It’s almost April, and everywhere you turn people are planning their gardens – mapping out plots, ordering seeds. It’s enough to make a yardless city gal a little bit jealous, and I know I’m not the only one experiencing garden envy.
For those of us who can’t grow our own food (or who have ambitious plans in April that never seem to include weeding in the 30°C temperatures of August), the next best thing is to find our very own farmer who will do it for us – weeding included.
Spring is also when farmers start planning their upcoming growing season and is the perfect time for customers looking to get involved with a Community Shared Agriculture(CSA) programme to find a farmer to work with.
CSA farms work on the premise of “shared bounty, shared risk”. Customers (or co-producers) buy a share or subscription to the coming year’s harvest for a set amount. If the harvest is poor, they get less, but if the harvest is plentiful, they receive more in their weekly shares. Their pre-paid subscription allows the farmer to budget expenses, and pay themselves and their staff enough money to live on for the year. This system also allows city-based co-producers to support local Ontario farmers, help build communities, and gain access to fresh, seasonal food, usually at a fraction of the cost of supermarkets.
But how does one go about finding a CSA farmer to work with?
After a successful inaugural event last year, Slow Food Toronto is again hosting The Farm to Home Fair this coming Saturday at the Gladstone Hotel. CSA farmers will be available so potential customers can meet with them and get more information about their farm, their products and the details of joining their CSA.
Miriam Streiman, one of the Slow Food Toronto organizers responsible for putting the event together explains, “The hope is this year, the public will feel a sense of urgency in supporting producers, and purchase their share or half share right then and there. The timing at the end of March is also a reminder that growing will begin shortly and by supporting producers right before the growing season begins is an investment in local, delicious, sustainable food.”
Last year’s list of 15 producers has grown to 23 this time around, and includes not just fruit and vegetables but farmers such as Stoddart Family Farm offering meat shares, as well as Ruth Klahsen’s Monforte Dairy, where co-producers can join an innovative program in which an initial investment offers a 50% return in the form of Monforte’s fabulous cheese, once the new facilities are completed early next year.
The fair has also made room for community groups and food advocacy organizations such as Local Food Plus, Toronto Farmers Market Network and Not Far From the Tree, a group that will come to people’s homes and harvest fruit from the trees on their property.
Participants will also have items available for sale, giving attendees the opportunity to try some of their products before committing to a subscription, and businesses such as Culinarium (who offer their own CSA-style grocery subscriptions) and Chocosol will be taking part as well.
Attendees will also have the chance to sample some seasonal and local snacks by Gladstone Hotel executive chef Marc Breton. Last year’s delights included mushroom pastries, beet caviar, smoked trout, pulled pork sandwiches and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
The event finishes off with a buffet dinner where Chef Breton will create a seasonal feast (no easy task in March) featuring products from the participating Farm to Home producers. Attendees will share a table with the farmers and food artisans who grew and created their food. (Note – dinner may be sold out by publication time.)
Depending on how much you love playing in the dirt, a CSA might not completely replace the average yardless city-slicker’s garden envy, but it’s by far the next best thing to growing your own grub. Supporting a local farmer does a lot more than just put great food on the table. And I am positive that anyone with an itchy green thumb willing to drive out to their CSA farm to help pull up thistles – especially in the summer heat – would be welcomed with open arms.
The Farm to Home Fair runs from 1pm – 4:30pm on Saturday March 28th at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen Street West). Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids (a family play area will be available).
And to help interested readers get a head start on choosing a CSA, here’s a list of participating producers:
Kawartha Ecological Growers
Stoddart Family Farm
Local Food Plus
J and C Nyman Farms
Twin Creeks Organic Farm
Not Far From the Tree
Triple Cord CSA, Hope Eco Farms
Cooper’s CSA and Maze
Plan B Organics
Toronto Farmer’s Market Network
Spring Arbour Farm
Whole Earth Farm Studio
Forbes Wild Food
Slow Food Toronto