The Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, a group of farmers who deliver fresh vegetables and other products to customers weekly on a subscription basis, has won state approval to accept Oregon Trail Cards (food stamps) starting in July.

For single mom Anna Vine of the Applegate, being able to buy fresh, local, organic produce with her Oregon Trail Card will mean her infant son, Odin, who gets all his nourishment from breast-feeding, is assured a top-quality diet.

"It's exciting for consumers in Oregon," she said. "I'm on a food budget and have to be mindful of what I spend. Now, there will be more options, quality and availability of food."

The Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative, a group of farmers who deliver fresh vegetables and other products to customers weekly on a subscription basis, has won state approval to accept Oregon Trail Cards (food stamps) starting in July.

The approval allows low-income people to receive weekly boxes of organic vegetables and fruits, with add-ons of eggs, meat, dairy products and other items extra, said Maud Powell, coordinator of the cooperative.

The cooperative includes nine farms located in the Applegate Valley and Williams. Shareholders contribute to a farm's yearly operating budget by purchasing a portion of the season's harvest in advance. Costs are $550 for a small weekly basket and $700 for a large basket. Payments are made through the growing season.

"The farmers are really happy about this. They're excited about how it supports local food security," said Powell, adding that the cooperative, after "a lot of fairly rigorous paperwork," is the first in Oregon certified to take payments via food cards.

For two years, people on Oregon Trail Cards have been able to buy local organic produce at growers' markets through the Farmers' Market Electronic Benefit Transfer Project, but this is the first time it's included subscription farming, said Powell.

Noting the higher cost of organic food and its image as "for the wealthy," Powell said bringing low-income consumers into the loop changes that image and economically strengthens local organic growers.

The $700 share feeds a family of four at about $35 a week and the $550 share feeds a family of two at $27.50 a week. Vine, a full-time mom, gets $150 a month put on her Oregon Trail Card to use.

"I make it stretch as far as I can," said Vine, noting that she finds produce grown by local organic farmers at weekly grower's markets and the Ashland Food Co-op.

"I want to do what's best for the environment my son is growing in and also set a good example for him," Vine added. "Organic is the most nutritious and beneficial food for (breast) milk. It's got the most vitamins and minerals — and no pesticides."

Beckie Brown, a single mother of three in Ashland, said the inclusion of the growers' cooperative in the Oregon Trail Card program is "really amazing and I'm absolutely thrilled. I'm grateful for this benefit that I've been paying into for so long. It's the time in my life when it can help me provide for my family without sacrificing their basic needs."

Brown, who gets $400 a month on her Oregon Trail Card, said she will increase the size of her subscription box, which she's been getting for five years, to include add-ons such as eggs, cheese and buffalo meat.

Vine gets to know the farmers who grow the food she buys and also their fields and animals. Prospective subscribers can do the same during Spring Farm Day, planned from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Boones Farm and Siskiyou Crest Goat Dairy, 5758 Sterling Creek Road, Jacksonville. There will be hourly tours of the vegetable fields, creamery and goat barn, and samples of goat cheese and beef chili (for more information, visit www.siskiyoucoop.com). Admission is free. Visitors can sign up for the cooperative's weekly basket deliveries or the Farm Internship Program on site.

Starting its fifth season on May 18, the cooperative serves 140 families, sells more than $80,000 in shares annually and drops food boxes at sites in Ashland, Medford, Talent, Jacksonville, Ruch and Grants Pass.

A typical box of produce available in spring includes kale, radishes, bok choy, broccoli, pea shoots, salad mix, spinach, mustard greens and arugula, according to the Web site of one member farm, Barking Moon (http://barkingmoonfarm.wordpress.com/).

Being planted now are leeks, onions and potatoes, to be followed by summer crops.

Powell said the Oregon Trail Card is helping low-income people eat well in hard economic times. "It's an excellent way for children, the elderly and at-risk families to access food that can nourish them and prevent illness and obesity."

To determine whether you're eligible for the Oregon Trail Card, go to http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.