This year we have gotten a little more involved with supporting local food growers by participating in a Community Shared Agriculture program through Eagle Creek Farms, near Bowden, Alberta. CSAs allow small-scale, local farms to be a financially sustainable option in the face of large, corporate agriculture practices. By spreading the risks and rewards of farming over a large shareholder base, CSA farms are able to cover their operating costs and provide nutritious, often organic, food directly to the consumer.
Through the CSA, share families purchase a full- or half-share in the farm and, during the summer harvest months, get weekly deliveries of what has grown on the farm. Depending on the farm, full shares generally feed a family of 4 – 5 and a half-share is good for 2 – 3 people. Some CSAs will have a working component, where the share family is required to spend one afternoon at the farm helping with the various activities in producing food (harvesting, weeding, planting, etc.). This is generally both in an effort to provide a stronger connection between people and their food and to get more hands available to help out with the necessary work. Some CSAs are also excellent at communicating the various stages of planting and harvesting – with Farmer John at Eagle Creek Farms, we receive updates via email on how the season is progressing!
Your dollars towards the share allow the farmer to pay for his upfront costs in planting for the season and you will share both in the risks of a difficult season or the rewards of a plentiful harvest. Each week you can pick up your dividend from the farm gate or from a farmer’s market drop-off location near your neighbourhood. We are especially lucky that our weekly drop-off is only a kilometre from our house and part of our weekly pick-up will include a bouquet of fresh lilies that are grown on the farm.
When choosing a CSA, you want to compare a variety of options that include finding farms that grow the type of produce you enjoy eating (you never know exactly what will be arriving in your weekly basket!) and understanding the farming principles that are practiced on site (organic, biodynamic, etc.). If you want an opportunity to be involved with the farm, a CSA that has a working component may be for you. Many of the CSAs that I have researched in Alberta do not have an organic certification (as the process for becoming certified and the finances involved in maintaining certification negate the benefits that they would receive for certification), they do practice organic farming at their locations.
We expect our first CSA basket in late-June, early July, and are especially excited about the prospect of having fresh produce available that is local, in season and, even more exciting, freshly harvested within a few hours of us receiving it.
There are a lot of CSA farms out there and the numbers are growing. In Alberta, this resource lists CSAs by area: CSA Alberta.