Community Supported Agriculture
Secret #vancouver Food Hax
I was part of a CSA for a while!
So, when I lived in New Westminster (a decade ago), I walked to the quay to have some barbeque at Re-Up for dinner. While I was there, they had bacon for sale. I bought a package. I brought it home and fried it up for breakfast.
It was the best bacon I had ever eaten in my entire life.
I went back to Re-Up. “Where did you get this mysterious bacon?”, I asked.
So they let me know: a community farm that was operating out of South Burnaby.
I followed up with the community farm. The farm didn’t always have bacon, and when it did, it sold out really quickly and usually went to its CSA partners first. That was something they offered: a CSA Box: I’d pay them up-front and in exchange I would receive a box of random farm products every week for several weeks.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA model) or cropsharing is a system that connects producers and consumers within the food system closer by allowing the consumer to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms. It is an alternative socioeconomic model of agriculture and food distribution that allows the producer and consumer to share the risks of farming. The model is a subcategory of civic agriculture that has an overarching goal of strengthening a sense of community through local markets.
Y’know… like a food Patreon.
The idea of the CSA model is laudable: you’re paying their costs up front (farming has a lot of up-front costs), and then, whether it’s a good growing year or a bad one for the farm, they get the security of knowing they’ve covered their costs, and not to have to shill their product quite so hard; and you get a lot of very, very fresh vegetables. Presumably this can also cut into their profits in a really good growing year (you’re taking on the risk, but also eating in to the reward) - but they can recoup this by secretly short-vegetabling you (how would I know?), and they probably shouldn’t need to (since they should be encoding a comfortable profit margin into the system either way).
I tried it for a year and it was a mixed bag. Like, literally, that’s what the product was: a mixed bag. THIS HAS BEEN A CSA PUN. But also that is a good metaphor for the quality and quantity of the stuff I received. Sometimes: amazing. Sometimes: extremely unimpressive. Even with my modicum of cooking skill, I don’t always have a plan for a bag full of ramps.
I made do, probably learned some things.
Tiff still brings up the Very Tiny Chicken (“it was like five bites of meat each”) and the Rabbit Stew as examples of bad value for our money, though. They were still experimenting with some of their livestock and farming methods, and some of them turned out to be embarassingly low yield. Which they also freely admitted - and it was also interesting being on their mailing list and watching them learn this stuff in real time.
I did get a lot of eggs and bacon out of the deal, though, and you know what, if there was a CSA that just dealt in eggs, fresh bread and bacon I’d be set.
Ultimately: It was kind of a pain in the ass to have to drive all the way to South Burnaby for groceries once a week. I walk for groceries, which comes with a whole patchwork of entirely different environmental and social ups and downs. Eventually, I moved far enough away that it became inconvenient to keep up with (and cancelled my subscription).
One criticism leveled at the CSA model in that Wikipedia article I posted:
Many CSA farmers can capitalize on a closer relationship between customers and their food, since some customers will pay more (an economic rent if this puts the price above the cost of production) if they know where it is coming from, who is involved, and have special access to it. However, some farmers participating in community-supported agriculture do not experience the economic benefits that they are perceived to obtain by participating in an alternative community-based arrangement. Galt’s 2013 study of CSA farmers found that many farmers charged lower fees and prices for their goods than would provide them with financial security. This study suggested that farmers may charge less than they need to earn fair wages due to undervaluing their expenses and to offset the high costs of CSA products and make it more affordable for customers;
or, tl;dr: sometimes farmers don’t charge enough for their shit, and while a community connection helps them charge more it doesn’t always work. Spoilers.
The CSA itself, complaining that, even with their CSA, they couldn’t afford to keep operating a farm on some of the most expensive land in all of Canada, moved to Merritt, where they formed Blue Sky Ranch, stopped farming anything but pigs (which was, as far as I understand, the most profitable and successful part of their operation), and now quietly sell some of the best pork products I’ve ever had access to.
