By John Hassell

A relative newcomer to farming, Graham Corbett is beginning his third year managing Whole Village Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a farm located just outside of Orangeville. Corbett is part of what he describes as a “growing movement among organic and new farmers in Ontario who are embracing the CSA model, which redefines relationships between farmers and consumers.”

Under the CSA model, consumers purchase “shares” of a farm, entitling them to a portion of the crops harvested (the “dividends”) that is directly proportional to the farm’s productivity. So, if tomato blight hits a CSA farm, or there is a bumper crop, the consumer’s share varies in accordance.

Typically, farms that participate in the CSA system are organic, small in scale and grow a diversity of crops. While there is no reliable census data on CSA farms in Canada, there are an estimated 1,700 in the United States.

By virtue of having purchased shares in the farm, consumers develop a connection to the rhythms of the seasons and the variation in yields – and, of course, support their local farming community. Says Amy Ouchterlony, Graham’s partner and co-manager, “CSAs are strengthening communities while caring for the planet. They allow farms like ours to be sustainable, small-scale and diverse.”

Within the CSA model, the consumer bears much of the risk and the rewards associated with farming: crop yields – always at the mercy of weather conditions, pests and other hazards – can be bountiful or dismal. The model also helps the farmer raise capital to pay for expensive upfront investments such as land and equipment.

Consumers enjoy access to fresh, seasonal and often organic food. The direct connections with farmers provide a clear idea of growing practices, thus allaying consumers’ concerns about food safety, quality, labour practices and sustainability.

For more information about the Whole Village CSA, email: csagarden@wholevillage.org.