Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sharing the CSA Bounty

It's always difficult tackling the issue of fresh food accessibility. It's so important that everyone be able to afford and access healthy, fresh produce. It's also important that the solution presented isn't that farmers sell their food more cheaply. Trying to solve urban poverty by creating more rural poverty doesn't help strengthen our food system at all!
I've tried to find creative ways of making our excesses of fresh vegetables more broadly accessible in Kitchener-Waterloo without shouldering the cost of donations too heavily myself. This is done through donations of our CSA leftovers each week, and the creation of our Member Supported Community Shares fund which provides subsidized shares using a pool of money donated by CSA members. Here's how they work this year:
CSA Leftovers
CSA leftovers each week include any shares not picked up, as well as the extra items we harvest for the Choice Table to make sure the last arrivals still have good options to choose between. Tuesday donations go to St. John’s Kitchen – a community kitchen run by The Working Centre downtown Kitchener that provides lunch for up to 300 people from all walks of life. Most of the work of St. John's - the preparing of meals, the sharing of friendships, and the distribution of food - builds on people looking after each other, contributing what they can and being actively involved in productive work.  Friday’s vegetables are delivered to Welcome Home Refugee Housing Community by an extremely generous member each week. This community exists to provide short-term housing to new refugee arrivals and provides assistance with settlement and advocacy to help newcomers engage locally. On weeks with particularly large donation amounts, some may also go to the Ray of Hope Community Centre which provides a place of safety and support (as well as a hot meal!) to those struggling through poverty and homelessness in the core of downtown Kitchener.

Member Supported Community Shares
This year we had a whopping total of $2,895 donated by members to our subsidy fund!! AMAZING! We’ve used this fund to offer sliding scale memberships to 19 households with limited incomes including those on Social Assistance, under-employed, new Canadians, students and others with financial limitations that would otherwise have made CSA memberships quite challenging.

Thanks to our generous CSA members for helping share the veggie bounty more broadly in our community.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A farmer's winter life

I get asked a lot what I do with myself in the winter. The short answer is a glorious "a lot less than in the summer!!" but even seasonal vegetable farming is at least 1/2 time work all winter long. Here's some of what I spend my time at:

Crop Planning
  • SO MANY SPREADSHEETS - CSA share plans, greenhouse seeding plans, field planting plans, crop rotation plans....
Fertility and Soil Health Management
  • analysing fall soil tests
  • researching soil health techniques & strategies
  • calculating amounts for each soil and plant amendment
  • ordering & sourcing amendments such as compost, micro-nutrients, and other foods for plants and microbes

Sales & Marketing
  • strategizing revenue streams for the upcoming season
  • developing CSA registration forms and managing registrations
  • flyer design & delivery and other promotions
  • responding to queries from members & potential members
  • website overhauls, facebook posting etc
  • selling any remaining storage crops...bit by bit...

  • advertising, interviewing & hiring interns & staff
  • coordinating volunteers
  • budgeting, budgeting & re-budgeting
  • taxes & bookkeeping clean-up from the previous season...ugh
  • you might be shocked how much time it takes to track & deposit CSA payments from >200 members!!
Tools, Equipment & Supplies
  • researching & purchasing new equipment & tools (BIG JOB!! It's shockingly hard to find appropriate equipment for a small-scale farm)
  • maintenance and repair of existing tools & equipment
  • ordering field supplies like row cover, bins, irrigation bits, seedling trays etc
Continuing Education & Dreaming....
  •  this year, 4 organic sector/eco-farming conferences, various workshops and a heap of books
  • dreaming, scheming, strategizing, re-focusing, re-conceiving... all that great energizing stuff!
  • takin' care of the ladies!
  • managing the cooler so the storage veg don't freeze, dry out or overheat!
  • keeping a 700' laneway cleared of snow!!

 And, of course, a part-time job off farm & - thankfully - still lots of blessed, blessed rest.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why members join & stay with CSAs

As usual, we sent out member surveys this year. One of the things I try to get a sense of is what drives members to join CSAs, and what keeps them around. Here's some insight from this year's member surveys (50% response rate). Note that I removed the "Not Particularly" and "N/A" categories to keep the chart a little simpler to read:

How important are the following to you in motivating your choice to join a CSA?
Tuesday members (Kitchener pick-up):

Friday members (on farm pick-up):

As usual, eating locally outweighs eating organically. I remained concerned that people don't fully understand the difference... I was extremely pleased to see how important supporting a farmer's livelihood seems to be! What awesome members I've got!

How important are the following to you in your CSA experience?

Tuesday members (Kitchener pick-up):

Friday members (on farm pick-up):

"Involving my children" is a bit skewed, since it had a much higher N/A response rate than any other categories.

Look at how important having some choice is!! This is an option our CSA offers that is beyond the classic CSA model. I, too, like feeling more confident that members are ending up with food they'll actually eat, rather than worrying that I'm just growing food for their compost piles.

Not surprisingly, quality and organics rank high. As does being connected to the food story - awesome!