We sit on the floor, me with my Macbook, Keegan with two bowls, peeling the pears we will can during CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pickup this evening. We’ve become canners out of necessity, up to our eyeballs, first in apricots, then cucumbers, then blackberries. Now we’re knee deep in plums and pears, gathered in the hours we spend gleaning around the city. Part of Keegan’s new job as the Lewiston coordinator of Backyard Harvest is coordinating volunteers to glean orchards around the city and transporting the food to the Idaho Food Bank. Volunteers are encouraged to take home up to half of what is harvested during hours spent gleaning, so fruit flies and tree fruit abound at River City Farm in September. In a few minutes, we’ll start setting up for CSA distribution, but first I make her respond to my never-ending questions about farming and our CSA program.
More than anything, I’m interested to hear her talk about community building. Though I’m the writer, Keegan, frustratingly, always proves to be the most articulate.
D: What is the purpose of a CSA? What function does it serve that it separate from a farmer’s market or a COOP?
K: For the farmer, CSA programs provide the capital in the spring when farmers normally don’t have any. And for the consumer, they encourage season eating, they support local food systems, build community, and learn about vegetables they don’t have experience with.
D: In what ways do you think CSA programs build community?
K: I think they connect people with the folks who grow their food. And I think they also help people understand that the environment that surrounds them supports them. And CSA programs help people become familiar with the people that support that system. All of which encourages ownership of those surroundings.
D: Was a CSA program always part of your business plan?
D: Why do you think this is the first CSA in the LC Valley?
K: I think we just have a different food culture here. That resurgence of local food and sustainable agriculture sort of hasn’t blown through here as quickly as it has in other more urban communities. There’s already a lot of agriculture here. Really, there isn’t resurgence because it’s already here, just in a different way. There are a lot of people who are growing already but they aren’t selling locally. There’s a lot of big ag here. The people who are producing are producing on such a large scale that CSA just doesn’t make sense.
D: Most people are familiar with Bountiful Baskets or other food distribution programs that pack boxes of fresh food and deliver them to members. What’s the difference between a CSA program Bountiful Baskets?
K: A CSA is usually from one or a couple local famers, and the members are also local. Programs like Door to Door Organics or Bountiful Baskets buy food from distributors that aren’t necessarily local. A CSA is an agreement between members and farmers without a middleman. That’s why the members get less expensive produce and the farmer gets upfront funding when they need it. I think it’s important to stress that all the programs mentioned above are good, it just depends on what your interests are. You know, you’re not going to get mangos and bananas in your CSA share, but you will with Bountiful Baskets, so that’s cool.
D: Why do you run your CSA “market style,” where members come to the farm and pick from a variety of harvested goods rather than packing boxes and delivering them?
K: Because I don’t want to deliver and pack boxes. (Laughs). I also think that in a community where CSA is a new thing, the market style allows people to have some choice in their produce, where they can choose between kale and chard, say. It can take the pressure off of me to produce the same large amount of produce each week and have more variety available. I also like it because people come to the farm to pick up their shares, they see where the food is grown, talk to me, talk to each other.
D: Are there changes you’ll make for next season’s CSA?
Yes, but I’m not sure what they are yet. Because I have such a long growing season, I might do an early spring season that’s short, and then do a longer summer season. It’s hard to get people to pay for a 30 week CSA, and it’s easier when it’s broken up.
During CSA pickup, before the pear extravaganza, I chat with Jonelle McCoy, a working member, who, when we’re lucky, takes Keegan and I to the chic consignment store in Clarkston, and who sometimes, if we’re really lucky, sticks around after CSA distribution to drink wine and eat good food.
D: How did you find out about River City Farm and its CSA program?
J: It was by chance. I was meeting with a professor at LCSC, Keegan was meeting with Jeanette Gara [another CSA member and professor at LCSC], who was meeting with another professor in the same office.
D: Have you been part of a CSA program before?
J: I have not! The only time I participated [in something like this] was a U-Pick cherries program at the WSU campus. They have a CSA program also, so I had heard about them before.
D: Talk about your experience with the River City Farm CSA.
J: It’s the best.
D: What’s been your favorite part?
J: For me, it’s been seeing how many people I’m already connected with are also connecting through River City Farm. Seeing the community take shape in that way. I should also mention all of the delicious food.
D: You’re a working member. What does that mean?
J: It means I get about half the exercise I should get, but in the best way. (Laughs). I come out to the farm for an hour of fun each week and was able to pay less up front for the same size share.
As Jonelle heads back to her car with her share, Keegan goes inside to start making pizza dough. We’re calling this week of CSA distribution “Pizza Week!” because it includes good pizza toppings. I sit outside with the coolers and crates, as usual, surrounded by the sweetness of our farm life. Crates of tomatoes and peppers, summer squash, buckets of redolent herbs. Fruit flies. Always. But it is the eggs that I like best. Copper, cream, turquoise. Rhode Island Reds, Wyandottes, Araucanas. Some Tuesdays we leave the eggs so Jeanette’s sons can gather them from the pasture themselves. They’ve come back this time eight eggs and many squeals of delight richer.