In recent years, locally grown food has gained a growing market nationwide. Increased concerns about climate change and rising fuel costs have led more consumers to seek out shorter paths from farm to plate. Others look straight to the source to find better tasting, more healthful food and support local economies and sustainable farming practices.

Farmers in the Rogue Valley are at the crest of this wave, particularly Community Supported Agriculture programs or CSAs. Consumers purchase "shares" in the forthcoming harvest at the beginning of the season. Members enjoy weekly boxes of just-picked seasonal produce as a return on their investment. Most local CSAs run from June through October.

Many members see CSAs as way to live out their values and have a positive impact locally and globally. Tom Rosasco joined Eagle Mill Farming Education Project's CSA in Ashland and volunteers on the farm. "I really want to support local farming," he says. "Food is shipped from such a far distance. I don't want to export my dollars. I want to support local, sustainable farming."

Most CSAs provide small and large boxes to satisfy varied household sizes. The average weekly cost ranges from $15 to $25, equivalent to price of the same amount of comparable quality food at local stores. Vegetables are the staple of a CSA box, with fruits like melons, berries and peaches sprinkled in. Many farms offer optional extras. The Siskiyou Sustainable Coop, which unites 12 farms in the Applegate and Williams, offers chevre, eggs, bison, beef and honey as add-ons. Dunbar Orchards in Medford has partnered with Roxy Ann Winery, Hillcrest Orchard, local creameries and artisan bread producers to make their products available.

Members typically pick up boxes in central locations throughout the Valley or at the farm itself. Fry Family Farm, which comprises about 50 acres in Talent and Medford, makes home drop-offs for an extra fee and Elk Creek Gardens delivers in their area.

Suzanne Fry of Fry Family Farms says CSAs are a good choice for people who want fresh local produce but can't get to weekly grower's markets or stores that sell local produce. She also says they work well for people who are flexible, since boxes contain only what is in season.

CSAs connect members with their food and farms through newsletters, recipes, farm days or volunteering. Eagle Mill Farm offers regular volunteer opportunities, solstice and equinox celebrations and hands-on workshops on topics including soil testing, composting and canning. The Siskiyou Sustainable Coop, coordinated by farmers Maud and Tom Powell, organizes three Farm Day through the season. Fry Family Farm holds a harvest celebration annually.

Harvesting a better world

CSAs often feed communities, families and the planet in wider ways. Eagle Mill Farming Education Project, founded 2000 by Christina Ammon, is a unique nonprofit that seeks "provide a down to earth education" to local schoolchildren at no cost. Annually, about 1,200 children participate in planting, composting, harvesting, cooking and enjoying a farm-fresh meal. The farm started a CSA in 2006 to involve the community in supporting the educational programs and preserving farmland. Siskiyou Sustainable Coop donates shares to senior citizens through the ACCESS program thanks to a grant and the support of participating farms.

Farming often helps families spend more time together. Sara Hammond of Elk Creek Gardens in Trail started a CSA since 1999. She says, "my husband and I always had giant gardens and I realized I could sell the extra rather than give it away or let zucchinis turn into baseball bats. I was able to be with my children and attend after school activities by farming instead." Fry agrees, saying "[farming] was a great way for us to stay home and raise our 5 daughters and do something we both loved"

David Mostue of Dunbar Orchards sees farming as a greater good for the planet. "My family has been here on this piece of land next to Roxy Ann Winery for over a hundred years. We see CSA and small-scale farming as a higher-value alternative to large scale monoculture," he says.

Savor the flavor

Those who are interested in joining a CSA or would like more information have six delicious options in the Rogue Valley. All still have shares available. Mostue encourages residents to go as local as possible and "consider the farm in their area" to reduce the impact of transporting their food. For those looking for options outside CSAs, a list of grower's markets and local food retailers can be found at thriveoregon.org, the Web site for the Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy