Josh Volk cultivates his quarter-acre Community Supported Agriculture farm on Sauvie Island two days a week, juggling vegetable picking with consulting work. He and his farm partner Kji (pronounced “Kai”) McIntyre may be considered part-time farmers, but their dedication to their members is round-the-clock.
“It’s more like a big garden,” Volk laughed when describing Slow Hand Farm, which has nothing to do with Eric Clapton’s moniker. “I didn’t even realize the connection until I did a domain name search,” he said. “I was thinking more about the slow food movement, not Clapton,” he added. As a member of Portland’s popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scene, Volk offers shareholders weekly deliveries of whatever was freshly harvested that week. About 50 Portland CSA farms are listed on the website, but not all are still in operation.
CSAs operate like this: Shareholders (or members) pay portions of a local farm’s operating expenses before each season. In return, they are guaranteed freshly harvested, typically organic, vegetables and other products delivered near their own homes. The CSA movement’s origins have been traced to Japan, Germany and Switzerland during the 1960s. It spread to the U.S. in 1984, first in New Hampshire, then to other parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest.
A national website offers extensive information regarding various types of farms that serve the public. There are roughly 4,000 farms listed, including those that supply farmers markets, restaurants and other outlets in addition to CSA participation.
Volk’s small-scale venture focuses on individuals whose needs are less than those who participate in larger CSA farms. “We have about 40 shares,” he said of his membership. “Our shares are individually, not family sized,” he explained. “Our baskets might only have four or five things, rather than a large assortment.” And his share prices are considerably less than bigger farms. His least expensive share costs $57, while some farms charge hundreds. Larger farms typically have at least twice as many shareholders and offer much more variety.
Shari Raider’s 16-acre Sauvie Island Organics is one of the larger CSA farms in Portland, serving 340 members. Most of her crops go to shareholders; the rest end up in local restaurants. “We focus on providing salad ingredients for the restaurants we serve,” she said. Her growing season is May to December and includes more than 40 different crops. “From A-Z,” she said.” Each week, her shareholders receive a basket of recent picks, and her website provides pictures and recipes of what members can expect to receive.
Another local CSA farmer, Florence Jessup, operates Artisan Organics in Hillsboro and sells produce once a week in her neighborhood. “We are a really loose organization,” Jessup said of Portland’s CSA group.
“Some of those farms may not even exist anymore, so people need to research that themselves,” she added. Many farms are organic (although not all are certified), and support sustainable practices.
Jessup’s farm is in the middle of the suburbs. “It’s an agricultural oasis with a 500-house subdivision across the way,” she said as she set up her weekly farm stand. “You can’t get food more local than close-enough-to-walk-to,” she said with a laugh. She didn’t laugh when discussing her season’s disappointing sales.
“The recession has decidedly affected my business,” she explained.
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