Date: May 3, 2005 Section: Business
by Robin McGinnis
for The Chronicle, Centralia, WA
Mike and Heidi Peroni don't grow the doughnut peach on their Boistfort Valley Farm at Curtis, but they'll often include it in the box of vegetables and fruit they deliver to their customers. "The doughnut peach is very difficult to handle. You won't find anything in the store that tastes as fresh as this," Heidi Peroni said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the desire for fresh produce is one of the catalysts that spurred the concept of community-supported agriculture. In 1965, a group of women in Japan, dismayed by the influx of imported food, organized a direct relationship among local farms and themselves. The partnership was called "teikei" in Japanese, meaning "putting the farmers' face on food."
The Boistfort Valley Farm is one of the more than 1,000 CSA programs in the United States.
"Children don't really have any idea where their food comes from. We wanted to reconnect local farmers with their food," Mike Peroni said.
The Boistfort Valley Farm delivers weekly boxes of its homegrown organic produce, including a few Eastern Washington-raised fruits, such as the doughnut peach, to member drop sites in Centralia, Olympia and Seattle. The boxes also contain a bouquet of fresh-cut flowers grown on the farm.
"People really warm up to that," Peroni said.
Members of the Boistfort Valley CSA buy a share of the farm by paying $500 a year for 20 weeks of guaranteed deliveries during the typical CSA season from June through the end of October, Peroni said.
However, while members own a theoretical part of the farm, they don't partake in any direct financial risk.
"There is inherent risk in the way that we might have a bad tomato year, and there may not be any tomatoes all season," Peroni said.
To allay these potential problems, the farm grows a variety of vegetables and culinary herbs on its recently expanded 45 acres.
Before moving to Curtis, the Peronis operated a farm in Rochester, where the couple made deliveries almost exclusively to Seattle. However, in the past three years at Boistfort Valley, Peroni has seen an increased interest in CSAs from both Thurston and Lewis counties.
"Lewis County is starting to come around. It has such a strong agricultural heritage already," he said.
The CSA at Winlock Meadows Farm serves members primarily in Thurston County, but farmer Susie Kyle wants to expand the program's presence in Lewis County.
In addition to offering the traditional membership of $400 for an entire season, Winlock Meadows offers a month-to-month subscription for $60.
"It's a way for people to get involved in CSAs without committing to entire season," Kyle said.
However, CSAs aren't for everyone, according to CSA farmer Jim McGinn of the Rising River Farm.
"You're at (the farmer's) mercy. You're going to get a box of vegetables each week. When you open it up, that's what you get," he said.
According to McGinn, most CSAs have an average of a 50 percent customer retention rate from one season to the next.
Rising River produces 35 different types of vegetables and herbs on its 11 acres at Rochester. However, McGinn admitted that he likes to focus on well-known produce.
"People have to know how to cook (the vegetable)," he said.
The CSA has drop sites in Chehalis, Centralia and Olympia. Members pay $350 a season, averaging $20 a week.
According to McGinn, many of his members credit the CSA with healthier eating habits.
"The CSA is like a health club. You pay for it, and feel like you have to eat the entire box to get your money's worth," he said.
Both the Boistfort Valley and Rising River farms participate in various farmers markets. However, the Helsing Junction farm concentrates exclusively on CSA membership.
According to the farm's co-owner Susan Ujcic, the Rochester farm is one of the oldest and largest CSAs in the state, serving between 550 and 600 members each season.
The 15-year-old CSA delivers to Seattle, Olympia and Portland. Members in Lewis County pick up their produce at the farm in Rochester, Ujcic said.
Helsing Junction offers two different-sized orders, a small share for $375 and a large for $600 a season. The farm also emphasizes its diversity by raising different varieties of vegetables, such as 12 types of lettuce and five kinds of onions.
"People are getting really fresh food, and are developing a relationship with someone who's growing the food," she said.
Many of the farm's initial members continue to renew each year. However, Helsing Junction has a slightly more than 50 percent customer retention rate.
"But it seems to be growing every year, more and more," Ujcic said.
The Rochester farmer attributes a variety of factors influencing the CSA's growth, including the desire for fresh produce and healthier eating habits.
"People are also interested in preserving our open spaces in a quickly developing state," Ujcic said.
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, Centralia, Washington. Reprinted with permission.