Since then I’ve bought at least a pig and a half from them. Their pork is extremely good. You do have to get on the mailing list, though, if you want to know when it’s going to be available - and you have to be willing to commit to a Lot of Pig.
And while I have a lot of ethical compunctions about eating meat, I do know that their pigs are cared for, get to roam around outside and forage, and don’t spend any part of their lives getting fattened on a feed lot or caged, which helps somewhat.
Anyways, with my CSA gone, that’s where my CSA story ended.
Until, you know, Twitter imploded, and I returned to Mastodon for the first time in months.
I started following the slow-moving-but-extant
#vancouver tag - putting me into the loop about a bunch of stuff that “the sort of people who use Mastodon” would want to tell me about Vancouver.
One of those things? “Here’s some CSAs in Vancouver who are selling shares for their 2023 season”, Farmers on 57th and Skipper Otto.
Interesting! Relevant to my interests! Something that I bet twitter would never have surfaced for me.
Farmers on 57th
Okay, not gonna lie, this one looks like it’s got all of the same problems as the last CSA I was in. Their blog indicates that they are struggling, somewhat.
That’s no reason not to support them, though. My reason not to support them is much more petty: Driving to South Vancouver between 3 and 6 PM on Tuesdays? That is rush hour my dudes. Despite living in [REDACTED], a quick Google Maps test of traffic around that time of day indicates that, depending on traffic, I would have to commit 60-120 minutes per week of solo driving to this project.
I might hunt for a CSA at some point, and if I do? I’m gonna hunt for one that either delivers or has a pick-up point in walking or very short driving distance.
That’s not me worried about the environment, that’s just me going “frig, I don’t want to spend 90 minutes in my car in a week when I don’t have to”.
I am a 20 minute walk or short electric scoot from a nice permanent vegetable market where I can get vegetables that are still pretty darned fresh, and also exercise.
Okay, so, a pass on this one.
But Skipper Otto. That’s kind of interesting.
They offer the same sort of deal as a CSA, but instead of farming, you’re doing it for fishing.
Here’s the thing: getting good seafood is kinda hard.
Despite living coastally, I struggle to get my hands on good fish.
Mega-grocery chain Save On Foods? Their fish counter is … well, it’s okay. You can almost always get a bag of shrimp of unclear provenance or a plank of Pretty Okay Salmon.
You want the good stuff? Good fish markets are a lot harder to find than good butchers.
Again with the help of Google Maps, from my current location there are several independent and specialty butchers in walking distance and double-digit butchers within a short drive - but no fish markets in walking distance, and only a handful if I’m willing to commit to a slightly longer drive.
Fresh Ideas Start Here is a pretty good, if pricey, local fish market, if I make the time to hop in my car and putter over there - but largely, I don’t.
It also took me an embarassing amount of time to realize that their name spells “F.I.S.H.”. That’s some real Gen Z Devon Cole shit right there.
Anyways: good fish markets: few and far between.
And it’s also kind of an open secret that most of BC’s best seafood gets flash frozen and sold throughout the entire Pacific Rim, where a lot of buyers are willing to pay a premium for it.
Despite BC being a place where fishing happens, we’re not a great place to Sell Fish For Exorbitant Prices, so… well, we’re a fishing town where you don’t actually get to eat a lot of that fish. (This is our karmic retribution for eating all the avocadoes)
My best idea for finding really good seafood would probably be to head to the Fisherman’s Wharf in Steveston, but that’s a heck of a journey.
So: Back to Skipper Otto: You pay up-front, local fisherman go out and catch fish, you select what you want online, they drop it off at a drop-off point (my closest one is Steel & Oak in New West which is very close), and you get the fishyfish. They get a fair price and don’t have to work through one of the large commercial fisheries. You get good seafood.
They even appear to have a pretty good website.
That sounds good, I’m sold. I’m going to give it a try next year.
will report back later with my fishy findings