Last spring, we happened upon Devon Acres Organic Farm when we put the call out for new spots to situate our beehives. It was a match made in heaven – our bees would have a safe, pesticide-free place to live and, in turn, would provide pollination services for the farm. Little did we know, at the point, that we would become part of the Devon Acres CSA family and that it would be far more than just a place to put some bees.
For those of you who don’t know, CSA refers to Community Supported Agriculture (not Canadian Space Agency) (although that would also be a cool club to join). Becoming a member of a CSA involves purchasing a share of a harvest before the season begins, which provides the farmer with capital for up-front costs like buying seeds and new equipment. Then, as the season progresses, you receive a share of what’s available each week. For those who really like to get involved, you can even get a working share where you get your hands dirty for a few hours each week in exchange for a discounted price for your share. That way, you can be a part-time farmer and really feel like part of the process!
Anyways, it’s mid-summer now and although it's early in the week, I’m already looking forward to Thursday, our pick-up day. There are so many reasons to love being a part of a CSA and I thought I’d give you my top seven. So here we go – the top seven reasons why we love our CSA at Devon Acres Organic Farm.
CONNECTION. Firstly, we love being more connected to our food. It’s the way our ancestors got their food, but we’ve come a long way from that farming way of life and are happy to reconnect through our simple participation in the CSA. For example, we pay attention to the weather, and wonder how it will affect our crops. There is risk involved in belonging to a CSA. There are no guarantees of harvest and return on investment. We take on the same risk as the farmer, which I welcome as a meaningful act of solidarity and connection. You know how you feel about the precious tomatoes you grow on the back deck? When you are invested in your food, you cherish it and you want to know everything you can about it. We walk the rows when visiting the farm, ask tons of questions and learn something new every time. Our farmers are also our friends, and we are grateful for the beautiful food they provide. When the food is beautiful, and you’ve watched it grow, and you’ve seen it plucked from the earth by kind people who take pride in producing such loveliness for you – well, you certainly begin to value your food in a whole new way. Robin Kirby and his family are interesting, kind and hardworking people and I am so glad to know them. I am also grateful that they have provided such a perfect home for my bees, and that I get to spend extra time out at the farm each week. It’s as close as I will get to having a farm of my own, at least for now.
EDUCATION. Our child is learning about food and agriculture. Henry is a picky eater, and I can’t say there have been any miracles in terms of his vegetable consumption, but he is learning. He is curious about food and where it all comes from, and the farm has been a wonderful learning opportunity for him. The eggs he eats come from the chickens and ducks he follows around the farm. He loves to help select a head of lettuce or bunch of kale, and he can’t wait for the tomatoes to ripen. In the late autumn, we take our spent jack-o-lanterns out to share with the sheep. Pumpkin-chucking will become an annual event for us! A drive out to Devon Acres is always such a delight for him and I know that will pay dividends down the road, as he gains an appreciation for sustainable farming and an understanding of where his food comes from. If I can’t give our child a farm to grow up on, going out to Devon Acres is the next best thing! When I see him running through a field, or hear his shrieks of delight as he chases a kitten or comes upon the ducks, my heart smiles. It’s the kind of wildhood I want for him.
DIVERSITY. I used to buy romaine lettuce at the grocery store. Romaine hearts in a plastic bag. Every time. If Russ went, he brought home leaf lettuce. Every time. Now, on any given Thursday evening, I am washing and storing away half a dozen different kinds of greens. We love the diversity of the food we are now consuming. Who knew there were so many kinds of kale?!? I had never had tomatillos before, and now look forward to them because I discovered a fantastic recipe for chicken and roasted tomatillo stew. You can find that recipe here. SO MUCH FLAVOUR! My salads contain so many tastes and textures that I may never buy a package of romaine hearts again. Even my salad dressing is more flavourful, after I made pesto with all those garlic scapes. It’s my go-to flavour-enhancer now and it is delicious.
