Growing a Farm: Terra Farma Expands with Meat CSA

It might come as a surprise to some of the customers of Michael and Linda Guebert, who raise and sell pastured meat on their 10-acre farm in the Corbett area east of Portland, that when they bought the land in 2001 they were vegetarians looking to grow just enough produce for their own use.

In the spring of 2020 they're taking Terra Farma to the next level, starting a CSA subscription service for the pasture-raised pork, beef and chicken they raise, and adding goat and lamb to subscriptions next year. 

As they tell it, it all started when a friend gave them a few chickens, and as the flock expanded beyond what they could use themselves, they began selling eggs to friends and co-workers. Some of the roosters were causing problems, so a friend slaughtered the cranky birds and left one in their freezer. When Linda finally got around to cooking it, that delicious, pasture-raised rooster ended up being a life-changing meal, inspiring the couple to pursue a different model of eating and farming.

Goats were added, initially raised for their meat, but after milking a couple of their does, the Gueberts decided to focus on dairy, finding a ready market for their raw goat milk. With that, it was a hop, skip and jump to a multi-species, rotational grazing operation with pigs, other poultry like guinea fowl and turkeys, as well as rabbits, dairy cows and now beef cattle.

They also found this regenerative style of farming was a good fit with their own values, both in terms of being able to give their animals the best lives possible, as well as being environmentally sustainable in promoting healthy pastures and soil that more readily retains moisture and sequesters carbon. 

Why add a CSA on top of their existing farm business? Mike said it's primarily because of customers' comments about the difficulties they encountered trying to find meat that they believed was healthier for themselves—the phrase "you are what you eat eats" coined by author Michael Pollan springs to mind—and also about wanting products that were better and more sustainable for the planet.

There's also, of course, the financial aspect. The farm currently has a steady income from the milk and meat they raise, with a loyal client base built up over many years. Customers come out to the farm in Corbett to pick up orders, and the online ordering and billing system the Gueberts implemented has streamlined transactions. Linda was able to leave her job to work on the farm full time in 2011, but like many farm couples, Mike still has a full-time job off the farm that helps pay the mortgage.

The addition of the CSA subscriptions will require capital investments. Slaughter and processing of the pigs and cows at a USDA facility costs more than on-farm slaughter, and they'll need to purchase freezers to store the meat. But USDA slaughter gives the Gueberts the ability to sell meat by the piece rather than only being able to sell whole or half—or in the case of beef, quarters and eighths—under custom-exempt rules, and it will enable them to offer more choices to customers who may not be able to store or use larger quantities of meat.

The plan for the meat CSA, still undergoing some fine-tuning, is to offer quarterly subscriptions in the $325 price range for a 10- to 12-pound monthly box of a variety of cuts and kinds of meat (i.e. pork, beef or chicken). Customers won't get the same box every month, ensuring that selection is varied and the whole animals will be used.

Mike and Linda's aim is to have a sustainable business, of course, but more important to the couple, as Mike said, is to build a community of like-minded people through sharing recipes and creating strong bonds around a love of good food.

"We want to help transform the way people think about meat and clear up myths about meat's effect on the environment," Mike said. "We hope to enable customers to build a direct, meaningful relationship with their farmers; we want people to think of our farm as their farm."

What the Heck is a CSA? Find Out at the Fair!

The CSA Share Fair on Sunday, March 10, is a chance to meet more than 40 local farmers, ranchers and fishers who offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to the public. They'll be showcasing various options, including vegetables, fruits, pastured meats, wild fish, eggs, flowers, honey and more. To keep it simple for you, there's a matchmaking service where you can check off what you're interested in and a helpful volunteer will point you toward the best farmer for you! Time and location of this year's fair are at the bottom of this post.

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Find the right CSA for your family.

If you're not sure what a CSA is or if there's one that might be right for you, here's a Q & A with CSA maven Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have that I posted earlier.

Why join a CSA?

Joining a classic CSA gives you a window onto a farm and what it takes to grow the delicious variety of things that you'll receive in your share each week. The farmer chooses what's best that week that  can relieve you of most of your decision-making, though more CSAs are giving members to order from a list of what's available. I actually love not having to make any decisions about what produce I'm getting because then I can concentrate on being creative with what I receive.

