Organic farm using new tech to target taste, cut waste
KAWARTHA LAKES: Lunar Rhythm Gardens lies just east of the Scugog-Manvers Townline on Gray Road, putting it just inside the City of Kawartha Lakes border and just outside Scugog Township. Its geographic location is not important, though, because it is using current technology to bring fresh, nutritious food to a market or drop-off location convenient to customers.
Under the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) model, consumers pay in advance or installments for a share of a grower’s produce, whether there is a bounty or crop failure, thus sharing the risk and the benefits of small-scale agricultural production. As many gardeners know, some vegetables grow in abundance and some are not well-loved by all, but until now, CSA shareholders got their share whether or not they liked it or could use it.
The new online portal called Harvie allows consumers to pick and choose their favourite foods from the Gray Road farm’s produce and either pick it up weekly at the farm or at one of four delivery locations, explained farm owner Jessica Foote. “We often wondered what families did with all their produce and we suspected that a fair bit got thrown out. I hate waste.” Readers can see the feature at harvie.farm/profile/lunar-rhythm-gardens.
Jessica, husband John Florence, daughter Jessalynn, father Dave Foote and an ever-changing cast of employees work year-round to supply vegetables and some fruit, eggs, and meat to shareholders. Delivery locations this summer will be in Brooklin, Bowmanville, Port Perry, and Lakefield.
The 100-acre farm, certified by Cambray agency Pro-Cert, has 20 acres dedicated to produce that will be easier to keep watered this summer. A well was drilled last year and will allow for drip irrigation of newly-planted seedlings and seeds and for the micro-spraying of small greens, “much to the relief of John, who spent many hours on the tractor watering from a portable tank,” laughed Jessica. The well will also provide pasture water for the farm’s beef cattle, who will be eating much more grass as part of an intensive rotational grazing plan.
Even though CSA shares are limited to 150 for the summer season, the enterprise also attends farmers’ markets in Millbrook, Port Perry, Peterborough and Lakefield. Add a few wholesale customers and the volume of produce to be sorted and washed becomes considerable. The investment in a bunch washer capable of cleaning more produce with less water than the current system will also reuse some water and save labour; its installation will help achieve waste reduction goals and is eagerly anticipated.
As Jessica hates wasting food, the processing building is being fitted with a health department certified kitchen, which will allow for on-farm processing of excess produce, which could be sold in a new on-farm store this fall.
Animals and insects play an integral part in food production at Lunar Rhythm Gardens. Horses are used to plough fields, bees are welcomed to the property as part of a pollinator attraction tree planting scheme, and manure is managed as part of the soil enrichment and fertilization plan. “Biodiversity keeps expenses down and fertility up,” said Jessica, recalling reports of doubled yields from tree-lined, diversely cropped fields.
While the gardens’ CSA concept provides a variety of quality vegetables at an affordable price and supports small-scale, environmentally and community-oriented food production, it is also a way to experience directly how food is grown, re-establish a social community around food and keep local money in the community.
“Farming could be a lonely job,” said Jessica, “but bringing the customers to the farm and meeting them at the markets makes it much more social. And we love our apprentices, they become family.”
The Foote and Florence family employs apprentice farmers through the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (C.R.A.F.T.) Kawartha network, a process that requires investing valuable time teaching people during the busiest time of the year. To assist with production demands, Jessica and John also hire migrant workers and hourly help, injecting more funds into the economy.
Surrounding Lunar Rhythm Gardens are huge fields of conventionally-farmed crops, grown with much different methods and inputs, yet as Jessica describes her business and efforts to evolve and adapt to changing markets and climates, she echoes the same desire to be profitable and sustainable as her neighbouring farmers.
“We’re all human, we’re all the same inside,” she said, “and we all need to keep our land healthy and productive to feed future generations.”