Friday, May 13, 2011

No middle man required for healthy eating

(Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner)

Many people complain that healthy organic food is too expensive. But there is a way to bring the cost down called “community shared agriculture”, or CSA. It’s a program where a group of families partner with a local farm and sign up to buy that year’s produce in advance. They pay in installments, and receive their basket of fresh food each week. Because there is no middle-man, the cost is lower for buyers (usually $20-25 per weekly basket) while the income is higher for farmers. And you get the benefit of local, sustainably-grown food.

Our family has enjoyed various CSAs for many years, and found them both economical and rewarding. Our first was a mixed farm toward Midland named Sage Pastures that we visited every two weeks during the growing season, June through October. We enjoyed two years of vegetables, herbs, and a variety of free-range meats. Then they closed and we moved on to Moondance Organic, west of Barrie, in the optimistically-named Utopia. They had an even wider variety of veggies for us to choose from, but weren’t raising meat. After a couple of satisfied years there, we switched to Heritage Hill Organics, which is just outside Dalston, because their program includes meat raised on their mixed farm. They also feature maple syrup, and for the home beer-maker, fresh hops.

Farm visits are one of the joys of CSA membership, and a great hit with my two young daughters. They love learning where real food comes from, and making friends with a great variety of farm animals – chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows, goats, horses, even the odd llama or alpaca. Sometimes, if they’re lucky, they get to help gather the eggs from the coop.

A couple of years ago we heard of a new thing – a winter CSA. Starting in fall and running until early summer, it covers the off-season of standard CSAs. We joined the winter program at Edencrest Farms, near Minesing. Instead of having to drive out there in the snow & storms, they deliver our weekly basket of local produce to a central depot in Barrie. It features a combination of standard winter fare – root vegetables, apples, cabbage, and other fall harvests which last all season in their large cold storage. But they also provide bags of young spinach and mesclun salad, grown and picked fresh from their winter greenhouse, which is sustainably heated with corn stalks from the fall harvest.

To quote Edencrest, when you join a CSA, you are not just buying vegetables, you are supporting sustainable farming practices and contributing to a reliable, healthy, local food supply and income for the farmers. All of these (Moondance, Heritage Hill, Edencrest) come highly recommended.

(to be continued…)

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.


  1. The best way to go is to cook your own food. If you can't cook, there are a lot of healthy options in the stores which you only need to microwave or blend. Learning what is written on the nutritional facts section is key as well.

    online chemist

    1. They go together. If you are a CSA member or otherwise getting a lot of organic produce, you will have to learn and use lots of recipes for cooking from scratch.

      I'm a little less trustworthy of ready-made "organic" processed products on store shelves. There is also some debate over the validity of some aspects of the nutritional labeling.

      And of course cooking your own food does not ensure healthiness if you are buying standard, pesticide-grown produce.