Our Work, Food, Environment
Connecting growers and eaters through Community Supported Agriculture
Curated by Vanessa Cunningham
Storyteller: Leslie Moskovits
November 17, 2021
It’s an unusually wet afternoon in September, and Leslie Moskovits squints out her kitchen window to where her vegetables are growing. It’s fall and the fields are full of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, and all kinds of foodstuffs that are characteristic of this time of year. She expresses her concern about the rain, knowing that this large amount of moisture is bound to impact her crop.
Leslie is a passionate organic vegetable producer and land steward who runs a small-scale ecological farm with her husband, Jeff Boesch. Their 95-acre farm, Cedar Down, is located on the traditional lands of the Three Fires Confederacy of the Odawa, Potawatomi and the Ojibwe/Chippewas… which today is also known as Neustadt, Grey County, Ontario. The vegetables they grow on Cedar Down fill weekly boxes for members of their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
CSA is a model of farming that connects farmers directly to consumers (known as members or shareholders). Members pay farmers for the full cost of the program upfront and in advance of the growing season. In return, they receive a share of the food harvested by the farm for a specified period. Some farms offer year-round shares, like Leslie and Jeff, whereas others operate seasonally. Typically, the shares come in different sizes and members receive them every one or two weeks. By paying upfront, members share the economic risks associated with farming so that the producers don’t suffer financial losses if something happens to their crop, or animals. In exchange, farmers commit to caring for the land and using sustainable approaches to farming to produce quality food.
CSA provides economic stability for farmers like Moskovits. In fact, stability is one of the reasons that she and Jeff decided to pursue this model. “CSA gives us a predictable source of income that doesn’t fluctuate if the tomatoes or spinach fails or it’s a bad year,” she says. “It means we can guarantee food for customers because we’re not in an unstable situation. That’s why we did it and in many ways, it’s proving right.”
Another strength of the CSA model that interested Leslie and Jeff was the community aspect – they wanted the ability to provide a known food source at the local level and respond to the food needs of the people situated there. CSA can achieve this because it relies on connections between growers (farmers) and eaters (members). “CSA is a community-based system. Right from the beginning you have to make relationships in order to make it work,” she says. “All of these connections form because community is structurally embedded in CSA.”
That understanding prompted Leslie and Jeff to quickly weave themselves into the local community when they arrived in 2009. Integration was key to effectively run their CSA program. They worked hard to establish trusting relationships with people by ensuring honest communication, maintaining an open mind to learn and improve their farming skills, and giving people high quality food that they wanted. And their efforts are paying off – they’ve sold all their vegetable shares well in advance of each season. But, they stress, none of it would have been possible without the community.
Cedar Down Farm is now into its 12th season, and many of the same members who joined the CSA program in the beginning are still picking up their weekly vegetable shares. Leslie and Jeff (and their staff) grow, pick, process, and deliver the food to three pick-up locations: Hanover, Port Elgin, and Guelph, which allows them to see and interact with their members regularly. Many of their members are no longer just customers. Now, they’re people that Leslie and Jeff know intimately and care about, and vice versa. Over time, they’ve learned about each other’s food preferences, shared stories about their kids, and supported each other during hard times. “This is community,” says Leslie. “This is how it works. It’s not rocket science! You need to know the people to know what they need. And then you do, and all the other stuff can happen from that. It’s simple, but so wonderful.”
The CSA program also gives members an opportunity to learn more about the farming process. In doing so, they gain a deeper understanding about where food comes from and the real challenges that farmers face. So, when a crop fails because of weather, insects, disease, or whatever it may be, members accept it. They trust the growers (Leslie, Jeff, and team), and they understand this is how nature works.
“It reinvigorates an understanding in the people who are eating the food, of farming, of what it means to produce food, of what to expect, what it should mean for farmers and eaters,” says Leslie. “It redevelops and strengthens relationships between farmers and eaters, and eaters and the land that is growing the food. So, if something happens you can say, this is why your onions have some rot, because of leek moth infestation. And they say okay, got it!”
Although the CSA model supports Leslie and Jeff’s livelihood and increases local food access for their community, they still experience challenges. Farming is an all-consuming endeavor that can be tiring and stressful. Leslie and Jeff are also parents of two young children, Asher and Wren, which is another full-time-plus job.
And then there are the large-scale issues facing society. These include how the modern conventional food system has taught many to understand food as a commodity and disassociate it from health and wellbeing. All this adds another layer of stress to Leslie, who wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves equitable access to quality food, which is so much more than a transactional product. “The special thing about food is that people know it’s important when they become reintroduced to that,” she says. “Big corporations less than care. They want to break apart inextricable links between food and wellbeing, so giving someone beautiful food rekindles that right away.”
Leslie finds solace in the CSA and the land where she lives and farms. She describes how her journey of moving from Toronto, the most urban area of Canada, to a rural community has transformed her relationship with the land and everyone on it. What started as almost a non-existent relationship has grown into one of immense gratitude and respect. “I think we recognize that relationship every day and how abundant the earth is; how she will give you what you need if you do her right,” she says. “We’re trying to do what we think is right. The goal is to fit into the land and then you get so much back. We see that all the time, and I’m really grateful for that and for the opportunity.”
Stewarding and sharing the land are also at the core of what it means to be farmers for Leslie and Jeff. This is clearly shown by the diverse mixture of ecological spaces spread across Cedar Down Farm. Only 6-7 acres are actively used for growing vegetables, and 12-16 acres for rotational cultivation. The rest comprises forests, wetlands, meadows, and many animals, birds, and insects that call it home. There is also a forest school that provides land-based education to children in the community. And they once shared the land with an herb grower.
In the future, they hope to increase land access, collaborate with others, and find ways to help meet the needs of the community.
The importance of relationships cannot be emphasized enough, and really gets to the heart of why Leslie and Jeff do what they do: That is, to contribute to re-creating a food system that is just and sustainable. They are deeply committed to this goal and the CSA model is helping them to reach it.