‘Little box stores’ let you eat local, fresher products at competitive price

Amid concerns over grocery store food quality, Nova Scotian farmers are offering a fresh solution: community-supported agriculture (CSA).

Among those championing CSAs as a pathway to fresher, more nutritious food is Alicia King, vice-president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture.

She calls CSAs “brilliant.”

“They have proven themselves as a way to move forward, in the fight against food insecurity, getting fresh, local food into the homes that need it most, using fewer steps to go from farm to table, literally, in the course of one day.”

King is an eighth-generation farmer, and she and her family contribute to a five-farm CSA co-op, Lochaber Growers, in Antigonish, N.S.

Under the CSA program, a consumer registers for a share or box from the farm. The offerings are often seasonal, with food that was harvested that morning being available for pickup that afternoon. The boxes can be picked up at a central location, or delivered to your home.

This highly flexible way of getting produce and protein is growing in popularity all across Nova Scotia, and many farmers are using such ventures as a method of putting fresh food into the hands of consumers.

Prices vary from farm to farm, based on the size of the box and the frequency of the order. Add-ons like eggs and meat are available from some producers as well.

King estimates that her CSA is priced at “about the same dollar value as in the grocery stores for the same products,” but believes CSAs have “a more nutritional impact. The freshness is well above grocery stores’.”

Lochaber had about 120 subscribers in 2023 and is trying to grow its client base for the 2024 season. A subscription service for veggies and meats might be good for consumers’ bottom line, but “it’s better for farmers, too,” says King.

“There is less farm waste than at a farmers’ market, and before the start of the growing season, we know how many people to prepare for. Having that helps with the planting and prediction process.”

Nova Scotians who subscribe to a CSA pay a fixed weekly price, agreed to at the start of the season. As a result, they may be able to better allocate their food budget.

Part of what excites some consumers about CSAs is the variety of products they receive. Week over week and season over season, different crops are ready for harvest, and those changes are evidenced in what lands weekly in a CSA box. King says she knows many Lochaber subscribers who begin preparing days in advance of pickup, figuring out a new recipe or incorporating an unfamiliar vegetable into their meals. She calls those things exciting. “We so encourage the learning piece; we want people to understand the whole food system,” she says.

Jocelyn Spence of Dartmouth agrees. She has been a CSA subscriber for several years, receiving produce from different farms, including Taproot Farms in Port Williams, and this coming season, Abundant Acres out of Burlington, N.S.

“It has a learning curve if you’re not used to eating with the seasons,” says Spence, “ but it feels good to commit to eating local. My first CSA taught me a lot about food and farming. I also loved getting veggies that you can’t get in the grocery store like stinging nettles and kohlrabi.”

In Nova Scotia, over 830 farms report using a method of direct-to-customer sales, including operations like U-picks and farmers’ markets. About 43 per cent of those farms say they deliver to people’s homes or a non-farm pickup location.

While King encourages the whole family to take a trip to a farm to meet their producers, the option for delivery is particularly welcome for those who cannot easily get to farms or even grocery stores.

A recent Canadian Income Food Security survey found that Nova Scotia was the most food-insecure province in the country, with 28.9 per cent of the population having “insecure or inadequate access to food.”

To help with this, Lochaber Growers offers a subsidized food box to help those in need, through an Antigonish women’s shelter. The demand has increased markedly in the last two years, from 12 to 40 families relying on the box for their fresh food.

Mitigating food insecurity was one of the main objectives for Tap-root Farms when it launched one of Nova Scotia’s earliest CSAs in 2009. “We started with great support and that has continued to build,” says co-owner Josh Oulton.

This year, Taproot’s CSA has 300 shareholders who enjoy year-round and seasonal options such as vegetables, fruit, meat and eggs. The dozen or so pick-up locations include Greenwich, Bedford, Hali- fax, Dartmouth, Middle Sackville, and Cole Harbour, with home deliveries available in an area that extends from Metro Halifax to Fall River.

Oulton describes Taproot’s CSA as “community-shared agriculture,” rather than the conventional “community-supported agriculture” — a distinction that emphasizes a commitment to sharing both the ups and downs of a growing season with CSA members.

“It’s the connection with our customers that is most rewarding,” says Oulton. “Some of them have been with us since the very beginning. Taproot is their farm and it feels really good.”

Agriculture Literacy Week is held annually in March across North America, and Nova Scotia also hosts “Open Farm Day” in September for anyone who wants to get out and meet the people who grow their food.

Share this

Related stories

Subscribe for monthly updates