Posts Tagged ‘CSA’

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

Monday, July 14th, 2014
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:


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


CSA Ferme Lève-tôt: Showing that small family farms can succeed

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Ferme Léve-tôt’s Richard Williams transplanting seedlings in the greenhouse. Photo: Brian Kinzie

Charlotte Scott and Richard Williams are part of a new crop of young, idealistic family farmers dedicated to high-quality food, eco-friendly cultivation, and doing the right thing for their customers and community. “We want to do our best and show that small-scale, sustainable family farming is a viable business,” says Charlotte.

The couple own and operate Ferme Lève-tôt, a certified-organic CSA farm in Low, Québec, where they grow 150 vegetable varieties for their CSA members, as well as for farmers markets (Ottawa Farmers Market Byron Park in Westboro and the Wakefield Market) and eateries such as 42 Crichton Fine Foods, Union 613, Stone Soup Foodworks and others.

Here are highlights from my interview with Charlotte.

You and Richard lived in Montréal for 10 years and have backgrounds in media and culture. What sparked your desire to become farmers?

Richard wasn’t satisfied with his career at an independent record company and decided to apprentice with Tourne-Sol Co-operative Farm near Montréal.  After two hours, he knew this was what he wanted to do with his life. Farming connects with his love of nature while the planning that’s required to farm successfully taps into his analytical, engineering mind. I’d been involved in community gardens and community radio in Montréal and had become aware of the food system’s social and political issues.

Starting a farm can be a struggle financially. How did Ferme Lève-tôt manage?

For our first two seasons, we rented land at the Plate-forme agricole de l’Ange-Gardien, an incubator farm run by the Centre de recherche et de développement technologique agricole de l’Outaouais (CREDETAO) and the Municipality of l’Ange-Gardien. The incubation was essential to our success and made it possible for us to buy our own land and launch an independent business.

Why did you choose the CSA model?

All of our farm education has taken place on CSA farms. It’s a very efficient way of getting food to people. For example, because CSA members pay for their vegetable share at the beginning of the season, we know exactly how much to grow. And having a CSA allows us to connect directly with our members and educate them about food and farming.

Charlotte and Richard’s son, Emmett, in the greenhouse next to chard, arugula and onion seedlings. Photo: Ferme Lève-tôt

What’s your long-term vision?

There are many things we want to do, from increasing our local presence to building the viability of the farm as a business. Our big dream is to farm with horses – not only for basic cultivation but eventually for mowing and other farming tasks in summer and for logging in winter.

Why horses?

Farming with animals is a more holistic way of doing things because you don’t have to bring in external nutrients to fertilize the soil. Instead you recycle them within the farm. Working with horses also requires you to use all your faculties and to be a better human being. There’s been a renaissance of interest in horse farming among small farmers — publications such as Small Farmer’s Journal feature the practice and there are workshops on farming with draft horses. Last month, I attended one of these workshops at Orchard Hill Farm near London, Ontario.

What do you see as the challenges and rewards of small farming?

You need lots of physical and emotional endurance.  It’s not a life for everyone, but the rewards are great. There’s a profound sense of accomplishment and you’re always learning new things. There’s also a meditative quality to the work and a feeling of independence that comes from making all your food from scratch and maintaining your own life.

Do you think that policy changes are needed to promote a healthier, more sustainable food system?

We’d like to see more businesses offering incentives for people to eat better. For example, one of our members receives a break from her employer on the cost of CSA sign-up because the company sees organic food as a way to improve health. At a government level, major policies are still focused on export rather than on growing food for local consumption and that needs to change.

Find out more about Ferme Lève-tôt on their website or Facebook page, or sign up for one of 20 new CSA spots they’ve added this year.


Have you joined a CSA this year? What prompted you to sign up?

Aubin Farm on their non-standard CSA, no-waste policy and the future of family farms

Friday, January 11th, 2013


Photo: Aubin Farm

Like many family farmers in the Ottawa region,   Tim Aubin and his wife Roshan are hard- working, innovative DIYers.  And like most local food advocates, they’re committed to producing food in ways that minimize waste, protect soil and water, and reconnect people with good-tasting, healthy food.

A certified organic operation, Aubin Farm grows vegetables and raises grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as chickens, turkeys and ducks on 160 acres near Spencerville, south of Ottawa. Besides selling at the farm gate and local farmers’ markets, the Aubins offer a non-standard CSA program which provides 30 to 35 members in Ottawa and across the region with regular home delivery of fresh produce. In 2013, the Aubins hope to expand the program to about 60 members.

Tim Aubin talked to Earthward about his and Roshan’s farm practices and their concerns about the future of family farming.

How did you and Roshan start farming?

I was born in England and farmed in Australia, western Canada and Africa before settling here in 1997 with Roshan, a former teacher and a native of Tanzania. Having seen big commercial farms up close, we knew we wanted to farm organically. We started out growing flowers, but kept an organic vegetable garden for ourselves, partly because we’d had one in Africa, but also because we hated the taste of supermarket produce. When we took our surplus garden vegetables to market with the flowers, we watched demand for them take off. This turned us toward full-time food production, although we still grow roses, mostly as a hobby.

How does Aubin Farm’s box delivery program work?

Beginning in early May, program members receive a weekly box with 10 to 12 items of the farm’s best seasonal produce, much of it heirloom varieties.  Because we use naturally heated greenhouses to extend the season, we can deliver well into the fall. For example, in 2012, we delivered the last boxes in early November, and in 2013, we plan to continue into December. Customers can add other farm products to their boxes, such as eggs, chicken or Roshan’s preserves. There’s more information about the program on our website and, starting this year, we’ll provide updates on our Facebook page.

 Are you a standard CSA?

Unlike traditional CSAs, we don’t ask for payment at the beginning of the season.  Instead, we charge a flat rate of $40 per box delivered. This offers flexibility for subscribers who go on holiday and evens out our cash flow.

Tell me about Aubin Farm’s no-waste policy and why it’s important to you.

It’s strenuous to produce whatever you produce so why throw it away? In fact, not wasting what you grow can be as important to revenues as growing more.

Everything we produce is sold or made into something else or we use it ourselves.  For example, Roshan makes her specialty chutneys, pickles and cooked-to-order Indian cuisine with unsold farm food. If we have surpluses, we provide them to The Branch Restaurant and Texas Grill or donate them to local fundraisers such as MarketPlates.

We compost vegetable remnants to fertilize the soil or feed them to our animals.  Every year, we take wool sheared from our mixed breed sheep to PEI for processing into yarn and blankets. After our sheep go to the butcher, their skins are processed for sale. Customers can order blankets and sheepskins by contacting Roshan or me.

What challenges do you see for small-scale, family farms these days?

One issue is the many rules and regulations to follow, a number of which favour the big players.  For example, a small chicken farmer in Ontario can’t have a flock larger than 300 birds. If you want more, you have to buy quota, which is 14,000 birds. There’s nothing in between. 

Another challenge is that there are fewer and fewer abattoirs left in Ontario. Mobile abattoirs have been under discussion for some time. They’d offer a sensible, fuel-efficient solution that would save farmers long trips to the nearest facility.

For all farmers there’s a legacy problem. Many of us are in our 50s and 60s: who’s going to replace us when they retire? Young people are interested in farming but money remains an real obstacle: the capital requirements are huge. We must all pay more attention to the future of our food system. As a society, we tend to look at health at the level of hospitals and drugs, but health really starts with food.

Photo: V.Ward