Matthew Martin of Pyramid Farms takes on the CSA model
Matthew Martin’s farming skills took root as a hobby when he was in his early 20s. His plot was a simple little patch of dirt in between the sidewalk and the yard of his house on West Sixth Street, where he grew zucchini, tomatoes, beans and peppers.
His idea was to see how much of his own food he could grow. Turns out, he did quite well.
“I’d buy butter, milk and bread, but the rest came out of my garden,” he said, recalling that fateful experiment 18 years ago.
These days, Martin, 44, is a familiar face at the Saturday Farmers Market in downtown Chico. He’s been selling his Pyramid Farms produce there for eight years, and is famous with regular attendees for a variety of veggies, and especially his out-of-this-world sweet, delicious carrots.
Martin is a farmer to the bone, and a busy one at that.
And starting this week, his schedule is about to get even more hectic as he takes on a new task—special delivery of his produce. Today (June 3), Martin is set to drive to the homes or businesses of locals who have signed up for his Community Supported Agriculture program. The CSA model is basically a subscription for an allotment of produce. Each subscriber pays a pre-determined fee and is provided with a share of the farmer’s crops.
Martin’s program will last from June through October, with weekly (each Thursday) farm-to-door deliveries of fresh, organic veggies. June’s harvest, for example, will include vegetables and herbs such as radishes, zucchini, beets, basil, onions and garlic. In July, subscribers will get additional in-season offerings, such as vine-ripened tomatoes (including cherry varieties), bell peppers, eggplant and cucumbers. August will bring melons, in addition to summer staples, and so on into early fall during this 22-week season. (Details on the average harvests by month can be found at www.pyramidfarms.com.)
Pyramid’s CSA program is in addition to Martin’s regular sales at the Saturday Farmers Market put on by the Chico Certified Farmers Market in downtown, and his booth set up at the same time at the organization’s new seasonal market at the North Valley Plaza.
If that sounds like a lot of work, keep in mind that he sells wholesale to local retailers such as Chico Natural Foods and S&S Produce and Natural Foods. He also grows for outfits in Nevada County, including a Grass Valley farmers’ market. That’s where he first started selling vegetables about 13 years ago, and the region is where about one-third of the farm’s business is generated today.
The CSA will, of course, allow local folks who cannot regularly attend the farmers’ market to buy from the farm. But there’s a lot more to the program. One of Martin’s main goals is to sign up enough subscribers that he can eventually sell exclusively within the surrounding region.
“Long term I’d like to be able to stay in Butte County,” said Martin, who is willing to deliver to Paradise and Oroville if he gets enough response from those cities.
Keeping sales local will help him with what he called the biggest challenge for small farmers: having enough time to grow and sell. It’s an especially strenuous line of work for organic farmers, whose operations are more costly in many respects and take more physical labor.
Another goal is to help provide his clients with a deeper connection to the farm. With different offerings depending on the week and month, customers will get a sense for what’s grown here.
“It really teaches them how to eat seasonally,” he said.
To give them a helping hand, Martin’s weekly delivery includes a newsletter with recipes and simple tips. Subscribers will also read about the happenings at the farm, and based on Martin’s blog, there’s always something to write about.
This spring has been a particularly trying season for Pyramid Farms in West Chico. The 11-acre property is situated in a low spot just north of Mud Creek. It’s a great location during the summer months when the farm is a full four degrees cooler than other parts of town. It’s also a tricky spot during cold snaps.
Last month was the coldest and wettest May Martin has experienced at the farm since purchasing it a decade ago. He spent several sleepless nights tending his young summer starts during the month’s (highly unusual) three frosts. One bitterly cold night occurred in the wee hours of a recent Saturday morning. Martin was awakened by a temperature-triggered alarm, and by the light of a headlamp he spent hours covering summer squash and using a backpack sprayer filled with water to melt ice from his young tomato plants. He then headed out to sell at market.
During a recent visit to the farm, Martin shrugged off the difficult conditions he’s wrangled with this season. That’s a farmer’s life, he insists, and a lifestyle he wouldn’t have any other way.
“I just want to continue to serve Chico with food grown with love,” he summed up.