James Forsythe knows farming. The Forsythe Family has been farming for over 41 years and have adapted their marketing strategy to include events and markets to bring together the community. James has taken his experience as a farmer and his family's success to the big city with his CSA-style fresh produce delivery service. The premise is simple. People sign-up to get fresh produce delivered weekly to their workplace or home. The produce changes from week to week, introducing new vegetables to young urbanites. Homegrown also works to help the community with its charitable services including, donating a full season's share to shelters and charities around the city. We spoke to James about what it's like to come from a family of farmers, how farming has been modernized, and his Homegrown services.
You’re a second-generation farmer; can you tell us a bit about why you chose to continue this tradition?
I haven’t always enjoyed working on the farm. I spent a few years in my late teens-early 20s looking for an alternative since it was all I had known but I kept finding myself being drawn back. I enjoy the feeling of satisfaction at the end of a hard day's work. I love that you can see what you’ve accomplished and you get to enjoy the harvest once you’ve spent weeks growing the crops. I have yet to find a job with that level of satisfaction, so I decided the farm was where I belonged.
What drew you to the idea of urban farming?
Well I am not really an urban farmer in the sense of growing crops in the city, but more of a modern twist to traditional farming. I chose to lean more toward a home delivery system because it adds a little more security to a job where you’re so subject to the weather or the draw of a farmer's market. Ontario has such a huge variety of produce available and I really enjoy introducing people to something new or something they may not have known was able to grow in Ontario. Choosing to start Homegrown was a mix of wanting to educate others as well as providing an extra convenience in their increasingly busy lives.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Urban Farming CSA program?
Homegrown CSA is a program where we provide a variety of fresh, Ontario grown produce from either my family’s farm or other farmers my family has dealt with for an average of 30 years. This way we can insure that what we cannot grow has been grown with care and is of the highest quality. We deliver a box of what is in season to your home or workplace - whichever is easiest for you - and we switch it up each week with a variety of produce to ensure that you don’t get stuck with an entire box of kale or a cupboard full of potatoes.
Why do you think urban farming is becoming more popular with the younger generation?
I think the younger generation is starting to really care about where their food is coming from and how it is being grown. They are seeing a difference in the quality and taste that local food has, and they are beginning to wonder why.
What types of things do you grow? What are the easiest things to grow? What are the most difficult?
Because most farmer's markets require you to grow at least 60% of your own product, we grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Some of our main crops are: beets, strawberries, beans, peas, tomatoes, summer and fall squash, but we do grow a smaller amount of melons, spinach - when it’s cool enough - broccoli, radishes, kale, gooseberries, elderberries, black currants, asparagus, rhubarb, eggplant and a variety of peppers (sweet and spicy).
The easiest thing to grow would probably be some of the fall squash and the hardest is definitely tomatoes due to the huge amount of labour that goes into them.
Are there any upcoming projects that you are involved in that you could tell us about?
Right now I’m focused on the CSA program, and I’m looking forward to announcing the charity we have paired with.
How can people get involved in this initiative?
I think spreading word is the biggest help I could ask for. We also have a section of land on the farm that my father and brother have dedicated to a “Giving Garden”. Anyone can come and put in time tending to the garden and may take whatever they need for themselves or to give to someone that they know who is in need. They really just want to encourage people to give to others and help out one another. I also am working to secure a partnership with a women's shelter to give a full seasons share to a family that in need with every 10 full season share sales we make.
What is the most important thing for you to communicate to the new generation?
Be mindful of your actions and how they affect others. The impact you can make by simply trying to be a good person and offering your services when possible can end up being huge.
Where do you see the younger generation farming?
I see the younger generation leaning more towards a CSA style of farming where as the older generation has focused more on the farm market/farmer's market community.
Are there any new initiatives that the younger generation is implementing that are different than the traditional ones? Why do you think that is?
There is always something new coming out in the farming world but mainly I see a lot of the younger generation leaning towards a more natural style of farming like planting certain crops together to aid in pest control or using specific cover crops to naturally fight disease. I also notice the younger generation being a lot more diverse with what they grow and also they tend to grow on a smaller scale compared to the older generation. I think it’s great because it’s easier to maintain and there are a lot more people getting into farming because of it. They are also more aware of what goes into the crops and want to try and be as natural as possible. Even though the synthetic pesticides in Ontario continue to be replaced by safer and safer ones each year, we would much rather not have to use anything at all.
For more information on Homegrown CSA, visit: www.homegrowncsa.co
Photos by: Gabriel Nivera