Largo Farm 20th Anniversary

Largo Farm Community Shared Agriculture 20th Anniversary

Twenty years ago, Judy Ternier and Tom Burns began what’s known as a CSA. This acronym stands for community shared agriculture. In this system, customers buy a share in the garden before the growing season begins. They buy this share at a fixed price, and then receive produce as it is available throughout the year. Customers thus share in both the risk and the bounty of the garden. On a good year there will be an abundance of vegetables; however, a bad year is part of the risk. For example, in 2002, the garden produced only four carrots. But, Judy says, there have been only five really bad gardens in Largo Farm’s CSA history. Now, in June 2015, Tom and Judy are celebrating twenty years of providing local people with fresh, healthy, affordable, and delicious food from their farm on the shores of Murray Lake.
Tom and Judy first heard about community shared agriculture in 1995 when they read an article about it in the Western Producer. They immediately recognized the potential it held for them. For Judy, who hates marketing, the CSA customers’ prior commitment to buying vegetables sounded like a great idea. On top of that, there would be less fuel used transporting produce to markets where there was no guarantee of purchase. This not only saved time and money, but was better for the environment and allowed Judy and Tom to spend more time doing what they loved.
Their CSA customers take turns helping harvest the vegetables and picking up the weekly (monthly in winter) order. After helping to harvest some of the goods and visit with the gardeners, they take the shares back home to be distributed. Because they share this responsibility, each customer has to drive out to the farm only once or twice a season. This marketing style proved successful. Prior commitment from customers spares small-scale farmers the need to haul produce to markets and greatly reduces the amount of waste. As Judy puts it, “It’s a wonderful way of selling vegetables.”
Largo Farm has five acres of garden. Along with chickens, cows, pigs, and a small selection of field crops, this is what supports both the CSA business and the people who live on the farm. Although operating a CSA is a lot of work, gardening is what Judy loves to do. It is both her full-time job and her passion. Before Tom and Judy began the CSA, their income came primarily from selling wheat, meat, and hay. Financially, the garden played only a tiny role. When the CSA began, there were only 7 shares. Now, twenty years later, the CSA is their main source of income, with 20 full shares! At roughly $20,000 in 2014, the CSA is more than enough to meet Tom and Judy’s needs. However, lifestyle is a huge part of whether or not this would be enough. The people on Largo Farm live off the grid. This means that there is no running water, electricity, or gas heat. On top of that, the farm produces around 90% of its own food (closer to 98% when the milk cow is in production). Judy said that her vision for the future is to see the farm/garden provide a modest living for two full-time gardeners. This vision is being fulfilled by the CSA.
However, the CSA isn’t without problems. Tom and Judy told me that there are two main problems (apart from unpredictable growing conditions): giving the customers either too many vegetables, or not enough vegetables. CSA farmers cannot anticipate the amount of available produce, which is determined by growing conditions. In 2002, for example, they couldn’t give their customers ten carrots each when the garden yielded a total of only four! However, the problem of quantity can be solved if customers communicate their needs. Though Judy and Tom decide how much to give customers for each pick-up, to some extent they can adjust quantities based upon people’s likes, dislikes or allergies.
As well as talking to Tom and Judy, I asked members what the CSA was like for them. A lot of them said their decision to join the CSA was encouraged by their love of fresh, good tasting, local, and chemical free vegetables. Annette Wionzek says, “After having children, I became more interested in food and how we nourish our family.” She wants her children to have a future with clean air and water, access to nourishing food, peace, and freedom. It is important to her, and many other customers, to buy their food from an organization for which those issues are important. “Largo Farm reflects true stewardship of the earth,” Annette says, “and it is evident in the way they live day to day.”
