Windsor·Pinto on Food

Cottam farmers turn kale deal gone wrong into booming organic business

A few years ago, Lesley and Tom Labbe found themselves with far too much kale. Thanks to the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market, they've turned their Cottam farm into a booming, community-supported organic business.

Our Farm Organics returns with the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market Saturday

Lesley and Tom Labbe run Our Farm Organics in Cottam, Ont. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

A few years ago, Lesley and Tom Labbe found themselves with far too much kale.

"A local person that was acting as a distributor told me if you grow this much kale and this much collards, this particular place in Hamilton would take all you can grow," she explained. "So [I jumped in] — without a contract or anything like that."

But when it was time to harvest the leafy greens, the place in Hamilton had second thoughts and pulled out.

Lesley and Tom Labbe tending to garlic on their farm. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"I didn't know what to do," she said.

A vendor at the then-fledgling Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market (DWFM) offered to let Labbe try her hand at selling her kale at their booth — an idea to which she agreed.

"I did everything I could to sell this kale," she said. "I was making kale chips till midnight on a Friday — nobody even knew what kale chips were — and that's how I got my start."

What is a "chicken tractor?"

4 years ago
Duration 0:53
Lesley and Tom Labbe use something called a "chicken tractor" to fertilize crops on their farm near Cottam, Ont.

Thanks in part to the downtown market, which returns Saturday for the season, the Cottam couple run a booming, certified-organic farm.

Our Farm Organics, the formal name of their operation, runs under a model called Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. Members of the public invest in the farm at the start of the season and receive a portion of the farm's output in return.

A $300 share, for example, results in a weekly box of produce that would feed one to two people. The Labbes have 150 members this year and the season generally lasts about 25 weeks.

Many of their original members signed up at the DWFM after expressing a desire to access Labbe's organic produce after the market ends in early October.

In order to stay ahead of the weeds, many of the crops at Our Farm Organics — such as these leeks — are started in a greenhouse and transplanted into the soil. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

While the Labbes produce their wide variety of fruits and veggies with members in mind, they still make sure to sell at the market that gave them their start.

"We always put a safety factor in there — because if you need 50 broccoli, you want to make sure you have 50 broccoli, [so] you're going to plant like 60 or 70 ... and then whatever's extra goes to the farmers' market."

Tap on the player to hear more about Our Farm Organics.

While not included in the CSA, the Labbes also raise pork, beef and chicken that are sold to CSA members and at the farmers' market. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

The Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market opens for the season this Saturday, May 26th. It runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Maiden Lane and Pelissier Street (north of Wyandotte Street) in downtown Windsor. Our Farm Organics is located at 284 County Rd. 34, just east of Cottam.

CBC Windsor reporter Jonathan Pinto travels across southwestern Ontario as Afternoon Drive's "food dude." Know of a place you think he should check out? Email him at jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca or on Twitter @jonathan_pinto.

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