How New Brunswick Farms are BypassingGrocery Giants

Community Supported Agriculture is Growing in New Brunswick

Written by Alex Graham and first published on Translation by the Government of New Brunswick’s Translation Bureau.

SAINT JOHN — It’s the season for getting fresh fruit and vegetables delivered to your door (or close to it). Community Supported Agriculture, or CSAs, are a relatively new phenomenon to New Brunswick but they’re creating a community of small-scale, sustainable farming and helping introduce a new generation to fresh produce.

CSAs sell a share of the produce they grow on their farm to members of the community, who in return get a weekly box of fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, or other products in return.

“The whole family looks forward to CSA day,” says Kris Hurtubise of Symbiotic Horizons Farm. “Parents notice that the carrots are all gone in a day or [the kids] eat all the good turnips.”

Yes, that’s right – turnips.

“The salad turnips,” says Naomi Hurtubise, who runs the farm with Kris. “I had one mom saying: ‘I looked into the bag and the kids had already eaten all of the turnips.’”

“They’re small, almost like the size of a radish. They’re sweet… and crunchy. Our kids love them too.”

Agriculture Minister Margaret Johnson says there’s growing support for community-supported agriculture in New Brunswick.

“They’re invested in each other,” Johnson says of the farmers and the CSA box shareholders. “They know the money is coming right back into the community. It gives them comfort that they know exactly where their food comes from.”

“The impetus during Covid was that we wanted to support our local people,” she explains. And that ethos has continued.

In the past several weeks the province has released the details of a number of farm-supportive programs that provide funding and other opportunities to both new and established farmers.

“We released a land suitability link on our website, which is a fantastic opportunity for people who are interested in coming to New Brunswick.”

The tool allows people to see available land and allows people to identify the most suitable available land for the types of crops that they want to grow. There’s also an in-depth document guiding new farmers through the process of starting a farm.

In early April, the province released the details of the Sustainable Canadian Agriculture Program (SCAP), which provides funding for a number of different aspects of agriculture, like environmental beneficial management practices, business skills and training, and crop and livestock development.

At Symbiotic Horizons, just a hop, skip, and jump from Mactaquac Provincial Park, the Hurtubises agree that New Brunswick has opportunities in farming that other parts of the country can’t match.

They got the idea to start a family farm in New Brunswick after trying to find a similar plot of land in their native Ontario.

“It’s something we’ve always been passionate about and we were searching and searching for land. And in 2019 we found this piece of land and we decided yeah, let’s go for it,’ says Naomi.

She says they’ve been building towards creating a permaculture-based approach to farming. It’s a land management technique where everything is being grown with the added purpose to support the other things being grown, reducing the need for additional inputs like pesticides, while creating a sustainable ecosystem.

For example, they have chickens on the farm for pest control and to help with fertility through compost. They’ve planted certain flowers to attract insects which kill aphids – a destructive force on the farm.

“We’ll have a huge amount of diversity,” she says of their aspirations for the years ahead which they plan to include mulberries, haskap berries, currents, apples, pears, and plums.

Their active 13 acres of farm, with an additional seven acres of forest, will be growing enough produce to supply about 20 boxes, one per week, for the season.

They had been customers of CSAs back in Ontario, which they used to supplement their own garden produce at the time.

“We really liked the model behind it…Our intent was always to start out as a CSA,” says Naomi. “I don’t know that we really want to sell in grocery stores. It’s really more about building a community and feeding our community.”

Duncan Godfrey at Hampton Hill Family Farm has been in the CSA business for six years, after getting familiar with the farming model in his native British Columbia.

“Because we do a CSA we have to grow a large variety of stuff…pretty much everything you can get at a grocery store,” he says. Their boxes include things like spring onions, head lettuce, chard, kale, radish and … salad turnips.

“They’re pretty popular,” Godfrey says.

Because the boxes are a bit different every time, with different vegetables coming into season throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Godfrey says he has to provide a bit of education about what to do with some of the more unusual vegetables.

“From my feedback, people really enjoy that because they get to try new things.”

He says interest in the CSA model really took off after Covid.

“It just blew up. We did 30 shares that year and I think they sold in a week.”

He says doing small-scale agriculture with a community model was a great way to get into farming.

“It was a good way for us to get off the ground,” he says, especially in the first few months when nothing has grown yet, but inputs like seed and fertilizer are needed.

He says the community has really embraced the CSA model, because it puts them closer to where their food is coming from.

“You’re welcome to come to the farm and see how we do it,” was one of the messages he promoted when getting started.

“Just showing people that they could be a bit involved and more in touch with their food comes from. And the fact that it’s organic, locally grown, picked pretty much the day of, or the day before, you’re getting the box.”

“It’s the freshness that sells people.”

Alex Graham is a Huddle reporter in Saint John. Send her your feedback and story ideas:

Editor’s note: this story was last updated on Wednesday, May 4 at 10 am.