CSA History at Our Table
CSA (community supported agriculture) is a model for farmer/customer relations that was developed in the mid 1980s and has continued to evolve over the past three decades. At this point, the model in this region primarily consists of farms that maintain direct relationships with their customers, commonly referred to as farm members. Farm members typically sign up in advance for a share of the harvest from the upcoming season, meaning payment occurs before the start of the season. This gives the farmer working capital for the seed, fertility amendments, labor and other up front expenses. The farmer then turns these investments into fresh, seasonal harvests that are distributed to members on a weekly basis.
The CSA at Our Table is a continuation of the model that was developed by Our Table Farmer Josh Volk between 2009 and 2012. During those years, Josh was growing under the Slow Hand Farm name on Sauvie Island. In early 2013, he moved his operation down to Sherwood, folding it into the newly incorporated Our Table Cooperative.
Beyond a simple transactional relationship, we honor the early philosophies of CSA by including members in our farm community as much as possible. For us at Our Table, this means engaging members through a variety of touchpoints. Members are invited to the farm for events, such as dinners and open houses, to see firsthand how their food is grown. To keep our lines of communication open, we also survey our members seasonally to collect suggestions and feedback. Beyond this, we encourage our members to interact with us through our blog and social media platforms. Posting updates on weekly harvests and recipe recommendations as well as receiving member comments on our blog and Facebook page is when we really feel the energy of our cooperative community.
Our Table's version of CSA comes directly from the Slow Hand Farm model that Josh started developing in 2009. This model is based on individual-sized shares divided into four separate harvest seasons.
In 2009, Josh, joined by Danny Percich, started the farm on land owned by Wild Goose Farm. Together, working one day a week, they turned up 2800 square feet of vegetable beds by hand and offered 50 small shares from that space. The shares extended into only one season, but the vegetables were plentiful and fed members for many weeks.
With the departure of Danny in 2010 (he relocated to Ridgefield to start Full Plate Farm), Kji McIntyre partnered with Josh while his Edible Horizons operation took shape. Between the two of them, they turned up an additional 5200 square feet of beds and moved to working two days a week. Slow Hand Farm transitioned to year round production that year, splitting the harvests into four seasons. Wild Goose Farm also installed a hoop house the same year, presenting the farm an opportunity to produce its own vegetable starts. This development allowed the farm to take a step toward transplants and away from direct seeding, improving the quality and consistency of the crops.
Slow Hand Farm continued to grow at the Wild Goose site alongside Edible Horizons throughout 2011 and 2012. Another notable milestone occurred in 2012 when the farm partnered with Splendid Cycles to deliver all shares by electric assist cargo bike. To check out seasonal records from the farm's early days, visit the Slow Hand Farm blog.
The winter of 2013 marked a transition from the original Sauvie Island site with harvests instead coming from the yards of both Josh and a few CSA members as well as supporters Dave and Baret in St Johns. These plots provided the bridge until plantings could start at the Our Table Farm in Sherwood.
With 2013 underway, the first plantings at Our Table occurred on ground prepared primarily by tractor, although hand labor remains a fundamental part of our operation. It is also a big expansion year as the new farm location offers more space and the ability to add a small crew of apprentice farmers. It is an exhilarating year for the farm as we oversee more acreage, train new growers, immerse ourselves in the Our Table cooperative family and quadruple the number of shares available. All of this, while still preserving our unique, small shares and bicycle delivery.
Besides some of the folks highlighted above, Casey Palmer at Near East Yoga has to be mentioned as the single, biggest supporter of the farm. As a ten year practitioner at Near East, Josh literally would not have started the CSA without Casey's encouragement. Near East has both served as a pick-up location for the CSA and many of the practitioners there have been members of the CSA since the beginning.
A number of supporters at W+K established a pick-up location for the farm at their office which they have maintained for the past three years.
The biggest thank yous go to all the CSA members who have paid for the literal fruits of the farm's labors as well as the many volunteers and visitors the farm has had over the years. Without all of you, the CSA doesn't exist.
A Final Note
Josh also maintains a consulting business, Slow Hand Farm, and can be found at slowhandfarm.com as well as his other farm information site, joshvolk.com. He has spent the past five years consulting with growers, teaching workshops and doing an assortment of other food production projects.
A REGIONAL COOPERATIVE CREATING HANDCRAFTED, THOUGHTFUL AND DELICIOUS FOOD
© Our Table Cooperative, 2016