I like to know where my food comes from. I read farm-themed books to my three-year-old son and think to myself, hardly any farms work like this anymore. They can’t even if they wanted to, as agriculture is big business these days, and it doesn’t pay to be a small farm. Every so often I dream about going all urban homestead. But then I remember I can’t keep most houseplants alive. Where to find local food if you’re not growing it yourself?
Local Food for Urban Vancouverites
There are solutions for those of us living deep in the city with a desire for responsibly grown vegetables and sustainably raised meat – community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. However, I was intrigued when I came across a stall in my local farmers’ market last autumn selling fish caught by a community supported fishery (CSF). This was definitely a CSA for the west coast, offering uniquely local food. We joined early the next year.
The Strobel family runs the Skipper Otto CSF, named after their original fisherman. “We had been members of CSAs for years,” says Sonia Strobel, Otto’s daughter-in-law. “I thought to myself – hey, we could do this with fish!”
Sharing the Risks … and the Rewards
Fishing for a living, like growing food on a farm, involves a great amount of risk and a large outlay of resources in the lean part of the year. “With the CSF, we’re essentially pre-selling our catch,” explains Sonia. “There are costs associated with the boat, the license, the fuel and equipment, all at the beginning of the season. You used to have just hope you would recoup the cost with your catch.”
Four years ago, Skipper Otto started out with the one fishing boat and 200 members. Once word got out about what they were doing, both fisherfolk and fish-buyers wanted in on the local food program. Now there are four boats that sell their fish to the CSF, and 500 members. They even have the Vancouver Aquarium Oceanwise designation, an important stamp of approval for sustainable fish. This is local food that you can truly feel good about eating – and feeding to your kids as well.
How the Program Works
Members pay $250 at the start of the year, and receive that dollar value in fish – where the variability comes in is what kind of fish you get. Sockeye, chum and pink salmon, and halibut, have all been available fresh this past season, as well as smoked, canned and candied salmon. Fresh fish pick-ups are generally at the False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf by Granville Island, but you can pick up your shares in frozen fillets or the smoked and canned products, from various farmers’ markets around the city.
As members, we receive weekly emails with the details of where the fishing boats are, how the fishing is going, and when the pick-ups will be. We can see how much fish we’ve bought on their website at any point. One of our favourite parts of joining the CSF has been the get-togethers. At the start of the season, members come together for a Send-Off BBQ, and again at the end for welcoming the fishermen home. My son was thrilled to get a chance to clamber about on one of the fishing boats, and I watched carefully as a professional fish filleter gave us a demonstration.
I love knowing where our fish comes from, and meeting some of the people that catch it. It’s local food with a Vancouver flair.
The waiting list for buying shares in the 2013 season opens soon, email [email protected] for more information.