“Meet your farmer!” exclaims Aleah Krahn of Sundance Fields in her welcoming email. Aleah’s family owns and operates Sundance Fields in a multi-generational effort at raising healthy, naturally-grown produce and livestock. They are an increasing rarity in Alberta as Big Agribusiness eats up the landscape, driving economies of scale impossible to match by the average family-farm operation. But the Krahns have found a niche called Community Supported Agriculture, and this is how we met the farmers who would be supplying us this summer with fresh-picked garden produce and farm eggs.
What is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)? The premise is basically what humans used to do before the invention of the steam engine — buy local. You as a consumer of food pair up with a local farmer participating in CSA by buying a share in that season’s produce. This way, the farmer knows how much to grow and is guaranteed a market for what is grown so she can concentrate on growing rather than sourcing and marketing. And you get fresh, seasonal, healthy food delivered every week for several months! In the partnership, you share risks inherent in all food production (like crop failure) but not usually reflected in food costs. A hail storm ruins the berry crop just before harvest? That’s life! But with CSA, the cost is spread out among all those who participate in program.
While CSA programs are great for farmers, they are also ultimately about consumer control. The more information you have about how your food is made, from what goes into food products to the environment in which food is cultivated or raised, the better you are able to decide if it’s healthy to eat or not. CSA programs are transparent: the farmers are listed and known and many encourage you to visit and view their operations for yourself. Some even want you to pick a few weeds! (When was the last time you were invited to preview a feedlot?)
We’re not saying that food in the grocery store is bad or unhealthy, but we do have many concerns about the hidden costs of ‘cheap’ food. These range from the environmental costs of transporting food from foreign countries to food security to living wages for workers. Food is Big Business because food is the perfect product; we all have to eat. But there are serious ethical issues that we all need to think about when we allow corporations to patent life-creating processes like seeds. Can you imagine a world where science creates our food, and control of food is held by a few major corporations? Watch the film Food Inc. if you think that is a laughable prospect cooked up by conspiracy theorists. It’s reality, here and now. There’s a lot of potential in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to be beneficial for humans. But there are also many unanswered questions about GMOs and the long-term implications for our health and the health and diversity of natural ecosystems. Given past experiences (DDT on your salad, anyone?), I just can’t seem to muster the requisite faith that the government is prioritizing my health above a corporation’s bottom line. What is also disheartening is that knowledge is stifled in Canada on these issues; Canada refuses to mandate GM products be labelled as such (unless they are exported to Europe where consumers have demanded greater transparency.) In other words, we’re already consuming them without choice. Last time I checked, that wasn’t very ‘free market’. Do you trust the government to pick only the best food for your children? Let’s hope so, because we’re already engaged in a great big experiment right now!
These are scary topics, but the point is not to turn away but turn to where you do have some control especially while we wait to see what the long-term impacts of all this genetic splicing is going to be. The more farm operations such as Sundance Fields have support from families in the cities, the more these kinds of programs will thrive, and the greater the pressure on government and industry to be transparent and accountable for how food is grown and regulated. We’re incorporating our weekly produce delivery from Sundance Fields into our FAT Project since we’ll probably have more fresh produce than we know what to do with. So we’ll keep you posted on what we’re getting and what we’re cookin’ up this summer. There are lots of farms in Alberta participating in CSA and selling directly from their farm gates with a wide range of produce and products, so make sure you seriously consider whether buying your food direct from the producer is a healthy choice for you and your family. And if you don’t live in Alberta, tell us if your community supports its farmers, and how!
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