Starts growing in the Johansens’ greenhouse at Rainysunday Ranch on Wednesday, Feb. 1.
Starts growing in the Johansens’ greenhouse at Rainysunday Ranch on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

Chelsea and Cody Johansen want to find out how to feed their family and the Sky Valley local, healthy food.

Together with their three children they raise chickens, goats and turkeys, and grow a variety of produce, which they sold last year at a farmers market and through Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions. This year, they are tinkering with their system.

“We really enjoy this, and there is a need in the community,” said Chelsea, 30. “We are trying to fill that gap, or be a part of the community that is trying to fill that gap.”

They are calling their new program Friends of the Farm. Customers will be asked to put the same faith in their suppliers, RainySunday Ranch in Sultan, and pay at the start of each month. Instead of receiving a full box of vegetables and animal products, those who buy in will purchase credits for use any time of year.

With CSA subscriptions customers buy farm shares that entitle them to weekly supplies of seasonal produce. Payment is made at the start of each month, offering the farmer a set source of income. Some subscriptions are delivered and some picked up at the farm, but most aim to connect the buyer and seller.

In 2012 — the most recent set of data available — around 12,600 farms reported marketing products through CSA subscriptions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That was a 0.5 percent jump from the last survey in 2007.

Making more connections is one goal for the Johansens’ new venture, seeing that as the most sustainable way to feed the community.

Because they trade labor and products with their neighbor who grows blueberries, the Johansens’ customers will have access to the fruit, Chelsea said. Why they may not raise livestock for butchery, they do know who in the valley grows beef, and can send their own customers that way, said Cody, 32.

For many people, knowing where to buy affordable local foods can be “hard to find, hard to afford, hard to access,” Chelsea said. Produce in the grocery store is often cheaper than what it would cost to buy local products, she said.

Originally, they started farming to supply their family with a food source they knew was safe and sustainable. From there they had to learn how to go from garden to marketed farm, and figure out what it takes to bridge the gap. Cody said that took some experimentation, and Chelsea said there were many large pieces of paper covered in planning notes.

On their 10-acre farm they have a small enough space to know where the areas with the best drainage are, and can monitor where different varieties of produce most easily flourish, Cody said. Chelsea added she never wants their operation to get so big they find “their hands not in the dirt.”

While they have some of the same habits as traditional farmers, like completing odd tasks around midnight, Cody said, they don’t fit the average demographic.

The national average age of a farmer is 58 years old, according to the most recent census data. There are growing movements nationwide to get a younger workforce in the farming industry, such as the Greenhorns and the National Young Farmers Coalition. 

It is a dying industry, Chelsea said.

By federal definition, average small farms make less than $250,000, and are decreasing in number. The number of farms grossing more than $1 million annually, however, is on the rise.

For RainySunday Ranch to remain sustainable, it must bring in $40,000 each year. Last year, they had 10 CSA subscribers.

While that will eventually limit what they can offer, the Johansens said ideally they see a collaboration among Sky Valley farmers that could eventually fill each need.

“We don’t have the space, money or time,” she said.

The couple has farmed together for years, but this is only their second year on the Sultan property. The previous owners were longtime homesteaders, Chelsea said, adding the plan is to make the land as successful as it was for them.