Front Step Farms is almost ready to begin selling fresh, locally grown vegetables, that typically would not be ready until later in the growing season.
Michael Watson, a sixth generation farmer, and his wife Sukyi are behind Front Step, while Sharon Brinsmead-Taylor, known locally for her role as the coordinator of The Market @ The Village, is quickly becoming the face of it, having taken over the marketing and organization of their Farm Boxes, which are almost ready to go.
Front Step is making use of some space in Line 8 greenhouses to have a list of vegetables that are ready to be enjoyed.
Brinsmead-Taylor, who will also be back at The Market this season, explains Watson has been a friend of hers for many years, and she was intrigued by the concept of boxes of fresh greenhouse-grown produce being available weekly, cutting down on the risk and increases availability from the more traditional practise of selling produce grown outdoors and ready only in-season.
Front Step boxes are handled differently from the typical Community Supported Agriculture programs delivering weekly produce, which are usually pre-paid at the beginning of the season, with a commitment to weekly purchases, the content and quantity depending on availability, as influenced by the weather.
Brinsmead-Taylor says the difference with Farm Boxes are that for an upfront membership of $25, they can be ordered and paid for each week, so if someone is going to be away, or wants more or less produce, that can be reflected in their ordering. It makes it much more flexible for the consumer, who can choose boxes made up for single foodies, she says, for couples, or for families of four, ranging in price from $28 to $42, but with the ability to vary that on any given week.
“You can order as frequently or infrequently as you like. If you are going on vacation you don’t order a box that week. You’re not committed to ordering,” she says, although there will be produce available 52 weeks of the year.
“We take the risk away from the consumer, offering flexibility in box size and frequency of purchase.”
Those who pay for a membership will receive a weekly newsletter on Fridays, explaining what is going to be in the box, along with some extras, such as recipes, and will be able to order by Sunday, with options for pickup at the Line 8 greenhouses, where the boxes will be packed.
Although they had a small number of people picking up boxes in NOTL, most of their business was done out of the Maple farm.
By planting from seed and growing under glass, they can slow down or speed up the growing process to ensure crops are ready on time.
“By Friday, we can be 100 per cent sure what will be available for the following week. And it allows us to have a much more diverse crop ready,” she says.
Watson’s family has been farming in Niagara since the 80s, but he and his wife moved to Maple and have been farming there for a number of years before returning to Niagara. They are still growing garlic and fruit in Maple. The Line 8 greenhouses, between Four Mile Creek Road and Concession 2, are owned by a friend who rents out space, which Watson is doing until his own greenhouses on Line 1 are ready to begin operation.
He is growing under 15,000 square feet of greenhouses on Line 8, and will have another 30,000 square feet ready soon on Line 1, with more to come.
“We’ll have 150,000 square feet for growing by 2023,” he says.
Although he combines traditional and conventional techniques for growing, organic and pesticide-free, he is always researching new and modern ways to grow better, producing more and better-tasting year-round crops, including an innovative process for garlic he is working on.
“Between the three different farms, we’ll have lots of options available,” says Brinsmead-Taylor, including several varieties of lettuce, kale, radishes, garlic, peppers, zucchini, onions, spinach, herbs, varieties of tomatoes, including heirloom, no longer typically available, and the hugely popular microgreens.
There will also be jams and jellies — preserves are Sukyi’s department — from the Maple farm.
Brinsmead-Taylor says they are in negotiations with local bakeries to add some bread or the baked goods to the boxes.
For more information visit frontstepfarms.com.