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New Brunswick farm connects community to the crops with Farm Share program


With snow on the ground and crops still out of the ground, it’s a different type of busy at Willow Farm in Middleton, N.B., as planning for the upcoming season is well underway.

The small local business has just opened up registration for this year's Farm Share program -- a community support agriculture model that lets the community share the risks and rewards of farming.

“Sometimes we’re faced with things like terrible weather or a lot of insect damage or things like that, so sometimes crops become unavailable or are damaged in some way,” said co-owner Tessa Kautzman.

“We grow enough that we can provide the best of what we grow to our members. So, usually that’s not too much of an issue, but it is somewhat of a risk.”

However, risk isn’t the only factor. Farm share members also can reap the rewards of an amazing harvest.

“If we have an abundance of tomatoes, for example, we can offer more than the value of them,” she said.

With multiple options available, including a full share, which is ideal for families or those who eat a ton of veggies, or a half share option for people who live alone, the idea is members pre-pay for produce before the harvest.

“The farm share for us, it just adds a bit of security to our cash flow,” said Kautzman.

“For small farmers like us, and farmers in general, a lot of the costs comes at the beginning of a season when you’re buying supplies like amendments for the soil, different infrastructure projects, they all happen sort of at one time, in the beginning of spring, when our cash flow is the lowest.”

Then from June to October, you would receive locally grown fruits and vegetables depending on what’s available. Right now, the farm grows over 50 different cultivars of mixed vegetables and fruits.

“We have a lot of diversity,” said co-owner Gregory Burton. “That diversity is part of the business model as well because when you’re doing something with minimal inputs and with as much ecological versus chemical control… the quality or success of your harvest might fluctuate for a given crop in a given year. So, having diversity helps you balance that out.”

“We harvest our vegetables fresh every week, so if you buy vegetables from us it’s not likely that you’ll be buying something that was harvested more than four days ago. Food in the grocery store that you buy, a lot of it is imported so it’s going to be, it’s coming from California, it’s coming from Mexico, those places are really far away.”

Willow Farm's owners, who used to be musicians, moved from Montreal to get out of the city and for an overall lifestyle change – something they’ve found by creating crops and connections in the community.

“What I like most about it is we can have a direct connection with the people in our community,” said Kautzman. “There’s a lot of customer service involved, that we really enjoy, and just having that personal connection, I think is a big deal especially when folks are just used to going to the grocery store, grabbing their food, and getting out of there.”

For those who participate in Farm Share program, like Meg Cunningham who has been buying in for two years now, it was an easy program to support.

“I have always been passionate about local food and supporting small farmers as opposed to relying on this import/export system,” said Cunningham.

“Nothing made that more clear to me than the pandemic when we had international borders closed and provincial borders closed and we saw how that really interrupted a lot of our regular day-to-day food expectations.”

Living just down the road, it’s a quality of produce that you just can’t beat.

“The quality, in terms of flavour, is the biggest thing I noticed and also it just looks more like something that came out of the ground as opposed to if you have these mass produced vegetables, they all kind of look the same,” said Cunningham.

“There’s just this sort of peace of mind when you get something from a farmer and you talk to them about their practices.”

With climate change also a factor, Cunningham says it’s time to start thinking of alternatives to the food chain now.

“The people that we’re going to rely on when things do change because of climate change, are the people in our communities. We can’t rely on large businesses to take care of us and to feed us, but we can maybe count on each other and this is a great way to maybe start thinking about that,” she said.  

In just four years, the Farm Share program at Willow Farm has expanded from eight members to 55 this year, which is almost already filled up.

“We’re there for our local customers,” said Burton. “We exist here in his spot because there’s a dearth of access to grocery stores in this area. If you live in Memramcook, Dorchester, Middleton area, you have two choices. You can either drive to Sackville, which is a 20 minute drive away, or you can drive into Dieppe to go to the grocery store.”

At Willow Farm, most of the work is done using hand tools, similar to a back yard garden, with quality and connection top of mind.

“I think when we have a connection to the source of what we buy, we value it more,” said Burton.

“We’re less likely to buy this frivolously and throw them away. I don’t think anybody at this point is a stranger to what’s going on with our climate… So, we’re obviously ecologically minded and one of the things that we do value is that connection with the things we buy and the things we consume as a way to reduce pollution, to reduce excess consumption, etcetera.”

The farm has pick up locations in Sackville, N.B., Dieppe, N.B., Shediac, N.B., and at the farm in Middleton for those participating in farm share. Top Stories

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