Making healthy eating choices isn’t always convenient. One way to cut your grocery-store time and bridge the gap between the kitchen and the farm is community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
These partnerships between farms and consumers help local farmers finance and sell their wares and help community members eat local.
Each CSA program has its own process, but the general idea is local producers deliver a box of fruit, vegetables, meat, and sometimes eggs and fish, to subscribers’ homes, or a set drop-off location, weekly. The contents change with the farming season. Boxes come in serving sizes set to feed a single-person household to a large family. Some CSAs run year-round, others are seasonal.
About 10 years ago, Cathy and Brian Mackay, owners of Crystal Green Farms in Bedeque, P.E.I. started a year-round CSA program that’s still going strong today. The farm delivers boxes to Summerside, Kensington, and Charlottetown.
“We eventually moved into offering our own meats, as well as grains, which includes making our own flour and including pancake, muffin and cookie mixes in the boxes,” says Cathy.
Unlike many CSAs that require the cost of the program be paid up front at the beginning of the season, Mackay’s program asks participants to pay one box ahead of their current standing.
And while filling the boxes in summer is easier than in winter, Mackay says providing the year-round service forced Crystal Green Farms to evolve its offerings.
“As a producer, we definitely approach putting these boxes together from the viewpoint of the consumer and what we’d want to see in these boxes,” Cathy says. “For instance, one week we might offer a stewing meat with onions and other vegetables that complement that, along with a breakfast sausage and pancake mix. Our goal is to help people simplify their lives, which we feel is important in this day and age. People tend to be on the go all of the time.”
Some CSAs, like Green Life Farm in Miramichi, N.B. offer subscription periods. Green Life Farm’s season runs 18-weeks from late spring and through early fall. Owner Daniel Ettinger says last year’s program featured a host of vegetables grown on his farm, including romaine lettuce, cucumbers, beets, tomatoes, carrots, and more.
Ettinger’s box subscription program turns three this year. In the first two years, the program doubled in size to 40 participants. He says the waitlist was significant in the first two years of the program, and he hopes to welcome 100 subscribers this season.
Similar to what Mackay has done with Crystal Green Farms, Ettinger hopes to expand his program beyond the garden in the future. “One advantage we have is that we are the only CSA program in Miramichi proper,” Ettinger says. “Although we are not organically certified, we don’t spray anything and don’t use chemicals on what we produce.”
Ettinger had a business background, but says it was the birth of his child about four years ago that inspired him to take the plunge into farming.
“When my child was born, it seemed as though they were allergic to virtually everything,” he says. “It was a rough go and it took some time for us to figure things out. In that time, we changed our whole diet and came to realize that conventionally-grown agriculture products didn’t elicit the same negative reaction that other foods did.”
Ettinger says he’s excited about the possibilities that await. He hopes to see some clarity given to the agricultural use of the term local to reassure residents that what they eat is, in fact, grown with care by their friends and neighbours.
“I feel transparency is somewhat lacking in that respect,” says Ettinger. “If I’m buying something from a local farmer’s market, I assume that it’s produce that has been grown locally, but I know that’s not always the case. The good news is, people have become more comfortable and are more forthcoming about asking questions about the origins of their food. It’s my hope that those growing locally grown food will be at the forefront of people’s purchases.”
Atlantic Canada is home to nearly 60 community supported agriculture programs
Here are three:
Lester’s Family Farm
St. John’s, N.L.
Runs summer through fall
Options: $630 (feeds four), $330 (feed two)
Leafy greens, tomatoes, herbs, and root vegetables. Plus add organic eggs or tilapia for an extra fee.
Port Williams, N.S.
Runs summer through winter
Options: A variety of sizes ranging in price from
$240–$1,848 per season
Name a vegetable and you might find it here from apples to zucchini, plus chicken, pork, goat, and beef. Plus, many drop
points between the farm and Halifax.
Codiac Organics Urban Farm
Runs late June to late October
Options: $675 (feed four), $350 (feeds one–two)
Blueberries, corn, cucumbers, herbs, ground cherries, greens, root vegetables, and more.