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Where We Live: Local CSA farms thrive in pandemic

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Among the 85 CSA farms in the Northwest, business is up some 200% since the pandemic began


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A segment of Oregon’s agriculture industry is thriving despite the pandemic, and many would say because of it. For a farm in Gresham, growing fresh food is the key to weathering this economic storm.

“We have such fertile ground here in the Willamette Valley that we grow some of the highest quality produce in the country,” said Holly Hutchason, executive director of the Portland Area CSA Coalition.

It’s a major reason why Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA Farms, is thriving. Subscribers pay small farmers directly to get fresh produce delivered every week during the growing season.

“I think, when the pandemic started, people got really nervous about their food system, and about going to grocery stores, and so CSA Farms were perfectly positioned to respond to that,” said Hutchason.

“We sold out within three weeks of opening it up, and then for our winter CSA—which just started—the same thing happened,” said Lily Matlock.

She and her husband Luke, along with their two-year-old son Emmitt who helps out, are working four and a half acres under the name Lil’ Starts Urban Farm at Headwaters Farm in Gresham. Lil’ Starts is one of several small farms at Headwaters—a farm incubator owned by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. Farmers get affordable access to land and the CSA Coalition helps connect them with customers.

“Everything you’d find at a farmer’s market, we grow,” said Matlock. She says, since the pandemic, individual subscribers have made up for the restaurant business they’ve lost.

“This is a form of community. It is a real relationship we have with our customers, with our CSA members,” said Matlock.

Among the 85 CSA farms in the Northwest, business is up some 200% since the pandemic began, a testament to dedicated community farmers and a public that appreciates fresh, sustainable food.

The CSA Coalition takes SNAP benefits and recently received a federal grant to support the program. While the winter CSA season has already sold out, subscriptions to the summer season start in January.

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