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Organic Stories: West Enderby Farm

in 2020/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Organic Stories/Past Issues/Winter 2020

From Carrots to COR

Darcy Smith

Carrots: “hard to grow, but easy to sell,” says Paddy Doherty, who farms at West Enderby Farm with his partner Elaine Spearling. When late November rolls around and most vegetable farmers are finally kicking up their feet for a few moments of rest, Paddy and Elaine’s farm is still a hub of activity. “It’s like having a dairy cow, you never get a break,” jokes Paddy. “You start selling in July and go until April. Farmers are on vacation and we’re still packing carrots three, four days a week.”

“Carrots are very intensive. When you’re not weeding, you’re harvesting or irrigating, no downtime.” But they’re worth it.

In 2011, Paddy and Elaine founded West Enderby Farm in 2011 on a 40-acre former dairy farm. They knew they wanted to pursue a wholesale business model. “We didn’t want to move up to the North Okanagan and immediately start competing with our friends at the Armstrong Farmers’ Market,” Paddy says. “So, we decided to grow a crop to sell to local grocery stores and wholesalers.” And there are never enough carrots to go around.

Hilling carrots at West Enderby Farm.

Plus, back when Paddy was involved in the early days of COABC, he remembers a wholesaler saying, “It’s great that you have broccoli for a month in the summer, but really, winter is our busy season. That’s when people want to buy vegetables and spend more time cooking.” An idea was planted, and decades later, when the pair wanted to relocate to the Okanagan and start farming again, it would bear fruit.

At the time, they didn’t know anyone who sold directly to grocery stores in any volume. It’s always difficult to break into the wholesale market: “you need volume to be able to even talk to them,” Paddy says, but over the last decade, the rise of local and organic food has shifted the marketplace. With consumer demand for local food, retailers are “much more open to the idea of buying from farmers, even though there’s a lot of hassle involved for them,” having to deal with a lot of little farms.

How did West Enderby Farm get a foot in the door, or, rather, a carrot on the shelf? “We needed a decent looking bag, some marketing, a barcode, but mostly we needed to be able to service them for at least six months with sufficient stock,” Paddy says. Today, Paddy and Elaine grow 50-80 tonnes of certified organic carrots a year, along with a handful of other crops, including cauliflower and beets, for the wholesale market.

Details of the carrot harvesting and sorting process.

On the farm, Elaine does the crop planning, soil analysis, and lots of field work, to name just a few. Paddy keeps the machines running and looks after organic inspections. They hire three or four workers over the growing season. Elaine also orders all their seed, and they’re very particular about quality. A current favourite is Bolero, because it “gets sweeter the longer it’s in storage, grows well and consistently, makes a nice shaped carrot, and has good germination and vigour,” says Paddy. But they’re always on the lookout for new varieties. The downside to Bolero is its brittleness, leading to breakage in machine harvesting and packaging. “Commercially, nobody would grow Bolero if they were any bigger than us.”

Paddy and Elaine both have deep roots in agriculture and BC’s organic community. Elaine has a degree in agricultural botany, and taught organic farming for many years at UBC Farm and in the UK. Today, she sits on the steering committee of the North Okanagan Land to Table Network when she’s not out in the field. Paddy is the President of Pacific Agricultural Society (PACS), a member of the National Organic Value Chain Roundtable, sits on the COABC board, and is a part of the Okanagan Regional Adaptation Working Group for the Climate Action Initiative.

Look back 30 years and Paddy and Elaine were raising sheep in Quesnel, and watching regional certification bodies pop up around the province, with “differing standards, and differing ideals and procedures,” Paddy remembers. “It was quite interesting. The government approached us, and there was a group of aligned certification bodies that came together, that was the initial nucleus of COABC.”

Elaine sorting carrots.

Paddy was volunteering with the Cariboo Organic Producers Association (COPA), and tapped into the provincial movement. “I was always an environmentalist, it’s the way I was raised,” he says. “Organic farming is my way of doing what I believe in as my mode of production.”

