As pleased as a new Mama, I am announcing – our first CSA basket! Let me take a moment to explain what a CSA is. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, or Community Shared Agriculture, depending on who you ask. The concept is simple and brilliant: the grower (me) offers shares in the year’s harvest for either an upfront fee or a share in the labour. In exchange, CSA members get a weekly basket with a bit of everything the garden has to offer that week. It’s seasonal, very local, and eliminates the problem of have to grow enormous amounts of food, just to get the attention of a supermarket buyer. Also, it gives small operations, like us, the chance to sell organically grown food even though we are miles and miles of red tape away from certification. Members are welcome in our garden any time, and can talk directly with us about the food they are bringing to their table. Many farmers use the CSA structure as a way to grow their businesses until they are big enough to compete with other market or grocery chain growers. Seeing as so many organic farms fail, simply because they are not able to get their product to the right market of shoppers, CSAs bridge the gap and help many Mom and Pop farms stay afloat.
Alright, enough of all that, check it out:
All together now: “Awwww! So adorable!” Okay, maybe not quite as cute as my real kids when they were babies, but I’m a proud parent all the same. Darn, I should have gotten a picture of my kids holding the basket. That would have knocked your socks off.
This first week was little sparse as far as veggies go, considering our very dry spring that has thrown our cool season crops for a loop. Nevertheless, we are able to include a bag of greens, spring onions and rhubarb. We also had artisan jam, freshly baked bread made by a mysterious, amazing, local baker ( okay, it was me ) and 1 dozen eggs from the Orillia Community Garden Egg Co-op.
I’ll try to post each week what is shaping up for the baskets, so you can salivate along with me. And if you’re in the Brechin area, and would like to become a member this year, we still have spots available, and would be happy to pro-rate depending on when you join.
Tomorrow I’ll be picking up our tomato seedlings, I’m really excited! See you soon!
Yesterday, I had an adventure.
9:30 am – I pack Levon, my adorable 3 year-old, into the beloved but increasingly decrepit Jeep. Not to be forgotten is my GPS, which I am starting to refer to as Gepus, owing to its amazing ability to lead me to the promised land. Or in this case: Coe Hill, Ontario. Today is the day I finally get to pick up our seed potatoes!
10:08 am – My gas gauge is creeping towards empty, and I’m bombing around back roads, looking for a gas station. I get a hot tip that there’s one only 7 km away, but that turns out to be 7km back in the direction I came from. I refuse to backtrack, and have to settle for traveling 10 km to Washago. Washago is an adorable town, but also, not in the direction I should be traveling. It takes 20 minutes or so to get back on track. Thanks for nothing, Gepus.
10:30 am – It’s a stunningly beautiful day. I am driving down country roads, past rolling hills and 100 year old barns. My son is asleep in his car seat, and my ever-present wind-up radio has been silenced for the moment, having failed to find a signal. I feel so grateful and contented under this brilliant blue sky. I take big lungfuls of lilac-scented air and smile.
11:35 am – I am getting some disconcerting information from Gepus. I still have another hour to go before I reach Coe Hill. That can’t be right! Coe Hill is only an hour and 45 minutes from my house! That’s what it said on Google Maps – wait a minute. I didn’t check Google Maps. In fact, the only research I did into my destination was a brief conversation with a Coe Hill local who doesn’t come out my way very often. And once again, I am faced with another example of Emily Wilson’s Quixotic Driving Theory. It goes something like this: I have a great sense of direction, things are generally easy to find, and the best tenet of all – if I just get in the area and drive around for a while it will all work out. I’d like to state right here that none of the above are true. I may be slightly lost, but at least I’m honest.
12:18 pm – I think I’m getting close, but spirits are lagging. My coffee has long ago been consumed, there isn’t another espresso place for at least another 20 minutes ( Ha! That’s a hilarious rural Ontario joke! In truth, there are no espresso places, period) and my son is starting do the old ‘wake up and whine’. I fumble for my radio, apply adequate pressure to the broken volume knob, and – Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix is playing! I haven’t heard this song in ages! Things are starting to look up. If driving down a dirt road singing along to a slightly creepy classic rock song won’t cheer you up, nothing will.
12:40 pm – I arrive at Ellenberger Farm! I’m greeted by Henry Ellenberger, who along with his wife, Janet, is the only grower of organic seed potatoes in the province. Think about that for a moment. Potatoes are a North American staple, and the only major starch that we can all grow in our own backyards. And yet they are also one of the most heavily sprayed crops when farmed conventionally, and potato DNA is constantly being tampered with in search of the world’s most uniform French fry. But here are Janet and Henry, sustainably growing a product that can be purchased for $30, and feed your family for the entire winter. They deserve so much more than our business, (although they should get that too, visit their beautiful website at www.ellenbergerorganicfarm.com) really, they deserve a medal.
Henry helps me load the Jeep with 150 lbs of potato potential. This year we’re growing:
- Onaway, a white skinned early potato
- Cheiftan, a red skinned potato
- Norland, another red skinned potato
- And Dakota Pearl, which should be eaten based on the name alone, but also happens to be delicious.
