Live Well, Do Good

Shared Agriculture: A Growing Notion

Brandon Sun, June 3, 2007 - David McConkey

Apples, beets, carrots . . .  radishes, squash, tomatoes . . .  zucchini. This is an alphabet sampling of the delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables that are available to the Community Shared Agriculture participants in Brandon.

Community Shared Agriculture – or CSA – is similar to a farmers’ market, except that consumers pay for a share of the farmer’s production in advance. A box of produce is then picked up every week during the season – from early July until late September.

(The concept is also known as Community Supported Agriculture - also CSA.)

Consumers share in the vagaries of the farming year.

“We grow a wide variety of vegetables,” says local CSA producer Norah Tolmie, “but you never know what you’re going to get.”

Last year’s dry hot summer, for example, was poor for peas but excellent for winter squash.

Last year, my wife and I participated by buying a share of the production of the local market gardens of Menno and Evelyn Isaac and Linda Boys. We were very impressed with the freshness, variety, and beautiful presentation of the produce every week.

The Isaacs have been doing CSA for more than ten years. Menno says they have found it “very enjoyable,” adding that they get to know their customers even more than at the farmers’ market, which they also do.

“It has been a real pleasure to sell to people who are so appreciative,” Menno says.

CSA is so much more than a commercial exchange. It is a way to bring the farm and city closer together, and nurture a sustainable – and friendly – agriculture. Producers are fairly rewarded and food is produced according to organic principles.

CSA is a refreshing learning experience. Consumers get to know the producers personally. City customers are invited to visit and even help out at their local farm. Recipes and ideas are shared.

Menno Isaac, for example, grows a total of 15 varieties of potatoes, and last year included six of them with his CSA produce.

The Isaacs have also opened up their farm to participants in the “World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.” This international organization provides a chance for people to learn about organic farming by actually doing it. At their Brandon-area farm, the Isaacs have hosted people from Japan, Korea, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere.

Last summer, young Manitoba interns Sheri Blaylock and Kent Pongoski worked at the Isaac’s. Blaylock found the experience “absolutely educational in every way.” She hopes to set up an organic farm in the near future, and would like to see other young people get involved and realize that a small organic farm can be a way of making a living in Manitoba.

“I’m looking at it as a career, and a lifestyle,” she says.

I think that Blaylock is onto something here. The trend is towards not only organic food, but also local food - like the “100 Mile Diet” concept.

More distant sources of food are encountering more customer scrutiny and skepticism. (China is now a major provider of the organic-labeled food in our supermarkets.)

I can see expanded opportunities for young people who want to get into farming, as these organic vegetable farms need only be a few acres in size. CSA – as well as farmers’ markets – help to increase the agricultural understanding and potential of the Westman region.

Brandon consumers who would like to participate in CSA this year can contact local producer Aagaard Farms, operated by Jes Aagaard and Norah Tolmie. (The Isaacs will not have a CSA component in their market garden operation this year.)

A full share (three or four people) costs $300; a part share (one or two people) is $200. The phone number of Aagaard Farms is 204-727-3788. They can accommodate about 30 families. For the do-it-yourselfer, they also offer a few garden plots for rent.

Community Shared Agriculture in Brandon is a wholesome enhancement to the consumer’s supper table; as well as to the environment, the economy, and the community.

* * *  

See also:

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