central Oregon, it’s important to consider your individual needs when it comes to creating the relationship between a farm and yourself. “Different farms will offer different options in terms of size, delivery method, and what they grow, so I would recommend visiting the farm’s websites to better understand which is the best fit for you. Many CSAs sell out quickly and typically they open for sign ups in February or March,” Nichols said. A number of farms accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits so that these programs are accessible to the entire community. Additionally, organizations such as the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance, are helping to promote food security and access in Central Oregon. The alliance makes the process of finding a CSA straightforward on its website.
Fresh, Local Food All Year
Just because the growing season comes to an end, doesn’t mean that finding food locally and sustainably needs to.
Year–round, indoor farmers markets such as Central Oregon Locavore also provide the space for farmers to sell food directly to customers. Agricultural Connections Harvest Boxes can be purchased one box at a time or with a weekly subscription.
Farmers markets in town are another way to build on customer–farmer relationships and get early access to fresh food. “The benefit for the vendors [at the Bend Farmers Market] is they have a space to sell directly to consumers,” said Marielle Slater, president of the board of the Bend Farmers Market.
Slater also said that some vendors at the farmers market have their own CSA and even use markets as a location for pickup. This means that, depending on your choice of CSA, you have the option to explore other local resources while picking up your share of produce.
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