A driving force behind community shared agriculture (CSA)
by Nina Linton
Rose Viaene hugs a wooden basket as she sorts through freshly-harvested vegetables. Brimming with leafy greens, the bushel basket gets a hefty helping of additional produce as Viaene tucks smooth-skinned tomatoes, oblong eggplants, and tufted corn ears inside.
Delivering these overstuffed containers to her customers’ doorsteps over a 15-week span, the Eldon area vegetable farmer is part of a thriving alternative food network that benefits both local consumers and producers.
The premise is simple. Community shared agriculture (CSA,) or as it is also known, community supported agriculture enables farmers to grow high quality food for consumption in their local community while receiving a fair and guaranteed price. Consumers become stakeholders by financially investing in farms. Their edible dividends arrive weekly, layered in boxes or baskets containing their share of the harvest.
Members not only reap the benefits, they also absorb the losses. Says Viaene, “If the lettuce was a failure that week, they don’t get any lettuce. They take a risk along with the farmer. The people who buy into CSA understand what farmers go through and what we face on a day-to-day basis.”
Entering her second CSA season, Viaene says consumers are interested in agricultural like never before. “More and more people want to know where their food is coming from.”
And for the third generation farmer, that is a good thing. Direct sales avenues, like CSA’s, keep her farm and others like it in business. “If we were going to stay in agriculture we had to make some changes on the farm. I saw a niche for people wanting more contact with farmers and that is where CSA came in.”
With 25 members her first year, Viaene is gearing up for an increase this summer, attracting, through word of mouth, new customers in Montague, Stratford, Charlottetown, and Eldon. In 2010, ten farms offering this personalized service.
Growing a wide range of exotic and heirloom produce alongside more traditional vegetable varieties on her family’s 25-acre farm, Viaene packs her CSA baskets with healthy produce, sometimes sneaking in a quart of juicy strawberries picked down the road or Mason jars of home made preserves. Also included are recipes to extend her customer’s culinary experience when cooking unfamiliar vegetables like Swiss chard or bok choy. Many customers are surprised to learn what vegetables can actually be grown in the province.
Says Viaene,“We really are the garden of the gulf and we are a paradise for vegetables. And there are a lot of people out there who want to keep it that way and buying directly from farmers is a way they can do it. I see that more and more. People want our farmers to remain here so we need to be as flexible as we can for our customers, making it easy for them to support us.”