Masanobu Fukuoka is often thought of as the father of natural farming. In his book, the One Straw Revolution, Fukuoka championed no-till, no-pesticide farming practices, emphasizing the possibility of high-yield, fully intervention-free farming.
So when Trang Sharbaugh and Trang Ho were trying to come up with a name for their start-up, they decided to pay homage to someone who meant so much to them both.
“Masa is short for Masanobu Fukuoka,” Ho says. “In the beginning of our journey together, we were inspired by his books. ... He thought natural farming could be just as productive as conventional farming; we wanted to create a global network of local farms.”
Sharbaugh and Ho’s Portland-based company, Masa, is something like a virtual farmers market: Shoppers scroll through a list of seasonal produce from farms within a 100-mille radius, pick out what they’d like, and pre-order it by Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. On Thursday, Masa sends orders into the farms, who pick the produce to fill those orders. By Saturday, the full order lands on that customer’s doorstep, for a $9.99 delivery fee. Unlike a CSA, users can choose which specific products they’d like to order, and unlike a grocery delivery model, the produce is coming directly from smaller farms, many of which don’t have a high enough yield to land in grocery stores. The idea is to limit the potential waste of keeping produce in a warehouse, while also helping small-scale farmers access Portland chefs outside a typical farmers market model.
“It’s not just about helping them sell their produce, it’s also about helping them bring healthy food to the community,” Sharbaugh says. “Because they’re small-scale farmers, it’s like a startup as well as farming. We saw that they have tried so hard in so many ways to overcome those challenges, and we felt like we could do something about it.”
Sharbaugh and Ho initially launched their company with a market trial in 2020, which ran for a year and a half. They partnered with the Portland Farmers Market to find farmers, following similar guidelines and criteria for who they chose to bring onto the platform, avoiding farmers who distribute to 10 or more states or sell products treated with growth hormones. Instead, they focused on farmers who followed practices that mattered to them: no-till, small-scale, and chemical-free farming practices.
For instance, one of Masa’s clients is Eloisa Organic Farm, owned by longtime Oregon farm workers Virginia Herrera and Zenon Ramirez. After 25 years of working for the nearby Spring Hill Organic Farm, Herrera and Ramirez started their own, Oregon Tilth-certified organic produce farm; now, they sell things like escarole, alliums, and salad greens through Masa. Other farmers currently on the platform include Our Table Cooperative in Sherwood, Kiyokawa Family Orchards in Parkdale, and K Family Farm in Albany.
In the coming years, the team at Masa hopes to enter new markets, creating similar networks of local farms within other communities. But for now, Portland — and its surrounding farmers — are the focus.
“Because Portland is our home base, the city is very special to us,” Sharbaugh says. “We want more people to know about us. If people can’t make it to the farmer’s market for some reason, they ... can still have that connection with local farmers.”