Viva Farms expanding CSA program to low-income earners

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SKAGIT VALLEY HERALD – AARON WEINBERG – BURLINGTON — Viva Farms will expand its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to low-income earners thanks to a $488,758 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The subscription-based CSA program, launched in June, provides weekly boxes of organic produce to customers throughout Skagit County.

The produce is grown mostly by Viva Farms incubators — beginning farmers who utilize the nonprofit’s land infrastructure.

The grant will allow Viva Farms to offer CSA boxes for half price to those participating in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal safety-net program for low-income earners.

Viva Farms has 55 subscribers to its CSA program. Executive Director Michael Frazier expects that number to double once it incorporates SNAP participants.

He said providing food to low-income earners at discounted rates is not only good for the community, but good for Viva Farms’ beginning farmers as well.

“It’s helping create a marketplace for beginner farmers so they can achieve economic viability and creates access to local organic food for SNAP beneficiaries,” Frazier said.

Frazier said the entire CSA program should become self sustaining after about four years, so it would no longer need grant funding for SNAP participants.

The Washington State University Skagit County Extension will help with the CSA SNAP program, Frazier said, by providing nutrition and cooking education for low-income consumers.

Catholic Community Services will also help in delivering CSA boxes to SNAP subscribers.

The USDA grant will further Viva Farms’ goal of helping beginning farmers, Frazier said.

The organization recently purchased 45 acres of farmland near its Port of Skagit location and plans to start renting that land to beginning farmers next year.

Most of the land is currently being used to grow barley.

Despite all that growth, Frazier said there’s still plenty left to be completed, such as infrastructure projects.

“We still need to make those things happen so we make sure we have enough producers to make this all pan out,” Frazier said.