Produce shares offer fresh produce, local sustainability
By Tara Nelson
Long before the first summer harvest of organic fruits and vegetables, Mike and Kim Finger of Cedarville Farm are out in the cool spring air, plowing soil and weeding rows of delicate lettuce sprouts.
The two Whatcom County farmers will not have to worry about securing funds to help with the costs of production because they already sold several subscriptions of produce months before the season started.
The Fingers are involved in a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that takes a direct marketing approach to selling produce.
Farmers estimate a total budget for seeds, equipment and labor and seek out local subscribers to pay a portion of the total costs - usually about $300. In return, subscribers are given a box of locally grown organic produce every week for about 20 weeks.
Finger said Cedarville Farms is the longest running CSA program in Whatcom County and north of Seattle.
They modeled their program after Seattle’s long-standing “Root Connection” farm share about 17 years ago to supplement their organic farm near the Nooksack River in Deming.
Since then the produce shares have grown to nearly 65 percent of their business although Finger said they still sell produce at farmer’s markets, the Community Food Co-op and supply a few restaurants.
“It quickly became the main focus of the farm and it continues today,” he said. “It’s been a good fit for us because we like dealing with customers directly. We’ve had no regrets and have never looked back.”
Because customers pay upfront early in the season, it provides a level of flexibility and financial stability to local farmers.
“You’re not picking to order, you’re giving customers a share of what’s in the garden,” he said. “If you don’t have broccoli, you have something else, so it gives local farmers some nice flexibility.”
But Finger said it also provides an opportunity to form a personal relationship with his customers.
“We have families who started with us with young children and now they’re going to college and we’ve grown food for them that whole time,” he said. “I think part of the appeal, for the shareholders, is there is a connection in a world where there seems to be less and less connectedness. That and people like to know where their food comes from.”
Finger also said while CSAs are not “bargain basement produce” they are generally a fair deal. Finger said they target their CSA pricing at 10 percent lower than farmer’s market.
Cedarville Farms offer six different share options, including their main share (May to October), fall season (October to mid-December), as well as full and half shares within those categories.
They also offer a farmer’s market share, in which a credit account is given at the farmer’s market. Shareholders in that program receive 10 percent more than their investment.
A growing trend
Eva Agudelo, of the non-profit business consortium Sustainable Connections, said buying CSAs and other locally-grown produce supports the local agriculture economy and helps maintain transparency between consumers and farmers.
“We’re really disconnected from our food,” Agudelo said. “When we buy it at the supermarket, we don’t know who picked it, how much they were paid and how much pesticide was used, but when you buy from your farmer you can just ask those kinds of questions. And not only that, the food is just so much fresher and more delicious because it’s coming right off the farm.”
That trend is growing rapidly in the United States, said Leslie Zenz, program manager for the Small Farm and Direct Marketing program of the state Department of Agriculture.
“A lot of people wish to decentralize the food system,” Zenz said. “It is becoming clear that people are interested in more than just the way the food is processed.”
Several small farms in Whatcom County offer CSA produce subscriptions. They include:
Alm Hill Gardens
3550 Alm Road
Organic, year-round, offering more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.
Sumas River Farm
4289 Rock Road
Traditional vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, strawberries, grapes and apples, sugar peas, carrots, lettuce, green beans, onions and tomatoes, basil, fennel, garlic, broccoli, potatoes, cabbage, bok choy, cucumbers and eggplant.
Rosa Verde Farm
Aldrich Rd, Ferndale
Organic and biodynamic produce.
2660 Thornton Road
Varied produce throughout a full growing season. Purebred Icelandic sheep supply varied fleeces and premium lamb in the fall.
Terra Verde Farm
2820 Eldridge Avenue
Vegetables, flowers and herbs.
Bellingham Country Gardens
2838 Kelly Road
Vegetables, flowers and ever-bearing strawberries, without chemicals, salad greens, tomatoes, carrots, peas, beans, beets, onions, peppers, leeks, bok choy, etc.
460 Innis Creek Road
Vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers offered seasonally, including ethnic and heirloom varieties.
256 Hemmi Road
Organic vegetables, artisan cheese, homemade ice cream at the Silver Springs Creamery farmstand.
Rabbit Fields Farm
Organic mixed vegetables, berries and herbs, specializing in seasonal crops, garlic and sprouts.
412 Robinson Street
Organic, open-pollinated and heirloom varieties of tomatoes, peppers, salad greens, strawberries and more.
5890 Barr Road
Low-impact, sustainably grown vegetables.
7916 Stein Road
Third generation family farm operating a cottage based, year-round terra and hydroponic farm, growing for retail and wholesale markets. Culinary and medicinal herbs, ornamental gourds and bedding plants. Several seasonal and year-round vegetables and fruits.
A farmworker-owned organic farming cooperative. Vegetables, herbs and flowers, peppers including jalapeños and Anaheim, squash, tomatoes, eggplant, onions and cucumbers, basil, cilantro, parsley, oregano. Se habla Español.
3081 Goshen Road
Vegetables, herbs and flowers, organically grown on fertile soil near the Nooksack River.