The organic movement is growing in power and presence in Toronto. NOW's special supplement puts the spotlight on the people committed to increasing the availability of organics and the places where shoppers can get their healthy fix. Rating: NNNNN
You know the old joke about the doctor who you guess is the patient's father but ends up being the mother? It's meant to poke fun at the assumptions we've all made about traditional roles. Like doctors are older white men and dental hygienists perky young women with impossibly white teeth. And the only ones left on farms these days are disgruntled relics wishing their kids hadn't fled to the city.
Enter Plan B Organics . They're young, grew up in the suburbs and had more experience working at bars and malls than working the land.
At least Melanie Golba , Alvaro Venturelli and his brother Rodrigo did when they decided to start an organic farm eight years ago. Now, much tilling and toiling later, they're running one of the largest organic community-supported farms in the country.
Sure, Plan B's 25-acre stretch of low-lying land in the village of Westover (within the new city of Hamilton limits) seems small by Big Agro standards, but community supported agriculture (CSA) is whole different animal. Before the first seeds were even in the ground, the Venturelli brothers (whose family fled Pinochet's Chile in 1973) and Golba secured cash advances or "shares" for weekly drop boxes of fresh veggies from about 100 families (including many of their own relatives and friends).
At $400 a year per half share (feeds two) and $700 for a full share, shareholders essentially subsidize the farmstead in a beautifully symbiotic relationship that connects consumer to grower, urban to rural like nothing else.
It's a concept the Japanese (who initiated the practice back in the 60s) call "teiki" (partnership). A more philosophical translation is "food with the farmer's face on it."
"We wanted to start something new, something more radical," says Golba, who'd just graduated from McMaster in women's studies when she stumbled into a side gig at the community garden where she met Alvaro Venturelli (now the father of her child). "We didn't look at organics as a fancy niche, growing really expensive high-end items and selling them to [affluent] communities. We wanted to get a large amount of food out to people and make it more affordable."
Now 350 families enjoy fresh certified-organic tomatoes, salad greens and over 20 other crops grown by the team of 11-14. Throw in the folks they feed at farmers markets (like Dufferin Grove and Riverdale Farm) and wholesale sales to other food boxes (like FoodShare's Good Food Box and WOW Organics, see below), and Plan B is putting crisp, nutritious, chemical-free produce in the mouths of 1,000 families, sans middlemen. Whatever they can't grow for their customers, like watermelons or apples, they contract from other organic farmers.
For Venturelli, who's father was tortured for advocating social medicine, Plan B is not only a natural extension of his dad's vision, but also a way of throwing a wrench into Big Agro.
"The reason I'm doing this today is because as long as we let corporations control the food system, we have no hope of having healthy communities," he says.
Venturelli glances over at rosy-cheeked 11-month-old daughter Mia bouncing on Golba's knee. "We'd all like to see things get a little better because we have kids. This is just my way of doing it."