Henry and I spend a bit of time shooting the breeze: rain (or lack of it), root cellar optimization and the like, and then I trundle away back down the dirt road.
1pm – Now we get to the fun part: The Great Race to Catch the Schoolbus. I mentioned I have an adorable three year old. I also have an adorable six year old. He is getting off the bus at 3:57. Considering it took me over three hours to get here, I am now going to need to book it home. I can proudly say I am in the minority, and I never drive over the speed limit. I’m just not that kind of gal. Or rather, I could make that claim, before today. Now, I have to high-tail it on these back roads like I’m being chased by a Wendigo if I’m going to make it back it time.
3:45 pm – I’ve been racing along, comparing the estimated time of arrival to the clock, and I’m always one minute or two too late. I have to get home! By child’s sense of security and well-being depends on it! Who knows what lifelong emotional trauma I could be causing by not being home when my little boy walks in the door! Pedal to the medal, you can do this.
3:54 pm – Miraculously, I glide into the driveway with 3 minutes to spare. The bus drives up, my son gets out, the world continues on as if nothing happened. Amazing.
11:30 pm – Well, my family has eaten dinner, my husband and children are sleeping and now I have one last task to accomplish. Potato seeds are the same potato you eat, but are often cut up to maximize their potential. I must now sit down with a paring knife and cut 30 lbs of Onaway potatoes into ‘slips’ – little chunks of spud with at least two eyes on them. They have to sit out overnight before planting them tomorrow. I pop my well-worn copy of Dazed and Confused (best summertime movie , ever!) into the disc drive and away we go.
12:30 am – One short hour later, I have turned this:
It’s all done, and Wooderson is still cruising around screen looking insanely cool. I am going to sleep well tonight! I’ll have to, I’ve got lots of potatoes to plant tomorrow.
Okay, so we’re about to weeks away from our first CSA basket. This morning, I surveyed the garden, and one thought went screaming through my mind – more. I need more. More spinach, definitely more scallions. More radishes! So what does this mean? More garden beds.
You see, over the winter, I spent hours making complicated plans for this garden. It had to produce lots of food, but still be a beautiful place for the community to visit. It had to employ permaculture principals, companion planting, crop rotation, attract beneficial insects – everything. So I consulted all the books, made countless diagrams, cursed the sky at the fact that I hadn’t paid attention in drafting class, but in the end, I had the most wonderful garden plan ever created. I was giddy with self-congratulation.
Come April, the plan went into effect. No amount of blistered hands, aching backs or swear words hurled at the electric screwdriver could stop me from executing it. Raised beds, eco lawn, wildflower meadow, it’s all just about in. So why were bright red lights flashing in front of my eyes this morning? Why, when I looked out at the results of the last 6 weeks of work did it look incomplete? No, not even incomplete, barely started?! There was only one thing to do. Grab a shovel and dig like a madwoman until this feeling went away.
Well, I’m pleased to say it worked. I created two gigantic extra beds right in the middle of the garden, and walked away with a comforting sense of satisfaction. “Ha!” I say to my doubting subconscious, “Just try to get all pessimistic now, buddy!” Who could have negative thoughts when viewing the results of so much human power? Not me, certainly. Tomorrow I’m attacking those two beds with all the seeds and transplants I can muster. First CSA baskets, here I come.
It’s all happening! I’m excited to be writing my very first blog post on our new and gorgeous Simcoe Organics website. So, hello!
Here’s a bit about me:
My name is Emily Wilson, and I have somehow snagged the dream position of being paid to grow organic food. I’ve been obsessed with food for as long as I can remember, beginning with eating it, into cooking it and now growing it. I recall bursting into tears at age five at the sheer cruelty of a world that would allow an entire homemade blueberry pie to slide off the top of my Dad’s Buick Skylark and smash into smithereens on the pavement below. Utterly tragic.
I’ve been gardening for about a decade, although only really got serious about it 5 years ago. What started off as a sweet but largely ineffective hobby has grown into a full time life style. I’ve been helped and mentored along the way by various people and organizations, including at both the Strathcona Community Garden in Vancouver, and the amazing juggernaut of political, social and vegetable change that is the Orillia Community Garden. Now, the stars have aligned to allow me to make a living doing something I truly love, and for that, I am humbled and grateful.
Hmmm, what else? I performed in the opera as a child (the highlight of my career was playing the so often underrated role of a frightened chipmunk in Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde), I was trained as a magician’s assistant, I was part of a women’s cob building collective, I’m far too obsessed with CBC Radio, I’ve never owned cell phone, and I’ve been a vegetarian for 18 years but have recently decided to eat animal products as long as they’re the weird organs no when else wants. Hey, it’s local!
Now that spring is in full gallop, I’m furiously digging, raking and planting with my pint-sized helper, Levon. I’ll be keeping you updated as to what’s growing, what’s sulking (I’m looking at you, lanky spinach transplants), and where we are on our journey through the first year of running a market garden. Until next time…