Every year in March, as the angle of the sun starts to show a hint of warmth, the songbirds start to show up on our lawns, and the last reluctant piles of “snirt” finally melt and disappear, many of us feel a strong yearning to dust off our gloves and trowels and dig into the soil. There’s great benefit to gardening as a casual pastime or even a fairly serious hobby, but for local CSA farmers, it’s their life’s work.
The Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) model of farming allows customers to access fresh, local produce directly from the farm that grows it, but unlike a farmer’s market, the customers purchase a share of the harvest at the beginning of the growing season. This allows for a more predictable financial situation for the farms, spreads the risk more evenly between farmers and consumers, and helps farmers plan effectively for the growing season. Emily Dowling, the farmer at the helm of Root Radical Community Shared Agriculture, calls this “sharing the risk and the reward”, and regularly thanks her customers for partnering with her by supporting her farm. Emily shared her perspectives with us as she prepares for the upcoming growing season.
KV: What do you love about life as a farmer – what keeps you going?
ED: I love knowing how much people appreciate the vegetables, working with lovely staff and being outside. It’s also very satisfying to see the plants grow and respond to our care for both the plants themselves and our care for the soil.
KV: What hopes/expectations did you have when you started Root Radical, and how have those become reality?
ED: I think that from the beginning we wanted to build a strong community of eaters who care about supporting local farms and building a resilient food system. I do feel very proud of the community of members we have grown over the last decade and a half.
KV: Is there a supportive community of farmers in our area? Do you have opportunities to collaborate or learn with other local farmers?
ED: There is a very supportive community of farmers in our area. I have been very lucky to have been a part of the NFU Local 316. We have so many wonderful farmers in Frontenac County who work together in the face of challenges. Over the years we’ve collaborated projects like big farm-to-table events, skills development, and job fairs. Most recently our Local has started a climate action working group. It’s a new group that just formed in August 2019, and the first thing we did together as a group was take soil tests to establish a baseline for tracking soil carbon. The goal is to change our farming practices over time to better capture soil carbon as a form of climate action.
KV: What do you think makes a CSA farm important to a community like Kingston?
ED: There are a lot of different benefits to CSA farming. I think that the food speaks for itself. So providing vegetables to the community that actually taste really good is the first benefit. People also really like raising their families to better understand where their food comes from. And we get a lot of students or recent graduates who come to work for us. After spending a lot of time sitting at desks and studying food, environment, and agriculture they are eager for an opportunity to experience it and learn practical skills.
KV: What do you wish more people understood about the career of farming?
ED: I think a lot of people take food and farmers for granted. I wish people understood that farmers and farm workers really need their financial support and that is something that I try to underline with our CSA members. We give people the chance to come and help out at the farm during our busy season and many people come away from that experience with a new respect for how hard farmers work.
Another way we communicate about the challenges of farming is by providing members with an annual financial report. So that they can see how their financial investment was used in the previous year.
KV: What do you wish more people understood about food supply/local food?
ED: I think that people don’t realize how much our ability to grow food depends on a stable climate. People are so used to having grocery stores full of food without having to think about where it comes from. But all food is grown somewhere, and climate change is already having an impact on food security around the world. More extreme weather has already made farming more challenging in the Kingston area.
KV: What are your big dreams/goals for the future?
ED: I would like to move towards low/no till agriculture and we are doing that by improving the soil with compost. So we have a large project this year of purchasing composting infrastructure and making a lot of compost. We are planting a lot of trees this year, which is good for biodiversity on the farm and also sequesters carbon. We’re really excited about a partnership with the Red Clover Educational Collaborative, a local charity, which will be building some educational infrastructure (like a yurt) on our farm to make it easier for us to host a kids’ camp, school visits, and other community events.
KV: What are you up to for the winter months? You must be itching for spring!
ED: There is actually a lot of desk work to do all winter long, but it’s usually just 40 hours/week or less. (As opposed to 40 to 60 hours a week in the summer) I don’t mind winter, and I really appreciate the seasonality of farming. I like the opportunity to catch up on my sleep, spend time with family and friends and take better care of myself.
And also I try in my spare time in winter to find different ways to care for community and the land. This winter, for example, I have been involved in the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement and the local resistance to the CGL pipeline.
I think that what’s happening right now all across Turtle Island is super important and will significantly improve settler/Indigenous relations and make society less racist. It will also effect the ability of large corporations to extract “resources” from the land while forcing the government to do more to protect everyone from the significant negative effects of climate change. That gives me more hope than I have had in a long time for a just and sustainable future for the generations who come after us.
KV: How can people get involved?
ED: We are now accepting new CSA members for 2020! If people want to learn more, they can visit our website: www.rootradicalrows.com. Our members have the chance to participate in work bees on the farm during the summer, and receive recipe and meal suggestions with their weekly updates on how to use the items in that week’s share. Many members also share their own recipes with the group, so meal preparation and enjoying fresh local food helps grow the community spirit as well!
Emily and the team at Root Radical aren’t the only CSA farms gearing up for a busy growing season in the Kingston area. Have a look at all of the great CSA options that are available where you live. (And if we’ve missed one from our list, please let us know, and we’ll add it!)
Charlie’s Acres – https://www.charliesacres.ca/
Fat Chance Farmstead – https://fatchancefarmstead.com/
Freedom Farm – http://freedom-farm.ca/
Main Street Urban Farm – http://mainstreeturbanfarm.ca/en/
Patchwork Gardens – https://www.patchworkgardens.ca/
Roots Down Organic Farm – https://www.rootsdown.ca/
Salt of the Earth Farm – https://saltofkingston.com/