Thirty years ago some folks in Japan responded to the decline in small farms by innovating a direct relationship between farmers and the consumers. They called it "teikei", which literally means, "putting the farmers' face on food." American farmers have taken their lead and created what are commonly called CSAs or Consumer Supported Agriculture. This usually means you sign up to get a weekly box of veggies and farm fresh food in exchange for buying a subscription from the farmer for the growing season. Go here for a more detailed run down on the history.
I personally think CSA is a dreadful term for such a cool arrangement. I much prefer "putting your farmers' face on food." That says it all to me. Even more exciting would be to put the faces of your farmer's whole family on your food. In the Spokane area we have just such an opportunity this year with the Elithorp family from Deer Park, WA.
John and Cindy Elithorp and kids moved to the Inland Northwest a couple of years ago from California where they had over 20 years of experience farming and marketing at local farmers' markets. They have 100 acres of land in Deer Park and have been selling at local farmers' markets the last couple of years. They are famous for their small Mediterranean cucumbers and their kids grow and sell beautiful sunflowers to help raise money for college. I can't think of people's faces I'd rather have on my vegetables.
I learned the harsh reality of making a living as a farmer when they had a weird freeze in the middle of last summer and lost most of their winter squash. One of the reasons the number of small farmers has declined is that it's not easy to make a living with all the inherent risks of the marketplace AND the climate. The great thing about signing up for a "put your farmer's face on food" program is that you become partners with them, giving them a steady source of income while getting a steady source of quality produce. Another major benefit with the Elithorps is they use natural practices and avoid the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers.
People ask me what is the best part of our experiment and it is definitely the relationships we've developed with the people who bring our food to market. We've gone from consumers who were primarily self-interested in our consumption, to an experience of consumption where we feel like partners in a community of consumption and provision. As the Japanese would say, we've got faces on our veggies now.
The Elithorps will be providing boxes of veggies from June through September. Their boxes will include Mediterranean cucumbers, summer squash, lettuce, herbs, onions, green beans, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, peppers, watermelon and cantaloupe. Basically whatever is in season. A full box costs $400 for the season which is a little more than $20 per box and a half box costs $250 for the season. You can pick the boxes up each week at the downtown markets or the Millwood Market. They only have 50 shares available so don't miss out. Go here for the full run down or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go here to find a "face on food" program in your community if you're not in the Inland Northwest.