The concept, in which shareholders contribute to a farm's yearly operating budget by purchasing a portion of the season's harvest in advance, has existed locally for about 15 years.

White sage staunchly resisted Scott McGuire's attempts to naturalize the evergreen herb at his Ashland home.

One stubborn plant aside, the seasoned gardener could grow more food in a half-acre garden than his family of four could consume.

"We actually had a hard time giving it away," McGuire says. "We just had too much."

So McGuire sowed the seeds of a community-supported agriculture program, the latest to join Jackson County's complement of eight CSAs. Subscribers buy into McGuire's White Sage Gardens and receive weekly boxes of its produce throughout the growing season.

"Now is the time when we need the up-front money to get things going," he says.

The concept, in which shareholders contribute to a farm's yearly operating budget by purchasing a portion of the season's harvest in advance, has existed locally for about 15 years. But as more CSAs have cropped up and the economy has withered, farmers like McGuire are reinventing the model to stay viable.

"We've geared our CSA shares for one to two people," he says. "Everybody wanted a half-share."

The decision to offer only small shares, rather than enough for a family of four, addresses one common concern among CSA subscribers: They receive too many vegetables to use in a single week. The variety in White Sage Gardens' CSA boxes also stands to negate that complaint.

"Our whole thing is diversity," McGuire says.

In addition to vegetables, shareholders will receive numerous culinary and medicinal herbs, along with flowers and possibly fruit and berries, depending on yields. Strawberries are practically a guarantee, says McGuire, who has already set out the glossy plants.

A gardening instructor and lecturer on the topic of sustainable living, McGuire says part of the CSA's mission is promoting small, local farming on a personal level. Shareholders won't just receive newsletters with tips and recipes; they'll also be invited to gatherings at McGuire's Clay Street home, including a cider-pressing party in the fall. Picking up their boxes every week, subscribers can see the intimate workings of the garden and even gather a few more herbs, McGuire says.

Shareholders can get their hands truly dirty at another Ashland CSA. Village Farm places just as much value on working as on eating its produce. Shareholders can cut the cost of their $500 membership in half by providing seven hours of labor every week for the 21-week season. About 25 local families helped cultivate Village Farm last year, says co-manager Chris Hardy.

"We need more of this; we need more education," Hardy says.

Village Farm offers opportunities to learn the business of farming from planting, irrigation, greenhouse propagation, field maintenance to harvesting and washing vegetables. Shareholders can choose the days they work and tasks they perform. The farm also makes its own compost and is starting a seed-saving program.

"We try to get people to do what they want to learn," Hardy says.

For families disinclined toward farming but who still want produce fresh from the farm, Village Farm offers the option of "bucks" that can be used at Ashland farmers market or at the farm on a weekly basis. The system allows shareholders to pick and choose the items they want instead of making the best of their vegetable allotment. In the Applegate, Blue Fox Farm's CSA operates strictly on the basis of "bucks" that subscribers use at any of the weekly farmers markets Blue Fox attends.

Local CSAs are seeing some decreased demand, likely because members may find it difficult to pledge a sum of several hundred dollars, says Josh Cohen, co-owner of Barking Moon Farm in Applegate. Yet CSAs may be wise investments, particularly if speculation of a California drought drives up vegetables prices at grocery stores this summer, he says.

"We could see a huge spike in some vegetable prices this summer," he says. "You're kind of locking into a fixed rate, so to speak."

Share prices are comparable among most of the county's CSAs, some of which deliver. Most require subscribers to pick up their boxes. Members can choose to add local cheese, bread, wine and other grocery items to their produce. Local CSAs may be certified organic, certified naturally grown or may practice sustainable agriculture without any certification. For a complete list of CSAs, including contact information and Web links, see www.mailtribune.com/eatlocal.

Reach Sarah Lemon at 776-4487 or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.