Local farms across North America see surge in popularity
It took five innocuous boxes of a dozen eggs, hand-picked flowers and garden-fresh produce, all beautifully arranged by a retired florist to generate local interest, demand and a subsequent waiting list for Honeyberry Farm’s seasonal produce boxes.
Mary Marchuk, a Heffley Lake farmer and owner of Honeyberry Farm, never expected the boxes to garner much interest when an abundance of produce from her 2017 harvest led to the creation of the boxes.
Not wanting to profit from her arrangements, she saw it more as a summer hobby, Marchuk sold the boxes to friends living in the area for $25.
“When people saw them, it just exploded. They look beautiful, with fresh vegetables coming out and flowers, a dozen eggs, and it escalated the next year to 20 boxes,” Marchuk said of her early box arrangements.
Marchuk will now prepare 25 boxes a week for a slew of locals and returning customers with a waiting list of more than 20 others interested in purchasing the arrangements.
Similar boxes offered across North America have seen a surge in popularity, with reports explaining customers are looking for ways to support local farmers and secure fresh food for their families during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In nearby Chase, B.C., Michelle Tsutsumi of Golden Ears Farm said they could have easily doubled the number of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes they deliver weekly. They capped boxes at almost 70 each week, compared to 40 last year, to ensure they could guarantee items for all members.
“The biggest change we noticed was the number of new sign-ups and selling out two months earlier than we usually do,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if people continue on next year and we’re able to stay at 70 or increase beyond that.”
Evidence from across the border in the United States indicates the growth isn’t just coincidence.
One farm in Dixon, Calif., told Civil Eats they experienced a 50 per cent increase in sales of their community supported agriculture (CSA) boxes. Another told Eater there has been such an increase in demand their website crashed, yet another sold 1,300 shares of a box designed to fill demand during the pandemic, over 1,000 more shares than they usually sell in their normal CSA offering. NPR reported an organic farm in California has doubled their box sales and quadrupled sales of add-ons to the boxes.
While Honeyberry Farm won’t sell thousands of boxes, their growth has put more locally grown vegetables on the tables of Sun Peaks and area residents.
Depending on the seasonal harvest, the boxes can be filled with anything from beans, peas, broccoli, kale, garlic, red, white and green onions to strawberries and raspberries, all grown naturally without pesticide sprays.
“Usually, 14 different types of vegetables. We grow everything except for corn,” Marchuk said, citing the shorter season in the mountains. “But I do tell my customers that I get my corn from the farm in Chase.”
To prepare the boxes, Marchuk has two people come in to pick the vegetables the day before to ensure their freshness, she loads the boxes with eggs and her flower arrangements in the cooler hours of the evening. Marchuk estimated each box takes around an hour to complete.
Being self-sustaining, while also ensuring her neighbours were also secure, was an idea Marchuk said she took from her time living in Langley, B.C.
“I used to ride my bike along the Derby Reach Trail by the river. The farmers used to put a little stand out by their driveway with vegetables they had an excess of and an honour system box. I would often pick up whatever was along my little bike ride,” Marchuk said.
Upon moving to the Heffley Lake area seven years ago, Marchuk and her partner Glen decided to erect a stand of their own, selling their excess produce at the end of their driveway on the honour system.
“But because we’re both crazy, we said no, no, we’re going to do vegetable boxes and expand the garden,” Marchuk laughed. “It went from a little honour system box to doing this.”
This summer they’ve begun offering raspberries for sale and u-pick for their varieties of Haskap berries, a berry with a taste between a raspberry and blueberry
The pair farm around five acres of their 150 acre property, more than enough, they said, to keep up with the demand for the produce boxes. But for Marchuk, the boxes aren’t about the business.
“I’m happy to say that we really don’t need the income from this. We just really enjoy selling it because we know it’s nutritious, it’s fresh, it’s pesticide-free, it’s local. We’ve had to hire some people to help us, which is generating employment. So it’s just a really feel-good thing.”
Despite the popularity of the project, Marchuk doesn’t see an expansion further than 25 boxes a week in the future. Instead, the couple are happy with their accomplishment and are looking forward to continuing for as long as possible.
“We just wanted to thank the community for supporting us and to let them know that we take a lot of pride and get a lot of gratification for doing it,” Marchuk concluded.