Have you dreamed of moving out of the city, grabbing up a gorgeous, peaceful plot of land, and starting your own garden market or CSA? You don’t have to wait. Take a cue from Nancy Blokland, and start where you are with what you have! Nancy is not only a phenomenal potter, she has also turned her urban yard into a micro CSA that is flourishing. I truly hope her story will inspire you to live your dream now – whatever it is, wherever you are.
Living the Dream
My micro urban organic farm, which I call Casi Cielo, or ‘almost heaven’ is a dream come true. I am the daughter of rural folks and grew up learning to garden flowers and vegetables at an early age. Not having been an athletic type, in my house my gardening and crafting efforts were strongly encouraged and supported by my parents. I was a Junior Gardener in the St. Vital Agriculture Society and won the only trophy of my life when I was about 13. I do some things differently than my parents in that I try to avoid all chemicals and fertilizers. I use my own compost, or that made by Samborskis, which is from restaurants, my own 2 bunnies’ fertilizers, and I rotate crops and use companion plantings. I am hoping to use my rain barrel, mulch, and reduce my reliance on the City of Winnipeg water resources.
I have always kept a garden but was drawn to participate in Farmers Markets at Pineridge Hollow and others about five years ago. I knew that they were always in need of more produce and I thought pottery and produce went well together. The vegetables sold better than the pottery at the Market, but harvesting and taking them to market and then bringing them home again, and then figuring out what to do with wilty rhubarb, chard and kale was kind of discouraging at times. I thought it would be a better fit for me to take better advantage of my small house on a big lot in St. Boniface and grow food for people who I was guaranteed would want it.
Sooo… Last year I ventured forth and started my teeny tiny CSA growing for 6 families. Every week from the end of June to the end of September on Thursday, people come to pick up the box of produce as it is ready to harvest. Special requests are always granted within reason, like the office potluck with spinach salad for 50 or a boquet of sunflowers for a special event. It feels really good to be able to offer folks food so fresh, that it has never seen a refrigerator or even wilted.
This year I am expanding to 10 families, but remembering to count my own household as one of those. I sure have learned a lot, and have lots more to learn. I am really lucky to have a dear friend who starts heirloom tomatoes, peppers and squashes for me, so that increases productivity and reduces crops. I am working on growing more vertically and in pots for those crops that like heat. I also have a bigger straw bale garden plan with 10 flax bales. I spend lots of time researching and reading and just dreaming on Pinterest.
Being fiercely independent, I tried to do everything on my own; I wont do that again… I hope to incorporate the families I am growing for into all steps of the garden. I give folks choices about what I grow, and they are not forced to eat Rainbow Chard even if I think it is divine. So those folks get more fava beans or rhubarb. It wasnt the easiest growing season, and I know now there will be thin weeks, where I will heavy up the boxes with baking and preserves. I have more asparagus, rhubarb, two apple trees, and am working harder and earlier to get those long season crops like pumpkins and butternut squash started in their own little milk jug greenhouses. for the families with young children, I relish the opportunity to share with them where real food comes from, and to allow them to plant, weed, harvest, and taste throughout the season.
If you want to come by, send me an email to check that someone will be here to show you around. We might even let you weed or pick a strawberry!
Nancy Blokland is the owner and gardener at Casi Cielo – an urban CSA in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is also a potter who creates high fire functional pottery made by hand on the wheel and handbuilt in her home studio in St. Boniface.