Mike’s Garden Harvest: First-season CSA focuses on success

Mike Milsom of Mike's Garden Harvest CSA

Mike Milsom of Mike’s Garden Harvest CSA

 

Mike Milsom is taking me around his 1.25-acre, certified-organic CSA farm in Ottawa South on a sticky mid-June day.

He carefully checks rows of sprouting carrots and radishes while telling me about his first all-nighter in the field transplanting vegetables. “The field and I are having a relationship,” he grins. “The honeymoon is over and now we’re having some issues, like high clay content in the soil. This soil will grow wonderful vegetables but it’s tender when wet so it can’t be worked, and like gravel when dry so it’s harder for plants to germinate.”

Coming through for customers

This is the first season for Mike’s Garden Harvest CSA, so he’s especially anxious to come through for the 40 families who’ve signed up to receive weekly baskets of his fresh produce. “I owe so much to their support,” he says. For example, because CSAs ask members to pay for their food share at the start of the season, he has been able to buy essentials such as irrigation equipment and organic compost.

Mike’s also eager to get into steady production to satisfy customers at the Parkdale Market, and a local restaurant that wants to source from his fledgling micro-greens operation.

The difficulty at the moment is that the season has got off to a slow start. Spring arrived late and it wasn’t until the end of May that Mike was able to till the field he leases from Greta Kryger of Greta’s Organic Gardens. Then drenching rains turned the clay soil into a no-go zone for a week.

Despite the challenges, worry and long hours, he stays upbeat. “It’s good to be swamped and consumed by something worthwhile.”

Roots in food and farming

Mike’s commitment has roots in his youth working on different farm operations and studying farm management at the University of Guelph. Through those experiences, he realized that the best farmers were those with real passion for the land and what they grew on it. He also reached the conclusion that conventional farm practices had become ecologically unsustainable and damaging to our health.

After university, Mike immersed himself in the marketing and retail sides of food production, helping his father develop and manage an apple cider mill in Collingwood, Ontario. Together, they crafted a freshly pressed, sweet apple cider that became a favorite President’s Choice product for Loblaw.

When his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the business was sold and Mike took a break from food and farming to raise two sons and work in sectors as varied as carpentry, social work and licensed car repair.

He returned to growing food a few years ago, but it was his eldest son who motivated him to move into full-time farming. “I showed Tim one of my bean plants,” Mike says. “He held it, took a bite and his face lit up. Later on, he told me he just felt better when he ate my vegetables. His reactions decided me.”

Certified organic practices

In line with his concerns about health and sustainability, Mike advocates organic practices and made a point of getting organic certification.

“Growing vegetables organically is a lot more involved than just being chemical-free,” he explains. “We’ve all heard the expression, ‘you are what you eat’ – well, that’s true of the food, too. The soil isn’t just a planting medium. It should be an environment that’s rich with micro-organisms, where the plants actually feed, absorb nutrients and develop complex flavours.”

The best way to achieve that rich environment, he adds, is through measures such as applying organic compost, hand-tilling the soil beds, using carefully selected heirloom seeds, and doing planned crop rotation, companion planting, and calibrated irrigation.

We can grow our own food

Mike has lots of plans for the farm’s future. For example, he wants to be able to attract corporate customers, store root crops over the winter, install high tunnels to protect crops and extend the growing season, and maybe even set up an aquaponics operation.

If he could make one change to the food system through his efforts, I ask, what would it be? “To reacquaint people with origins of their food – the big food corporations are disabling us,” he says.

“The message I want to get out there is that we can grow our own food, and if we choose not to, at least we can learn how it’s grown and be educated consumers.”

Mike’s Garden Harvest

Produce: Fruits, vegetables and herbs, including: arugula, beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, Chinese cabbage, eggplant, fennel, kale, mixed greens, potatoes, snap peas, snow peas, squash, ground cherries, melons and more

Share prices: Range from $165 for Mike’s Flex Pack to $505 for a full season share

More info: www.mikesgardenharvest.com

 

If you could make one change to the food system, what would it be?

 

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