At the time, there was new legislation in BC that would allow the development of a provincial regulation around organic. Not everyone was on board with a mandatory label, so they moved forward with a voluntary program in 1992, the BC Certified Organic Program (BCCOP). [Editor’s note: the Organic Certification Regulation passed in 2018, making certification mandatory for use of the word organic.]

About helping build the BCCOP, Paddy says, “I guess I enjoyed it, getting people together and getting agreements, and had a talent for it, so I kept going.” As he puts it, “I just hung around and kept on showing up and learning. We were inventing new things, the Ministry of Agriculture helped a lot but we had to invent a lot of it.” Then came the development of Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS). “I learned a lot in that process, starting a commercial CB from scratch and writing a quality manual for that,” he says.

Further details of the carrot harvesting and sorting process.

At a national level, in response to an edict from the EU requiring a national regulation to ship organic products to Europe, “fruit growers in BC were very concerned about their access to EU markets.” Paddy led the development of a project to get an organic regulation together in Canada to ensure access to EU markets.

From there, Paddy when on to work with IFOAM, where he “met some really cool people, and traveled, and made relationships that are important to me today,” and with ISEAL as the standards manager, working in the global sustainability standards community. “There’s so much more beyond organic, there’s the Forest Stewardship Council, the Marine Stewardship Council, and a hole pile you haven’t heard of—all trying to save the world in different ways, using this system of consumer pull, and voluntary standards systems.”

Today, Paddy is busy working on the latest standards review, and leading a project to attempt to solve the problem of a brand name inputs list, as a project of the Organic Value Chain Roundtable. The Roundtable is “a place where leaders of the organic industry can come together to solve problems,” explains Paddy, and it’s been instrumental in bringing together a Canada’s disparate organic movement, from coast to coast, and up and down the value chain, from retailers, to producers, and everyone in between. “It didn’t turn us into one organization, but it definitely helped us focus our energy.”

Bins of washed carrots

“Organic may only be 2% of the market,” Paddy says, but “we have come leaps and bounds.” A small market share belies the outsize impact that organic farming has had on agriculture as a whole. “I do see change, change in production and in the market, towards more sustainable production. What we’ve done with our very strict standard is challenged other types of production to meet our bar.”

“As soon as you put organic carrots on the shelf, it shows consumers that they have a choice, and then the non-organic farmers are faced with, ‘How can I differentiate myself?’ It just changes the dynamic. It encourages a move towards more environmentally friendly production.”

Back on the farm, Paddy and Elaine are thinking about what’s next. They’re looking for someone to take over the carrot business, Paddy says, “but I wouldn’t mind growing cauliflower, that does well, we could grow cauliflower in the summer and take the winters off.”

West Enderby Farm’s view of the cliffs

Darcy Smith is the editor of the BC Organic Grower, and a big fan of organic farmers. She also manages the BC Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

All photos: West Enderby Farm

 

Ask an Expert: Organic Agriculture 3.0

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

History of the Debate About the Future of Agriculture

Thorsten Arnold

This article was first published by the Organic Council of Ontario on January 18, 2019, and is reprinted here with gratitude.

The organic farm and food industry is facing major challenges. IFOAM, the international federation of organic agriculture movements, is spearheading a debate on how the organic movement can tackle these in the future. This blog summarizes the history of this debate and some questions of interest for Canada.

In 2015, Europe’s major organic farmer associations identified major challenges, with ongoing relevance for the present. Most importantly, the growth in organic production has been slow and farm conversion to organic practices are stagnating. Even if the current growth of 5% per year is sustained until 2050, the organizations concluded that the impacts of organic agriculture would remain insignificant with respect to the movement’s goal of reducing the adverse impacts of agriculture on the planet’s ecosystem and resource base. The organizations also identified several structural barriers within and outside of the organic sector, and posed the question, what could the next development phase of organic agriculture, coined Organic 3.0, look like?

