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  "Share cropping" comes to Dundas
By By Sandy Bierworth - AgriNews Editor

WINCHESTER SPRINGS - There's a new kind of garden growing just south of this Dundas County hamlet.

It's grown without the help of chemicals and machines, just two horses and two pairs of hands. And this year, instead of picking out the produce at the stand and paying for it, customers are buying shares of the crop in advance.

It's called Community Shared Agriculture (CSA), and it's a concept South Springs Garden recently began offering it to its customers.

In a CSA, farmers grow food for pre-determined group of consumers who pay an annual fee at the beginning of the season to purchase their share of the harvest. This allows the farmer to plan ahead, cover startup costs and focus on growing, rather than marketing. Members receive a selection of in-season vegetables each week.

South Springs gardeners Rob Wallbridge and his mother, Dianne, with help from Rob's father Jim, started gardening five acres on the family farm last year after Rob returned from working at two different CSA farms in southwestern Ontario.

The family moved to the 270-acre farm 12 years ago and Jim Wallbridge began a cash cropping business, harvesting corn, soybeans and small grains.

The Wallbridges grow a variety of vegetables and herbs, including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, spinach, lettuce, peas, carrots, beets, corn, beans, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, onions, leeks, green onions, broccoli, cauliflower, basil, parsley, oregano, savory and sage.

All the food is grown organically and the gardeners use such methods as eggshells, ground coffee and certain types of flowers to distract or repel bugs.

Dianne gave up her job as a registered nurse at Dundas Manor in Winchester to help her son on the farm.

"It's great to work with Rob outside," she said. "I enjoy having him home."

The Wallbridges accommodate requests for certain types of foods, and say delivery to Ottawa may become available if demand increases.

Two different share sizes allow consumers to feed a family of four or a couple with young children. A full share costs $450; a full working share with 10 helping hours costs $400, and half share costs $250 and a half working share with five helping hours.

Last year, the produce sold well at the Farmer's Market in Metcalfe.

So far this year, most of the available CSA memberships have been sold to consumers in and around Ottawa.

"CSA works well for both parties because you might have a bad year for one crop but a good year for another, and you still know you're going to have a market for them," said Rob.

The garden is tilled with the help of Rob's two Belgian horses, Dan and Sally, whose main job is to assist Rob with his horse logging business, TreeSong Horse Logging, in winter.

Since he opened the logging business in November of 1998, he has been mostly helping the South Nation Conservation with the ice storm cleanup.

"I do the logging mostly in winter because the ground is frozen and the trees are dormant, so less damage is done. Also, the logs slide better on the ice," he said.

"I use the horses because they can get into places that machines can't, and in the garden, they're more flexible than tractors. They can make sharper corners and you can do more. They're also more economical."

Wallbridge's logging business takes him all over the region, including Kemptville, Rideau Hill Camp, Bourgon and Bearbrook.



Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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