We spoke with Daniel Hoffmann, owner and organic farmer at The Cutting Veg (TCV). In addition to growing some of the most delicious + nutritious organic produce (including his famous Global Garlic Project), TCV also offers food coaching, workshops, internship programs, and agri-biz training. Here are Daniel’s thoughts on the art of garlic pairing, trading places with a rabbi, and his asparagus pension plan.
Members of your Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Program receive a weekly share of farm fresh, local, organic produce. Why did you start a CSA instead of simply selling to stores or exclusively through farmers’ markets?
I ask myself the same question (almost daily). Running a CSA is a HUGE pain-in-the-ass, especially when you have 6 different pick-up locations and 350+ members! (Impressive + amazing!). But whenever I start to think about getting out of the CSA biz, I’ll hear feedback from our members which reminds me why we do this:
“My friends have seen the change in me — I feel much more alive and stronger since I started eating foods from your harvest.” And “My kids are eating more Veggies…and loving it! And my husband too.”
We love having relationships with the people for whom we grow our food, and hearing about the positive impact it has on their lives makes the hard work absolutely worth it! (You can still register and join in the fun for the rest of the season!)
At the CSA pickup, members have the option to leave and take produce in a trade box. What happens to the veg that’s left in the box at the end of the CSA?
We have a different donation partner for each of our CSA locations in the GTA. Whatever is remaining in the trade box (as well as the veg from any members that didn’t show up) is donated to people in the community who could really benefit from access to healthy, fresh produce. Being able to support people in need is a very meaningful aspect of our CSA, to both the farm, and our members.
Besides your CSA locations, where else can we find you and your produce?
We’re everywhere! Our produce can be found at The Stop’s Farmers’ Market at Wychwood Barns on Saturday mornings, and at the Sorauren Farmers’ Market on Monday afternoons. We have also recently started distributing to Live Restaurant in Toronto, who takes 10 cases of our scrumptious kale each week.
Beyond produce cultivation and distribution, we are also doing a lot of Food Coaching in the community. We work with individuals, families, groups, and institutions to help them deepen their relationship with food. These services include “Garden and Compost Consulting”, “Veg Ed Workshops”, and “Agri-Biz Coaching”. Currently, we are working with The Daniels Corporation, a condo developer, to help implement community gardens at several of their facilities.
Helping people connect to food in a way that is nourishing to them is very important and exciting to The Cutting Veg team because gardening and working creatively with food is so damn fun!
We all know garlic is delicious and healing. Why is your garlic so special?
All fresh, local, organic garlic is special (because there is so little of it!). Most of the garlic available in supermarkets is grown in China, and arrives in Canada with its accompanying slogan “100% Flavourless and Nutrient-Free!” Local, organic garlic, by contrast, is oozing with healing properties, and is incredibly scrumptious. What makes our garlic so special is both our soil, which produces fantastic garlic, and all the fun varieties we grow! (Seriously, you need to experience the difference yourself!)
As part of our Global Garlic Project, we grow approximately 20 varieties of garlic whose seed originated around the world. We had a small harvest of 250 bulbs in our first year in 2006, and this summer we are anticipating a harvest of 40,000! We love growing our garlic because it promotes seed diversity, fosters health in the community due to garlic’s medicinal qualities, garlic is culturally significant in most cuisines, and because it is incredibly fun to grow! Growing garlic is one of my greatest passions and joys in life. (We can taste the love!)
Is it best to pair Italian garlic with Italian food, and Chinese with Chinese, or is it even tastier to mix and match?
You don’t necessarily need to match your garlic with your cuisine. It depends what flavour you are going for. If for example, you want a spicy dish, then you may want to use one of our hotter varieties, such as Persian or Ukrainian. Or, if you want a sweet tinge to your meal, Former Yugoslavia could be a nice choice. My favourite variety is Russian. The flavour is great, but more importantly, Russian bulbs are so damn big, that you only need 1 clove for an entire meal. Tired farmer + less peeling = favourite variety.
This summer has been so hot already. How do you stay motivated (and keep your team motivated!) to work in the fields in the heat?
It has been a scorcher! The key is starting early. As we are in the fields by 7am or so, our bodies have a chance to acclimatize to the weather as it heats up. Nonetheless, it is a challenge to work in the heat. But this is a reality of farming … we need to work regardless of conditions. Whether it is pouring rain, humid, or perfect weather, the harvest must go on! (Local farmers need our support! Help them help you on your journey to better health)
You have so many passionate volunteers. Are you a not-for-profit?
We are not a not-for-profit, but rather a social enterprise. We are driven by our hunger to enrich the community, and cultivate personal, social, environmental, and economic health through organic agriculture. Like any business, we need to be financially viable to sustain ourselves. But it is our passion for touching people’s lives, and nourishing our ecology, that fuels us.
We love that you traded jobs with a rabbi. How did that come about?
Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg was new to Temple Sinai (one of our CSA locations), and he suggested we get to know each other over coffee. While we were speaking we wondered “What would it be like to trade jobs for a day?” Almost a year later, we decided to go for it!
You claim to have an Asparagus Pension Plan. What is that? (We love that our health benefits package at Borden Communications includes a CSA share for each of us, and we want to hear about this option too!)
This year we planted approximately 2 acres of asparagus. As asparagus is a perennial crop, we expect to be harvesting from this planting for decades and decades. I think of asparagus (and all perennials) as my pension. If I am ever too old to plant and manage a garden, I can always eat and survive on my asparagus! I look forward to adding apple and nut trees to the pension plan over the next couple years. (Brilliantly sustainable sounding!)
Do you consider yourself a business man or an organic farmer? Is it difficult to be both?
Both. And what a challenge! Anyone who is an entrepreneur knows that it’s much more than a full-time gig. And anyone who is a farmer knows that it is also extremely time and energy consuming. Put entrepreneur and organic farmer together and you have an outrageously demanding combo! But with great challenges come great rewards, and managing The Cutting Veg offers me so many gifts including the lives we touch, the people we feed, the future farmers we grow; the soil we enrich, the critters and birds that we nourish; seeing financial progress over time; working outdoors, and feeling in touch with nature. Being an entrepreneur and organic farmer is indeed a very challenging path — I just can’t imagine a more rewarding one!
For more information on The Cutting Veg and how to get involved, visit them online at thecuttingveg.com. Follow the farm talk on their Livin’ on the Veg blog, tweet with them @TheCuttingVeg, and like them on Facebook too!