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."

Care About Your Food? Then Show Up in Salem!

In the last two years, we've all learned the value of just showing up. Two years ago, not showing up to vote cast this country into the nightmare we are living through right now. And showing up to a rally for women's rights demonstrated to the world the power and importance of women's voices. In the mid-term elections just last fall, sending postcards to complete strangers urging them to vote, and exercising our own franchise changed the balance of power on a national level.

Showing up, and learning the power of collectively putting our bodies where our beliefs are, has meant that from local school boards to state legislatures to the halls of Congress, our representatives are now more…well…representative of everyone in our communities.

Part of putting our energy into making change together also means getting involved in issues we care about, and I'd highly recommend that if you care about where your food comes from and about the small family farmers who work every day to produce the food we put on our tables, then you should make every effort to get yourself and your families to Salem on Wednesday, March 27. Not only will you get to meet many of those family farmers and show them you've got their backs, you'll have an opportunity to participate in the democratic process by meeting with your representatives in the legislature and tell them how important good, clean food is to your family.

If you're wondering what the heck the legislature has to do with your food, just take a glance at the issues before the current session: a moratorium on the factory farm mega-dairies that are spewing unregulated toxic emissions into the state's air and groundwater; a ban on aerieal spraying of toxic pesticides; bills that will support beginning farmers and encourage retiring farmers to keep their farms in food production rather than selling them for development; and a ban on the use of bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides that are at least partially to blame for the collapse of pollinators. And those are just a few of the dozens of bills under consideration.

If you've never set foot in the Oregon's Capitol building, it's high time you did. And what better reason than to support the farmers whose labor we all depend on multiple times a day? Get more info and sign up here, and you can sign up to join a carpool to the event from Bend, Grants Pass, Amity, Portland, Monmouth, Corvallis, Springfield and other communities around the state. You even get lunch in the deal!

All you have to do is show up.