Demand still hot for local farm boxes, say growers
Farmers plan for another bumper crop of community supported agriculture boxes
Local growers say they're anticipating even more demand for their products this season, as the pandemic continues to influence people's buying and eating habits.
Mel Foster, co-owner of Foster Family Farm in the rural Ottawa community of North Gower, said people are already eager to pre-order his produce.
"We started getting calls for our 2021 season right after our 2020 season ended," said Foster.
Like many small farms, Foster Family Farm sells community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes, which gives customers a weekly or bi-weekly shipment of freshly-picked produce.
In 2020, Foster doubled his number of boxes from 200 to 400, as the pandemic led to a jump in demand for fresh and local products.
"We had a record year last year. We had to cap it to make sure we had enough product for our customers," he said.
This year, with the benefit of more prep time to grow seedlings, Foster said he should be able to once again double the number of boxes he can offer.
"We're planning this year for growth, so we hope to be able to accommodate 800 total customers," said Foster.
While the interest in CSA boxes is good news for his sales of kale, tomatoes and beans, the pandemic has also hit the other side of his business, said Foster.
"Last year our retail was up, but our wholesale was down, so it sort of equalled out," he said.
Co-op helps farms tap into growing market
Leela Ramachandran has been busy not only preparing for another growing season, but also fielding calls and emails daily from potential customers eager to buy farms boxes.
"People are quite anxious to secure their share of local food, which is exciting," she said.
Ramachandran is the general manager of Farmhouse Food, a co-operative of seven farms in eastern Ontario and west Quebec which recently pooled resources together to reach more customers.
As part of that strategy the co-op is set to offer CSA boxes using products from each of the seven farms, with an additional sprinkling of offerings from other local producers to compliment the boxes.
"There's a lot of curiosity and uncertainty," said Ramachandran. "Being able to co-operate during a time like this has been such a gift, both in terms of making our lives easier and in terms of solidarity."
Customers can dig in too
Over at the BeetBox co-op farm near Shirley's Bay, the community supported agriculture box idea has been given a spin that involves customers getting their hands dirty.
In return for a fifty per cent discount on the price of a farm box, BeetBox asks customers to spend four hours a week at the farm helping grow the produce that will end up in their box.
"It's kind of an in-between of a CSA and a community plot," said Angela Plant, a member of BeetBox.
Plant said the community farm program was launched last year and is expected to be popular once again for the 2021 season.
"People had a lot of fun but they also learned a lot," she said. "They're looking to get outside and secure their source of food, so I think demand will be high."