Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Ins and Outs of Local Produce

One of the things I love most about living in the Waterloo Region is how easy it is to eat local. We are so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing farms and farmers. There are also many avenues in which to access local produce from farmer's markets to CSA shares, and they all have benefits and 'draw backs.' Though it may seem a bit early to start thinking about how you will be accessing your fresh, local produce this coming Spring and Summer, but this is the time that CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares are now available for sign up. So, here is the experience I've had with the various options.

The CSA Share

This will be our 3rd year being involved with a CSA. There are a variety of farms that offer CSA shares, however, I have personally been using Henceforth Farms and have been very impressed. The way a CSA works is, every week for a set amount of weeks (Henceforth is 20 weeks) you get a haul
An example of a weekly share.
of freshly harvested, organic produce. Usually, at the start the share is on the 'smaller' side and grows as harvest season gets into full swing. Over last summer we received lots of lettuces, field greens, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, leeks, kohlrabi, zucchini, and so much more. At the end of the season, heading into fall, the produce moves into more squashes, pumpkins and late harvest produce. 

Using a CSA is a very cost effective way to access local, organic produce. It works out to under $25 a week for the share, which is very inexpensive for the amount you receive each week, there were weeks where it would cost that much just to buy the same amount of organic field greens and spinach at Zehr's! Payment is made before the season starts which is what funds the farmer to grow the produce. Pick ups are done at a set location the same day/time each week. This could be a challenge depending on your schedule. The other 'draw back' is that you don't have a selection in what you receive each week, whatever is harvested is what you get. Though, I listed this as a drawback, I actually find this a perk- it has allowed us to try veggies (like kohlrabi) that we wouldn't normally seek out. However, because you can't select what you need, you do end up supplementing the share. Often, shares come in a variety of sizes (and prices), we generally select the smaller share with the expectation that we will supplement what we receive. This way, I can still meal plan and anything that doesn't come in the share that I may need for a recipe, I will simply pick up. For more info about CSA's you can check out our Wellness Wednesday Interview with Stephen of Henceforth Farms:

Pro

  • Great way to access local organic produce directly from farmers and support small farms
  • Very cost effective option
  • Always fresh in season veggies
  • Great way to be exposed to produce you otherwise wouldn't try
Cons


  • Pick up can be a challenge depending on where you live/transportation/schedule
  • No selection in what you get each week

The Farm Store

Visiting the farm directly is another great way to access local produce and know where your food comes from. Not all farms have a farm store, especially vegetable farms, however, it is actually pretty common for meat producing farms to have a farm store on site. Henceforth does have a farm store, and since they are linked with Reroot Farms, also offer organic, pastured meats as well as all their veggies. However, since their farm is in Minto, it's not super accessible from KW. One of my favourite farm stores is Brookfront Farms located in New Dundee. Brookfront offers fresh fruits, vegetables and meats like beef, chicken and pork. Their meats are local, pastured and amazing. Their beef is 100% grassfed and honestly the best beef we have ever had, and the price is very reasonable. Most meat producing farms sell in huge quantities, which can make this option a lot less accessible, however, Brookfront offers an array of different packages from individual cuts to beef boxes to full cows. This also gives you an opportunity to try out the product first. There are many local farms in the area that offer produce and meats directly on site, a quick google search will give you an array of options or check out Food Link which has many of the local farms listed as well as parameters for searching, such as by product or how it was grown (ie. organic).

Pro

  • Another great way to access local produce directly from the farm/farmer
  • Control over what you get each week (though still limited to what is in season/harvested)
  • Often better pricing than going through a retailer
Con
  • Access can be a challenge depending on where you live/transportation
  • Pricing is usually higher than a CSA

The Farmer's Market

A visit to St Jacob's Farmers Market is definitely a staple of living in KW. The array of options and availability at the market is amazing. So much selection in one place means in one simple trip you can find literally everything you need (and probably a few
things you didn't...haha). This is a great option for getting local produce and pricing is often quite reasonable (though not as good as a CSA box). And it's not just St Jacobs- there are farmers markets throughout the Tri Cities and in Guelph. However, the market is not limited to local producers. Anyone can rent a site at the market and sell produce, so if you are visiting the market because you are looking for LOCAL produce, you do have to be careful. A recent CBC expose showed that many of the booths at farmer's markets are actually selling imported food the same as you would get at a grocery store. To be honest, I did not find this shocking. Often times when visiting the market, I would see certain booths unloading produce from the exact same boxes they unload produce from at the big box grocery stores. This is why speaking to the farmers or people at the booths is important to get a sense of where the food is actually coming from and how it is produced. Also, be a savvy shopper- a few times I was less than convinced by the answers I received and chose to move along to another booth.

Pro
  • Quite accessible
  • Control over what you get each week
  • Great way to meet local farmers/farms and support them
Con
  • You may not actually be buying directly from a farmer or even locally
  • Pricing is often higher than using a CSA or farm store due to overhead

Online Farmer's Market

Online farmer's markets are becoming more and more popular. Two of the more popular options here in KW are Sustainable Market and Bailey's Local Foods. The way these markets work is, early in the week online ordering opens, you log into your account and you will find a list of all available produce from each of the farms that is in collaboration with the market. The farms will list what produce they will have available and the cost. You simply select what you would like to order and from what farms and then one day a week there is a designated pick up location where you go and collect everything you ordered (tables are set out with all of the produce displayed by farm). Unlike a CSA box, you get to select what you want and only pay for that, though the cost is higher than a CSA. Sustainable will even have your order organized and ready to simply grab and go. And it's not just limited to farms- they also offer baked goods from local bakeries, chocolates from local chocolatiers and fresh pressed juices from local juicers, among others. 

Pro
  • Great way to support local farmers/farms and businesses
  • Complete selection over what you get each week as well as from which producers
  • Access to an array of various products
  • Easy ordering from the comfort of your own home
Con
  • Pricing is often higher than using the farm/CSA directly
  • Pick up/transportation may be a challenge
All of these options are great ways to access local produce and to support your local farm/farmer. If you aren't familiar with these avenues this year is a great opportunity to give them a try!

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. This information shouldn’t take the place of seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or your primary care provider for individualized health recommendations.