Join a CSA farm in 2013

If you want to eat tastier, fresher, more eco-friendly food in 2013, consider joining a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, farm. In the industrial food system, many layers separate eaters from farmers. These include processors, packers, shippers, wholesalers, retailers and others.  By contrast, CSAs bring eaters and farmers into direct relationships that help strengthen communities and local economies.

CSA members pay a flat rate at the start of the season for a share of what the farm harvests that year. This way, the farmer knows in advance how much to produce and can cover the costs of producing it. In return, members receive fresh, local food grown by people they know and trust.

CSAs begin signing up members in late winter and early spring, so this is a good time to learn about CSAs in the Ottawa region and find one that fits your needs.  

Where did CSAs get started and how many are there in North America?

The CSA model has its roots in community farm initiatives in Japan and Chile in the 1970s, and in the European biodynamic farming tradition. While there are few statistics on CSAs in Canada, the number of these farms appears to be growing. In the U.S., there are an estimated 6,000 to 6,500 CSAs.

How does CSA membership work?

You pay a set rate, in advance, for a weekly or bi-weekly basket/box of seasonal produce that you collect from the farm or from a drop-off spot. Some CSAs do home delivery. In addition to vegetables and herbs, baskets may also contain fruit, honey, meat, poultry and eggs, depending on the farm. You’ll enjoy bigger baskets when harvests are good and smaller ones when yields are less plentiful.

Will I get baskets year-round or only in summer?

Bryson Farms is one Ottawa area CSA that provides year-round service. However, most CSA seasons start in May or June and wind up sometime in the fall.

What can I expect to pay for CSA membership?

In the Ottawa area, typical rates range from $300 to $650 for the season. That said, you may pay more or less depending on factors such as the number of people in your household, the length of the CSA’s season and the products it offers. Some non-standard CSA farms charge per basket or box rather having than a flat seasonal rate.

Is CSA farming more environmentally sustainable?

Farming on a small scale for a local market is more environmentally sustainable. For example, in the industrial food system, fresh produce travels about 2,414 km (1,500 miles) before reaching the consumer. By contrast, food from a local CSA farm will have traveled less than 161 km (100 miles) and is likely to have been grown without fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides.

I’m concerned about the recent safety scares in the industrial food system. Is food from a CSA farm safer?

What’s clear is that belonging to a CSA farm offers more transparency than buying food from your neighbourhood big box store or fast-food franchise. As a CSA member, you know the farmer who grows the lettuce, raises the chicken and harvests the honey in your basket this week. And you can visit the farm, see how the food is grown, and provide feedback on your food. If a safety problem arises, it will be on a much smaller scale than the kind of thing we’ve seen with XL Foods in Canada or Chamberlain Farms in the U.S. With industrial food operations, safety issues can affect many thousands of products and pinpointing the source of the problem can take time.

You’ve mentioned fresher food, traceability, support for family farms and sustainability. Do CSAs provide other benefits?

The CSA model has always been about building community. Individual farms approach this differently. Most CSAs issue newsletters to update members about what’s happening on the farm. Some encourage members to participate in volunteer workdays; others hold harvest celebrations, workshops or other events. All offer the opportunity for people to reconnect with food and farming.

Do you belong to a CSA? What motivated you to join?

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