By Lisa Britton
For the Baker City Herald
Valerie Tachenko is pouring over this year's seed catalogs, planning her garden long before the soil thaws.
She already has customers counting on her fresh produce - members are already signing up for Val's Veggies CSA.
That stands for Community-Supported Agriculture. Prior to the growing season, people buy shares, investing up front in return for a season's worth of fresh vegetables.
Val's Veggies serves members in Baker, Union and Umatilla counties (including the Plateau Restaurant at Wildhorse Resort and Casino near Pendleton).
Backyard Gardens in Joseph, run by Beth Gibans, supplies fresh produce to Wallowa and Union counties.
Val's Veggies share includes a box of produce each week from early June to late October, for a total of 20 weeks.
Backyard Gardens' season is 22 weeks.
"It's investing in the local economy," Tachenko said. "The money you invest in me pays the labor and the seed to get this started."
That labor includes five to eight employees, who "then spend that money in town," she said.
During the summer, Tachenko and her crew fill the CSA boxes first, then harvest the vegetables to be sold at the local Farmers Markets.
"You get the first and the best," she said. "Things we don't grow a lot of goes in the boxes first - they are the first in line."
The same is true at Backyard Gardens.
"Because people have made a commitment, they get priority," Gibans said.
Prior to moving to Joseph in 2000, Gibans ran a CSA near Portland.
She started the Backyard Gardens CSA in 2007, and grows on two acres.
Val's Veggies offers several choices for shares depending on how much food a member wants.
Here are the prices (there is a $50 discount if reserved before April 1):
andbull; Full share (four adults or a family): $650
andbull; Half share (two adults or a small family): $400
andbull; Custom Box, full share: $700
andbull; Custom box, half share: $450
andbull; Single share (single adult: $325
For the regular shares, members get a wide variety of what's in season, which means you may get a vegetable you've never seen before.
"They like it because they try things they wouldn't buy at the market," Tachenko said. "I've had people who didn't know what a kohlrabi was, or a lemon cucumber. It's a good way to learn about different varieties."
Those who prefer to choose their own vegetables can order the custom box.
"If they don't like beets, they won't like them no matter how many times I put them in the box," Tachenko said.
In Baker City, the boxes are available to pick up at the Farmers Market each Wednesday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Geiser Pollman Park.
La Grande boxes are picked up at that market, held on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Max Square.
An advantage, she said, is that CSA members don't worry about missing out if they arrive late when the crowd has already cleaned out the display.
"They'll get their box no matter when they come," she said.
For more information about Val's Veggies CSA program, visit their website at valsveggies.com
Backyard Gardens also offers several choices - a full share for $490 or a half share for $325.
Another option is a Farmers Market CSA. Members pay at the beginning of the season and then receive a credit to use at the Backyard Gardens Farmers Market booth. The price options for this are $200 for a $220 credit, $300 for a $330 credit or $400 for $450 credit.
Gibans also offers a Salad CSA ($90 for 22 weeks) and a Flower CSA ($100 for 10 weeks). These can also be added to the regular CSA share.
Members pick up their shares each week at the garden in Joseph, the Thursday market in Enterprise, or along the shuttle bus route between Joseph and La Grande.
Gibans offers 20 CSA shares each season, plus 12 to 15 Farmers Market CSAs.
For more information, visit her website, backyardgardensjoseph.com.