Community supported agriculture (CSA) is growing on Salt Spring Island. Demand for high-quality produce and food coupled with people’s desire for more involvement in the food production process has pushed the small community farm into the spotlight.
CSA is a subscription-based model of farming that allows the eater to have a closer relationship to the farmer. Subscribers pay at the beginning of the year for access to the food, which the farmer uses as start-up costs for the year’s work. In exchange for this, the subscriber gets a portion of the farmer’s harvest. This portion is either delivered weekly, or can be picked up at the farm, depending on the type of CSA.
The farmers benefit by sharing the cost of farm upkeep and labour with the consumer, while the consumer benefits by having access to fresh organic vegetables and other food products. CSAs build a sense of community by allowing people to engage with and get excited about the food they are consuming.
Zack Hemstreet and Molly Smith run a CSA farm on Salt Spring Island. They are going into their ninth season at Bullock Lake Farm, and have been running a CSA program for the entire time they’ve been here. Theirs is what Hemstreet calls an “east coast” style, where people pick up their portion at the farm once per week. This allows people to meet their farmers and experience the farm.
“For us, bringing people there and engaging with them is kind of the point of the whole thing,” he said. “I don’t know that I would want to run a CSA that did delivery or decentralized that process. For us that’s not very appealing.”
By engaging with the people who are supporting their farm, CSA farmers have a chance to get to know people on a one-to-one basis. Chef Sadhana Berkow works on Singing Bird Farm with her husband Clayton Houghland. They get to know their neighbours, can teach them about the foods they’re eating and make food be a part of a community again.
“A lot of people are going more towards this because they’re knowing where their food comes from and then they get to develop a personal relationship with the farmer,” Berkow said. “This helps them be more connected to the food and when you’re more connected to the food, the land and the farmer, there is a funny thing that happens. That food ends up nourishing you more.”
Feeding oneself has become a solitary act, with many meals being eaten in cubicles and in front of the television. Instead of the anonymity of the grocery aisle, CSA members get to form personal relationships with the people who feed them.
“Getting to know who is growing your food is essentially like getting to know who is caring for your family,” said Hemstreet. “People want to have that.”
Getting food from a CSA is healthy. Since CSAs run throughout the growing season, the crops people get change depending on what is in season at that time. Instead of bigger factory farms that grow one crop for the whole year, a CSA farm’s harvest has to be ready weekly.
“It really allows us to grow a huge diversity of crops. We try to tailor that every year with what our members say they want. Then I try to insist that they are going to learn to love puntarelle [a bitter variety of chicory] and some of them will and some of them won’t,” he said. “We do have quite a lot of people who really want fresh vegetables, unique vegetables, things that you can’t get at the store. A lot of people, for whatever reason — be it health or wellness — want organic food.”
For more on this story, see the Feb. 28, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.