By Dan Woolley
By Dan Woolley
Patricia Bishop and her husband, Josh Oulton, are in the middle of transitioning their 300 acres of cropland, orchards and pasture in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley out of conventional production into organic agriculture.
When Bishop bought 23 acres of farmland in 2007 near Port Williams, NS, her initial goal was to grow organic fruits and vegetables for the wholesale market.
That market was slow growing, so she quickly modified her business plan by starting a community shared agriculture (CSA) program in 2009, allocating much of the farm’s production to off-farm partners who buy annual shares in the program.
“Now, we are delivering 450 boxes of food regularly in the Valley and Metro (Halifax),” she says.
Oulton supervises production while Bishop handles the marketing and administration of the CSA program.
Tap Root Farms delivers food boxes 50 of the 52 weeks of the year to CSA shareholders with the first delivery starting in early April and the last delivery occurring in late March of the next year.
Oulton and Bishop can offer virtually year-round delivery of fresh produce because they grow their fruit and vegetables either in a greenhouse, several high tunnels, or in a field covered with black plastic mulch.
The couple sells their vegetables in two sizes. The small box is suitable for two people and costs about $700 for an annual share, which averages out to about $14 weekly. The large box, suitable for up to four people, has an annual share price of $1,150 or about $23 weekly. The farm’s large fruit box has an annual share price of $750, about $15 weekly, and the small fruit box has a $400 share price, about $8 weekly.
The contents of the boxes vary during the year depending on what crops are being harvested and how well those crops do in storage or, if they are preserved, dried or frozen.
Every three months, the produce allocations change. In the spring, alfalfa sprouts, pea shoots, apples, sweet apple cider, potatoes, early greens, rhubarb, asparagus, stinging nettles, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, radishes, pea shoots, preserved and frozen vegetables will be in the vegetable boxes. In the fall, leeks, Napa and savoy cabbages, beets, pumpkins, squash, greens, carrots, apples, kale, onion, garlic, celeriac, Brussel sprouts, kohlrabi, turnip/rutabaga, potatoes and sweet potatoes will be supplied to CSA customers.
Tap Root and Noggins Corner Farm partner to provide produce for the fruit boxes, filling them with peaches, pears, plums, sweet cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, Arctic kiwi and more than 50 varieties of apples, plus fruit preserves, dried and frozen fruits and fruit juice.
The fruit from Noggins Corner Farm is non-organic but grower Andrew Bishop, father of Patricia Bishop, uses Integrated Pest Management and less harsh pesticides to lessen possible adverse environmental impacts.
Tap Root also raises farm animals, such as beef cows, sheep, pastured pigs and free-range chickens.
Periodically, the couple fallows a vegetable plot and rotationally grazes the cows and sheep on the plots, while the swine root in the soil as the ruminant animals fertilize it with manure.
Oulton has an agreement with a nearby young farmer to supply non-GMO feed and grains that are fed to Tap Root’s cattle, sheep, pigs and free-range chickens.
Tap Root’s animals also provide meat and eggs to its CSA program customers.
Oulton and Bishop are also developing Tap Root into a farm tourism destination. During the summer, they present several jerk pork and chicken dinners prepared by one of the operation’s seasonal workers from Jamaica.
But Bishop emphasizes it’s the CSA program and its off-farm shareholders that supports their expanded organic production.