Monday, August 17, 2009

Newspaper Column - Community Shared Farms

This article appeared today in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Keith Neu has a funny way of putting it: “If you want food security, either marry a farmer or pay one to farm for you.” Well, 100 people have opted for the latter. They pay Neu a monthly fee to become “members” of his farm at Hudson Bay.

On a regular basis, Neu delivers the produce of the farm to his 100 customers in Saskatoon and Regina. Depending on the client and the time of year, his food boxes might include eggs, chicken, beef, grains and various vegetables, fresh or frozen.

His operation is called a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture or Community Shared Agriculture. It’s a nifty scheme whereby his clients pay up front for their food, taking a stake both financially and emotionally in the success of the farm. For the farmer, it means a steadier income when he needs it for buying seed and hiring summer help, plus the benefit of a supportive and dedicated clientele which Neu refers to as his “farm family.”

CSAs are quite popular in urban areas across North America, but they’re just gaining ground around Saskatoon. They’re a great option for those who want to eat locally, but don’t garden themselves and can’t make it to a farmers’ market often enough. The food comes to you. CSAs can take many forms and financial models, but the underlying goal is to create sense of community around a garden or a farm.

“I really like that connection with people who don’t have a lot of agricultural experience,” says Carmen Dyck who, with her husband Keith, runs an orchard CSA at Aberdeen. “Every time I make a delivery it takes twice as long as it should because I spend time talking with everybody. It’s really nice to have people who are interested and supportive of what we do.”

They started their CSA this spring with 21 members who pay $20 up front, then choose a delivery package that suites their needs. The orchard supplies saskatoons, sour cherries, gooseberries, currents and honeyberries, and they’ve planted apples, plums, pears and raspberries for future harvests.

To build a sense of community, they plan to hold special events in a renovated church moved to the orchard, and they include their members in any important decisions for the operation of the CSA.

The other day, I paid a visit to a vegetable CSA on an acreage at Furdale, just outside the city, where we sat on a bench near the garden while the tomatoes ripened and a big bluish rooster pecked in the grass. Susan Chalmers established her CSA this spring with 20 shareholders at $400 each. “The majority are young families who want their children to eat well and to know where their food is coming from,” she says. “They come out to visit the garden and play with the chickens. The demand for that type of experience is only going to grow.”

Her capacity is 20 shares, but she sells excess produce and eggs on the side. Here’s how to contact these CSAs:
* Just Susan’s Garden, Susan Chalmers: (306) 343-7990.
* Etomami Community Organic Farm, Keith Neu: (306) 865-2103; JustBeef.ca.
* Fruition Orchard, Carmen Dyck: (306) 933-9630: FruitionOrchards.blogspot.com.

I have not joined a CSA for a few reasons: I love gardening and going to the farmers’ market, so I’ve got a steady supply of produce, plus I have established sources for a number of other local foods. However, I’m happy to reap the bounty of a CSA, as when Chalmers sends me home with a basket of her tomatillos and a recipe for Salsa Verde. For the recipe, click here. If you know of other local CSAs, please send me a message on by clicking "comments."

2 comments:

Karleen McKeigan said...

Hello Amy Jo!

Glad to see this article in the paper as I think there is a lot of potential for Saskatoon to start eating more locally and living more sustainably. There seems to be a growing interest in both lately, so I'm glad you're helping spread the word!

I've been apprenticing under Susan Chalmers at her CSA this year and am planning a 10 member Urban CSA called Little Urban Garden for next spring. Right now, I'm looking for Founding Members and a few more garden plots. I'll be using green space (backyards that people are lending me for the season) in the city as well as a small plot at Susan's place for my squash and pumpkins.

If anyone else is interested in learning more or would like to contact me, they can always check out the webpage I am building for the CSA;

www.littleurbangarden.webs.com

or email me directly:

littleurbangarden@gmail.com

Thanks!

Karleen

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy Jo,

Great Blog. On the theme of CSA's would like to mention that we are starting a new vegetable CSA for this summer (2011). We are located in Rosthern but will be delivering weekly to pickup points in Saskatoon and Warman. We are currently looking for 20 shareholders. For more information people can check out www.theharderfarm.com or email us at info@theharderfarm.com

Thanks,

Phillip & Kristen Harder