July 18, 2013

The Potential of ECV in CSAs

            “Local food” is now a common term as the Local Food Movement is becoming increasingly popular.  Right in the grocery store consumers can search for the green and white Foodland Ontario symbol.  Options also include buying directly from the farmers at the farm gate or by attending bustling farmers markets.  Gardens are a do-it-yourself kind of local that can be done even in the city.  Another way to buy local that is gaining more interest is the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA). 


            If you have never heard of CSAs, you are probably having a similar reaction as I did a few months ago: staring at the screen with a look of confusion as you rack your brain for a combination of words that would make sense with the abbreviation.  “What are CSAs exactly?” you may ask eventually. Typically CSAs are small and group owned farms with labour intensive processes.  At the beginning of the season consumers pay a set fee, providing the farmer with a budget for inputs. As the season progresses the consumer is provided with a weekly seasonal basket of fresh local food that is either delivered or picked up.  Depending on the farm, baskets can contain vegetables, fruit, meats, eggs, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, and flowers. The farmer and the consumer share the risks (eg. weather) and benefits (eg. harvest) of farming.  There are many benefits that CSAs can offer such as reduced energy and environmental costs from international imports (Fieldhouse, 1996), education and training for consumers and volunteers, high quality food, consumer input and feedback to farmers, increased rural and community development, increased freshness, and increased demand for local goods and services.  Some downfalls of CSAs may include organization difficulties, labour intensive processes, and timing challenges.  


            One of the benefits of CSAs that I found particularly interesting was food security (Fieldhouse,1996).  Over the course of the summer I have been learning a lot about food security and what it means.  It involves not only having access to enough affordable food, but food that is culturally appropriate and acceptable to the individual who consumes it (Government of Canada, 1998, p.9).  A study performed in Toronto found that immigrants desire fresh food they recognize from their country of origin (Koc, & Welsh, 2001). The problem is that ethnic vegetables that are available are often imported and of low quality (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, 2012).  If a key value of CSAs is food security it appears that they need to produce increasing amounts of ethnic food. I was surprised to find CSAs that are doing just that.  Ontario growers may not be able to grow all types of ethnic produce due to the cooler climate, but already CSAs near Guelph are growing ethnic vegetables alongside more Western produce.  For example:


The Ignatius Farm CSA just outside of Guelph offers Asian greens and eggplant, and more (http://www.ignatiusguelph.ca/csa/docs/2012%20Farm%20Brochure.pdf). 


Whole Circle Farm CSA near Acton, ON offers ethnic options such as bok choi, napa cabbage, chard, eggplant, khlrabi, hot peppers, and more (http://www.wholecirclefarm.ca).


Re-Root Farm near Harriston grows arugula, Asian greens, celeriac, cilantro, daikon, eggplant, kohlrabi, and more (http://www.reroot.ca).


Drumlin Farm CSA south east of Guelph grows a variety of herbs commonly used in ethnic dishes, collards, edamame, eggplant, pak choy, jalapeno peppers, cayenne peppers, chile peppers, sweet potatoes, tat soi, and more (http://www.drumlinfarm.ca/).


            Even though most of the CSA baskets still contain mostly produce from Western origins, CSAs are making headway.  A unique aspect of CSAs is the communication that can occur between consumers and the farmer.  The people who buy shares are able to have a say in what is planted and how it will be distributed (Fieldhouse, 1996).  The process may be slow, but ethnic buyers may encourage farmers to continue to experiment with ethnic vegetables in small quantities that can fit within their budget.  The CSAs give farmers the opportunity to experiment with ethnic vegetables that can grow in Canada and under what conditions, while sharing the risk with the consumers that are demanding the ethnic produce. 


              Not only do CSAs have the potential to encourage food security and growth of ethnic vegetables in Ontario, CSAs can also increase the public’s knowledge of ethno-cultural vegetables and ethnic foods in general.  Before becoming an Undergraduate Research Assistant this summer, I was working in a small town grocery store as a cashier.  Every so often my boss would tell me to take a good look at the newly arrived vegetables so I knew what they were when the rare customer bought them.  Those new arrivals would include vegetables like chayote squash, okra, taro root, daikon, and many other vegetables I’d never heard of prior to this summer.  Even vegetables such as cassava, egg plant and bok choy that the store carried majority of the time (in small quantities) were seldom purchased.  An overwhelming majority of people skip right by these vegetables if they don’t know what they are.  Most people can’t be bothered to figure out how to cook such vegetables.  In CSAs consumers are often exposed to new produce.  When CSAs grow ethnic vegetables there is potential to create public awareness of ethnic foods.  Often CSAs will provide nutritional information and recipes to consumers. The CSA consumers are introduced to produce they wouldn’t necessarily try when shopping in a grocery store, as a result their knowledge increases.  Even though CSAs are small scale, they have potential to increase food security, to experiment growing ethnic vegetables in Ontario, and increase public awareness of ethno-cultural vegetables.


Check out the following websites to find a CSA near you:

            Guelph Region: http://www.guelphwellingtonlocalfood.ca/csa

            All of Ontario: http://csafarms.ca/CSA%20farmers.htm




Adekunle, B., Filson, F., Sethuratnam, S. (2012).  Culturally appropriate vegetables and    economic development. A contextual analysis. Appetite, 59(1), 148-154. Retrieved from             http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666312001274


Government of Canada. (1998). Canada’s action plan for food security. Ottawa, ON. Retrieved   from http://www.agr.gc.ca/misb/fsec-seca/pdf/action_e.pdf


Koc, M., & Welsh, J. (2001). Food, foodways and immigrant experience.  Department of Canadian Heritage at the Canadian Ethnic Studies Association Conference. Retrieved             from http://canada.metropolis.net/EVENTS/ ethnocultural/publications/aliments_e.pdf


Fieldhouse, P. (1996). Community shared agriculture. Agriculture and Human Values, 13(3),        43-47. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF01538226#



Morgan Sage, Undergraduate Research Assistant (URA)


SEDRD, University of Guelph
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