Support local farmers this year by joining a CSA

Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

It’s official. Our garden is sleeping. From the winter solstice to the spring equinox, short daylight hours and cold temperatures mean that plants grow very slowly here in Vancouver. During these true winter months, I’ve been eating from our freezer and, lately, supplementing our groceries with store-bought greens.

Buying vegetables isn’t the norm for me. I’m used to grabbing stuff from the garden and still can’t get over the fact that organic kale, which I’m overrun with for most of the year, costs a hefty $3 per small bunch at most stores. What’s more, that kale comes from California, where it was likely shipped for thousands of kilometers in a carbon-intensive refrigerated truck, landing in my house several days (or more) after it was picked.

How do we find the best purchasing options for those things that we can’t grow? Sourcing food California, and from around the world, opens up a wide variety of nutritious foods that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. But it also means we are relying on a state that’s famously affected by drought and that we are subject to food price inflation brought on by a low Canadian dollar. It also means that we are disconnected from the soil, farmers and farm workers who produce our food. For all of these reasons and more, I’m looking for ways to support local food producers.

Enter Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). With this alternative purchasing model, local farms sell “shares” of their harvests to a group of committed community members. In most cases, participants pay before the season begins and pick their boxes up weekly, with the exact contents varying depending on the time of year, farm conditions and other factors. CSAs give food producers a source of guaranteed income. They empower customers to feel confident about their food purchase choices and connected to the production of food. It’s also a fun way to try foods you might not usually buy (like sunchokes and rutabagas), with many CSAs offering recipes, newsletters and opportunities to visit farms.

CSAs aren’t just for veggies. Here are five innovative options from local champions. Although many of their seasons don’t start until spring, now is a great time to sign up, as many offer an early bird discount. For a comprehensive list of CSAs in BC, visit FarmFolk CityFolk.

Sole Food Street Farms
One of the largest and most well-known urban farms in Vancouver, Sole Food runs several prominent farm sites in downtown Vancouver, including vegetable production on the False Creek flats and an orchard near Main and Terminal. Sole Food “transforms vacant urban land into street farms that grow artisan quality fruits and vegetables” and works with individuals who face barriers to employment.

Fresh Roots
Fresh Roots works with local schools, like David Thompson Secondary School and Vancouver Technical Secondary school, using school land to grow educational market gardens. Their Salad Box program runs through the summer months.

Harvest Community Foods
This unique year-round CSA doesn’t require a season-long commitment. Instead, customers sign up for each biweekly box featuring items selected by Chef Andrea Carlson from a variety of farms (North Arm Farms, Hazelmere Organic Farms and Klippers Organics have appeared in their boxes) for pickup in Strathcona. It’s perfect for gardeners like me who just need a bit of help getting through the winter.

Skipper Otto’s Community-Supported Fishery
This CSF (Community Supported Fishery), with a flexible buy-down payment plan, gives seafood lovers the opportunity to support Ocean-Wise, wild, sustainably harvested seafood. 

Urban Digs Farm - The Beasty Box
For meat eaters who care about sustainability and animal welfare, the Beasty Box offers a locally produced, ethically raised and mindfully sourced option. Unlike traditional CSAs, boxes are purchased individually, with a variety of options from bacon to beef.

Update: In last week’s post, I advocated using mason jars to pack your lunches. I’ve since discovered that many mason jar lids contain BPA, a controversial synthetic estrogen. I’m now switching to stainless steel leakproof containers and researching glass jars with BPA-free or glass lids. I’ve also increased the size of my lunch recipe to offer a more filling option. You can read an updated version of the post at abundantcity.net.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. Join her on Roundhouse Radio 98.3 FM every Tuesday afternoon at 5:00pm for Fabulous Urban Gardens. She blogs about urban food gardening at http://abundantcity.net.

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