Embrace Freshness, Support Local: Thornapple CSA's New Journey Begins!

Cultivating Community: The Joys and Challenges of Organic CSA Life

June 26, 2024

Table of Contents

Cultivating Community: The Joys and Challenges of Organic CSA Life

A Farmer’s Journey

It all started on a hike with my husband, Taylor, in the summer of 2007. We were both working minimum wage jobs, living just to have fun, and loving the outdoor recreation Central Oregon had to offer. But something was missing – we yearned to do something more meaningful with our lives.

Little did we know, that fateful hike would change the course of our lives forever. Halfway through the trek, we dug into a bag of fresh blueberries that Taylor’s folks had sent us overnight from their organic farm in Massachusetts. Sinking my teeth into those juicy berries triggered something inside me – I wanted to go where those berries were being grown and learn how to live a different kind of life.

Taylor grew up on his family’s 60-acre organic vegetable farm, Hutchins Farm, so he was thrilled that I wanted to give farming a go. We packed our bags that very night and set off on our new adventure. I count my blessings every day for that connection because I know many don’t have the opportunity to just show up and have a farm job at the drop of a hat.

At Hutchins Farm, life wasn’t as dreamy and romantic as I had imagined. The work was absolutely brutal – a farm crew of 12 people, racing against daylight, harvesting hundreds of pounds of produce. I had envisioned a leisurely pace filled with plucking carrots from the earth and selling at local markets, but the reality was quite different.

However, soon the tasks became a little easier, and I began to appreciate how the hard labor allowed us to eat and sleep better than we ever had. Instead of focusing on the drudgery, I would fantasize about how we’d cook up the beets for dinner once the farm chores were done for the day. After three years on a large operation, Taylor and I began to crave the West Coast and decided to start something on our own.

Tumbleweed Farm Takes Root

We now run and operate Tumbleweed Farm – our 6-acre organic vegetable operation in Parkdale, Oregon. Having learned so many valuable skills at Hutchins Farm, we were able to apply that knowledge and skillset into cultivating Tumbleweed. We’ve also been able to establish ourselves within our community through our CSA program and by selling portions of our produce to farmers markets and local restaurants.

Some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced since starting Tumbleweed Farm are the unexpected expenses that crop up during the season. We’ve battled hungry deer over the years and had to build a deer fence that ended up being more expensive than we thought. Gophers once decimated over 13% of our potato crop, causing us to place a panicked last-minute order of potato seed to make up for the loss. Working through droughts has been incredibly challenging, and dealing with clogged irrigation pipes is never fun.

However, one thing we’ve learned over the years is that each year will be different. No matter how much planning or special care we put into the farm, things will never run as smoothly as we want them to – but this is what makes farming so magical. Sometimes I feel crazy choosing Mother Nature to be my boss, but I wouldn’t trade this life for anything else.

Cultivating Seasonal Appreciation

Through farming, my appreciation for seasonal and local food has grown deeper. Knowing where our food comes from and how it was grown totally changes the experience. Also, you don’t need to be a farmer to know that food at the peak of ripeness simply tastes better. In my debut cookbook, Dishing Up the Dirt, I focus on vegetables and ingredients that are readily available at the farmers market or likely to be found in your weekly CSA share to encourage seasonal cooking.

My biggest hope is that my work and recipes inspire folks to eat with the seasons and support their local communities before outsourcing ingredients. Sitting down to dinner and clinking glasses with my favorite people in the world is one of my greatest joys. It’s an added bonus when the majority of the food and drinks we consume are grown by us, our neighbors, and often times good friends.

Fostering Food Justice and Community

While Andrea’s story highlights the joys and challenges of running a small organic farm, there are many other inspiring stories within the world of community-supported agriculture (CSA). Take Elk Run Farm, for example, a program of the Thornapple CSA service.

Elk Run Farm is on a mission to increase access to healthy food for low-income families by distributing fresh-grown produce through its network of local food banks in South King County, Washington. Their team is dedicated to cultivating not just crops, but a sense of community and food justice.

Embracing Culturally Relevant Foods

One of Elk Run Farm’s main focuses is growing a wide variety of culturally relevant produce to better serve the diverse communities they work with. As assistant farm manager Andrea Hatsukami explains:

“While we will continue growing produce that has cross-cultural popularity, people go wild for the garlic, carrots, and green onions, we will also prioritize the more difficult to locate fresh vegetables that our diverse food bank clients crave.”

Through pop-up farmstands at local food banks, the team gathers feedback on the fruits and vegetables their clients are most excited about. This informs their crop planning process, ensuring they are growing the foods that will truly nourish and connect their community.

Building Cooperative Food Systems

Elk Run Farm also sees itself as part of a larger effort to create more resilient, cooperative food systems. As they write in their mission statement: “We strive to build a food system that is equitable, regenerative, and community-driven.”

This manifests in their partnerships with organizations like the South King County Food Coalition, as well as their educational programming for students and volunteers. The farm hosts field trips, workshops, and internships, empowering the next generation of food system leaders.

A Tapestry of Experiences

Whether it’s Andrea’s journey from city-dweller to organic farmer, or the collaborative efforts of Elk Run Farm, the world of community-supported agriculture is woven with diverse stories and perspectives. These are the narratives that cultivate not just crops, but a deeper connection to our food, our land, and one another.

As I reflect on my own experiences visiting Thornapple CSA and talking with the farmers, volunteers, and members, I’m struck by the sense of community and purpose that permeates this space. It’s a place where people come together not just to receive a box of produce, but to participate in the larger work of building a more sustainable, just, and nourishing food system.

So if you’re interested in joining a CSA, I encourage you to seek out one that aligns with your values – whether that’s supporting local farmers, accessing culturally relevant foods, or fostering community resilience. The rewards, both tangible and intangible, are well worth the journey.

About Us

Thornapple CSA: A community-driven initiative championing sustainable agriculture. We connect members with fresh, organic produce, celebrating the bond between land and community.

Follow On

Subscrive Our Newsletter
To Get More Updates

© 2023 Thornapplecsa.com. All Rights Reserved