COLUMN: From farm to table, local produce boxes find a way into our kitchens — and hearts

An entrepreneurial farmer from Pemberton shares her bounty

The farm to table movement has never been so strong, that is to say aside from historically when it was out of utter necessity.

Over the past half a century we have slowly moved away from our roots and today most of us don't have a clue what it means to grow delicious, nutritious food and eat local, organic or seasonal.

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Fortunately, more and more people realize the benefits of knowing where their produce comes from, the way it's produced, and literally knowing who is producing it.

Meet Naomi Martz. She's the 26-year-old Pemberton-based owner of Four Beat Farm who three years ago started cultivating a plot of leased land and providing produce to her local farmers market. Shortly thereafter Martz expanded to offering Community Supported Agriculture boxes of produce in North Vancouver during the summer and fall months, and last year added Squamish to her roster with an autumn harvest box.

Martz's is one of just a handful of working farms in B.C. that is actively using live horsepower to grow food for the public.

"The horses do all kinds of jobs around the farm from tilling fields to spreading compost to getting rid of weeds from between the rows of vegetables," she said of the strong, sturdy pair of animals she employs.

"Their names are Aliss and Ferguson. I named them for vintage tractor brands," she said, laughing.

While working horses in harness may seem old-fashioned to some, Martz said she believes that draft animal power can play an important role in a vibrant modern farm system, and finds it allows her opportunities to keep things local in terms of sourcing local hay and grain for fuel, getting equipment repaired and restored with the help of knowledgeable neighbours and friends, and providing an excellent source of compost. 

"The farm isn't restricted in any way. We use tools and tractors," she said, adding she has three contract employees. "The bulk of our work is done with the draft horses, but we get custom tractor work done when needed. We're not purists by any means — our aim is to grow food for the community in the best way that we can.

The concept she uses requires the end user — the customer — to take an active part in creating a system that supports the working farm.

"The CSA model is based on the idea of shared risk and reward by eaters and growers alike, so members sign up with the knowledge that certain crops may yield more or less in a given year and are truly learning to eat with the seasons," Martz explained, adding her 3.5-acre farm is certified organic and biodynamic. "We plant over 35 different types of vegetables in order to ensure diversity as well as abundance."

From the July 25 through Oct. 31, Martz will be at A Frame Brewery (38927 Queens Way) every other Wednesday for shareholders to pick up their produce. Customers have the option of participating in the summer and autumn harvest for an investment of $580, or if it's more convenient, just the autumn harvest for $390.

It's an experience one customer equates to a local community party.

"I've belonged to other CSAs in the past," said local teacher Brittany Carter. "[Four Beat Farm's] are more of a community event than anything. There's choice and flexibility, you can take the amounts that are suggested but there's always a bin at the end where you can swap something out or take home extras, like a bouquet of sunflowers or a gorgeous tomato."

"I always buy and eat organic produce anyway, so it's a double bonus that it's organic and local. It's super good value and in a way forces me to eat a variety of produce," said Carter, who was born and raised in Squamish.

"Naomi is there at every pickup and I've gotten to know her. Seeing a young farmer who is passionate about what she is doing, working with the horses and tractors, I'm happy to give my money in January to help her buy the seeds and getting her crops in.

"I've already encouraged most of my friends to give it a try. Eating locally and seasonally is better for our planet."

The farm still has shares available in the CSA for those looking to eat local, seasonal produce this year.  Squamish residents participating in the Four Beat Farm CSA are also offered a 10 per cent discount on A Frame growler fills on pickup days.

Visit fourbeatfarm.ca or details or call 604-902-1514. You can also find Martz on Facebook or Instagram at @fourbeatfarm.

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