CSA farmers in our region tend to grow a staggering variety of produce and typify the saying, "What grows together, goes together!" Belonging to a CSA has expanded my repertoire and introduced me to vegetables I wouldn't have picked up at the farmers' market, though some people are not so keen on the "no-choice" bit. My online Seasonal Recipe Collection comes in handy, since the recipes are sorted by vegetable and there is a thorough introduction for each vegetable.

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Watch local chef demos at the Share Fair.

I also subscribe to a CSA because it helps me budget, and when you calculate out the cost of CSA by the week it is quite reasonable. I pay up front or in a few installments, and then supplement from the farmers' market or the store with fruits or occasional vegetables I'm not getting in my CSA—like asparagus, artichokes and a few other things that aren't typically found in a CSA. If I know I'll be getting my gorgeous box of produce each week, I won't be tempted to buy other things, to make the most what I've already paid for.

What are the different kinds of CSAs?

Some CSAs focus exclusively on produce, some also include fruit like blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, apples, pears, quince and so forth. Some give you the option to add an extra Salad Share for those who love salad greens; others might give the option to add eggs, honey, flowers or meat. Some CSA farms work together with other area farms to offer such a wide array. And then there are exclusive meat and fish CSAs as well as CSAs that focus on a single crop like apples or flowers.

There are so many local farms offering CSAs. What should I consider before joining a CSA?

Generally, if you want super-delicious produce and can't always make it to a farmers' market, a CSA is for you. If you like to cook or want to cook more and are typically home most nights of the week, a CSA is definitely for you. If, on the other hand, you travel a lot or are out a lot at night, you'll struggle to keep up with the produce.

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Many farms, many options to choose from.

Think about the size of your household and your family members' eating habits to decide if a CSA is a good idea or not—do you all like vegetables or are open to trying them? How much do you think you'll eat? You might start with a half share (most farms offer two different-size shares) and see how that works, setting yourself up for success rather than the guilt of wasting some. Also consider if the pick-up site is convenient (some CSAs deliver to your door as well). But make sure you think about the logistics of picking up your share—make a plan with a friend or neighbor, either to share the CSA or both do it so you can alternate doing the pick up. This is great community-building in and of itself, and you can also share ideas of what to do with less familiar produce.

Does a CSA subscription make sense for a single person?

It very much depends on the person—if you are a vegetable lover and like to cook and entertain, by all means. If I were single I would buy a CSA but I do cook and eat more vegetables than almost anyone I know! And again, consider a half-share or splitting it with a neighbor or friend.

I'm afraid I'd be paying for produce I can't use or my family won't eat, and I know nothing about rutabagas or kohlrabi. What should I do?

This is an important factor to consider carefully. As I noted earlier, I have vastly expanded my appreciation of certain vegetables (rutabagas being at the top of that list) by becoming a CSA member and I've enjoyed that.

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Some farms offer a single product, like flowers or apples.

There are a handful good cooking techniques and methods—think grated vegetable pancakes, like latkes—that are a critical to successful CSA cooking. In fact I added a grated rutabaga to fried rice the other night and it was delicious! And if you occasionally share an extra kohlrabi with a neighbor (I have definitely done that, too) the benefits of the flavor, nutrition and connection to your place and those growing our food may well trump the "kohlrabi hardship"!

I don't drive. How would I pick up my share?

I pick up my share by bike and it works well. Most CSA shares will fit into two typical panniers. Some CSAs have pick-ups at companies or farmers' markets so you might inquire if your place of work is linked up with a CSA farm or ask them if they might consider it. Colombia Sportswear, Intel, various Providence sites, Good Samaritan Hospital, Ecotrust and probably many others have CSA drops.

Details: CSA Share Fair, Sun., Mar. 10, 10 am-3 pm; free. Event at The Redd, 831 SE Salmon St. If you can't make it to the Share Fair, there's a listing of metro-area CSAs at the Portland Area CSA Coalition, and a listing of Northwest (and national) CSAs at Local Harvest.

Photos by Shawn Linehan.