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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Get To Know A Farmer: Pumpkin Ridge Gardens

Posted by Tony Perez on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 4:37 PM

As a supplement to this week's Last Supper column, I've asked a handful of farmers a few questions about their CSA. The hope is that, if you're interested in becoming a member this year, we'll help you find a good fit. There are dozens of great options in the area—our sample is by no means exhaustive. LocaHarvest.com is a great place to start, but it couldn't hurt to stop by the PSU farmers market (opening this weekend) and ask around. First up in our series is the pioneering Pumpkin Ridge Gardens, among the oldest CSA's in the area. James Just and Polly Gottesman have been at it for over two decades, and have built a loyal, committed base of subscribers (the kind that are willing to drive out in the middle of winter to help rebuild hoop houses that collapsed under the weight of snow and ice).

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How did you first get involved with CSA’s? How long have you been operating?

We started our farm with 4 shares in 1990. James had read an article about subscription farming in Japan, where groups of housewives got together and asked farmers to grow their vegetables for them in exchange for the families buying all the farmers' production. We thought it sounded like a good model for a sustainable small-scale family farm.

Why do you think the business model is important? How do you think it fits in with Portlanders today?

Subscription farming allows us to be profitable while farming a very small piece of ground with little help. We sell our entire harvest in February, allowing us to concentrate on farming the rest of the year. We also get to connect with the people who eat our vegetables, which is rewarding. Subscribers get the freshest vegetables available besides those they grow themselves. They also are helping to preserve farmland close to Portland. In our particular case, half our 20-acre property is not suitable for vegetable production and we are reforesting it with the help of a USDA grant. Having a profitable business on 5 acres allows us to preserve and enhance wildlife habitat on 10 acres. I think Portlanders appreciate tasty, seasonal vegetables that are grown mindfully within 40 miles of their front door.

How large is your CSA? How many members do you have now and how many can you support?

Our CSA feeds 170 families. We have 80 full shares and 90 half shares. We are at capacity for our land and water.

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What’s the range of produce you feature? What can members expect from week to week?

If it grows in Western Oregon, we probably grow it. We don't grow fruit, however. Because we deliver year-round, a large portion of our gardens are dedicated to winter vegetables. Week to week varies greatly. I selected three weeks randomly to give you an idea of seasonal fluctuation. Last week we gave 2 leeks, 2 lbs. of russet potatoes, a green cabbage, 1 1/2 lb. rainbow carrots (yellow, orange, purple), and a bag of stir fry greens (collards, bok choy, kale, mustards). One week in June of last year we gave 1 1/4 lb. red new potatoes, 6 baby carrots, 4 kohlrabi, 1 lb. cooking greens mix (beet greens, chard and spinach), 12 oz. Sugar Snap peas, 1 lb. salad mix (lettuce, sorrel, edible chrysanthemum) and a bunch of Asian broccoli. One September basket contained 1 lb. beans, 4 tomatoes (it was a crummy tomato year) or a basket of cherry tomatoes, 6 beets, 5 summer squash (mixed varieties), 5 cucumbers, 4 ears sweet corn, 1 bunch of basil, 2 red onions, 1 garlic and 2 sweet peppers. We try to keep the offerings varied, so we don't give beets two weeks in a row, for instance. We like the idea that people try new things when they subscribe and we give lots of recipes with each basket.

What are a few highlights? The vegetables you’re most excited about, or have been most pleased with in the past?

We are particularly fond of winter vegetables—celery root, parsnips—and over wintering vegetables like purple sprouting broccoli. We also love arugula and purple tomatoes.

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How much is a share?

A full share is $1390 for 52 weeks. A half share is $855.

How do you handle distribution? Where are your drop points?

We deliver to your doorstep.

How long is your season?

52 weeks.

What makes your farm stand out from others in the area?

We deliver to your door and we are year-round.

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