More urban residents are planting backyard gardens to add fresh produce to their diets, but not everyone has a green thumb or the time and space to garden.
Through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) businesses, farmers are able to sell their vegetables and other produce directly to subscribers living in a nearby community. In most cases, the farmer provides a weekly supply of fresh produce to customers who pay a set amount of money at the start of the season.
The farmer gets paid directly for his or her produce and the customers receive regular supplies of fresh produce. In some cases, subscribers can reduce the amount they pay by volunteering to work on the farm.
Leanne and Philip Fenez operate Fenez Follies Farm, a few kilometres east of La Salle. While Leanne works in Winnipeg, and Philip drives a school bus, they decided to start their CSA business three years ago after years of selling their vegetables, free-range eggs, poultry and pork, promoting themselves mainly through word-of-mouth.
This year, the Fenezes hope to contract with 12 subscribers who will pay $400 for a 12-week share of their annual bounty, or $225 for a half-share. They will provide weekly deliveries of plastic bins filled with a variety of greens, peas, beans, peppers, tomatoes, melons and potatoes to two locations in Winnipeg beginning in June and ending in September.
"The thing I like about the CSA model is that we can develop a two-way relationship with our customers," said Leanne. "I like being able to supply whole families with the bulk of their nutrition."
Philip said there are a number of reasons for people to participate in CSA agreements, including their desire to eat fresh, locally-grown food. He believes more people want to know where and how their food is grown, and also wish to support local farmers. In fact, the Fenezes’ motto is: "We want to be your farmer."
"As a parent, it was important to me that I know where my children’s food is coming from ... if we can do that for other families, I would love it," Leanne said.
But entering into a financial obligation to provide customers with a regular supply of vegetables carries some stress, especially when the weather doesn’t co-operate. When interviewed on May 23, the Fenez’s living room was still serving as a greenhouse for vegetable seedlings as the cool overnight temperatures persisted.
"One of the biggest challenges is trying to figure out the weather," said Phillip.
He hopes to soon plant the seedlings into a plot prepared with rows covered by plastic and straw mulch to reduce weed growth. The soil is fertilized with composted manure from the family’s poultry and pigs.
In a good growing season, the Fenezes will replant lettuce, spinach and beans for a second crop.
Philip has created two mobile outdoor chicken coops for their laying hens. He moves the structures daily so the hens are continually foraging on new ground.
He and Leanne are thinking about expanding their operation to include berries and apples. They would also like to have a greenhouse and storage facilities so they can extend their season.
"We may possibly be able to do a meat/eggs/root veggies CSA through the winter," Leanne said.
Like any family with three teenagers, they must balance work priorities with family activities. Philip is a regional director in Manitoba 4-H and is helping to organize this year’s 4-H centennial celebration. He and his children will participate in some of the events.
For a list of Community Shared Agriculture farms in Manitoba, see csamanitoba.org