Pemberton organic farms connect locals with food through CSA programs 

Each farm offers unique take on community-Supported agriculture

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - tasty treat Laughing Crow Organics is one of the Pemberton farms that take part in the community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.
  • Photo submitted
  • tasty treat Laughing Crow Organics is one of the Pemberton farms that take part in the community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.

There's at least one bike mechanic in the Sea to Sky corridor who has tried kohlrabi thanks to Pemberton's Ice Cap Organics.

"Everyone is so different in terms of what they've been exposed to," says Delaney Zayac, who co-owns the organic farm with his wife Alisha, referring to vegetable variety. "I have a friend who's a bike mechanic—I've known him for a while and my wife has known him since elementary school. He started doing (the CSA program) this year and it's forcing him to try these new vegetables. He's never even seen kohlrabi. So, it forces someone to do a bit of Googling or look at cookbooks to figure things out and get more connected to your food and what can be grown locally here."

The verdict? "He's really excited and having a good time with it."

CSA programs—or community-supported agriculture—are one of the ways smaller organic farms connect people with their food. While each farm takes a slightly different approach, most operate by having customers pay an upfront fee at the start of the season in exchange for weekly boxes of produce through the summer. The set up allows farms funding when they're spending the most and making the least and it gives customers access to fresh, local food.

"The CSA (program) makes the consumers feel like they're not only buying their share of the vegetables, but also making an investment in the farm's future," Zayac says. "They're putting the money up front and committing to buy vegetables no matter what happens. It gives the farm a warm, fuzzy feeling of community support ... There's a real, basic trust principal there. When you build relationships on trust in business, you have a different kind of business."

Ice Cap Organics' spin on the program is to offer full-season, late-season and early-season box shares. While most farms only offer buy-ins at the beginning of the season, vegetable lovers can still get their fix of local food with late season boxes starting on Aug. 22 for 10 weeks with pick-up locations every Wednesday in Pemberton and Whistler.

Like Ice Cap Organics, Rootdown Organic Farm has been taking part in the CSA program for nearly 10 seasons. Because they no longer sell their produce at any farmers' markets, the CSA pick-up serves as an opportunity to connect with their customers—some of whom have been with them every year. "We've created such relationships with them," says Sarah McMillan, who runs the farm with her business partner Simone McIsaac. "We've seen them have children or grow up. That's been such an important thing for us."

Their farm's take on the program is to offer a "build your own box" option, alongside the more traditional box. That allows customers who are only interested in certain vegetables to choose them from a list of available items each week.

Rootdown—which also sells to local restaurants and grocery stores—is currently operating at capacity for its program with around 70 people. It also offers the option for customers to volunteer on the farm in exchange for CSA shares. "We have a waiting list, we have so many people who want to apply to volunteer with us," McMillan adds.

Laughing Crow Organics has also grown their program over the last five years with return CSA customers.

"The majority live in Pemberton and Whistler," says Kerry McCann, co-owner of the farm with business partner Andrew Budgell. "That means the food we're growing is getting eaten in our direct community."

For their unique offering, they decide to drop off boxes at customers' doors. "We decided to do the delivery and it worked out really well," she says.

On top of that, they often offer recipes with more obscure vegetables and, twice a year, include all the ingredients for a certain recipe—like ratatouille. "Those two boxes are our CSA favourites," McCann says. "We found it's pretty exciting to people when they get a box of seven to 12 items and a recipe that goes with it that allows them to cook a beautiful meal with those ingredients."

Another occasional treat: honey. "Bees are a passion of mine," she says. "I grew up on a hobby farm in Ontario and we always had bees. Something that was important to me when we were starting the business was to get bees. Farming keeps you so busy, so we haven't grown the bee keeping, but we try to keep enough hives for honey for CSA."

For more information on Laughing Crow Organics visit laughingcroworganics.com. Ice Cap Organics can be found at icecaporganics.com and Rootdown are at rootdownfarm.net.

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