Thursday, April 23, 2009

CSA Baskets

It's that time again. In fact, it's probably pretty close to past that time. I'm talking about signing up for summer community supported agriculture (CSA) baskets, of course.

With its roots in Europe, CSA rapidly expanded to North America in the 1980s. In came to Montreal about 10 years ago thanks to the efforts of Equiterre, a non-profit organisation promoting ecological and socially-just initiatives. CSA encourages local farms to use sustainable agricultural practices and encourages the community to get involved in local farms. It does this by creating a direct link between the local farmer and the consumer or community. The consumer benefits by having direct access to fresh, local produce at an affordable price, and farmers are guaranteed buyers willing to pay a fair price for their crops.

So how does community supported agriculture work? The consumer chooses a local farm and agrees to buy a certain amount of the farm's harvest. The consumer then partly pays the farmer in advance for the produce, which is delivered weekly to his home or a local drop-off spot. The produce that is delivered will vary each week, according to the farmer's harvest, and will also vary from farm to farm. The consumer is now a partner in the farm's operation and is often invited and encouraged to spend time on the farm, either by helping out, participating in harvest festivals, or just dropping by to say "hi" and see how the farm operates.

In the Montreal area, CSA is extremely well organised: Finding a farm to participate in is relatively easy. Every year, Equiterre make available a list of farms (french) through a searchable database on its website who are actively seeking partners. All you have to do is match your a farm with a convenient drop-off and make contact with the appropriate farm. Each week, at the locations and time specified, you show up and pick up your basket of farm-fresh, organic produce or meats.

The cost per basket varies from about $10/week for a simple single-person produce basket, to $38/week for a gourmet basket suitable for a family. Meat baskets cost more and often function on a slightly different system. A lot of farms have more interested participants than they have produce available. Many farms fill their available spots by the end of April.

Equiterre estimates that by buying directly from the farm, participants are not only supporting small, local, family farms but that they are also paying 10% to 50% less for their organic produce than they would have at the supermarket, and supporting sustainable agricultural practices. Not to mention the fact that we know exactly where your food is coming from! Farms in the Equiterre network are all certified organic, or they are in the process of obtaining their certification. This means that none of the farms use pesticides or synthetic fertilisers, and that they use sustainable farming methods.


Ros said...

Interesting blog concept! :)

I'm looking into that for this summer - the coop across the street from my place is the drop-off point for Mange-Tout, Zephyr, and Ferme Morgan (for organic meat). Have you dealt with any of those? Recommendations?

Amanda said...

Thanks. I'm familiar with Ferme Morgan and have bought meat from them at the weekly farmer's market in Val David. They're based in Weir, I believe. I haven't visited their farm though. I haven't tried their CSA service though. The other two I'm not familiar beyond there names. If you sign up for any of the CSAs, let me know what you think.