This past Sunday was Harvest Festival at the Community Supported Garden (CSG) at Genesis Farm, one of the first organic farms in the country to form under the model of Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA. Harvest Festival is an annual event that brings together members from the CSG and surrounding community to help harvest carrots, after which there is a potluck and bonfire to celebrate the season and the farm. Beginning at 1:00PM, we slowly began the process of pulling carrots from the soil, “topping” them, and putting them into 60 pound bags to be hauled away and distributed to CSG members. When all was said and done, we harvested about 8,000 pounds of flavor-packed, organic carrots in just four hours thanks to support from the community.
Having recently moved to Genesis Farm to live and work here (though not to farm), Harvest Festival was my first true opportunity to spend some time with my hands in the soil as a farmer would every day throughout the season. Although I only spent four hours in the field, that brief time gave me immense respect for the labour, knowledge, and love required to grow healthy, nutrient dense and chemical free food. We had a beautiful and unusually warm fall day that made working outdoors a special treat — alternatively, the farmers work rain or shine through hot and cold weather from the start to the end of the growing season. This direct exposure to the realities of what it takes to grow food sustainably is a fun and simple way to connect its members to agriculture, and it also leverages their support to reduce the amount of work needed by its farmers.
After the carrots were hauled away, members and staff migrated to an area outside the distribution center, where we celebrated the growing season with a potluck, light entertainment, and a bonfire. The gathering also gave staff the opportunity to honor their board president, who was stepping down after decades of faithful and dedicated service to the farm. That seasons’ apprentices, three young farmers who lived and worked on the farm this year, were also recognized for their essential contributions. Much applause was given, some tears were shed, and many plates of food were shared and eaten. Songs and stories were enjoyed late into the evening around the bonfire and under the shining light of a radiant full moon.
I went home that night filled with gratitude and satisfaction for the opportunity to contribute to harvesting healthy food and meet so many people from the surrounding area. I also left with a profound appreciation for the CSA model, which greatly supports small farmers by relieving them from the need to also sell their produce. Instead of needing to prepare, distribute, and sell what they grow to finance operations and livelihoods, the CSA allows the local community to take some of that responsibility for what they eat by purchasing a “share” at the beginning of the season and picking up produce themselves from the farm.
Aside from this operational distinction from market-based farming (i.e., the farmers sell their produce them-self), Harvest Festival helped me understand that community supported agriculture is a powerful vehicle for building relationships between the producers and consumers in our food system. What I participated in that day was not just the harvest of carrots, or the celebration of the growing season, but the creation of community around the act of farming. In a world dominated by industrial agriculture and our almost complete severance from what it actually takes to grow food, CSAs like the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm are a beacon of light.
Food is a sacred and intimate act. What we eat literally transforms into our physical bodies (“you are what you eat”). Meditate on this. When you eat a carrot, you take something grown from a seed often smaller than your fingernail, and process it into your bones, muscles, nerves, flesh, and thoughts. There is nothing on the planet that more directly contributes to our well-being than the food that creates our bodies. And if we want healthy food, we also need healthy soil and healthy farmers to work it, because industrial agriculture is, in the long term, not a viable or sustainable way to feed the planet. Community Supported Agriculture is an alternative model that deserves wider recognition for its ability to more directly support farmers who grow healthy food, build community, and reconnect us to the Earth that sustains us.