It’s a Thursday afternoon in December. There’s snow on the ground and a chill in the air, but it’s cozy and cheerful inside as people pass through the store at Mapleton Organic to pick up their share of a bounty of fruits and vegetables, much of which has been picked fresh that day.
This is the first winter for a new local harvest foodshare project operated by Drayton area resident Martin Tamlyn. The project is built on the community supported agriculture (CSA) model which originated in Japan and Europe in the 1960s, before migrating to North America in the mid-80s. Tamlyn purchases food from local farmers in Mapleton and surrounding area, which is divided up between members of the cooperative, who pick up their goods every two weeks. Some crops, like potatoes and apples are harvested in the fall, while others, which come from a wood-fired greenhouse in Mapleton, are picked fresh for each pickup.
The benefits of this type of agriculture are numerous, says Tamlyn. Shareholders receive fresh produce grown by local farmers, food that “didn’t travel 10,000 miles to get to your table,” he notes.
“The taste is wonderful and the nutritional value is going to be a lot higher as well,” he states.
Farmers benefit from a guaranteed market for their products, without the chance of taking their food to a market and bringing it home unsold. Harvest foodshares are based on a concept of shared bounty and shared risk. Consumers purchase a share in the harvest at the beginning of the season and in turn receive a weekly portion of freshly harvested vegetables throughout the growing season. This arrangement provides farmers with the income they need at the beginning of the season when they are purchasing seeds and fixing equipment, and provides consumers with a steady supply of fresh, local produce grown by a farmer they know and trust.
“The consumer takes a bit of the risk of the crop as well,” Tamlyn explains.
Any gamble, however, seems to have been well worth it for the families picking up their fresh food on this day.
“We weren’t sure how much we could use,” said Shane Grace of Drayton, who split a share with some relatives in the winter co-op. “Next year we’re definitely going to take a full share ourselves.”
“It’s been excellent so far,” said Tannis Cowan, another Drayton resident whose family has a share. Cowan notes that, because the produce is so fresh when they pick it up, it lasts much longer than most store-bought fare.
Maximizing the value of your share does take some creativity, notes Angela Koops of Mapleton, who says her family is constantly trying new recipes utilizing produce they seldom, if ever, ate before. Koops, who brought her four children to the pick-up, said “the kids love it,” and enjoy eating the food they had a hand in gathering.
“Everyone loves that aspect of it. We just make it a part of what our family does together.”
Minto resident Caitlin Hall has been operating a spring-to-fall CSA (Reroot Organic), feeding about 65 families, from a garden at Mapleton Organic since 2007. Next year, she will be growing food at her own farm and hopes to have about 75 shareholders. A typical share, she says, is designed to feed a family of four, “or a couple of vegetarians.”
While CSA’s are “definitely more common in urban areas,” Halls says the concept is growing in the countryside, as town-dwellers pick up on the benefits of obtaining fresh local food on a regular basis.
Co-operative farming ventures don’t require huge tracts of land. Hall’s Reroot Organic is based on a 70-acre property, with three acres producing certified organic produce. More than 40 types of vegetables and herbs are grown, along with some fruit crops and cutflowers. They also raise chickens, turkeys, laying hens and pigs outdoors on pasture and keep honeybees to pollinate crops and produce honey. Future plans include adding an orchard, grass-fed beef cattle, and grass-fed lamb.
Both Hall and Tamlyn see a bright future for community supported agriculture.
“People like have a share because their interested in supporting local agriculture, they’re interested in good food and interested in doing something for the environment,” states Tamlyn.