Organic agriculture is classified into three development stages. Organic 1.0 describes the early period, when farmers responded to the industrialization of farming with a call to respect natural cycles and soil health, and retain a lifestyle that is in tune with nature. This early phase was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s agricultural courses but also with the warning about “Limits of Growth” by the Club of Rome. Organic 1.0 was characterized by a colorful and incoherent movement that was innovative but failed to link into the mainstream food system. Around 1970, a growing number of unsubstantiated organic/biological/ecological claims increasingly confused consumers and retail traders, highlighting the need for harmonizing the “organic trademark”. European farmer associations reacted by defining a number of guidelines and private organic standards (e.g. Demeter, Bioland, Naturland, BioSwiss, BioAustria), many of which are popular today. During the early 90s, governments throughout the world adopted national organic standards and equivalence agreements between these. This global harmonization enabled international trade in organic goods and also opened retailers to organic products. The successful shift from ideology to standard-driven production is subsumed as Organic 2.0. Today, private and national standards co-exist in many European countries, with private standards being widely recognized by consumers as more stringent and small-scale, whereas national standards cater to industrial organic production and processing.

IFOAM International did not favour a two-tier system, as many member countries do not share Europe’s history of successful private premium organic standards. In a follow-up paper (Nigli et al., 2015), the authors of Biofach 2015 re-formulate the five challenges of organic agriculture as (1) weak growth in agricultural production, (2) the potential of organic agriculture to provide food security, (3) competition from other sustainability initiatives including greenwashing, (4) transparency and safety in value chains, and (5) the need to improve consumer communication. While authors agree that a two-tier system is not necessary, they voice concern about the organic label losing its leadership claim amongst a multitude of emerging sustainability labels. Authors see the current stagnation of organic growth, and the slow speed of innovation in national standards, as a fundamental threat to the organic movement and its goals.

In 2016, IFOAM responded in a paper that gives direction to Organic 3.0. In recognition that “promoting diversity that lies at the heart of organic and recognizing there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach”, IFOAM identified six features that Organic 3.0 should address (IFOAM 2016, p3).

Fig.2 Toward six features of organic agriculture for true sustainability (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)
  • Feature #1: A culture of innovation where traditional and new technologies are regularly re-assessed for their benefits and risk.
  • Feature #2: Continuous improvement towards best practice, for operators along the whole value chain covering the broader dimensions of sustainability.
  • Feature #3: Diverse ways to ensure transparency and integrity, to broaden the uptake of organic agriculture beyond third-party certification;
  • Feature #4: Inclusiveness of wider sustainability interests through alliances with movements that truly aspire for sustainable food and farming while avoiding ‘greenwashing’;
  • Feature #5: Empowerment from the farm to the final consumer, to recognize the interdependence along the value chain and also on a territorial basis; and
  • Feature #6: True value and cost accounting, to internalize costs and benefits and encourage transparency for consumers and policy-makers.

With some further guidance to different players in the organic movement, IFOAM called upon national and regional associations to fill these features with meaning. Since then, organizations across the globe have engaged in a more focused discussion about the future of organic agriculture.

Fig.3 IFOAM proposes changes to how the organic movement operates (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)

What Does the Future of Organic Look Like?

North America’s organic associations remain sceptical about a two-tier approach to the organic label. Still, farmers who strongly exceed the national standards feel insufficiently represented by the organic associations and unable to compete with some of the largest organic production corporations. Next to the Demeter biodynamic certification, there are at least two recent private initiatives that promote premium organic certification. Currently in its piloting phase, the Rodale Institute’s Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) integrates animal welfare and labour fairness requirements and uses three tiers to reward leadership. Secondly, the Real Organic Project is an “add-on label to USDA certified organic to provide more transparency on these farming practices”. USDA organic certification is a prerequisite to participate in this add-on program. This family farmer-driven project embraces centuries-old organic farming practices along with new scientific knowledge of ecological farming.

