Monday, September 20, 2010

Raising A Green Fledgling - Part 5 - Eating Greener Greens...?

Hello Readers!

Do you know where your food comes from? I mean, where it really comes from? Could you point to the community on a map where your food is grown, raised, produced (or synthesized)?

It's hard to do, right? And almost all of us would need a World map to even try. As new parents, my wife and I want to have a greater ability to know where our food comes from and how it's produced - and we want our daughter to know these things as she grows up, too.

On that note, we started buying our produce, meat, baked goods and some other foods at a local farmers' market several years ago. We used to live in Halifax, where visiting the farmers' market was a weekly tradition in all seasons, and we took pleasure in seeing the same producers from communities around Nova Scotia each week. Since moving to Ontario, we've been semi-regular patrons of the seasonal Ottawa Farmer's Market and love the selection of locally produced meats (artisan and traditional), tree fruits, plants and body-care products that were equally great but in lower supply at the Halifax market. But friends in Ottawa helped us discover a new way to know more about where our food comes from: Community-supported Agriculture (CSA).

CSA is, according to the Ontario CSA Farm Directory website, an agreement in which:
CSA farmers receive a set fee (from you - the consumer) prior to the start of the growing season. In return, you receive shares (produce) in the farm's bounty and you also share the risks due to weather and other factors beyond the control of the farmer.
CSA is an amazing way not only to know where your food comes from, but to also have a part in producing your food, and being more closely connected to the local/regional forces of nature that dictate what produce makes it to your table. Moreover, CSA is a great way to support agricultural production in your region in a time when it's somehow economically sensible/feasible to ship apples from New Zealand, South Africa and Chile to Canada throughout the year!?

Our CSA farm is based in Aylmer, Québec, just across the river from Ottawa, and the farm owners offer several drop-off points throughout Ottawa-Gatineau to more efficiently deliver weekly food boxes (small or large) to share-holders. 'Our farm' has organic certification and the offers farm open houses and opportunities for share-holders to help out with the harvest. In fact, some CSA farms require that share-holders help with the harvest to keep farm operational costs lower, for example. And CSA farms don't only provide produce, some offer various types of meat as well*. There is even a community-supported fishery (CSF) in Nova Scotia that provides weekly seafood catches to its shareholders. I'm sure others exist elsewhere, too. In any case - wow!

But enough about CSA and farmers' markets - how does all of this relate to raising a green fledgling??

Well first of all, knowing where your food comes from and how it's produced gives you a lot of control over your exposure to pesticide and herbicide residues, as well as knowing whether synthetic fertilizers were used and, if so, how their use was regulated. Run-off from both synthetic and "natural" fertilizers (e.g., manure) can infiltrate waterways and even drinking water resources, causing problems like nitrogen and/or phosphorus contamination, eutrophication and hypoxia, and should be minimized. Products from farmers' markets and CSA farms can offer environmental advantages, like organic production techniques, compared to supermarket produce and meat, which in turn help to minimize my family's environmental footprint and reduce our exposure to synthetic chemicals.

Second, experiencing the same weather in which your food grows, and then seeing what grows and what doesn't as a result of that weather, forges an intricate connection to nature. Suddenly you understand how an unusually dry summer translates into the food on your table throughout the fall and winter months. And it does - having a secure, sustainable supply of food on the table is something many Canadians take for granted, especially since foods like carrots, leafy greens and raspberries are available at the supermarket year-round. Again, the locavore or down-to-earth lifestyle choice helps to minimize my family's environmental footprint while giving us insight into the realities of farming in the Ottawa Valley region.

Third, I personally love knowing that I'm supporting farmers in my region. I grew up in Nova Scotia's breadbasket, so this means a lot to me. Farmers feed cities. Not only that, but we're sharing in the gains and losses of our region's farmers; we make the same investment at the beginning of each season without knowing what or how much produce we'll end up with. This is another important aspect of our connection to nature - humans are intimately connected to the environment through our nourishment and our economy.

These points play a big role in raising our green fledgling. She'll (eventually) be eating a substantial amount of organic, locally produced, farm-fresh food - and hopefully year-round, if we follow-through on plans to make our own baby food from summer produce! ;-) Plus, our daughter will grow up knowing where her food comes from and having a sense of what's involved in getting it from the field (or barn) to her dinner plate. That's very important to my wife and I. And yes, I concede that agriculture in many of its forms can be associated with negative environmental impacts, but that discussion goes far beyond the scope of this post. We all need to eat and, in my mind, we should strive to eat food that is produced and harvested as 'greenly' as possible.

As with many greener lifestyle choices, shopping at local farmers' markets and belonging to a CSA and/or CSF is not financially feasible (or geographically practical) for all. But I really wish it were, and I think that Canadian society is moving toward making that so. The premium, if any, charged for local agricultural products better reflects the costs of production, and maybe even the environmental costs, as more farmers move toward sustainable agricultural practices.

If you're interested in CSA, CSF or local farmers' markets, try searching the net for one in your region, or contact your provincial/territorial federation of agriculture to find out what options are available. You can also try contacting non-profit groups working on agriculture, fisheries and/or sustainable living issues to get more info.

I hope you've enjoyed this part in the series - I know I had fun writing it. Sorry for the delay on this addition to the RAGF series and check back in two weeks for the next post!

*Currently our CSA is veggie-only. Instead, we get a lot of our meat from farmers' markets and through friends' with transitionally-organic farmers in their family.