Judging by the restaurants, bars and food carts that line our streets, we Portlanders sure like dining out. But when you consider the many successful urban farms and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) cropping up all over town, we sure like dining in too.
If you and your family are thinking about joining a CSA, how can you tell which one works best for you? Do you choose the one that empowers underserved youth, the one that supports the city's developmentally impaired, or the CSA that provides reduced shares for those who otherwise can't afford to join?
For your consideration, here's a list of local CSAs doing some inspiring things whilst providing your family with nutritious produce, including one that will build and tend an urban garden in your own backyard.
Food Works started in 2004 as a simple idea. Plot a 40-square-foot garden in North Portland and empower the teens and young adults in the St. Johns neighborhood by letting them tend it. Two years later, the group outgrew the garden and moved operations to Sauvie Island, where it now harvests 100 different organic vegetable varieties on more than two acres of farmland. In 2011, Food Works launched its CSA program and yielded 15,000 to 17,000 pounds of edibles, which it sold to local grocers and at farmers' markets. But, what makes this program unique is its design. The teens are compensated, they're given raises and promotions, and they prepare their own lunches during harvest days from the crops on-hand. What Food Works doesn’t sell, it donates to the needy. And according to teen crew leaders Destiny Giles and Di'jhena Thomas, the farm's teens meet each winter to discuss what crops did and didn't work the year before so they can plan for a successful harvest in the upcoming year. CSA seasons run June to October. Drop sites include St. Johns Farmers Market, Village Market and Portland Farmers Market at PSU (Saturdays).
Cost: $600 will buy a share for you and another family ($250 is tax deductible).
Food Works, 707 NE Couch St., 503.233.6090
Terra Nova Community Farm
The students who attend the Terra Nova alternative high school study ordinary subjects like math and history, but they also prepare and tend to an acre of land that annually yields about 350 varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers, which feed and brighten the lives of 15 local families as well as students and staff at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus. Paul Hudak, the school's farm program director, says his students are also encouraged to dream up agricultural projects on the farm. Two such dreams have resulted in the building of a worm bin (students use worm castings as fertilizer) and a wood-fired clay oven that Terra Nova uses to bake its own bread and fire pizzas. The 20-week season runs June through October. Members can pick up weekly shares on-site.
Cost: A seasonal share runs $500.
Terra Nova Community Farm, 10351 NW Thompson Rd., 503.577.7612
Project Grow at Port City
Tim Donovan, who co-heads the North Portland Farm at Project Grow, estimates that in 2012, CSA shares of the small urban farm will number 20, up from five in 2010. The farm is tended by as many as 50 developmentally impaired adult artist-farmers, who are compensated for their labors, and produces annual yields that include lots of fruit (apples, plums, cherries and a variety of berries) as well as 10 varieties of peppers, from the standard bell to exotic chiles like the guajillo. The artist-farmers also keep a chicken coop for members interested in egg subscriptions. The 18-week season runs June to October and shares can be picked up on-site, although Donovan says they'll deliver your weekly goods by bicycle if you live nearby. Plus, he says, you'll sometimes receive little bonuses with your weekly share, like fresh-cut flowers, jars of farm-harvested honey, or artwork from the farmers themselves.
Cost: Shares cost $600 each.
Project Grow at Port City, 2156 N Williams Ave., 503.236.9515, ext. 116
Sauvie Island Organics
For nearly two decades, Sauvie Island Organics has been providing some of Portland's finest eateries with fresh, seasonal vegetables. But the bulk of its business—about 75 percent, according to sales and marketing coordinator Francesca Benedetti—comes from CSA shares. For 28 weeks, from late-May to early-December, these organic farmers harvest enough food—40 different crops planted on 20 acres—to feed 400 families. In addition to donating as many as 250 pounds of food to feed the hungry each month, Sauvie Island Organics has established a scholarship program that grants annual shares to as many as 10 families that would love to buy into the CSA but cannot afford it. And to make it convenient, they have multiple drop sites, about 20 in all, in five of the City's six districts.
Cost: Shares start at $145. Half-shares and family shares are $495 and $920, respectively.
Sauvie Island Organics, 20233 NW Sauvie Island Rd., 503.621.6921
Hoping to preserve this scenic, early 20th-century dairy farm, the city's Bureau of Environmental Services bought it and then leased it to the Friends of Zenger Farm, a nonprofit that provides educational agricultural workshops and farm-fresh food to the Lents community. But farm manager Sara Cogan says that Zenger didn't integrate a CSA program until 2011. Now, she says, the farm's four acres yields early-, mid- and late-summer harvests of potatoes, garlic, eggplant, bok choy, and a variety of fruit to feed 40 CSA families, half of which are enrolled through SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The farm also offers weekly shares, summer camps for the city's youth, and nutrition and food preservation workshops for adults. If that isn't enough, Zenger raises chickens, bees and turkeys too. Shares can be picked up each Friday, from June to November.
Cost: Shares cost $600, with discounted weekly shares for those enrolled in SNAP.
Zenger Farm, 11741 SE Foster Rd., 503.282.4245
Your Backyard Farmer
Having trouble choosing a CSA? Why not start your own, single-family CSA in your backyard? Since 2006, Robyn Streeter and Donna Smith have been Your Backyard Farmers to more than 35 families in the Portland metro area. This means they come to your home, help you choose what to plant, and then tend and harvest your mini-urban farm to fruition. Rather do it on your own? Well, they provide consultation on that too, and will stop by your home each month to see how the growing is going. In fact, Streeter says, they're even advising like-minded peers, from as far away as Barcelona and Australia, aiming to start similar single-home CSA programs in their home countries.
Cost: Shares can cost as much as $1,600 a year, but the rates, depending on the size of your family and your farm, can run as little as $1,000, which includes a winter planting that you can harvest yourself.
Your Backyard Farmer, wherever you live, 971.506.6508
Terra Nova photo courtesy of Terra Nova Community Farm