In the face of these international developments, Ontario’s organic organizations must respond to the grassroots emergence of a de-facto two-tier system. This is not only driven by farmers who feel insufficiently represented by the “mainstream” national organic standards, but also by consumer understanding of the organic label. Organic-critical mainstream articles play a major role in consumer perception, such as a recent Toronto Star article “Milked”, which found less-than-expected differences between the milk from a large certified organic brand and conventional milk. Even though the article’s findings were based on misleading and unscientific grounds, it still points to a growing concern from consumers about the differences across the organic sector. How can consumers learn about these differences? And how do we, as part of Ontario’s organic movement, promote the national organic standard without abandoning those innovators that exceed the COS requirements, and strive for further recognition?

Organic 3.0 aspires to build leadership within the organic sector as well as bridges with mainstream agriculture. This means innovating beyond the COS requirements and sharing experiences with the entire agriculture sector. As Prof. Caradonna, U of Victoria, reports, many non-organic farmers are already taking up some of organic’s proven practices: cover cropping, reduced tillage, and smarter crop rotations. How can we strengthen this cross-over to maximize benefits for our shared planet? And, what can the organic sector learn from the innovative non-organic producers, e.g. for no-till field crops? How can the farming sector better generate, accumulate and pass on knowledge that is independent from input vendors, whose advice is biased by self-interest? How can farmers learn from each other to sustain farm profits, healthy people, and our beautiful planet?


Thorsten Arnold is a member of the Organic 3.0 Task Force of the Organic Value Chain Roundtable. Thorsten also serves on the board of the Organic Council of Ontario and currently works with EFAO as strategic initiatives & fundraising coordinator. Together with his wife Kristine, Thorsten owns Persephone Market Garden.

Feature image: Fig.1 Evolution of the organic movement (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)

Further reading:
OCO’S response to Toronto Star’s article Milked.
Organic agriculture is going mainstream, but not the way you think it is.

References
1. Niggli, U., et al. (2015). Towards modern sustainable agriculture with organic farming as the leading model. A discussion document on Organic: 3. Jg., S. 36.
2. Arbenz, M., Gould, D., & Stopes, C. (2016). Organic 3.0 for truly sustainable farming & consumption. 2ndupdated edition: IFOAM Organics International: ifoam.bio/sites/default/files/organic3.0_v.2_web_0.pdf.

Standards Review: Behind the Scenes

in 2020/Current Issue/Livestock/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

Tristan Banwell

How did I come to be involved in the 2020 Review of the Canadian Organic Standards from my organic outpost near little old Lillooet? Well, Anne Macey talked me into it, of course. By email. She’s very charming and persuasive, even in text.

I am glad she did recruit me, because I now realize how important the process is. I have also become very familiar with the livestock standards, and I have heard the perspectives of producers from many regions of Canada and all scales of production. It was eye-opening and rewarding (and time-consuming!). I have a deep appreciation and respect for the people at the Organic Federation of Canada who made this process happen. A lot of hard work and organizing goes into this process, and a lot depends on us, the volunteers on the Working Groups.

It’s my turn to talk you into getting involved, or at least convince you to read Rebecca Kneen’s article all the way through so that you know what is going on.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, I volunteered on the Livestock Working Group, and sat on smaller groups called Task Forces for Poultry, Swine, and Ruminants. Many of the participants are producers, some large and some small. Others are inspectors, consultants, agronomists, veterinarians, or employees of various organizations, like the SPCA (or COABC!). I was surprised to find there are also industry group representatives participating on behalf of their constituents, such as the Chicken Farmers of Canada and Egg Farmers of Canada.

Each of the Livestock Task Force groups included 8 to 20 individuals, while the Livestock Working Group was comprised of 40 to 60 people. Meetings were two to three hours long by teleconference, with participation on Google Drive for document review and collaborative editing. The Working Group met monthly from September 2018 to April 2019, and again in the winter of 2019/20 to complete the process. Task Forces met an average of three times.

