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‘The healthiest food you can get’

Rogue Produce delivers food from the fields to your front door
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneEmployees with Rogue Produce package local produce at Fry Family Farm.

Decades before social distancing and mask requirements discouraged grocery shopping in person, local farms pioneered produce sales for pickup and delivery.

Community supported agriculture programs have grown locally since the 1990s from boxes of seasonally fresh vegetables to fully fledged online stores selling goods from locally baked breads to pasture-raised meats. Adam Holtey brings the best of the region’s farms and artisan food producers to one platform in flexible quantities on customers’ terms.

“To me, it’s the healthiest food you can get,” says Holtey. “It’s the freshest.

”Acquainting himself with local farmers through his compost service, Holtey founded Rogue Produce in 2011. Originally conceived as an online farmers market with subscription options in the spirit of traditional CSAs, Rogue Produce always filled a niche for dropping orders directly on clients’ doorsteps.

“As soon as COVID hit, we boomed,” says Holtey. “They were desperate for any food delivery. It’s continued to stay really strong.

”Surging grocery prices nationwide — coupled with COVID’s aftershocks — are driving more and more Americans to reevaluate their shopping habits, whether it’s consuming less meat or patronizing locally owned businesses that keep dollars circulating through their communities. Concerns over climate change and clean energy additionally are casting critical eyes on the environmental impacts of everyday purchases.

“Some people, I think, are very picky about only choosing the local stuff,” says Holtey of Rogue Produce regulars.

Sourcing from as far away as Northern California and the Eugene area, Holtey even acts as a middle-man for moving small producers’ goods around the region.

In the winter, he routinely relies on Oregon and Washington wholesaler Organically Grown Co., but in the warmer months, produce is almost exclusively from Southern Oregon.

“In the main growing season ... it’s all the local farms,” says Holtey. “There’s all these unique levels of scale, and we’re all supporting the same thing.”

Some of Holtey’s produce sources, including Medford’s Fry Family Farm, also support their own CSAs.

In its purest form, the model solicits shareholders to front cash when farmers need it most. Late winter and early spring — when CSAs typically assign shares — is the time for purchasing equipment, tools and seeds and to hire workers for planting season months before farms can recoup any expenses through produce sales.

Shares are paid out in boxes of farm-fresh produce that vary week to week, depending on what’s ready to pick. Most traditional CSAs run from late spring or early summer through fall. Some farms offer wintertime CSAs for a shorter duration, and many will add optional items such as eggs, bread, meats, cheeses, flowers or even wine.

By committing to a CSA, members assume some of the farmers’ risks but also reap the rewards of successful harvests. And in some years, agricultural perils are painfully apparent.

Drought that curtailed irrigation water around the region last summer prompted Beebe Farms in Central Point to pause its CSA for three weeks. Citing a worker shortage in 2021 for weeding, picking and staffing Beebe’s farm stand, farmer Octavio Poscidonio shortened the 2022 CSA season and allocated half of its shares — at a reduced price — to families who volunteered their labor.

Work is inherent to CSA membership, which can challenge some participants to cook more vegetables than they ordinarily would, as well as unfamiliar items. Bumper crops for weeks on end may pressure already busy families to preserve the bounty. Just as farmers can’t guarantee each shareholder’s favorite, they usually won’t exclude vegetables based on participants’ personal tastes.

Evolving through customer feedback to its mix-and-match format, Rogue Produce requires orders by 10 p.m. each Monday to guarantee Friday delivery. The $12 delivery surcharge is waived for members who pay a $9.99 monthly fee, which also affords access to the week’s sales.

“Some people literally only order the meat,” says Holtey. “Some people order the same bundle every week.”

“Bundles” preserve Rogue Produce’s origins as a “mini CSA,” albeit virtual, says Holtey. Priced at $55, the “veggie bundle” typically contains a dozen items from lettuces and microgreens to potatoes and mushrooms. For the same price, the “omnivore bundle” cuts the produce by half but adds portions of meat, cheese and locally baked bread. And from Holtey’s leftovers, he assembles “economy bundles” — first come, first served — that contain $30 to $35 of produce for $25.

Rogue Produce, Holtey admits, is more expensive than mainstream food at major retailers. But since collecting local households’ kitchen scraps and transferring them to farmers’ fields, he says he’s observed the region’s food economy “expand so many different sectors.”

“The mission has always stayed the same.”

See rogueproduce.com. Find local CSA products and contact information in the annual “Rogue Flavor Guide,” published by Rogue Valley Food System Network. See rvfoodsystem.org/rogueflavor. Local farmers markets also provide routes to CSA signups.

Click here to read the 2022 edition of Our Valley.