From farm to market garden

Community supported agriculture | Former grain farmers operate a five acre business outside Calgary

Dick and Sue Pearson did not want to leave agriculture when they decided to retire from grain farming.

The farm on the edge of Calgary had been in Dick’s family since 1925 and the couple wanted the operation to continue producing food.

They decided to turn the grain operation over to a beginning farmer and started a five acre community shared agriculture program in 2011 with six families. Today they have 180 subscribers who buy a share in the farm and receive fresh produce every week from the end of June until Thanksgiving.

“We wanted to educate people on growing vegetables and growing food. We thought it was an important aspect of living so close to the city boundaries,” Sue told an agriculture tour group at the farm July 18.

Seeds to Greens employs three students and enlists family members and CSA subscribers to help.

“We welcome people to come out to the farm, help with the harvest, help with the washing, teach skills and teach their kids where their food comes from,” Sue said.

Michael Quiambao has been working with them for two years.

“They really pride themselves on the community aspect of the garden,” he said. “As a city boy, I don’t think I would have had this experience.”

Each week, customers pick up their basket of produce from four delivery sites in Calgary.

The basket contents depend on what is in season that week. They may receive a variety of lettuce, root vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peas, beans, cabbages and other garden produce.

A half share for two people costs $350 and a full share is $650 for a family of four.

Extra vegetables are donated to the Mustard Seed Mission or are sold in a mini market to anyone willing to stop by one of the four delivery sites.

The farm also has a U-pick strawberry patch.

The couple starts everything from seed on the farm and this year built a high tunnel to cover 400 tomato plants to ensure a consistent supply of vine ripened tomatoes and speed up the growing season by two weeks.

With advice from Rockyview County and Alberta Agriculture, they installed a dugout with two years supply of water for irrigation. Their limited water supply has capped how much they can grow from year to year.

The gardens are rotated each year around the property. A local horticulturalist helps monitor the growing season and offers planning advice in the winter.

They have experimented with different ways to control pests because they do not use pesticides. Some products are not grown because the climate is unsuitable or the bugs are overwhelming.

“It’s Mother Nature who determines how the garden is going to grow,” Sue said.

At the end of each season, clients are surveyed to see what they liked or if they have suggestions for new crops.

Bok choy was added this year along with Japanese pumpkins.

They also include recipes to help consumers prepare produce like Swiss chard or kale.

“The demand for fresh local produce is there. We have a wait list for 2015 already but we are capped at our capacity,” she said.