Sarah Alper packs a Community Supported Agriculture box at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sarah Alper packs a Community Supported Agriculture box at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In Snohomish County, CSA produce boxes are safety nets for small farms

Community Supported Agriculture programs give farmers guaranteed income, regardless of freak weather or hungry deer.

SNOHOMISH — The crew of five farmhands grabbed bunches of fresh thyme, white and purple spring onions, and bags of dark green salad mix and placed them into boxes, assembly-line style, last week at Lowlands Farm.

In less than a half-hour, they had packed 46 boxes. The boxes also featured other spring veggies — arugula, microgreens and rapini.

The boxes were destined for customers in King and Snohomish counties, as part of the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture program, better known as a CSA.

In the summer, crews will ramp up to about 200 boxes a week, chock full of tomatoes, beans, peppers, squashes and much more.

The CSA model has been around for decades. And it’s profitable for many smaller Snohomish County farms.

“It’s definitely the heart of our farm,” said Alice VanderHaak, who started Lowlands Farm in 2018.

Jerilyn McLean fills a bag with mixed greens at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jerilyn McLean fills a bag with mixed greens at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

In a CSA, members buy a share of a season’s worth of produce from a farm and get a weekly box.

Sign-ups typically start in the winter, giving farms an infusion of cash when business is slowest. That can help fund early season costs like seed and fertilizer.

“In return, we deliver food to them every week,” VanderHaak said.

At Lowlands Farm, summer boxes feature eight to 10 items — any of the roughly 40 vegetables grown at the 4-acre farm. Farmers typically pick what’s freshest, exposing members to new foods.

“That’s one of the things we hear the most — they liked being pushed to try new things,” VanderHaak said.

Customers have raved about kohlrabi, which can be used in place of cabbage in a slaw.

Lowlands Farm also offers a bouquet subscription with flowers you aren’t likely to find in the store, like parrot tulips with feathery ruffled edges.

Workers weed the field at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Workers weed the field at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

CSAs give farmers certainty that customers will take what they grow, said Linda Neunzig, agriculture coordinator for Snohomish County.

Neunzig started the county’s CSA program ten years ago. County employees can sign up for a CSA from a rotating local farm. (This year, it’s Lowlands.) She said the goal is to support a local farm and encourage healthy eating.

Neunzig said CSAs’ popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years.

“CSAs immediately sold out when COVID-19 hit,” she said.

VanderHaak said her customers aren’t quite as frantic as they were in 2020. Her farm is still taking sign-ups.

“We’re not seeing that huge demand,” she said.

Jerilyn McLean carries Community Supported Agriculture boxes to a cooler at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jerilyn McLean carries Community Supported Agriculture boxes to a cooler at Lowlands Farm on May 10 in Snohomish. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

For Michael Deitering, who runs Chubby Bunny Farm with his wife in Arlington, CSAs are a way to get to know customers.

“Some of our CSA members actually came to our wedding in 2020,” he said.

To help members eat what’s in their box, many farms include newsletters with tips and recipes. Chubby Bunny Farm shares the ups and downs of the season in its newsletter.

Last summer, the farm confessed why it was out of tomatoes: Four hungry deer had feasted on the crop and destroyed 800 plants. Deitering said the farm became a deer magnet after the heat wave killed surrounding vegetation.

“(Members) are getting personal stories and anecdotes about what it’s like being a first-generation farmer,” he said.

This year’s cold and wet spring has put some farmers behind on planting. At Long Hearing Farm in Rockport in Skagit County, the ground has been too wet for crews to work, farmer Elizabeth Bragg said. The certified organic farm and worker’s co-op serves Darrington and the Upper Skagit Valley.

Bragg said members still expect to get value for their money. The farm has warned them, however, to expect fewer items at the start of the season and more at the end due to weather delays.

Long Hearing Farm has a page on their website with common questions about CSAs:

Will it be too much produce for me?

Can I pause it if I go on vacation?

“We’re trying to get people to be real about expectations,” Bragg said. “It doesn’t work for everyone.”

She said CSAs are popular with families and people who love to cook. The farm has other sales outlets, too, including a farmstand in Darrington.

In Stanwood, Christi M. Bell of Little Roots Ranch started a CSA in 2020, selling to customers on Camano Island. The farm offers produce and also chicken, duck and turkey eggs.

Bell is farming full-time this year on 1 acre, after quitting her job as an accountant. She said one of the challenges of CSAs is needing to grow a large number of crops.

“I find I need to grow insurance crops I can sub in,” she said.

Bell also tells customers what to expect: No tomatoes in May, no avocados at all.

“I let them know it’s definitely seasonal eating,” she said. “We’re a local farm. We’re not in California.”

Sign up for a CSA

Lowlands Farm, South Snohomish

Produce CSA, early June through mid-November: $545 for bi-weekly share (12 boxes); $845 for “flex” share (20 boxes); $995 for weekly share (24 boxes). Eight to 10 items in each box.

Installment plans and reduced-price shares available.

Fresh cut flowers, early June through late August: $175 for bi-weekly (7 bouquets), or $350 for weekly (14 bouquets).

Pickup on Tuesdays in Redmond and Ballard, Greenlake and the Central District in Seattle. Pickup on Thursdays in downtown Snohomish, Mill Creek near Central Market, Everett 1 mile south of food co-op, and Kirkland. On-farm pickup at Lowlands Farm on both days.

For questions, email lowlandsfarmwa@gmail.com. More information at lowlandsfarmwa.com.

Chubby Bunny Farm, Arlington

$549.99 for 18-week produce CSA, June 4 to Oct. 1. Seven items a week.

Sign-ups continue through May 28, or until spaces are filled.

Pickup at Arlington Farmers Market on Saturdays through September, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For availability, email michael@bunniesrunthefarm.com. More information at bunniesrunthefarm.com.

Little Roots Ranch, Stanwood

$395 for 13-week produce CSA, June through August. $275 for nine-week fall CSA, September through October.

Home delivery to Camano Island and the Cedarhome area of Stanwood (new housing developments). All others can join CSA and pick-up at the farm.

Eggs available for an additional fee. Chicken eggs for $8 a dozen; half dozen duck eggs for $5; half dozen turkey eggs for $8.

For information, email littlerootsranch@gmail.com or call 951-212-7471. More information at facebook.com/LittleRootsRanch/

Long Hearing Farm, Darrington and Upper Skagit Valley

Twenty-week produce CSA, mid-June through October. Prices on a sliding scale. Standard share is $500; lower cost share is $400; community support share is $600. Split a share with another customer for $250.

Pickup in Darrington, Rockport, Marblemount, Concrete, Birdsview and Sedro-Woolley.

More information at longhearingfarm.org

To find more CSAs, visit eatlocalfirst.org/wa-food-farm-finder/

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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