Farm News

Alive and Growing

By Ruth Zschomler

The Vancouver Voice | Fri, 11/06/2009

Ellen Franklin picks up her weekly share of fresh produce from April Joy Farmmpany CSA in Vancouver. / Photo by Ruth Zschomler

Spinach, peppers, cabbage, beets, tomatoes. Sounds like a healthy grocery list. But instead of heading to the store, Denise Haws heads to a Vancouver parking lot to pick up her weekly supply of fresh produce.

Haws is a member of April Joy Farmmpany, LLC, a CSA — Community Supported Agriculture — located in Ridgefield, Wash. A partnership between a local farmer and consumer.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Haws said, “The vegetables are fresh and yummy. Sometimes they don’t even make it home… I eat them on the way.”

Haws never knows exactly what to expect each week, the variety depends on what is ripe and ready to be harvested. But she does know that it will be fresh and local. She also knows what she is feeding her family — no additives or harmful chemical residues on this food. And she is boosting the local economy and securing the future of agriculture in Clark County.

April Jones, 33, owner of April Joy Farm, believes a thriving local food economy can be a powerful thing. “If we would choose to treat our soil as an asset, it would solve a lot of major problems we have,” she said, referring to health care, obesity, food safety and other national issues.

What is a CSA?

CSA members buy shares, ranging from $16 to $32 per week, prior to the beginning of a growing season which generally runs from May or June through October or November. The fee helps pay for the cost of seeds, water, fertilizer, equipment and labor. In exchange, the customer receives a box of freshly harvested produce once a week throughout the growing season. Each share usually provides enough vegetables for the average size family.

Jones offers both full and half shares and her 25-week season runs from mid-June through December 4. Her membership averages around $30 a week and her members think it’s well worth the price. In one email, a member described a recent experience in a grocery store produce department. She hadn’t been for a while and after looking at the produce available, she realized what a good value she was getting from the CSA.

Jones was recently approved to accept SNAP benefits at her CSA, allowing low income families the same opportunity to receive local, fresh produce. Possibly the first CSA in Clark County to do so.

After moving to the Midwest for college and receiving a B.S. in Civil Engineering and a Masters in Business, Jones returned to Clark County. People question her choice of career and wonder if she is wasting her education to be a farmer. Jones said she believes successful farming uses everything she has learned including technical, business and project management skills.

All CSA’s provide vegetables and fruit, but some have flour, egg, and meat shares. Farmers arrange pick-up locations for the customer’s convenience. Jones’s produce drop is in downtown Vancouver, sort of a central location for her members who live around the county including Ridgefield, Hazel Dell and downtown Vancouver.

Clark County CSA’s

Clark County has always been known as an agricultural community. According to Gordy Euler of Community Planning, agricultural use is still allowed anywhere in the county. And although the average size of farms in Clark County has gradually decreased, the number of farms has increased according to the 2007 United States Department of Agriculture Census.

One reason is the growth of CSA farms.

In 2007,CSA’s totaled 12,549 nationwide. People care where their food is coming from. One reason for the increase in CSA farms, according to a 2009 survey done by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension, is the multiple food safety scares in recent years.

Washington State reported 437 CSA’s in 2007 — 20 in Clark County and four in Cowlitz County.

Why join a CSA?

Unlike large factory farms that specialize in monocultures, CSA’s are able to diversify their crops and grow more varieties in less space allowing farmers to utilize smaller acreages. This sort of becomes an insurance plan for farmers. If one crop fails, they have 20 others to fall back on.

Although she owns 24 acres, Jones is able to grow enough produce for 25 families on just one. She rotates her crops annually in order to best utilize the nutrients and refresh the soil. Part of her land is kept in trees, some in flowers to attract pollinators and some for raising livestock. This diversity keeps her from developing a monoculture and is better for the environment, Jones said.

CSA’s are able to grow specialty crops because they don’t ship long distances. Much of the produce found in traditional grocery stores is bred to withstand shipping and storage, not for taste. Because CSA’s don’t need to worry about hardiness for travel, many choose to grow heirloom varieties not found in the average grocery chain store. This practice ensures genetic diversity in our seed bank. Many of the varieties Jones grows, including the Green Zebra tomato, were developed in Washington State by Tom Wagner, an independent plant breeder.

Although Jones grows multiple varieties of vegetables, “nothing that she’s grown has been a bad choice for us,” Haws said. This includes the unfamiliar okra she took home and cooked for her husband at the suggestion of Jones.

Most CSA’s, April Joy Farmmpany included, use earth-friendly, sustainable methods of farming, protecting the earth for future generations. Pesticide and chemical-free means healthier, safer food for your family. Instead of chemical fertilizers, Jones relies on fall cover crops such as buckwheat and rye grass for both good tilth and added nutrients, which are sometimes referred to as “green manure.”

CSA’s are signing up members now for the 2010 growing season. Jones sent out her 2010 share commitment form in October. Each farm has a limited number of shares available and if you wait until spring, most CSA’s will be full.

Although most CSA seasons end in November, Ariel’s Sustainably Grown farm in La Center has a 2009 Winter CSA beginning in November and running for 24 weeks called Ariel’s Winter CSA.

To learn more about Clark County CSA’s and find a listing of local CSA’s, visit Southwest Washington CSA Farms’ website at www.swwa-csafarms.com.

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