Updated: Jan 8, 2022
The question I get asked most frequently about my farm is, "What is a CSA?" I'll admit that I've gotten pretty good at rattling off the automatic response, explaining that it is essentially a veggie box subscription. In reality, it is so much more than that and since today is CSA Day, I welcome the opportunity to talk about what I do.
So let's dive right into it - what is a CSA? CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. The simplest way to explain how it works is that members sign up before the season starts and receive a weekly box of seasonal vegetables when the garden is ripe, typically a stretch of 12 weeks. This type of farming is becoming more and more prevalent, with many options that include meat, fresh cut flowers, honey, and herbs. The reasoning? CSA's help farmers to succeed by adding a safety net of sorts. I've been told that farmers are the world's biggest gamblers, never knowing what the season will produce or how the weather will affect it, it can be quite uncertain as to how well you will profit at the end of the year. A CSA creates a collective group that accepts just how hard it is to farm in Alberta, where summers go from extreme droughts to floods, and a hailstorm is capable of destroying everything in a matter of minutes. We have cold springs and early frosts in the fall. Sometimes I think we're crazy for betting against the odds and planting our crops each year, but at the end of the day, there isn't anything I'd rather do! By signing up for a CSA, you acknowledge what farmers go through and understand that there are many risks involved, but more often than not, you will be rewarded for their efforts. Your membership fees are put towards essentials, such as seeds, irrigation equipment, and production costs. Having members committed before the season starts allows us farmers to plan accordingly for the summer ahead, ensuring that you receive only the highest quality of products and we are able to diminish wasted produce.
Perhaps I've piqued your interest already, or maybe you need more information before taking the leap and signing up. If that's the case, continue reading on as I've come up with five amazing reasons why CSA's are so wonderful.
1. Reconnect with your food
Technology has allowed everything to be at our fingertips. Whether it is because of easy access, or a feeling of entitlement, society has become greatly dissociated with the surrounding world. Nowadays, food comes in plastic packaging, at a click of a button. I aim to recreate how food was once seen as nourishment and give you a taste of what it should be. I have noticed that many of us are left with a primal urge to reconnect with the land. For some, like myself, that means having the opportunity to walk barefoot on the grass, work with your hands in dirt, feel the sun beating down on you, breathe in fresh air. For others, that simply means knowing that your food is fresh, where it comes from, and acknowledging that it didn't just magically appear on your dinner. Each crop requires different levels of planning, monitoring, and harvesting, and it is important to see just how hard farmers work to bring you their best products possible. I think it is equally as important to note that sometimes, real life happens, such as natural disasters (i.e hail storms or cutworms) and real food isn't always perfect. Reconnect with the practices that bring your food to you, come for a farm tour, acknowledge how much time it takes to tend a garden, and bring forth those deep seated memories of the tastes of homegrown food!
2. Create community and relationships
A CSA allows you to have a personal relationship with the person that grows your food. I love that I am able to check in with members, hearing both praises and concerns, giving me the chance to better my practices and give them the best experience possible. I started Fifth Gen for numerous reasons, one of those being that I love food and want to share good, wholesome ingredients with other people. I find that by having these face-to-face moments, I am able to share my passion better. The local food movement has started to form a subculture of localvores, people who are committed to supporting local businesses and farmers. CSA's bring like-minded people together! An office subscription of boxes boosts morale! Members are able to swap recipes and share their stories of what fresh produce means to them! On our farm, we've started to offer various on-farm events, such as Farm Tours, Open Farm Days, Farm-to-Table Brunches, and Farm Yoga. I've greatly enjoyed seeing people come together and celebrate how amazing the act of farming is! Last but certainly not least, running a CSA has generated many chances for me to forge new friendships with other producers as we navigate the ever-changing growing season together.
3. Support Local and Eat Seasonally
CSA's give you the added benefit of eating seasonally, which is not an easy feat for Albertans who live in harsh winters for 7 months of the year! What this looks like is a constantly changing box, with no two weeks ever the same. In the beginning of the season, you will be treated to sweet greens, rhubarb, edible flowers, and other early vegetables. As we approach the fall, boxes will change to include corn on the cob, pumpkins and other squash, potatoes, etc, never leaving the consumer bored with their meals. CSA's are a great way to try something new! I can guarantee that at least once in a season you will come across a vegetable you have never eaten before. But don't worry - I always include a recipe to help you utilize what is in each box so you can enjoy it every time a new vegetable is ready to be harvested. Seasonal diets mean that you are not
spending your budget on overpriced imported products that wouldn't normally be growing at that time of year, the $12 bundle of asparagus in the middle of January for example. As a province, we are in uncertain economical times, no industry has been left untouched. Ask an Albertan their thoughts on the provincial economy and you'll get an earful, which is exactly why you should put your hard earned money back into Alberta. Support a local farmer and feed your family at the same time.
4. Reap the benefits of ultra-fresh veggies, and let me do all the work!
I love my garden! I love the hard and honest work it requires, and I am so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to turn something I enjoy so much into a business. But lets face it - gardening takes up a lot of time and space, and it's not for everyone. This shouldn't mean that you have to miss out on the pure flavours that garden fresh veggies produce. I've always been a firm believer that carrots taste better with a little dirt left on them, signifying that fresh-picked and homegrown experience! The veggies in my CSA boxes are all picked, washed, and packaged before being delivered to you. The entire farm to table process takes less than 24 hours, ensuring that you are given the highest quality of veggies, herbs and wild berries! Produce from the grocery stores can easily be over a week or two old, and the products lose their beneficial nutrients well before the sell date. You work hard and your body deserve to have the best! By signing up with a CSA, you can enjoy veggies without preservatives, left as nature intended them to be! You'll find that your fridge will stay well stocked with fresh ingredients much longer than the store bought counterparts.
5. Know how your food is grown
You have the right to know exactly how your food is grown, how it gets from a seed in the dirt to a scrumptious meal on your dinner. I believe in having full transparency when it comes to my farming practices. I think informed consumers will make better choices and have a better understanding of why we do what we do. Currently, farmers are in the hot seat of every media event. I don't want to be a scapegoat, I want to prove to people that I love this land above all else and I want to preserve it for future generations to come. This means growing to the best of my ability, by keeping my practices as green as possible and offering spray-free, hand tended products. By offering farm tours, I have been able to share my story and my family's history on our land, and show the public how we are working with nature, not against it. It is one of my favourite topics in the world, something I am deeply committed to, and I welcome any and all questions you may have.
Each CSA is unique and runs slightly different, allowing you to choose the model that suits your needs best. As I move towards my fourth season with Fifth Gen, I marvel at how well this industry bands together. In my own experience, I have never felt hostility from direct competitors, only encouragement and support. Alberta's farmers are stronger together, and I am proud to work alongside so many incredible producers!