Reflections on Eating More Veggies – Summer Student Guest Post #2

Hello again! My name is Angeli and I am one of this year’s summer students at Farmers on 57th. As promised in my previous blog post, here are more reflections about personal benefits of eating more veggies through a CSA.

Eating more veggies is healthy AND fun

The updated Canada Food Guide was released earlier this year and it looks pretty different than the old rainbow model. I like the visual guide of half your plate being fruits and vegetables. It also reminds us to be mindful of our eating habits, cook more often, enjoy our food, eat meals with others, and limit foods high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat.

I am definitely biased, but I think committing to eat seasonal vegetables for 20 weeks can be fun and delicious, while ticking the boxes for healthy eating listed above. We grow several dozen varieties of vegetables and herbs, and you will most likely try something you have never tried before (kohlrabi, anyone?). I can assure you from personal experience that our tomatoes and carrots are way more delicious than what you’ll buy from the grocery store.

Canada’s new Food Guide looks different. Aim for half your plate to be fruits and veggies.

It’s also a chance to get creative with recipes to include veggies you may not normally cook with. Last summer I learned to put radish and turnip tops in soups and stews, make pesto with garlic chives, and quick-pickle excess zucchini using ingredients I already had at home. I found so many new recipes and ways of cooking food. Google is your friend in this regard.

Joining a CSA will expand your food horizons. You’ll learn what you like and don’t like. You will also learn how to store and preserve food (e.g. freeze, can, or pickle) if you can’t finish your veggie box in one week. Don’t worry – we send tips, recipes, and resources in our weekly newsletter on how to do this.

“Do you spray?”

We often get asked if we spray our veggies with pesticides, as people are understandably concerned about pesticide residue. As I mentioned in my last blog post, we don’t spray pesticides on our vegetables. Last year, I think we sprayed a solution of water with a few drops of Dawn dish soap to deal with aphids in one of our beds. Otherwise, we rely on ecological pest management strategies. Human and ecological health is important to us.

I think it’s important to emphasize that the people most at risk from potentially toxic effects of pesticides are those who are directly exposed – i.e. farm workers and people in the immediate area during and right after pesticide application. The general population are generally exposed to much lower levels of pesticide residues in food and water. I think that concern for the health of farm workers (many of whom are seasonal migrant workers vulnerable to exploitation and unsafe conditions) and farm communities is a huge reason to support farms that use ecological methods of pest management.

Healthy food and healthy farmers

Our veggies are grown by paid farm staff and regular volunteers who come 1-2 times a week. Most of us walk, bike, or bus to the farm. Our volunteers include students (high school and post-secondary), retirees, nutritionists, newcomers looking for community, and people keen to learn more about growing food.

As a former volunteer, I can attest that the experience taught me a lot about growing food well. It’s more hands-on than reading a gardening book and more social than watching Youtube videos. It helped me be more physically fit and discover muscles I didn’t know I had. I feel more connected to the soil, the weather, and other living creatures that I never paid attention to before. Some of our volunteers are veteran gardeners and I always learn something new from them.

We love meeting our CSA members, answering questions, getting feedback, and sharing recipes. You are welcome to take a look at our farm up close on pick-up days to see how everything is grown.

“Okay, but why so expensive?”

I want to end by addressing this question that always comes up. I’ve heard it asked about our CSA program, as well as at the farmers market stand at my university, and at the Richmond farm where I worked last summer.

In general terms, growing food well often means incurring higher costs associated with a more complex cropping system. For example, off-farm compost is more expensive than synthetic fertilizer if you just look at the amount of nitrogen provided per dollar. As a society, we haven’t quite gotten to the point where we pay farmers for the cost of providing ecological services like biodiversity conservation and soil carbon sequestration that benefit everyone. Nor have we asked polluters to pay the true cost of dumping toxins and greenhouse gases into our atmosphere (but that is a much longer blog post).

Our CSA price is in line with other harvest box programs available in Metro Vancouver. I am not an economist, and I have not done an actual breakdown of costs for every vegetable we produce. If you would like to nerd out and read more about the typical costs incurred by small scale vegetable farmers in BC, check out these enterprise budgets created by the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems at KPU.

I remember when my family moved here from the Philippines and my mom kept pointing out how cheap the food is in Canada, relative to wages. Canada is one of a few countries where people spend less than 10% of household income on food on average. Compare that to 41.9% of household income in the Philippines. Canadian households spent an average of $8,109 on food and non-alcoholic beverages in 2014. We spent 24% or $1,959 on restaurant meals and 15% or $1,182 on meat, compared to 8% or $675 on “vegetables and vegetable preparations”.

Image source: An Overview of the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food System, 2016. You can request a copy of the full report from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Obviously, everyone’s situation is different and those numbers depend on what your actual income is. About 1 in 8 Canadian households have inadequate access to food due to financial constraints. Food insecurity is an issue of income. The University of Toronto has reports and policy suggestions to address this issue if you would like to learn more.

Depending on your current food budget, buying our harvest box might mean spending more money on vegetables than you normally would. If $30 a week for veggies feels like more than you usually spend, you could think of it as an opportunity to reallocate your budget from restaurant meals, processed foods, meat, or dairy. You will end up cooking more at home, anyway. And we know that $600 upfront is not easy for many of us, so we can work with you on a customized payment schedule.

Whew! That was another long blog post. Thanks for reading, and please comment or email us if you have any questions.

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