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The farm in the city

For Janelle Herbert, running a farm in Edmonton has always been about more than just growing vegetables and making a profit. As the owner and operator of Riverbend Gardens, she’s also interested in bolstering the city’s local food economy—something she and her team do through their Community Supported Agriculture program, an initiative that is increasing the accessibility of local food in Edmonton.

There are more than 12 000 CSA programs across North America, with a dozen of those located in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Although the process can differ slightly between farms, the general concept is the same: subscribers pay a fee to receive a share of a farm’s produce, which is then delivered to their home or a designated pick-up station each week. The program provides local farmers with a steady income regardless of weather and reduces food waste, while participants get to experience the risks and rewards of the farming process firsthand.

Herbert started in the CSA program in 2012, reaching 150 subscribers the first summer and 250 the next. With a few weeks still left to register for this summer, there are already about 250 people signed up. Herbert credits the continual increases to a renewed interest in how our food gets from the ground to our plates.

“Say we get some hail and the peas look a little bit damaged. [People] can connect that to their own [lives], like if we got hail, they got hail,” she explains. “The food is reflective of the weather in their community, and then we can sort of explain what happens.”

Herbert currently has eight businesses confirmed as pick-up spots for this summer: Acme Meat Market, Prairie Mill Bread Company, Careit Urban Deli, Dutch Treats and Farm Fresh Meats, The Pan Tree, Northlands, D’Arcy’s Meat Market, and Get Cooking on MacEwan University campus. Sharing resources and support with these businesses has been invaluable for Herbert, creating a symbiotic relationship for everyone involved.

“We help each other with marketing and getting the word out there,” she explains. “And then in return, when people come to pick up their vegetables, they’re likely to buy a loaf of bread or a steak or a roast in those establishments. It’s just bringing the awareness and pooling the marketing strategies that is so beneficial to all of us.”

The relatively low participation cost—for example, a weekly order is $30 for a couple or $35 for a family, with the price dropping when multiple weeks are purchased—and multiple pick-up options are part of what makes CSA programs a great addition to the local food movement, which is normally plagued by a perceived lack of convenience, according to Breanna Mrocek, social media manager and core team member of The Local Good. The Edmonton-based not-for-profit organization, which connects people with resources for living a more local, green lifestyle, combats this notion by inviting a guest speaker from a local CSA program to its popular Green Drinks event each year. Mrocek says they’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm about CSA programs at the last two local food events, and have received positive feedback from presenters and guests alike.

“I think most people see the value in the program; it’s just about creating awareness that such a program even exists and educating people on the steps to go about participating in a CSA,” Mrocek says.

Having seen what can happen when people do buy in, Herbert is excited for what the continued collaboration between the public, farmers and businesses will mean for the future of a sustainable local food economy in Edmonton.

“It’s just creating a full circle community around food, right within our city.”

 

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