Urban Grains CSA: February Update

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February 19th, 2009 by Martin

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Much has happened since the last newsletter for our local grain project went out in January (you can sign up here) – we’ve moved in leaps and bounds, in fact. As many of you know, we held a meeting in December with a small group of farmers who are growing grain in the Delta region, primarily either as a cover crop or wildlife set-aside. Although the meeting was quite encouraging from the point of grain availability (there is no question, these farmers have grain for sale), we were confronted with two key hurdles: 1) our original vision of a CSA model, similar to the one in Creston and Nelson, would not work in Delta. It became clear that if we were to base the program in Delta, we would be forced to adopt a more conventional distributor role requiring significant start-up capital and a less direct consumer/producer connection; 2) the region was lacking the necessary infrastructure. Before grain can be milled, it has to be cleaned, and we were unable to find any individual or business nearby with the capacity to clean for human consumption.

Unsure where next to turn, we were contacted by a part-time farmer living in Agassiz, who is keen to become involved in the project. Jim Grieshaber-Otto, together with Diane Exley and their two children, manage a community-minded family farm that has been growing small amounts of grain for several decades. About 100 acres in size, Cedar Isle Farm partners with a neighbouring dairy farm to produce silage and hay (for both cows and horses), and pastures Angus beef cattle, layer hens, and free-range broiler chickens.The farm grows a few acres of grain each year – mostly oats and wheat – which is either used as animal feed or sold to friends and neighbors. This year the farm has three acres of fall-sown winter wheat and one acre of triticale (a cross between wheat and rye), and will soon be planting two acres of hard red spring (bread) wheat, for harvest this autumn. Jim estimates that, given a decent growing season and harvest conditions, they will have enough grain both for the CSA and for their own on-farm and local use. Although not certified, the farm has long operated under organic principles and is in the process of seeking certification.

Despite there still being some questions about infrastructure, our partnership with Cedar Isle Farm places us in a relatively strong position. The farm has a well-maintained 1958 combine (pictured in the attachment) and a functional, heritage (circa 1901!) fanning mill for cleaning grain. While the current cleaner should work in a pinch, we’re trying to track down a better piece of equipment, possibly paying for its purchase through funds raised in the first year of the CSA. We have spoken with the people at Anita’s Organic Grain and Flour Mill in nearby Chilliwack, and they appear willing to custom mill the relatively small quantity of grain we would need. We have also identified a small-carbon-footprint transportation and distribution option; an Agassiz-based delivery truck operator has agreed to add wheat and flour to his regular delivery trips into the Vancouver area.

That’s all to report for now. While we do have some other exciting plans to announce, they are all rather tentative, so you’ll have to wait until the next newsletter. We hope to be visiting Cedar Isle Farm sometime in March to check on the progress of the grain, and then determine the logistical details (price, size per membership, delivery schedule, etc.) for the CSA program. At that point, if all goes well, we will start accepting memberships.

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