Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Earns 2020 Farmer of the Year

As we all celebrate Eat Local First this September, North Olympic Land Trust is proud to recognize local farms modeling Community Supported Agriculture with the 22nd Annual Farmer of the Year Award. This includes eight farms across Clallam County: Bent Gate Farms, Chi’s Farm, Griffith Farm CSA, River Run Farm, Salt Creek Farm, SisterLand Farms, Wild Edge Farm, and Wild Forks Farm.

Community Support Agriculture (CSA) is a farming model where buyers invest at the beginning of the growing season in a subscription of fresh local goods, also known as a farm share. Shares are typically available weekly via pick-up or at regional drop-off points. Customers benefit from a personal, transparent relationship with their food supply, as well as access to fresh, seasonal food. Producers receive crucial funds up front and have a steady market for their goods throughout the season. The community shares the inherent risks and rewards of farming while small farms have the financial security they need to make their businesses work.

The concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) reached North America in the mid-1980s, brought to New England by farmers from Europe. In subsequent years the idea has spread widely, and CSAs have expanded beyond the traditional fruit and vegetables to include offerings such as eggs, meat, dairy, flowers, honey, and other products.

“This has been a difficult year in so many ways,” said Land Trust executive director Tom Sanford. “Community Supported Agriculture serves as one of the bright spots for our community. It is wonderful to see these mutually beneficial relationships between local farms and families. These connections have real community building power, especially in these hard times.”

Salt Creek Farm in Joyce pioneered CSAs in Clallam County and began offering farm shares to the community in 1993. These days, the Salt Creek Farm’s CSA serves about 60 households, some of whom have been part of the program for over 25 years. Farmer Doug Hendrickson reports that interest in the Salt Creek CSA increased due to COVID-19, and the farm had to turn away potential subscribers. “The challenges of COVID-19 have proven the CSA as a good model for food security. The CSA model means we are less reliant on the fluctuations in the supply chain, labor, and markets.”

Bent Gate Farms (Agnew), Griffith Farms CSA (Dungeness), Wild Edge Farm (Elwha), and Wild Forks Farm (Sappho) report similar stories of increased CSA interest this past spring. According to Wild Forks farmer Brittany Jones, “Since the onset of COVID-19, the demand for membership has increased. Our farm share program provides our customers with a safe alternative for receiving fresh produce. We currently have a waiting list for next season.”

The benefits of CSA programs go beyond the simple fulfillment of supply and demand. Meaningful connections are created when the community and the food supply are closely linked, with farmers able to make adjustments based on direct feedback from their consumer base.

Wild Edge farmers Jim and Karen Weaver say “We especially appreciate the chance to engage our CSA members in getting to know us and the variety of vegetables that they are offered each week.”

At SisterLand Farms (Port Angeles), customers told farmer Arleen Jenson that they cherished the hand-painted recipe cards that were sent with their shares… but maybe didn’t need quite so many turnips! According to Jenson, “If they have a request, I take it seriously and do my best to make their investment in SisterLand pay off. SisterLand CSA members are not only getting fed – they’re being brought into the fold.”

Likewise, farms that are closely connected to their community are inspired to give back – when they have extra or unclaimed CSA shares, farms are able to provide food for local food banks and families in need.

Community support and feedback can also help create interesting variations on the traditional CSA model, customized to fit diverse community needs. Chi’s Farm (Dungeness) and Bent Gate Farms have partnered to offer a popular vegetable and meat combo farm share. At River Run Farm (Dungeness), customers can use an online form to indicate specific preferences, effectively personalizing their farm share. And the non-traditional CSA model offered by Griffith Farm CSA is an intentional effort to make fresh healthy food even more easily accessible to everyone by removing the potential barrier of a hefty upfront payment. Griffith Farm CSA has a base of about 30 loyal customers who are given the flexibility to pay weekly based on finances, vacation schedules, and other needs. “It is our hope that even those whom cannot pay in advance, or even commit to every week of the growing season, can still reap the benefits of eating organic, locally grown food” says farmer Jessica Hernandez.

Farmer Anna Swanberg of Bent Gate Farms sums up the power of the community supported agriculture: “Although Bryan and I both grew up here, we feel even more attached to the people in our community through the farm and the food we grow. We are so thankful for the support people give small farms in our community.” Griffith Farm CSA chimes in: “In a pandemic, we are not only feeding ourselves, but we hope that we are helping lessen the burden of our subscribers and community members by helping nourish them all. Food is love, and the health of our community is everything.”

Since 1999, the Land Trust, and its predecessor Friends of the Fields, have selected a Farmer of the Year — an annual award honoring individuals and/or organizations that have positively and significantly impacted the local farming community. Last year’s award went to Sarah and Ryan McCarthey, owners of Dungeness Valley Creamery. Other past recipients include farmers Nash Huber (Nash’s Organic Produce), Gene Adolphson, Christie and Kelly Johnston (Johnston Farm), Tom and Holly Clark (Clark Farms), and Steve Johnson (Lazy J Tree Farm), as well as individuals such as Bob Caldwell and organizations such as WSU Clallam County Extension.

The Farmer of the Year Award will be presented at “Rooted in Community – Celebrating Our Local Bounty,” a public digital Land Trust event on September 30th, at 6:30 p.m. More information and the link to join can be found here.