The Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative provides certified organic fruits, vegetables and specialty items produced on eleven small-scale family farms and ranches in Southwestern Oregon. Through our cooperative Community Supported Agriculture marketing and distribution program, we are able to feed 250 families in the Rogue Valley while enhancing the economic viability of our sustainable agriculture operations.
History of the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative
In 2002, a group of farmers in the Applegate and Williams valleys decided to join forces and form a marketing and business cooperative. The farmers had been loosely affiliated through the Applegate Agrarians group, but wanted to formally incorporate with the State of Oregon as a legal entity. The group received a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop a business plan and take the steps to incorporate. The goals described in the business plan are visionary: a credit union for farmers; a cooperatively owned, state of the art commercial kitchen and seed cleaning facility; affordable health insurance for farm families, etc.
During the first two years of the Coop’s inception, the farmers developed three marketing venues: a Community Supported Agriculture program (CSA); a farmstand on highway 238 in the town of Applegate; and a cooperatively run market booth at the Rogue Valley Growers market. Within a year, it was clear that the second two ventures- the farmstand and market booth, were too expensive to operate. As a result, the Coop’s board decided to focus exclusively on the most financially successful venue, the CSA.
Many of the farmers who helped form the coop have moved on, either to different vocations, different locations, or other enterprises. Since 2005, we have had a consistent group of eight farms who grow for the Cooperative and sit on the board. From the first year, the Siskiyou Coop has offered eggs as an extra item. Every year since then, we have added new specialty items. Our goals are to provide access to other locally grown and produced foods and to make the CSA box more of a “one-stop shopping” experience for members. As of last year, we offered bread, cheese, eggs, flowers, beef and pork products, and various sauerkrauts in addition to the regular produce boxes.
In addition to the CSA, the cooperative has worked to expand markets for seed producers in the Applegate and Williams valleys. The market for organic vegetable and flower seeds has been growing rapidly since 2003, and Southern Oregon is an ideal region to grown seed crops. In 2005, the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative received a grant from the USDA to fund a seed marketing coordinator and seed quality program. While funding for the continuance of this project has not been secured, seed producers within the cooperative continue to work together to process and market their seeds. In addition, Thrive, a local non-profit organization received two grants from the state to purchase seed cleaning equipment, which they lease to the cooperative. Access to seed cleaning equipment has improved the quality of seeds and encouraged growers to produce more seed, as the equipment saves time. Don Tipping, a founding member of the cooperative, started his own local seed company, Siskiyou Seeds. Visit Don’s blog for more information: biodynamicseeds.blogspot.com.
Many Siskiyou Cooperative growers employ farm interns during the growing season. Internships provide small-scale farmers with and inexpensive labor pool, and provide perspective farmers with opportunities to learn how to grow food and run a farm operation. In an effort to provide quality internships, some of the cooperative members helped form a non-profit organization, Rogue Farm Corps (formerly know as Within Earthly Bounds), which would provide education and social opportunities for farm interns. For more information about Rogue Farm Corps, visit their website: roguefarmcorps.org
The cooperative board continues to focus most of it’s energy on the growth and success of the CSA program. In the past year, we have made some changes in an effort to provide organic, local food to as many people as possible: we are now able to accept Oregon Trail cards so that low-income families can join the CSA; we now offer a mini-share, designed for single people; we are lengthening our season into the fall with our post-season share to provide good food for more of the year, and in 2013, we launched our CSA to workplace program. We are also expanding membership to 250 individuals and families in 2014, so sign up today!