CSA programs bring farm fresh food to Blaine

Published on Wed, May 22, 2013 by Brandy Kiger Shreve

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There are few things better than eating fresh vegetables straight from the garden. Beautiful leafy greens, fresh tomatoes and succulent squashes are all worthy of the investment and labor that it takes to grow them, but not everyone has the space, time or desire to till the land and grow their own produce. That’s when community supported agriculture (CSA) shares can be a solution.

“Early in the season farmers have a lot of expenses, but not a lot of income,” said Jay Dennison, co-founder of Growing 
Washington, a project-based nonprofit organization focused on sustainable agriculture. “It was a farmer who came up with this idea: If the community makes an investment in the farm, then throughout the course of the season they will receive returns in the form of fruits and vegetables from the farm.” 

Working with groups like Let’s Move, Blaine!, Dennison and Growing Washington are offering CSA options for families in the Blaine area who want the freshest produce they can get. “The food is picked on Tuesday, boxed up on Wednesday, and delivered on Thursday,” Dennison said. “It’s as fresh as you can get. By the time you buy fruits and vegetables at the farmer’s market or grocery store, more than half of their shelf life is gone. The quality we’re delivering is incredible.”

The multi-farm CSA model that Growing Washington offers gives customers options for what they will receive in their boxes. Over the course of a season, Growing Washington will have close to 150 products to choose from. “The idea with our CSA is to showcase the best produce that Whatcom County has to offer. We have farmers who specialize in greens, berries, root crops and herbs,” Dennison said. “And we’ve partnered with artisan businesses to give folks other great local products like fresh pasta, milk, cheese, honey and butter.” 

He said the program offers choices that most traditional CSAs are unable to match. “By sourcing multiple farms, we go to the folks who are really good at growing their crops,” he said. “It creates an exceptionally diverse product and really good food.”

When Dennison started Growing Washington, he was more interested in distributing fresh produce than producing it. “We started the Farm to School program because we wanted to give kids access to healthy food and help them know where their food comes from,” he said. “We started by connecting farms with schools. But we soon realized that if we were going to have a large impact on agriculture, we needed to be in agriculture, not just be the middle man. It got our hands dirty.”

In 2007, Dennison and longtime friend Clayton Burroughs took over Alm Hill Farm and began producing crops. “Clayton had worked with the owners, and they were passionate about our Farm to School program,” he said. “They had a 35-acre farm and two kids who didn’t want to take over their business, so they approached us about it.”

 “With Growing Washington, we wanted to create a sustainable food system and we realize that to do that we couldn’t rely on grant funding for our farming and produce distribution,” Dennison said. “So we started looking at other ways to make it work.” 

It quickly became apparent to the two men that CSAs were the way to go. “We decided to connect farmers with buyers,” 

Dennison said. “It’s a win-win situation. Farmers are typically very good at farming, but not really into marketing. We market it for them, and they get to keep doing what they’re good at.”

Customers buy into the farm, help support the farmer during the lean spring months and then reap the rewards through the season. With Growing Washington, they can make the choice to either pay for their share upfront, or split it up into four equal payments. “Whether you’re a couple or a family of four, there’s something for everyone,” Dennison said. Pricing depends on the size of the box a customer chooses. “We wanted to give people lots of options. Everything we provide is organically grown. Boxes start at around $300 for the 20-week season,” he said. “We just want people to have access to good food.”

The deadline to sign up for a Growing Washington CSA is June 1. Dennison said they are currently seeking businesses or residences to host pickups in Blaine. For more information, visit growingwashington.org/foodbox.

“The best benefit is getting fantastic tasting food. People who shop with our CSA get the same food that the best chefs in Seattle get from us,” Dennison said. “There’s a noticeable difference in the produce you get from the grocery store and what you get in your CSA box.”

There are several CSAs in the area to choose from, including Sound Harvest Delivery, which is devoted to distributing local dairy products. 

To find a CSA that meets your budget and food needs, including those that accept SNAP/EBT, visit sustainableconnections.org/bizdev/workplace-csas/2013-csa-list/.