Living Off the Land – Access Acres: Small Scale, Hearty Harvest

by Jo Barnes photos | by Kathryn Alvarez Photography – 

As a chef, he prepared tasty foods to grace your plate. Now he grows many of the actual ingredients and they arrive at your doorstep in a box.

Andrew Dunn of North Saanich’s Access Acres strived for flavourful dishes while working in fine dining and catering kitchens, and now he’s growing the ingredients and marketing them in food boxes. Each box contains a variety of produce, a meal recipe and other specialty items, all of which arrives right on the customer’s doorstep so they can make their own tasty dishes.

“It’s about getting people access to fresh local veggies,” shares Andrew. “I’m keen on growing and market gardening, fresh and nutritional produce and reconnecting people with the food system.”

Andrew’s market boxes can be ordered on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule and picked up or delivered. Each box contains an abundance of fresh-picked items such as salad greens, a variety of root vegetables, free run grass fed eggs, herbs, preserves and a recipe.

“Each box includes a recipe that is inspired by one of the items in the box. I’m leaning on my experience in the kitchen which I love to share,” remarks Andrew. “There are also little jars of things like rhubarb chutney or spicy salsa.”

Response to Andrew’s food box program has been very positive.

“At first, I had 20 different members sign up for it and by end of season I had 30 members,” he comments, adding with a smile: “By 2020, I had 40 members, and then by 2022, I had 64 members!”

Andrew’s farming venture began a few years ago. He had been working alongside chefs like Robert Cassels of Saveur Restaurant and in top flight restaurants such as the Fairmont Empress, had served as a private chef, and also worked in online marketing. However, he had a longing to grow his own food.

“I had a giant container garden at home,” he says. “It was a small plot to play with at the time.”

Andrew needed access to growing space to pursue his market garden dream. An opportunity came up to access a plot of land at the McTavish Academy of Art site.

“Carl Joosse and his family purchased the old McTavish School. I was looking around for land I could farm and he gave me a small area of land to work,” says Andrew. “Carl is a real kickstarter for new entrepreneurs who want to develop their passions.”

Andrew enthusiastically took advantage of the opportunity and hasn’t looked back since.

“The back two acres of the McTavish Academy property were in the ALR zone,” says Andrew. “I have about a quarter acre in total. I erected four growing plots and set up a hoop house (greenhouse).”

Armed with techniques and approaches he gleaned from market gardening books, he began to create his farming space.

“I studied anyone I could find,” he shares. “I looked at market gardening and high-density gardening in a small space.”

Andrew created an area that he could work effectively and efficiently. “I have here 50- by 30-foot plots,” he notes. “The beds are two-and-a-half feet wide with one-and-a-half foot pathways, so I can work beside or straddle them.”

It’s a great example of growing a significant amount in a small scale space. But there are not just a couple of types of vegetables grown here. “I grow mixed salad greens including lettuce and mustard greens, carrots, beets, radishes, and in the summer, cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash, kale, zucchini and swiss chard,” Andrew outlines.

In addition to growing vegetables, Andrew also raises chickens onsite which provide free range, grass fed eggs in each of the food boxes. His approach is to grow produce organically as possible. “I don’t use herbicides or pesticides,” he says. “I use insect netting and organic compost sources like fish bone meal, compost and chicken manure.”

His vegetables are getting attention too. Customers use words like “quality” and “amazingly fresh.”

For Andrew, the customer reaction is gratifying, but his dedication is born out of a sincere desire is to be able to provide an easy way for community members to access fresh local food. “There is a misnomer that locally grown food can be more expensive. But it’s actually cheaper,” he says. “Food in stores has travelled over 2,000 kilometres from other places, so the nutrition in the food is dissipated.”

Food that is freshly picked off the stem and the vine is flavourful, nutritious, and naturally is the basis of the best tasting meals. As an experienced chef, Andrew has always known this, and now he’s personally harvesting this food so that you can taste the difference at your own dining table.

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