Winter CSA offers local vegetables, bolsters sustainability of Prairie Gardens

While many producers have harvested the majority of their crops and are preparing to look ahead to the next growing season, Bon Accord's Prairie Gardens will soon be boxing up fresh and stored vegetables as part of its winter CSA program.

CSA, or community-supported agriculture, involves buying a share of the harvest at the beginning of the season to spread the risk (and bounty) between farmers and consumers. Summer CSA programs are popular, while winter farm shares are less common.

"We're great ones for pushing boundaries," owner and horticulturalist Tam Andersen told Taproot. And there's no shortage of produce to fulfill the shares, if farms get creative.

Brussels sprouts and savoy cabbage stay buried underneath the snow until its time to shovel off the insulating layer and harvest them. Produce like winter kale can also be picked from underneath the frosty ground until the snow disappears.

Plus, winter greens like kale and swiss chard, as well as mustards and herbs, will grow in the Prairie Gardens greenhouse. Winter squash and blue culinary pumpkins that were harvested earlier in the season will also be stored there for delivery throughout the winter months.

Operating year-round allows Prairie Gardens to be more financially sustainable as a small family farm, despite the short growing season.

"We also want to give people that option of supporting and creating a local foodshed and buying naturally grown vegetables straight from the farmer through the whole season. (The hope is) that it becomes part of their regular buying habits and part of their family traditions," Andersen said.

It's a goal shared by the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board, whose task force recently endorsed the final version of a plan to grow the region's agriculture and food production sectors, while conserving local farmland.

A cluster of thick, green brussels sprouts dusted with snow

The Prairie Gardens winter CSA program runs from January to May. (Prairie Gardens/Instagram)

Over the past 40 years, Prairie Gardens has learned which crops can withstand cool temperatures and low light conditions, in an effort to be as sustainable as possible. Andersen said they primarily use natural light, only supplementing the heat at night so the vegetables don't freeze.

The other challenge with winter CSAs is providing a variety of vegetables aside from the typical medley of potatoes, onions, and carrots.

"Winter squash and pumpkins may not be a traditional winter food but once people discover how delicious they are, and how healthy they are for you, they're quite willing to try new things," Andersen said. "We also store some interesting things that you might not expect, like salsify, which is a taproot crop that looks like a big white carrot but it actually tastes a bit like oysters."

Prairie Gardens is also home to heritage chickens, so there's a farm egg share that's part of the winter weekly CSA as well.

Andersen said they'll be wrapping up their fall CSA in mid-January before beginning the deep winter iteration of the program. And the farm won't miss a beat once that wraps up — it'll be straight into the summer growing season.