New Task Forces cropped up within the Livestock Working Group to deal with petitions related to Apiculture, Bison, and Rabbits. Members of our working group were also recruited to advise the Genetically Engineered (GE) Task Force, and invited to join the Social Fairness Task Force. Sometimes a petition for another Working Group would come across to Livestock for comment, or seeking the answer to a specific question. But primarily, we got down to work reviewing petitions for changes to the Standards with regard to swine, ruminants, and poultry.

Often, especially when a petition was unrealistic to implement or perceived to weaken the Standards, the groups could quickly reach consensus with a recommendation. I came to appreciate the flexibility of the Standards to apply in so many different contexts, while ensuring a basic set of principles is respected. It is easier to understand the complexity of the Standards when you realize that they are built and revised one particular circumstance at a time.

We also navigated many controversial conversations. What one participant may view as strengthening the Standards may be seen by another as a meaningless change leading to unnecessary expense. Dedicated volunteers gathered and shared research to support their positions and worked over wording repeatedly to solve disagreements. Consensus was sometimes difficult to reach, sometimes impossible. At times, a voting block would solidify and no proposal offered could progress. This was frustrating, but the system is designed to move discussions forward regardless: if a Task Force cannot make a recommendation, the topic goes back to the Livestock Working Group for further consideration. If that still does not help, it’s back to the Technical Committee.

After suggested changes go out for public review over the summer, the comments come back to the Working Groups. We must address all comments. In the case of Poultry, so many comments came back that the conveners further divided the Poultry Task Force into a small and nimble committee that could make recommendations that then returned to the larger group. In the end, our recommended changes to the Canadian Organic Standard will go up to the Technical Committee, who can then accept, revise, or reject the changes. This group will consider not only the recommendation but also the context, and if a topic was highly controversial or many negative comments are received, they should take that into consideration.

I am interested to see how our hard work influences the Canadian Organic Standard, and I know that when the process comes around again, I will step up and put in the time to make my voice heard. I hope that you will too.


Tristan Banwell is a founding director of both the BC Small-Scale Meat Producers Association and the Lillooet Agriculture & Food Society, and represents NOOA on the COABC Board. In his spare time, he manages Spray Creek Ranch in Lillooet, operating a Class D abattoir and direct marketing organic beef, pork, chicken, turkey, and eggs. farmer@spraycreek.ca

Record Keeping: The Secret to Farm Business Success?

in 2020/Crop Production/Current Issue/Marketing/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Andrew Adams

As I sit here in my slightly chilly office typing away on the computer, analyzing data from the past year and comparing other years of similar climatic conditions, all I can think is, “How would I be able to make the important business decisions I make each year without the data and evidence to support my hypothesis?”

Aside from the importance of having impeccable records for our organic inspection (Hey, you have to pay your inspector so it’s best to have good records!), the benefits of keeping good records far outweighs the challenges of staying on top of them, especially during the peak of the season in late July early August when the days are as long as are the list of chores.

Organic certification is not just a marketing tool (though some may use it as such). Think of it as a best practices guideline. By adhering to organic record keeping requirements you can make decisions to be proactive instead of reactive in situations that may arise on your operation, whether you’re hit with a pest outbreak or working out nutrient management for a new crop.

This year was a heck of a rainy year across good portions of British Columbia. Thanks to our record keeping, we have data from wet years and years of incredible drought. When the weather man says get your slickers out for the season, we know which crops will thrive in which fields, who can handle wet feet and who can’t—and we plant crops accordingly. Because we know which varieties do best in the varying conditions on our farm, the records lead us through the storm. This ability comes only with time, observational skills and record keeping. Data not only allows us to be more profitable, but also to tread lightly on the land that provides us with so much, which in the end is the most important factor.
In the early years of our farm, I kept a journal with tons of notes of damn near everyday throughout the season. I want to preface this with We’ve been on our property since October of 2011, certified since 2013, and farming full-time for nearly five years. It was a long road to get where we are now and we are still evolving and adapting as all farms should if they are too become or stay viable businesses. In the beginning, our notes were small, choppy details about what was going on, from weather to purchases, etc. I believe this is common for most farmers getting started, and even some seasoned vets.

