As a supplement to this week's Last Supper column, I've asked a handful of farmers a few questions about their CSA. The hope is that, if you're interested in becoming a member this year, we'll help you find a good fit. There are dozens of great options in the area—our sample is by no means exhaustive. LocaHarvest.com is a great place to start, but the PSU Farmers Market opened last week—stop by and ask around. Brian Martin and Jamie Evans are in their second season at Working Hands Farm, a small plot of land in Scholls, surrounded by Alpaca. Brian was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. (Warning: They're a nauseatingly attractive couple.)
How did you first get involved with CSA’s?
At the Aprovecho research institute in Cottage Grove, Oregon. It is a school of appropriate technology.
Why do you think the business model is important?
For two reasons, because it allows me to make a livable wage as a farmer and it keeps me from having to borrow money at the beginning of the season. Many traditional famers use credit cards to buy seed, chemicals, amendments, etc… at the beginning of a season and make their money back as it progresses—this can lead to huge debt problems for farmers. With a CSA you receive all your money upfront and you can budget accordingly.
How long have you been operating?
This is our second season.
How do you think CSA's fit in with Portlanders today?
It facilitates close ties between the farmer and the customer and Portlanders dig business models that are interpersonal. Also Portlanders are smart, they get why obesity and early onset diabetes are on the rise and more importantly they know how to combat it. CSA's are just one of the many tools Portlanders utilize to ensure that they and their families live healthy productive lives.
How large is your CSA? How many members do you have now and how many can you support?
We are shooting to fill 50 shares this season. We have 15 members that are committed, most of them from GBD Architects, a sustainably minded local architecture firm in Portland. So that leaves us with 35 shares that we need to sell.
What’s the range of produce you feature? What can members expect from week to week?
We offer fruits and veggies that are current with foodie trends, but we never stray to far from home. We want people to feel comfortable with what they are getting but we also want to open new horizons, expose people to things that they are sure to fall in love with.
What are a few highlights? The vegetables you’re most excited about, or have been most pleased with in the past?
Kohl Robi, is a favorite, kind of like the broccoli family's version of Jicama. We participated in a start-up market in NE Portland and gave a bunch of samples of it at the beginning of the season—those first customers never left us, they always came back.
How much is a full share?
We Charge $603 per share and we don't offer half shares. Last year we found that if people couldn’t eat a full share they would just split it with friends or family members. I figure people are happy to split boxes on their own, and it is kind of fun to watch people argue over who gets the Sun Golds, or the strawberries every week.
How do you handle distribution? Where are your drop points?
Last year we catered to one business in Portland, I figured it would be nice for people to go home from work with the boxes. We will continue with that model while opening up the doors to new business. We will also be distributing to NW, NE and SE Portland. We are still nailing down the exact locations but they will pretty close in, convenient for anyone living in Portland proper.
How long is your season?
June 15th to November 2nd
What makes your farm stand out from others in the area?
A number of things, James has 8 years of work experience in fine dining and most of her former chief's were trained under Alice Waters. This gives her a good eye for the new upcoming trends. We will always be able offer what is in fashion and in season. And secondly, I have been working for humanitarian organizations in Africa, South America, India, and most recently Haiti. Because of these experiences I have been exposed to many different foods and I think it contributes to both how I farm and what I farm, but more importantly those experiences enable me to reach out to the communities that are most susceptible to the current epidemics of our generations, early onset diabetes and obesity.