Masanobu Fukuoka is often considered the father of natural agriculture. In his book, the A straw revolution, Fukuoka championed no-till and pesticide-free farming practices, emphasizing the possibility of high-yielding, entirely hands-off farming.
So when Trang Sharbaugh and Trang Ho tried to come up with a name for their startup, they decided to pay tribute to someone who meant so much to both of them.
“Masa is short for Masanobu Fukuoka,” Ho says. “Early on our journey together, we were inspired by his books. … He believed that natural farming could be just as productive as conventional farming; we wanted to create a global network of local farms.
Masa, Sharbaugh and Ho’s Portland-based company, is like a virtual farmers’ market: Shoppers scroll through a list of seasonal produce from farms within 100 miles, choose what they’d like, and pre-order by Wednesday. at 11:59 p.m. On Thursdays, Masa sends out orders to the farms, which pick produce to fill those orders. On Saturday, the entire order lands at that customer’s doorstep, for a delivery charge of $9.99. Unlike a CSA, users can choose the specific products they want to order, and unlike a grocery delivery model, products are sourced directly from small 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 helping small farmers access Portland’s chefs outside of a typical farmers’ market model.
“It’s not just about helping them sell their products, it’s also about helping them bring healthy food to the community,” says Sharbaugh. “Because they are small farmers, it’s like a startup on top of farming. We saw that they tried so hard in so many ways to overcome these challenges, and we felt we could do something about it.
Sharbaugh and Ho originally launched their business with a trial market in 2020, which lasted a year and a half. They partnered with the Portland Farmers Market to find farmers, following similar guidelines and criteria for whom they chose to bring to the platform, avoiding farmers who distribute in 10 or more states or sell products treated with growth hormones. Instead, they focused on farmers who were following practices that mattered to them: no-till, small-scale, chemical-free farming practices.
For example, one of Masa’s customers is Eloisa Organic Farm, owned by longtime Oregon farmhands Virginia Herrera and Zenon Ramirez. After 25 years working for nearby Spring Hill Organic Farm, Herrera and Ramirez started their own Oregon Tilth Certified Organic Farm; now they sell things like escarole, alliums, and salads 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, Masa’s team hopes to enter new markets, creating similar networks of local farms in 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,” says Sharbaugh. “We want more people to know us. If people can’t make it to the farmer’s market for some reason, they… can still have that connection with local farmers.