Estee Fleming runs her hand gently across flats of broccoli and onions that have just begun to sprout in one of the greenhouses at Common Ground Farm in Arlee. In a few months these tender starts will be the basis of the farm’s first community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in the Jocko Valley.
“We want to be this community’s farm and this community’s food,” says Fleming, a manager at the farm. “We want to get the people of Arlee and the Jocko Valley to come to the farm and enjoy it.”
The CSA program offers valley residents a share of the farm’s weekly harvest in exchange for a seasonal membership fee. Members receive a box of freshly picked vegetables each week from May through September, unlimited raspberries and flowers, and the opportunity to purchase eggs and meat from valley farmers.
Fleming’s five-year goal is to have 75 to 100 CSA members. This year she’s hoping for 25 to start, with half coming from the Jocko Valley. The cost of membership starts at $400 for a seasonal share. Those who choose to work on the farm receive a 25 percent discount in exchange for four hours of work each month. Members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes also receive a 25 percent discount.
Common Ground Farm is situated on the Flathead Indian Reservation just south of Arlee on a 220-acre piece of land owned by Dr. Mary Stranahan. Of the chunk of valley floor, bench land and Jocko riverfront that Stranahan owns, 121 acres are in cultivation. While most of this is in hay, 16 acres will be devoted to growing vegetables and raspberries for the CSA this year.
“The CSA is a good idea because people get to know who grew their food and where it comes from. As farmers, we get a secure harvest,” Fleming says. “The community benefits because the money members spend on food circulates back into the local economy.”