Maud Powell , coordinator of the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative CSA program was recently approved by the USDA to accept the Oregon Trail card (food stamps) for CSA payment. We spoke with her recently to learn more about this.
Maud, thanks for doing an interview with me. Recently your organic farm and the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative CSA was approved to accept the Oregon Trail Card in as payment towards a farm subscription. Can you tell us a little bit about what this means for individuals in our community with the Oregon Trail Card?
Oregon Trail cardholders have been able to purchase products at the growers markets for the past few years. This is another opportunity for people to access high quality, fresh, organic food and support local business owners. One difference between being a CSA member and shopping at the farmers market is that you get to be part of the cooperative. We host eight farm days over the season, so members get to see their food being grown and meet their farmers. We also send recipes and newsletters with each box to help members learn new and exciting ways to prepare their vegetables. In addition to food, members get a number of additional social benefits.
Can you tell me a little bit about what a farm subscription is and how this works?
We deliver weekly boxes of fruits and vegetable grown on nine organic farms in the Applegate and Williams valleys between June 10th and October 21st. We have drop points in Ashland, Medford, Talent, Jacksonville, Grants Pass and Ruch. In addition to the produce box, members can opt to get subscriptions of other locally grown, organic products, like eggs, goat cheese, meat, and bread.
What was the inspiration behind getting approval for availability of a farm subscription?
When I learned that CSAs in Oregon could apply to accept food stamps, I was thrilled and immediately jumped at the opportunity. The Siskiyou Coop has been providing food to ACCESS and food banks for the past eight years through grants from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and private foundations, so providing produce to low-income populations has always been part of our mission.
Please share a little bit about your thoughts around affordable organic local food?
Organic food is more expensive to produce than conventional food, especially on small, family farms where the economy of scale is not working in the farmer’s favor. Conventional commodity farmers receive heavy subsidies from the USDA, so a lot of food we buy in stores is priced artificially low. This makes local, organic produce seem expensive in comparison.
Eating fresh, healthy food is important for everyone, but especially for the more vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly. When you look at the major health crisis facing our country, namely obesity, there are clear connections between health and the national food policy. I am so grateful that the USDA made it possible for Oregon Trail cardholders to participate in CSAs. The USDA is allocating more money to small farms and organic production, which is great. We just need more of it to help level the playing field with industrial-scale agriculture.
How can other farmers participate in offering the same opportunity?
They can contact the USDA Food Nutrition Service. The application process is quite arduous, but worth it. I am available to help if other farmers need more information.
What do people need to do to participate?
The easiest way to sign up is to visit our website siskiyoucoop.com, download a share order form and send it in. I am also available to take orders over the phone or through email. My contact info is on our website.
Any last thoughts or comments for our readers?
Again, I want to thank the USDA, particularly Linda Flackus, for working with me to make this possible. CSAs do not fit into the mold of the typical business that accepts Oregon Trail cards, so we had to use some creativity to get licensed. I’ll never forget the USDA inspector showing up at our farm in the early spring and asking “So, where’s the store? Where’s the inventory?” I showed him our newly planted fields and a couple of bushels of seed potatoes and sprouting onions, and we somehow made it work. They really supported me to make this a reality.
We currently have 20 Oregon Trail card members, and have space for another 20.