NUTRITION. Membership in a CSA has definitely changed how we eat. We consume far more greens and other vegetables than we ever did before. Our bodies are thanking us for this valuable shift in consumption. Even still, it’s a challenge to use up all the vegetables before it’s time to go collect the next week’s share. It’s a bit of a game to figure out how we will get through it all before Thursday. But if we don’t, no worries. Then, I love squirrelling away food, like a pioneer woman. The freezer is full of chopped kale to add to winter’s sauces and stews. The pantry contains baskets of garlic and onions. Portioned bags of grated zucchini sit waiting in the freezer, and I will sneak them into muffins once Henry goes back to school and needs snacks in that lunchbag. Our food is real and our diet is healthy and we owe that to our CSA.
iSUSTAINABILITY. The folks at Devon Acres Organic Farm are doing things right. Their sustainable methods ensure that the food is safe and the land is nurtured and protected. At Devon Acres, they don’t even use tractors. Food is produced with the help of a few strong work horses and many hands in the field. We love knowing that we are getting organic food that has been cultivated with care and in a way that honours and protects the environment. I also love getting our eggs from Robin, because I know those chickens are happy and healthy. They are pastured chickens, and they love to come over and supervise me while I work with my bee hives. I reward their curiosity, occasionally, with bugs I find beneath my hives. We look forward to ordering beef next. I feel way better about buying meat from Robin than from anywhere else. And I can only assume that the proof will also be in the flavour.
FRESHNESS. Our veggies are so fresh that I now just shake my head sadly when I pass pathetic, plastic-wrapped vegetables in the grocery store. All our vegetables are just so crisp and full of flavour. For instance, nothing beats fresh, locally-grown garlic. Those perfect packages of garlic from China just make me nervous, and they have so little flavour compared to the stuff we get here. When we arrive to pick up our share on Thursday evenings, Robin or Aerron will head off to the field to pick my greens. They don’t want them to sit even for an hour if they can deliver them to us fresh from the field! Our vegetables come right out of the earth and right into my Kenyan market bag. One day recently, I was just leaving the farm, having spent the afternoon working in the hives, when Robin chased me down to hand me a bunch of garlic through the window of my car. Now that’s some fresh food drive-thru! I can’t promise that he will do that for everyone. I might just be his favourite.
COMMUNITY. The community aspect of our CSA has been a surprise benefit for us. Each week, we cross paths with the same gang of people, who like us, value the food and friendship they have found at Devon Acres. Robin was the one to introduce me to Jeremy from The Kitchen restaurant, where they now use and sell my honey. Henry loves to run and find Aerron’s young boys, who will lead him around the farm and show him something new and wonderful every week. Russ loves to chat with Robin, about anything and everything. You’d be surprised to know just how much in common they have, as farming and biochemistry intersect in fascinating ways. If I see Bree, we chat about how our bees are doing and what we will do to treat mites this year. Other CSA members are curious to learn about the bees and will follow me back to the yard to watch the bees shooting out of their hives, still busy gathering nectar in the twilight hours. In the fall, we gathered together one weekend for a harvest potluck and it was a magical evening of food and laughter, singing and exploring the farm together. The kids ran wild until we struggled to find them in the dark and it was time to head home. We had all come together, to gather around tables under the tangerine sky and savour the food that had come from the fields around us. It was meaningful and beautiful and the way it is meant to be. I loved that evening so much.
So there you have it. So many reasons to love our CSA. I hope you can find an opportunity to participate in one yourself, because there are so many benefits. It’s one way that we can re-establish a connection between ourselves and the food that nourishes us. And it’s a way to support your local organic farmer who is struggling to do things right in an era of efficiency and short-cuts and heavy competition. If we don’t support those who work to feed us, we will lose our local sources of food altogether. There is too much at stake not to come alongside our farmers and participate in their efforts to produce safe, quality food for us. So check out your local CSA! I promise that you will love it.