By: Lynn Ogryzlo

It wasn’t that long ago we bartered with food: the man who made the sausage traded with his neighbour who grew the wheat. The wheat was milled and paid for with bread, and then bread was traded with the pig farmer and on and on. Everyone knew who had food to trade, the community was tight, they all ate well and they kept the best food circulating among themselves.

Today our bartering system has changed and while much of it has been displaced with the almighty dollar, the concept of getting our vegetables from the guy who grows them is still alive and well with Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) programs.

With a CSA you pay one fee up front for a constant supply of vegetables all season long. Just imagine it, fresh, garden-picked vegetables filling your kitchen weekly throughout the summer by your own personal farmer dressed in overalls driving his mud splattered field truck. Ok, perhaps the visualization is a bit old fashioned, but a CSA program for consumers is the true meaning of eating off the farm, eating seasonally, buying local and investing in a healthy lifestyle.

“If every Monday morning I got fresh eggs, broccoli, a head of lettuce and tomatoes delivered to me, I would look forward to it and use it,” says David Somerville, Certified Financial Planner at Capital Wealth Management in St. Catharines. “But if I had to buy it at the store, I might not. We’re so busy it makes us naturally lazy. CSA’s make life easy.”

So how does it work? With CSA you actually agree to buy a portion of the seasons harvest from the farmer up front, like buying food futures, and the risk is shared. The CSA farmer receives a set amount from each consumer prior to the start of the growing season. If an average price for a CSA is $400 per 20-week season and a farmer has 50 customers, his income for a year is 20,000. If it doesn’t sound like much, it’s because it’s not. “It’s a labour of love,” explains Dave who finds more value for customers in CSA programs than farmers.

“There’s a simple bullet point – twenty dollars,” explains Dave. “For $20 a week you and your family can eat the healthiest you can. Is your family’s health and well being worth $20 a week? I think it’s a great investment in a healthy lifestyle. But when you say $400 it’s a little more difficult to swallow.”

Thankfully, farmers don’t bank on a CSA program as their main source of revenue; instead, it compliments their existing revenues. CSA is a low risk, high margin option for farmers using existing resources, equipment and land. It’s just enough to compensate the farmer for his land, equipment and time.

“It’s our first year doing this,” says an excited Debbie Kinsella of Kinsella’s Simply Organics CSA farm in Welland. A certified organic farm, the Kinsella’s are putting to bed an entire three acres of vegetables this year. The annual CSA fee is $300.00 and in return, members get 16 weeks (June – October) of organic, non-GMO, hand picked, pure vegetables at their peak of ripeness.

It’s a great investment when you consider they grow tomatoes, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers, onions, kale, eggplant, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, herbs, edible flowers and three different house blends of mixed greens. They grow heritage breeds of vegetables like tomatoes along side modern varieties of white habanero peppers.

In fact, the Kinsella’s plan on erecting a large hoop house on the farm so they can offer fresh, mixed lettuces all year long. Of course the Kinsellas will sell their wintergreens to anyone who comes to the farm, but rumour has it preference will be given to CSA members. Now that’s the value of knowing your farmer!

Think of joining a CSA as the same as hiring your own personal farmer. Also known as Community Supported Agriculture, joining a CSA means you get to meet the farmer and talk to him/her on a regular bases about how the weather has affected the crops, what’s ripening faster than expected and what insects are presenting a challenge. You get to be nosy with your personal farmer and ask about farming practices to ensure your food is the best quality it can possibly be. After all, isn’t getting the best why you’d hire your own personal farmer?

That’s a big reason why the Bounty Box includes a recipe of the week and posts a complete list of harvested foods on their website each week. They encourage you to get the most out of your CSA baskets by planning your meals around your CSA ingredients. A unique CSA, Bounty Box is a partnership between an organic greenhouse grower and a traditional field grower. Greenhouse growers Vivek Rajakumar and Alex Hlinyanszky of Victory Organics in St. Catharines start their CSA earlier in the spring with produce growing inside their greenhouses and they are able to continue much later into the fall, almost until Christmas.

But greenhouses cannot grow everything so Victory Organics have partnered with Jordan Fowler of For World Farm in Jordan who relies on Mother Nature to grow field watermelon, canning tomatoes, soybeans and popping corn. Bounty Box contributes the vegetables including lettuce mixes, cucumbers, radishes, Chinese cabbage, parsley, cilantro, dill, kale, beets, cucumbers and lots more.

Bounty Box has a unique starter program that allows newcomers to try the CSA concept to begin with very little investment upfront. But beware, once your kitchen starts to fill with fresh, farm picked produce, you’ll be hooked on the amazing flavours, freshness and little waste. “I don’t see why more people don’t do it,” shares David.

“If you look at what a fruit tray is worth at a grocery store, it’s expensive.” If you’re not sold on a CSA yet, Dave advises to compare a CSA with other food items you buy. “And you don’t know where the fruit in the tray comes from, what pesticides are on there and how green the fruit was when it was picked.” Comparing what you can buy for $20 a week is a good thing to do because chances are, you do much better with freshness, quality and flavour with a CSA. The best part of local food is that “the prices don’t rise when the Canadian dollar falls,” says Somerville.

After many years of running a CSA program, Arden Vaughn of Lake Land Meats will no longer offer her program, pity. But she will be a drop-off point for Bounty Box. This means when you’re picking up our CSA vegetables at Lake Land Meats, you can also pick up some amazing, all natural meats, poultry and fish. Lake Land is a virtual collection of the best artisan meat producers throughout Ontario under one roof.

Each CSA has terms, fees, amounts, delivery systems and vegetable varieties that are different and unique to the their circumstances so each deserve consideration when shopping around for a CSA. Some even go beyond vegetables and may include honey, farm fresh eggs, fruit from a neighbouring farm, jams, meat and other local ingredients.

A CSA is also about buying local, and buying local makes sense for many reasons. First it’s the exceptional freshness and flavour. Local food isn’t picked before it’s ripe, shipped, gassed and manhandled. It’s just hand picked, the earth shaken from it and laid in a basket – your basket, now that’s fresh and healthy.

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at www.lynnogryzlo.com.

For a CSA near you, visit www.ontariocsa.ca

Today Niagara’s CSA Directory

Bounty Box
Vivek or Alex from Victory Organics
111 Fourth Avenue, St. Catharines
905-359-9700

Chez Nous Farms
Rick or Shirley
2192 Stevensville Rd, Stevensville
905-382-1556

Creek Shore Farms
Amanda Thiessen
1167 Lakeshore Rd West St. Catharines
289-228-0697

Fairwind Farm
Leslie Thomas
5449 Michener Rd. Sherkston
905-894-6178

Kinsella’s Simply Organics
Debbie Kinsella
11323 Montrose Rd, Welland
289-696-7178

Sexsmith Farm Co-op
Debbie Sexsmith
2778 Dominion Road, Ridgeway
905-894-4690

Tree and Twig Heirloom Vegetable Farm
Linda Crago
74038 Regional Road #45, Wellandport
905-386-7388