Armena, Alta. — Through the months of July to September, as many as eight people might be pulling weeds or harvesting vegetables on Denis and Andrea Forstbauer’s farm.
The people aren’t there for a paycheque. Instead, they’re picking food that will likely end up on their dinner plate the following day.
The Forstbauers operate a community supported agriculture program on their organic farm near Armena, Alta. Consumers pay a fee to get a box of fresh vegetables every week and, if they want, they can get a discount on their box if they come out to the farm and weed, wash, pick or pack.
“Everyone who is part of the program is part of the farm,” Andrea said. “It’s great because they get to connect with us and develop a deeper appreciation for the farm. Kids also get to see where our veggies grow. They don’t start in a plastic bag; they start in the ground.”
Their farm, called Grey Arrow Farm, is different from what most people expect.
On their 35 acres of land, about three acres are used for produce. As well, consumers are essentially buying into the farm. That means if a crop fails, they’ll get fewer vegetables of that type in their box.
“That’s usually a very small chance, and it might be just one vegetable,” Andrea said. “There might be some lean weeks, but it usually gets balanced out with more bountiful boxes later on.”
What makes it all worthwhile for them, though, is that they get to connect people with agriculture. It’s a passion they’ve always had.
Denis grew up on an organic farm near Chilliwack, B.C., while Andrea lived in a town nearby. They would both help out on Denis’ parents’ farm and go to farmers markets in Vancouver every weekend to sell produce.
“My mom was very inspiring in that she wanted people to always know the land and know where their food has been,” Denis said. “When you have that connection with the food you’re eating, you not only appreciate it more, but you have that desire to explore different types of foods that turn out to be much healthier than the processed stuff.”
After university, the couple decided to move to Alberta because more teaching jobs were available for Denis. He currently teaches math and science in the nearby town of Tofield, Alta., to supplement their income.
The former owners of the farm had the same community-supported program, so the Forstbauers saw a great opportunity to take it over and carry on the tradition.
“They were so gracious by passing it on to us,” Denis said. “They showed us how they did things and they’ve been great mentors for us. It also helped that I had that farming experience growing up, so there was that natural transition.”
While Denis teaches during winter, Andrea manages the books, takes care of their social media and fields any questions consumers might have. They raise five children: Judah, Asher, Joseph, Faith and Felix.
Eventually, the couple hopes they can farm full-time.
“Denis has dreams of growing winter crops by adding a greenhouse,” Andrea said. “I would love to maybe have a farm store one day. It would be great to connect with more restaurants and do events.”
For now, though, they’ll continue to expand their community membership. They currently drop off boxes in Edmonton and Camrose, but that could expand later.
“We could do wholesale, but it’s more about having that connection with people,” Denis said. “I could plant all of this and probably reap the highest yield, but there’s just those other aspects to the farm that I think we both really appreciate and enjoy.”