Ottawa-Gatineau farms are working harder to reach their customers directly. This past harvest season, six ecological farms from around the region pooled their resources together to pilot a unique Harvest Box offering meat, cheese, produce, and value-added items to customers in Ottawa.
Two of the main reasons for local farmers to come together were to share resources and offer their produce without a middleman. By working together, and sharing expertise and logistical costs, they can make a fairer wage and pass on the savings to consumers. A collective also allows the farmers to plan their crops to complement one another and meet the needs of a wider customer base.
Leela Ramachandran and her colleagues told us about the motivations and plans for the pilot box by Aliments Farmhouse Food. “Farmers get to focus on growing higher quality products instead of trying to grow the whole rainbow,” Ramachandran explained in an email.
A recent report by researchers at the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University predicts that Canadian households will pay as much $487 more on grocery and restaurant bills in 2020. They identified climate change as the primary cause of the increase.
Recent floods, droughts, fires and extreme weather events have destabilized the global supply chain leading to higher food prices, including here in Canada, where most of the food we eat is imported. To make matters worse, the reliance on imports further exacerbates climate-related disruptions because of greenhouse gas emissions from long-haul transportation and refrigeration.
Buying food from regional producers is one way to decrease Canada’s dependency on imported food, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and support climate change adaptation on local farms. While access to locally grown fresh produce may be difficult in colder months, Ottawans do have options when it comes to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) food boxes during the harvest season, and storefronts repping farm-to-table goods like the Marché de l’Outaouais, NU Grocery, Ottawa Organics, and Seed to Sausage General Store.
Farmers get to focus on growing higher quality products instead of trying to grow the whole rainbow.
The CSA model allows people to partner with a local farmer by pre-ordering a basket of vegetables (and sometimes meat or other products) delivered weekly; all year round or throughout the harvest season. The quality of food and nutrition levels is quite high in CSA boxes, as we know small- to medium-size farms tend to grow with care and look after their soil. This type of program brings consumers closer to the people who grow their food, reconnects us with the seasons, and offers a great variety of produce even compared to what’s available in supermarkets.
In a follow-up interview, Ramachandran, who is one of the co-founders of Farmhouse Food, highlighted that the Harvest Box pilot was also aimed at understanding the logistics and other details around running a collective program by farms across the Ottawa-Gatineau region. The participating farmers were pleased with the outcomes of the pilot, selling around 200 boxes to customers who lined up outside Dominion City Brewing Company on a rainy Saturday in November. This a true farm-to-table system, with transparent supply chain and farming practices, where customers know where their food comes from.
For future seasons of the Harvest Box, Farmhouse Food is looking into other collective models in Canada, and is planning to offer more customization and delivery options in the coming seasons. The collective has received interest from other farmers looking to offer their products in the Farmhouse Food box.
Ms. Ramachandran noted there’s a steady increase in demand for CSA boxes in Ottawa in recent years, and is encouraged to see that more students and younger customers seem to be prioritizing locally sourced and ecologically grown food in their budgets, despite access to more affordable options in regular grocery stores.
As food affordability concerns continue to persist, supporting local ecological farms is one way to ensure that we have the expertise to grow our food in the region, have access to high quality produce, and minimize our environmental footprint.
Winter and spring are the best times to look for CSA options in the Ottawa-Gatineau region and to sign up or join a waiting list. That extra $487 in food bills in 2020 could easily be part of a new year’s resolution to eat healthier and support local farmers, or applied to a CSA box as a gift to a loved one.