I am a long-time community shared agriculture (CSA) member. My urban children have been growing up with a weekly trip to the farm to collect local, organic fruits and vegetables. They love sorting through the big bins of beautiful veggies to find the knobbiest potato, two-legged carrots and other ‘exotic’ produce. The benefits of CSA farming— eating seasonally and locally, encouraging the move to organic production, giving small farmers another way to stay on the land— are not on their minds as they munch a perfect apple on the way home.
I’m not alone in seeking out local produce. Over the last few years, eating locally-grown organic food has been a steadily growing trend in our country. Canadian organic retail sales were estimated at $1-billion in 2006. And one needs only to look at the worldwide media coverage of the national bestseller, The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisha Smith and J.B. Mackinnon, to recognize the emerging trend toward locally-grown produce.
CSAs do much more than simply respond to these market trends. CSAs foster a sense of community around food that is often missing in trips to the supermarket. In addition to growing wonderful produce, most CSA farmers spend time engaging their members. Some CSAs provide newsletters, while others host canning bees and potlucks. In the broader community, CSAs promote local foods and support healthy eating. Some have programs to donate vegetable shares to local food banks and charitable auctions, while others engage urban teenagers in farming.
CSAs foster a sense of community around food that is often missing in trips to the supermarket.
But with all these activities, CSA farmers may not have time to foster relationships with their peers. Like all professionals, farmers can benefit from learning about different approaches and sharing successful practices. The tips and techniques gained may make their jobs more enjoyable, their businesses more profitable and their farming practices more sustainable.
The Great Lakes CSA Conference 2008 will provide prospective and established farmers an opportunity to learn from each other. As the coordinator for this conference, I have the pleasure of working with CSA farmers from across southern Ontario as they develop a program that features “farmer-to-farmer” training and information exchange. Sessions will cover a broad range of topics of specific interest to CSA farmers, such as seed saving, season extension, budgeting, member retention/recruitment, alternative land tenure, and on-farm energy use. The conference will be held in Orillia, Ontario, November 21–23, and will be offered in both English and French.
To introduce the basic concepts and practices of CSA farming, five experienced CSA farmers, each running a different style of CSA, will lead a CSA Mini-School on November 21. The minischool will help anyone interested in CSAs, but is designed for beginners.
“There seems to be lots of young people and new farmers interested in CSAs,” states Caitlin Hall, a second year CSA farmer and conference organizing committee member. “At the conference they can network, learn what others have experienced in running a CSA, and maybe save themselves a bit of work in the future.”
The conference will provide an opportunity for farmers to continue building a thriving, sustainable CSA movement. This growing movement will ensure that my children, whom I believe will translate their childhood trips to the farm into a love of seasonal foods, will have local sources of fresh, organic produce for years to come.