Altered CSA models seek to expand reach of local agriculture

During farmers market season, Chris Jagger usually spends the night before market packing individual boxes of his home-grown produce for his loyal CSA customers &

those who paid upfront in early spring for a weekly case of veggies from Blue Fox Farm. This year, however, he and his wife, Melanie Kuegler, have found a way to streamline the process, offering a twist on the traditional community-supported agriculture model.

Instead of committing to buying a box of veggies they can't control the contents of, customers can buy vouchers for a discounted rate at the beginning of the season and cash them in anytime during the summer for any vegetables they find at Jagger's market stand.

Blue Fox Farm is one of several local CSA farms tweaking the conventional model, looking for ways to make the process more convenient for both growers and consumers. CSAs are praised as a way for consumers to support the local economy, eat seasonally and try new foods for about $25 a week. Customers also help farmers accumulate capital at the beginning of the season when they need it most, for seeds, equipment or hired help. But the arrangement also limits flexibility for both parties, something Jagger hopes to alleviate with his new voucher system.

"There are some diehard old-school CSA people that are not so sure about it because it doesn't follow the standard protocol, but we're trying to make a change," he said.

He and Kuegler have a seven-month old son at home who made them less inclined to spend extra hours packing boxes, and they noticed that customers often made their own adjustments from week to week, donating their produce to friends when they went on vacation some weeks and supplementing their boxes with additional purchases other weeks.

"People were going around and shopping at our stand anyway," he said. "Why not let them choose what they want but still get their money upfront?"

Blue Fox Farm and several others will be represented at a CSA forum at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 10, at Heartsong Chai Hut. The event is sponsored by THRIVE, a nonprofit that supports local agriculture.

"Each one's really unique and reflects the qualities and focus of farms," said Wendy Siporen, the executive director of THRIVE. She receives her weekly box from Fry Family Farm, which delivers to her door for an extra charge of $2 per week.

"It's a little bit of extra work, but I just think it's an added advantage," said Suzanne Fry, who has been farming with her husband Steve for 18 years and offering a CSA for four. "It seems like a lot of people are so busy that they don't have time to pick it up."

In the past, the Frys have also offered add-ons such as bread, pasta and fresh flowers that could be delivered along with the vegetables, although they haven't decided if they will continue that service this year because of low interest.

The Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, based in Applegate, also offers similar extras, including ground beef, honey, goat cheese and eggs. They can provide that option with relative ease because of their unique CSA model &

a group of 10 small farms that band together to serve the same customer base.

"There were a lot of small farms in the Applegate Valley who didn't want to run a CSA by themselves because they were too small, so they decided to join forces as a way to market collaboratively," said Maud Powell, who has coordinated the cooperative with her husband Tom for four years.

The arrangement allows farmers to specialize on particular vegetables or products, so the group can provide more diversity overall. And although it requires much more planning than running an individual farm, it also provides farmers with a sense of camaraderie and helps them reduce expenses by sharing equipment and delivery duties, Powell said.

So far, about 300 families in all of Jackson County subscribe to CSAs, according to an informal count of the Rogue CSA Alliance, which Siporen helped coordinate. And while the members would like to see more people join, the arrangement doesn't work for everyone, just as not all farmers can thrive with a CSA model.

It's great for people that want to buy locally, but can't attend growers markets," she said. "A lot of people do sign up for a CSA for one year and then realize that they want to be able to choose what they're getting every week. While CSAs are wonderful, they're not for everybody, and that's OK."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

Share This Story