Bountiful baskets of veggies

Jackie Milne shows off what she calls "jungle basil" in a greenhouse on her property in Hay River. -- Sarah Ladik

Jackie Milne shows off what she calls “jungle basil” in a greenhouse on her property in Hay River.
— Sarah Ladik

Hay Riverites have a new way to get their hands on local produce, and by all accounts, they can’t have enough.

“I have been floored at the response,” said Jackie Milne, founder of the initiative. “I don’t have the resources to meet all the requests, so we’re looking at expanding.”

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) projects – in which households sign up for a basket of produce at regular intervals – are relatively common across Canada. The idea is to make it easier for consumers to purchase their vegetables on a weekly basis, help producers get an idea of what they need to harvest each week and have a guaranteed market in which to sell it.

Milne explained that the original plan had been to go sell her produce, including tomatoes, zucchini, herbs and kale among many other things, at farmers’ markets in Yellowknife. The road closures, however, stopped those plans in their tracks and forced Milne to come up with another idea. As a bit of a test, she decided to try out the CSA model about a month ago. It grew so popular that now, in only its second week, she is asking more producers to join in.

“What I really like about the model is that it can be like a tool to help producers move toward selling what they grow,” she said, explaining that often marketing is the largest barrier to small farms going commercial. “It makes for an established marketing channel.”

The baskets themselves go for $40 every week, and Milne has a list of people signed up for the rest of the season. She said its something she has wanted to do for a while.

“It takes a bit of organization and some education, but it really helps take the guesswork out of harvesting,” she said. “When you take your stuff to a market, you always have to think of how much you think you’re going to sell and try to predict how many people there will be. You can’t bring it back and put it in the ground if you don’t sell it.”

Buyers are just as pleased with the arrangement, said Milne, adding that many came early on the first official basket-pickup day and were excited to see what they contained.

“After getting my veggies, we all sat at the table and pigged out,” said customer Shelley Maher. “I made basil pesto and kale smoothies this morning, so I do love the fresh organics.”

As word spreads and demand grows, Milne said she has already approached other local growers to contribute. She hopes that not only will she be able to fill more orders with a wider variety of produce, but also help market gardeners who are deciding whether or not to grow more commercially.

“It’s a great system,” she said. “All I wonder is, how come we didn’t do this before?”

— Sarah Ladik