With demand on the rise, local growers turn to Trust programs
When uncertainty and fear gripped the world due to the pandemic, Cartwheel Farm owners Laura and Nigel Francis felt it, too. But those emotions were soon overpowered by the reaction from the community.
“We’ve never felt as supported by customers as we did this year,” says Laura. “We were really in a good position to be of service.”
“Suddenly, the farm was more relevant than ever,” adds Nigel.
In 2014, the couple started the farm, located east of Creston in Erickson, on a property that was already certified organic. In 2015, they began weekly deliveries to about 30 Creston Valley families, offering items like lettuce mix, beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers. That number has since grown to about 150, plus eight restaurants and four grocery stores, which receive produce in plant-based packaging.
The Francises “grow on a small scale with joy and attention to detail,” according to their website. “We farm to cultivate health, justice, freedom, beauty and contentment.”
That philosophy may be why so many residents got in touch with them in March and early April 2020, concerned the pandemic would disrupt the food supply.
“They were panicked,” says Laura. “People were thinking urgently about how to eat in different ways.”
The couple reflected on their ability to support local food production, as well as what the pandemic might mean for their own health and livelihood.
“My big concern was if Nigel got sick or if the staff got sick,” says Laura. “The garden doesn’t give a half-day of downtime.”
Nigel agrees: “Farming is relentless.”
With serious interest from new customers, Laura and Nigel felt like it was their duty to expand Cartwheel Farm. They had already ordered 2020’s seeds, but it was early enough that they could scale up production.
They needed assistance, however, and were thrilled to get support from the Trust. Created specifically to help food producers expand operations due to increased pandemic-related demand, the Trust supported 42 food producers with wage subsidies and provided 7 Food Producer Loans over the spring and summer.
“I hope investments in local farms become part of the ‘new normal,’” says Laura. “This is what people in the Basin want to see. Local food is not a luxury—it matters to people.”
The support allowed them to lease additional land from a neighbour, giving them a total of just over two acres, about 25 per cent more than last year. They added tunnels to create covered rows and extend the growing season. To help with the extra gardening, the Food Producer Wage Subsidy helped them additional workers.
“It feels good to give good, safe employment to young people,” says Nigel. “I really feel for young people graduating during the pandemic.”
In addition to producing about 30 per cent more food this season, Cartwheel Farm is using its delivery network to support other Creston Valley producers, bringing their coffee, meat, eggs, sustainably sourced seafood, fruit, juices, spices, and bread and baking to Cartwheel Farm customers.
The couple is also putting more energy into educating consumers about seasonal eating, offering more recipes and advice about preparing and preserving seasonal foods, all the while providing a listening ear during difficult times to help support their customers—another benefit of having local businesses well connected with their communities.
Laura and Nigel are proud of their ability to contribute to the local food supply. They’re also gratified by the support of the Creston Valley community, as local eaters tune into what’s being grown, raised and processed around them.
“This feels like the kernel of a local food system that is gearing up to actually meet our food needs,” says Laura. “If that happens, we will all be safer, richer, healthier and happier for it.”