While the beginning of the pandemic created major challenges for many businesses in the food industry, farms with CSA programs have been thriving.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs have become a popular way for consumers to buy local, fresh food directly from a farmer. Using a payment system similar to a magazine subscription or ski pass, these programs encourage people to buy shares of a farm’s harvest in exchange for a portion of the crops throughout the season.
“CSA is one of those difficult-to-define programs. They work differently for different farms,” said Erik Goheen, owner of Sound Vegetables. “It's like a crowdfunding model for agriculture. It's a way for small local farmers to create direct connections with their local communities.”
Ahead of spring harvest, National CSA Week is a popular time of year for farmers to begin marketing and promoting their products. Goheen describes the special week, from Feb. 21-28, as a “flurry of activity around educating people” on CSA programs in the area.
According to Goheen, there are at least six CSA programs available in the Sammamish Valley. As more people value health and wellness in light of the pandemic, he added, CSA relationships provide for non-contact, short supply-chain solutions for typical home needs.
A large component of these programs is “faith in the farmer” to produce the crop, he said. He compared the service to purchasing a ski pass before the snow report is released.
“Every CSA has a different system, which makes it great for the consumer,” said Claire Thomas, owner of Root Connection. “People can research to find a situation that suits them. But anything that you do to support farmers is great.”
Thomas said fresh produce from CSA programs are healthier, more nutritious and taste better.
Enzymes in vegetables, which start dying once picked, can help to break down food in the body to promote better digestion and gut health. Additionally, she noted, people tend to forget about the importance of preserving local farmland to continue the legacy of agriculture in the valley.
Root Connection, located on Woodinville-Redmond Road, is Washington state’s first CSA farm. For over 30 years, the farm has been growing seasonal vegetables, herbs and flowers on its 20-acre site in the Sammamish Valley. The CSA program provides an open campus for members to walk around and pick their own items.
“It's really designed for families to be able to get some fresh air and be able to walk around the farm,” she said. “Kids turn out to be really good consumers of vegetables. I really like the family aspect of the whole thing.”
Sound Vegetables CSA program works a little differently, Goheen said, as his service includes five months of weekly vegetable pick up or delivery. On Fridays, members can stop by and grab a pre-packaged bag of produce. He also tries to incorporate eggs, meats and other products from nearby farms and homesteads to include as optional add-ons.
Brenda Vanderloop, public relations consultant of 21 Acres, said CSA programs have increased in demand throughout the last year. Lots of farms in the area had to pivot to different business models in an effort to manage the pandemic and food insecurity, she added.
“Even after the pandemic, I think people are just going to really see the importance of local food from our local farmers,” Vanderloop said. “They are realizing the best way to get good, tasty, nutritious food is by working with their local farmers. And people are really starting to embrace that, more so than ever before.”