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Beacon Senior News

For the love of food: Local CSA farms grow roots within community

Feb 27, 2017 11:29AM ● By Paige Slaughter

When Lynn and Guy Borden arrived in Pea Green, everyone thought they were nuts.

That’s because in 1996, organic farming was still new to Colorado.

“We were the oddballs,” Guy said. But the couple wanted to eat good food, and at the time, the best way to get good food was to grow it.

Before moving to the Western Slope, the Bordens envisioned a life of self-sufficiency. They had a dream farm in mind, and after a few years of searching, they found it nestled amongst thousands of acres of pasture and corn in Pea Green.

As one of the oldest organic farms in the country, Borden Farms is something of a treasure, made brighter by its founders’ sincere love of food.

“We just wanted really good quality, old-fashioned food like our grandparents had,” Lynn said.

From their unimposing belief in quality and freshness emerged Borden Farms—14 acres of vegetables and fruits, and a decades-long commitment to growing quality produce.

“We don’t have a political agenda,” Lynn said. “We’re not trying to save the world. We’re trying to do our little part and bring goodness and happiness to people, and we get it back.”

This is the story of how Borden Farms began, but it’s also a story about thousands of people who keep it going strong. Without their support, the Bordens would have never started a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which now brings nearly 125 boxes of super-fresh produce per week to its members throughout the growing season.

Sustainable for farmers, fresh for you

CSA programs originally began as a way for community members to support local farms by buying in, in exchange for a portion of the farmer’s harvests. Because farming is unpredictable, and farmers’ livelihoods depend on many factors out of their control, programs like these support small farmers and encourage local farming operations.

When a virus kills all of a farmer’s tomatoes, or a big freeze hits and wipes out an entire peach crop, what’s a farmer to do? CSA programs give farmers the flexibility to sell produce throughout the season as available. Farmers benefit by being able to harvest in a way that’s harmonious with their land, and members benefit by getting fresh local produce at its best.

The Bordens stay true to this CSA model, growing everything on their farm, harvesting produce just before it goes into boxes, and bringing their boxes to weekly pickup locations in Montrose, Grand Junction and various mountain towns.

Buckhorn Gardens in Montrose also provides a traditional CSA model to the communities surrounding Montrose, Ridgway and Telluride. They believe in offering “ultra-fresh” food in their year-round CSAs, with box options filled with a variety of organically grown produce, farm-fresh eggs or farm-raised beef and pork.

The traditional CSA model works well for those whose biggest concern is supporting small farms, but it’s not ideal for everyone, nor does it suit every kind of farmer. One of the biggest obstacles for community-supported agriculture is the high dropout rate, which hovers around 50 percent. For this reason, among others, many farms are finding alternatives in order to serve customers with different priorities and values.

Freshness delivered to your door

Mark Beckner owns and operates Rooted Gypsy Farms in Grand Junction with his wife, Sara. Like Lynn and Guy, they are also on a mission to eat well and help others eat well, too. To manifest that mission, Rooted Gypsy offers farm boxes in a year-round home delivery system.

Locals have three different subscriptions to choose from: the Meat & Salad Box, the Light Meat Box and the Vegetarian Box. Each option contains some combination of leafy greens, farm-fresh eggs and meat raised on their pasture. Customers can choose to receive weekly, biweekly or monthly deliveries, and can put their subscription on hold if they need to.

The flexibility that Rooted Gypsy offers to customers stands out in contrast to traditional CSA models, which are more farmer-centric. But Mark pointed out the trend in having food delivered to one’s home, and he sees getting deliveries from a local grower as a bonus.

Though Rooted Gypsy Farms’ model is, in Mark’s words, “not really a CSA,” their farm box subscriptions achieve one of community-supported agriculture’s primary goals, which is to provide a food system that’s good for the small farmer and the local community.

Plant startups for home

gardeners

This is precisely what Paola Legarre is doing with plants at Sage Creations Organic Farm in Palisade. Her new Organic Plant CSA program provides organically grown plant starts, seeds and educational resources to home gardeners periodically throughout the growing season.

“I want to set gardeners up for success,” said Paola. “We grow all of our plant starts organically at the farm, and I’ve tested them in the fields. I know from personal experience what grows well in our high desert climate, and I want to pass on these varieties to home gardeners, whether they have large gardens or pots on a small patio.”

Sage Creations is known for its lavender fields and bountiful greenhouses, which house hundreds of heirloom and rare varieties of tomatoes, peppers and culinary herbs.

The farm’s Organic Plant CSA is a tool for locals who want to grow their own food. Throughout the growing season, members receive a set quantity of organic plants at a discounted price, three times throughout the season. Each box contains a mix of seasonally appropriate plant starts, seeds for direct seeding, and potted culinary herbs and flowers. Members can choose to have Paola handpick their assortment of plants, or they have the option to choose their own favorite varieties.

Sage Creation Organic Farm’s Organic Plant CSA opens the door for community members to engage with the farm and with one another. Building bridges between farms and communities is exactly what community-supported agriculture is all about.

Building community roots

Field to Fork, an organic farm in Palisade well known for its CSA program, is no exception. Owners Scott and Jessica Washkowiak are grateful for the support they’ve gotten from the community through their CSA program, the heart and foundation of their farm.

“It takes all of us to build our local food systems,” Jessica said.

Field to Fork’s CSA has allowed the farm to deepen its roots throughout the community. After successfully starting one of the first restaurant-supported agriculture programs in the state, Field to Fork is now in partnership with School District 51, providing ingredients for their school lunches and salad bar. They hope to enhance their relationship with local schools by teaching kids about food, farming and nutrition.

Local CSA programs vary greatly in intention and style, but they all remind us of one thing: These local farms depend on support from the communities, and the community often depends on local farms.

Whether it’s quality, freshness, accessibility, ease, resources or richer relationships we’re after, CSA programs can help us find what we’re looking for.