Healing Gaia

Community Supported Agriculture in Hamilton

CSAs are a partnership. Consumers support the local men and women who feed us every day by sharing the risks as well as celebrating the times of plenty.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published March 30, 2015

It's spring! Well, at least that's what my calendar tells me, although the weather isn't cooperating. It's also time for farmers to begin planning what they'll plant, nurture and harvest this year. Unfortunately, many consumers have become so removed from the idea of eating locally, let alone eating in season, that they don't give the people who feed them much thought.

Twenty years ago I was working on a project that introduced me to genetically modified foods with their questionable efficacy and the use of growth hormones like bovine somatotropin that 'helped' cows produce more milk even though Canadian dairy farmers were consistently out-producing their quotas.

I was not an advocate of monoculture as it seemed that a growing number of farmers were unable to feed themselves and their families because of their reliance on the mass production of one crop.

A single crop tends to make the soil prone to nutrient deficiencies and crops susceptible to infestations. It was concerning that farmers growing my food were often unable to be financially self-reliant and required a second job off-farm to supplement their income.

While looking for alternatives to shopping at monolithic grocery stores, I discovered Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). In 1994 I joined my first CSA located in Scotland, Ontario.

Each March the farmer would meet with the members to listen to suggestions of foods we would like in our weekly food boxes. At that time, each member would pay for half of the cost of the season, which would run from May until October - and sometimes through the winter, depending on the root vegetable supply.

This payment was used by the farmer to purchase seeds and very low-tech equipment for the season. July is when I would pay the rest of my account.

A variety of standard food boxes were offered at a range of prices but each could be customized. I added more fruits and vegetables, free range brown eggs, dairy products, organic meats and chicken from local producers, and even fair trade organic coffee. In the winter months, our farmer traded his goods for oranges and other foods to supplement our food boxes.

CSAs are a partnership. Consumers support the local men and women who feed us every day by sharing the risks as well as celebrating the times of plenty.

Hamilton and the surrounding area is home to worthwhile CSA ventures. Two suggestions are:

1. Common Ground Teaching Farm: Started by Michael Mikulak Common Ground offers vegetables, fruit and canned preserves. In addition, Michael offers workshops on gardening, canning, DIY skills, as well as custom built edible landscape and garden consultations, pizza and movie nights. Local food boxes are delivered by bicycle within Hamilton and truck delivery is available to customers living in Burlington.

2. Plan B Organic Farms: Established in 1997 by Rodrigo Venturelli, Alvaro Venturelli and Melanie Golba. Located in Flamborough, Plan B Organic Farm is Certified Organic by OCCP-Pro-Cert Canada. With delivery throughout Hamilton, Halton and Toronto this CSA offers a variety of payment options that are extremely accommodating. Don't worry if you find a unique vegetable in your weekly box because great recipes are always available on their web site.

If you're not quite ready to make the commitment to join a CSA, try buying from the Hamilton Farmer's Market or find a local farmer at a neighbourhood farmer's market near you.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted March 30, 2015 at 22:32:39

Two other great CSA's are Backyard Harvest by Russ Ohrt and Simpler Thyme Organic Farm, headed by Ann Lanigan.

Russ' share is chronically oversubscribed because it's just so good. Despite the fact that it would cost me more money, I keep suggesting that he raise his prices until demand no longer exceeds supply. The only way to get fresher vegetables than from Russ is from your own garden. He also sells through the Locke St. farmers' market.

Ann stopped delivering a few years ago, so if you get a share from her you have to pick it up on Highway 6 North, but her share has the best selection of produce I've ever seen in a CSA. She also sells eggs and vegetables at the farm gate and sources meat from organic farms (the lamb from Craigmeadow Keig is awesome, and at $5.50/lb dressed weight it's not terribly expensive) and organizes bulk dry goods orders from Grain Process.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 01, 2015 at 09:12:41 in reply to Comment 110776

We've been share members with Backyard Harvest for a few years and are consistently delighted with it. Russ and company literally grow the food in backyards throughout Strathcona and Kirkendall neighbourhoods.

Simpler Thyme is also a wonderful community resource. I think Ann is only half-joking when she says her long-term goal is to put herself out of a job by helping urban residents become more self-sufficient in food production.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 31, 2015 at 23:24:23 in reply to Comment 110776

Thanks for the info. Intrigued by the lamb from Craigmeadow Keig. That's a good price for what would be a whole lamb(?). Do they butcher into prime or smaller cuts?

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted March 31, 2015 at 23:40:06 in reply to Comment 110792

You should get on Ann's mailing list. Email her at simpler_thyme@hotmail.com

The price of the lamb is higher, but still reasonable, if you buy individual cuts. If you buy a whole lamb, they'll butcher it to your specs.

She also sources really good pork from Kingsholm, but it's more expensive.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 31, 2015 at 23:29:16

Interesting piece. Kind of knew about CSA, but not really. Thanks for the overview, explanation, and discussion of local options.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 02, 2015 at 10:54:32

Just ran into Russ from Backyard Harvest walking down the street with a root-tiller. Such a great neighbour and natural food grower. A massive part of our neighbourhood fabric and community spirit here in Strathcona. Definitely worth considering purchasing a share from him if you're in Hamilton.

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