Bringing Organic Farming to the City

Sometimes we jokingly refer to our farm as Chaos Farm. At least parts of it. Our organic vegetable farm, BeetBox, sits on a beautiful 110 acres in the Nepean greenbelt. It is surrounded by forest and flanked by the gentle waves of the Ottawa River’s Lac Deschênes. It is idyllic. But it is anything but quiet. There are almost always people on our farm. And that’s in addition to our clients getting veggies, and our farmers working. In fact, we’ve learned over the last 5 years that people are our strength.


Picture it: a typical Thursday. It’s full speed ahead in the morning, the salad spinner is on fire. Our farm staff and a few volunteers are harvesting bright orange carrots. Scott, one of BeetBox Co-op Farm’s members (worker-owners), is preparing the CSA pick up list. Volunteers are also setting up the farm store under the supervision of Jeremy, another member. Our farm is powered by 4 full-time staff and a contingent of around 30 regular volunteers.


We have volunteers who work in the fields with our farm team – they have a weekly shift of usually 4 hours. We also have regular volunteer farm store staff who work the store with us on Thursdays and Saturdays (the two days our farm store is open to the public). Basically, you will find volunteers having fun and working hard with us almost every day here at BeetBox.


Ok, back to our farm day. It’s 3:00 pm. Clients start arriving to shop at the farm store. There is always a line-up this time of day. Our clients bring their dogs and go for a walk on the nearby National Capital Commission (NCC) trail. They grab a cool drink and a snack, and sit on the picnic bench near the barns while their kids run to feed carrot greens to the chickens. When our farm store is open it’s a bustling place since we are literally down the road from several busy neighborhoods: Bells Corners, Britannia, Crystal Beach, Beaverbrook & Kanata North.

But that’s not all. The day is just starting for our Community Farm program. At 4:30pm a gang of 10-15 people read the checklist, get their tools ready and head out to the Community Farm Garden. We have shifts of Community Farmers six days a week! They are growing their own food in a collective space. It’s designed using a CSA-style crop plan, so they can take home a basket of veggies each week. Each shift is supervised by a volunteer coordinator who is supported by our farm staff to plan the garden, set up irrigation, add soil amendments, and deal with pests. The Community Farmers share the costs of the program and reap the rewards of everyone’s efforts. It’s an all-ages, different-types-of-people group – and it’s a lot of fun!


When BeetBox Co-operative Farm was founded in 2017, the founders’ vision was slightly different from today’s reality. A key part of our worker co-op’s mission is to provide good jobs for our farmers. If we want local organic farms to exist, this is paramount. By forming a worker co-op, farmer members pool resources and collectively run the farm business. It’s a tool to give more farmers access to their own farm, where they can work together to set the conditions for their own labour.

Given our commitment to fair wages, we weren’t initially that comfortable depending on volunteer labour. Being a new business, having several heads at the table making decisions had its challenges. But this year we celebrate five years in production and over that time we’ve come to embrace the messiness that ensues from having lots of people involved.

So, why the change of heart? Maybe it’s our urban location, right off popular NCC bike and walking trails, and the fact that people wander in almost every weekend. It is private land, a rental from the NCC, but we’ve gotten used to it being a welcoming space.


Or maybe our urban location makes it easy to recruit really amazing volunteers – especially people with office jobs or who retired from them and are keen to work outside and support local farmers. Most of our volunteers commit to a weekly shift for a two-month period, at a minimum, and those who stick with us have become fast friends. We estimate that our core group of 30-40 volunteers contributes at least two thousand hours per year.


To be fair, the farm was community-minded from the start. About 20 community investors helped fund the creation of BeetBox Co-op Farm. We have clients who have supported us all these years and some were clients of Riverglen Farm, the previous stewards of this land. 

As for our co-op, we now have four members who own and run the farm, each with unique perspectives and smarts to contribute. We also have several amazing employees, including our farm chef Jess who transforms our veggies into delicious pickles and preserves for the farm store. We also share the farmland with five other farming or educational enterprises, we host concerts and other community events, and our community farm program keeps growing.


It can be a little chaotic at times, but the main guiding thread is that we are all here to support organic, local farming. There is a lot of people standing behind this farm, making it all work.


 BeetBox Co-operative Farm

230 Davidson’s Side Rd, Nepean ON





The Urban Co-op Farm