On a cold January morning my friend Julie and I headed out from London to St Thomas to visit Common Ground Farm. I interviewed the owner and farmer, Chris in December 2017 to find out how living well in London is so much easier when we call buy vegetables from his organic farm.
Luckily for us we chose the only day of the week when the sun managed to peak through the clouds for a sultry sunrise. Beautiful light was thrown across the farm. Being Common Ground Farm newbies we saw the beauty in the dead and withered remaining vegetables littering the farm ready for clear up before spring time planting.
Fresh organic spinach….in January!
Chris and his gorgeous wife Amanda gave us a tour around the various barns and hoophouses where there is still hardy spinach growing despite a freezing winter. We tasted the spinach picked fresh from the ground and it was absolutely delicious. Forget the pre-packaged stuff you can pick up in the supermarket, there is no comparison.
Passionate about growing vegetables
An electrical engineer by trade, Chris has had a long time love affair with growing vegetables. “It’s in my blood. Both my Grandparents grew vegetables. One side of my family were Dutch vegetable farmers and the other side were tobacco farmers in Ontario,” explains Chris.
Brought up on a farm, it was a hobby 15 years ago that over time, reading, trial and error, developed into Chris and Amanda buying the farm near St Thomas and eventually to full time farming in 2014.
For the first three years Chris didn’t really have any balance in his life but now has two full time employees and seasonal workers who help on the farm during peak season. Plus their three children all get involved from collecting eggs to planting and harvesting.
“For the first three seasons I was working all the time. The last season was better though. I was still working a lot of hours but felt more ahead of things and I now try to have a day off every week.”
Common Ground Farm are able to extend their season into cooler months by using covered hoop houses where they can grow greens all year round and carrots almost all year. In January they are still selling spinach, potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions!
Chris is passionate about his farm but particularly loves being able to sell directly to customers through the Common Ground CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and at their stall at Western Fair Farmers and Artisans Market on Saturday mornings or Horton Farmers Market in St Thomas.
“I put my heart and soul into the farm so when I get direct feedback about the different varieties and the quality and flavour of our produce it is so exciting! Plus people in London really care about where the vegetables come from which is incredible.”
Planning and preparation
At the moment Chris and his committed team are busy preparing for the year ahead, planning what to grow, where to grow it and in what quantity. Every year the farm is growing in scale and Chris explains that this is one of the biggest challenges. “Making the right decisions about what to grow, and to what scale is a challenge. Making the right decisions in what about what to spend in employee time and capital is vital to the success of the farm.”
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
Common Ground Farm CSA is a scheme where customers sign up for a share of the farm’s produce for a weekly subscription. They are then provided with a weekly box of seasonal veggies which can either be collected from the farm (near St Thomas) or delivered to your door.
The CSA runs from May until Christmas and is a great way to get fresh, organic produce plus support a local farmer by buying directly. There are different size options depending on the number of people in your family.
For 2018 the farm is using software called “Harvie” to process payments, schedule vacation holds and allow customers to optimise and customise what they will get in their box each week. From May 2018 they will also be doing direct delivery if this is required.
Visit Common Ground Farm website here or go and buy some delicious organic veg from Chris at Western Fair Farmers Market!