Another benefit for members is the wide selection of vegetables that they receive, especially throughout the summer months. For some, that means stepping out of their comfort zone and trying things that they wouldn’t buy in a supermarket. Jaime Maunula says, “The CSA has given our family a chance to try different vegetables that we wouldn’t normally eat.” She enjoys trying new recipes, and her children like eating the results. (The farm blog offers great information on the CSA and includes recipes!) My Aunt Jacquee says, “Becoming a CSA member has made available many added bonuses to my life. I now have access to wonderfully fresh and organic food; my spirit is continually renewed every time I visit; I’ve made wonderful new friends and to top it all off, everyone is so welcoming to any friends I might bring along with me for the day, which gives me so much pleasure.” Karen Farmer informed me that during her first winter of being a member, she received so many carrots that she bought a juicer and integrated fresh carrot and ginger juice into her diet. According to Karen, this gave her more energy and helped fight off colds.
As my aunt mentioned, being part of the CSA isn’t only for the food, and picking up orders isn’t the only reason to come to the farm. During my interviews, several people told me how much their children enjoyed coming to the farm. The animals, water, land, and people are a great draw for young and old! Kids connect with the farm so much that several of them claim it as their own. Some have been coming to the farm since before their first birthday. One child, when asked “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” responded, after a bit of thought, “To Robin and Rowan’s.” (Rowan and Robin live on Largo Farm). During our interview, Tom recalled a heartwarming story. He said that on one winter pickup, a child went down into the root cellar with him and helped him haul out potatoes for the order. When he emerged from the ground, the child’s face was smudged with dirt and there was a huge smile plastered across his face. After returning home, he proclaimed to everyone he met that he was a farmer. The CSA is aimed at families, with one full share meant to meet four people’s eating needs, and the farm is a great place to bring a family.
Community is a big part of the CSA and is as important as the food. During the course of the summer and/or winter season, every member makes at least one trip to the farm. Many people choose to come out more often, and we encourage and appreciate visits. Members are also encouraged to build community among themselves. In the early days of the CSA, Tom said, people would put on a pot of tea and visit with other members when they came to pick up their veggies. As Tom put it, a personal connection to where food comes from, and connecting with other people who share your values, “overcomes the isolation of supermarket style buying.” Though perhaps not as much as it was fifteen years ago, community is still a big part of the CSA lifestyle.
Twice a year there are large communal gatherings. The most popular of those is in September, when all of the winter members come to the farm for an afternoon of harvesting the last of the summer vegetables. After the work is done, everyone convenes in the farm hall for a potluck of epic proportions. Easily the highlight of the younger members’ day, good food (including lots from the farm) is shared in community. Although the gathering includes a sign-up meeting for the following season, it is the community, farm, and food that draws people. One member’s daughter said that fall pick-up rates just below Christmas on her list of favourite holidays. The CSA is also a good place to meet new people. Two families who met through the CSA both had daughters who became good friends. This friendship would not have been possible without the community offered by Largo Farm CSA. Fifteen years later the girls are still close friends.
During the course of my interview, Judy said that what she is doing on the farm and with the CSA is “about as perfect a living as I could want.” This feeling of right livelihood is constantly reinforced by the praise and thanks received from customers and friends. Many people have expressed their appreciation to Largo Farm for both the food and the fellowship. I invite anyone who is interested in eating in a more healthy, earth-conscious, and meaningful way, or anyone who loves delicious food, to consider Tom and Judy’s CSA. Come for a visit someday. Any information you need can be found at
I asked Judy and Tom what twenty years of CSA at Largo Farm has meant to them at the deepest level. “The freedom to farm,” Tom said. “An honest living,” Judy added. “Being outside doing good work.”

Christopher Sanford Beck

Christopher Sanford Beck lives on Largo Farm with his mother, father, sister, brother, cat, and dog. They have been living on the farm since 2013 when they joined Tom, Judy, Josephine, and Johnny (Tom and Judy’s children). Less than a year earlier the family had gone to Largo Farm to buy some tomatoes and squash, which the farm sells in the fall if there is excess. After a wonderful visit with Tom and Judy, both families began thinking about a move onto the farm. Throughout the fall, winter, and spring the families had several visits, and in June 2013, the Sanford Becks moved from Saskatoon to Largo Farm. Janice Sanford Beck is the main gardener of the family and Judy’s workmate. The rest of the family enjoys the farm life as well, especially the animals.

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