Abundant sunshine, flowing rivers, and snowy mountains feed into the diverse landscapes of the Columbia River Gorge. With natural resources like these it is no wonder farmers with less acreage and innovative business models are choosing the Gorge as the place to sow their seeds. The agricultural heritage of the Gorge has been preserved in the picturesque orchards that erupt into blossom each April, but a growing number of smaller, diversified farms are springing up in between. I have the immense honor of working closely with these farmers as the Outreach Manager for Gorge Grown Food Network—a food and farm based non-profit organization. Over the winter I checked in with Casa Verde CSA in Hood River to see what the 2012-farming season held in store for them, and how they were preparing for spring and summer.
Casa Verde CSA When I walk into Moria Reynold’s greenhouse off Alameda Road in the Hood River Heights, I am struck by the earthy tropical smell, the tidy rows of wooden raised beds, and the towering fish tank in the center of the room. It’s the end of January, my car nearly gets stuck in the snow piled up outside, and Moria is still growing bright cherry tomatoes in her warm greenhouse. The greenhouse only has one season under its belt, but I’m impressed.
“We broke ground the first of June 2011, the greenhouse was done in July, and we made our first deliveries at the end of July. At first we were limited to salad mix, but by the end of the season we were delivering tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions,” explains Moria.
She has lived in Hood River for many years operating her advertising business PoCards, but she has recently given her undivided attention to her farming goals.
She runs her farming business, Casa Verde CSA, on a model known as Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA for short. Using the CSA model, customers pay a farm for a season’s worth of produce upfront before the season begins. Customers are then known as CSA members, and they receive a weekly allotment of farm fresh produce for an entire season. It allows farmers the cash flow they need to operate their business, and then CSA members get to enjoy eating seasonally as new crops ebb in and out with changing weather.
Casa Verde had 23 CSA customers during their first season, and their goal for this season is to grow to 50 memberships. They are planning to newly offer kale, spinach, chard, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, squash and possibly strawberries.
Moria has intentions to raise the freshwater fish Tilapia inside her greenhouse as a source of nutrients for her plants. There are plans to build an additional fish tank, but the first tank can support their system for now.
“We have the capacity to raise up to 300 Tilapia fish. They take ten months to grow to market size. We are presently heating the water to 70 degrees. We’ll be getting our fish in the next couple of weeks for this year,” she notes.
The water from the fish tank is filtered through a biofiltration bed. The bed houses bacteria that transform the fish waste into nitrogen available for the plants. Moria also collects rainwater. The goal is to eliminate the use of irrigation water and to transition to a completely closed water cycle.
Right now, in January, Moria is building more beds and planting out crops that will be harvested in March.
“We’ve just planted our starts,” she says. The new beds are needed for the expanded CSA membership and additional crops. “The tomatoes are 1.5” tall, and pretty crowded. By the end of this month all the tomatoes will be in beds.”
Moria’s enthusiasm and dedication to her business bubbles over when she speaks.
“Shoveling dirt makes me happier,” Moria says between ear-to-ear grins. “Right now I am picking tomatoes, and it feels so amazing. Feeding people feels great.”
Want to meet Moria and learn more about her CSA? Gorge Grown is hosting a CSA Open House on Tuesday May 8 from 4 PM-6 PM at Dog River Coffee in downtown Hood River. Casa Verde CSA and other CSA farms will be there to talk about their farms and community supported agriculture in the Gorge.
Casa Verde can also be found every Thursday from 4 PM to 7 PM at the Hood River Farmers’ Market running May 3-November 15 at the Hood River Middle School on May St. Moria can be reached at 541-400-9510 or by visiting http://www.gorgegrown.com/resource/casa-verde.cfm.
Michelle McGrath, MS is the Outreach Manager for Gorge Grown Food Network. She is passionate about connecting the dots between the environment, everyday people, and their dinner plates in order to build a sustainable future for the Columbia River Gorge.