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Community Supported Agriculture – There’s Education in Them There Hills

July 17, 2013

I am continuously striving to find ways to illustrate to my students (and my own children) where our food comes from and just what it takes to grow it.

No one will be surprised by the disconnect today’s generation has to their food and nutrition. Kids will tell their teachers that food comes from the shelves of the grocery store and even adults base a large part of their food knowledge on what they see on television through shows such as the Food Networks Food Factory or Pitchin In. Both shows are excellent in their own right but still lack the experiential piece that I as an outdoor educator feel is essential. I feel such documentary shows are great at making people ask questions they would not have asked previously but cannot always give the specific answers.

I’ve encouraged readers to visit the local farmers’ markets before and feel this is one step closer for the person growing the food is the person selling you the food. This does take out the middle man and you know you are buying locally. Having the producer of the food there as well can answer those questions you can’t ask a television screen as well. Yet, even here I feel there is something missing – and that is a sense of empathy.

However the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) I think has the potential of solving some of the issues the other pre-described options fail to achieve. It is a simple concept. You pay a local CSA farmer a set “share” and then partake in part of the harvest. The David Suzuki Foundation explains the concept very well with links here.

Last week I visited a local CSA operation. Mulberry Moon Farms just outside the Hamlet of Melville in Caledon. Alex and Kim, the farmers that run the farm were happy to show me around – even in the middle of a thunderstorm and discuss the concept of  CSA. By the end of the visit my family had purchased a share.

They lease the land from a local landowner (who is also a share holder). They work the field, tend the crops and once a week all the participating consumers can pick up their share. I could tell from the hour I spent with them they were passionate not only about the farm and what they do, even down to recipe ideas they gave shareholders each week – but were also interested in ways we could promote the CSA concept through education.

This is one of my main focuses – so I was happy to hear the excitement in their voices.

Why is this so beneficial from a learning point of view? Well, the answer is multi-faceted.

  •  One tends to pay attention to the weather and weekly growing conditions yourself as you will either benefit or lose out depending on what is happening.
  • There is opportunity to learn safe and productive farming practices
  • It allows people to be better informed as to why prices go up due to bad weather, infestations, or for other reasons.
  • Share holders will likely be introduced to new foods (and many, like Mulberry Moon will provide recipe ideas as well with each week’s pick up)
  • There is a potential for a mentoring process – especially for students interested in a hospitality, horticulture or agricultural career.
  • One is constantly involved in the growing process from the time you “buy in” until the season is over. You share in the successes and the challenges. Just like with good environmental education – it’s not just a “field trip” but one will continuously throw themself into in  the growing season which allows for knowledge to bloom as well.

From an Ontario EcoCentres point of view I think there is potential as well. CSA can be of benefit to organizations interested in CSR or Corporate Social Responsiblity.

For instance, our outdoor centres when hosting a PD session already will try and ensure whatever we are bringing for lunches is locally purchased foods. However, again, CSA goes one step further by emphasizing sustainable farming as a behaviour with peaks and valleys rather than just produce being a product. CSA’s in some areas already work with restaurants and others however for any company looking to increase CSR should be encouraged to look into how working with a local community supported farm will benefit their own goals.


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