Seeing my methods from an outside perspective, my beautiful wife (and my biggest cheerleader) suggested I check out the e-book Record Keeping for Organic Growers by Canadian Organic Growers (COG)—upon investigating, I found that COG provides free spreadsheets for record keeping. With a little editing, I was able to customize the spreadsheets to my liking and needs. My scattered notes and receipts now became organized, my thoughts and actions became more linear. In the words of Ben Hartman, “I straightened my spaghetti noodle,” thus reducing wasted time.

 

Taking a lean approach to making record keeping efficient and easy is essential, or you can end up spending more time going over data than you spend pulling weeds from the carrot patch. Reluctantly, I took a stab at looking at how much time I spend writing data down (we used to do in on paper spreadsheets) in our pack station during any “field operation” then in the fall transfering it to an excel spreadsheet. It was several days of simply punching keys—which is not the most glorious part of farming. I also still carried my notebook everywhere just in case. After balancing the time I was spending with paying myself a modest wage for that time, it made sense for me to purchase a tablet, incorporate all the spreadsheets on the tablet, and have it saved in real time to the cloud. We also bought a big fancy WiFi router to get internet across most of the farm so that everyone on the farm could enter data directly.
If something is difficult or abrasive, we don’t like to do it. Data collection and records need to be made easy if they are going to happen. Like recycling, if it’s a difficult chore, it won’t get done. The investment paid for itself that first season in the number of hours I saved transcribing data. With these extra hours, I can place myself in more valuable tasks on the farm—or simply have more family time.

Another great time saver has been Square, the software that we use to take debit, credit and generally do market sales. In the past we would hand tally all products sold at the market and we didn’t have the ability to take credit or debit. After seeing how many customers wanted to pay with plastic, and the lost sales due to our inability to accept, we started using Square on our tablet. Not only can we now take plastic payments but Square sets up a cash register and tracks all product sales and what times they sell. Square also allows us to make and send invoice to restaurants that they can pay online, and even reminds them when they are late on payment. All of these sales records are important so that organic inspectors have traceability of all your products, and Square does it for you easy peasy.

If you want to get even more efficient, and spend less time on tracking input purchases, Quickbooks can be synced to your credit or debit card. After you categorize certain purchases, the algorithm will start placing your purchases in categories automatically and can spit out a report at any time. This helps with tax time come end of the season, and tracks your crops profitability in real time. I’ve yet to use Quickbooks but I will be moving in that direction—every time I save myself the hassle of doing paperwork I can then spend it with my family or doing more valuable tasks on the farm.

I know some records don’t really change from year to year but…they might, and your inspector needs to ensure you are being diligent. So, wherever you can, save time, and when you can’t, ensure it is time you have allocated as part of your business expense. Keeping diligent records is not something only organic farm businesses have to do, it’s what all business must do to be successful. Without good record keeping you are just guessing when it comes to business decisions. Guessing is what weather forecasters do, not successful businesses. Farming is difficult enough of a profession, so give yourself an edge, invest in easy ways to keep records, and make good decisions based on sound logic and not emotion.


Andrew Adams farms at Hope Farm Organics with his wife Janie. Andrew has a BSc in Agriculture from Kansas State University and Janie has a BEd. After seeing the state of food security and agriculture in the north the two felt obligated to make real change in the form of organic food production and thus created Hope Farm in 2011.

Growing into the Future of Organics

in 2020/Current Issue/Organic Community/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Administrative Director, Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA)

The future of organic is on everyone’s mind these days, and many conversations have circled around change. Recently, organic growers have been presented with several changes, from organic becoming a protected label to new online tools, which means we’ve all had to find time to grow (farm pun intended).

The regulation of the organic label last year has moved BC’s organic sector from a grassroots movement firmly into the realm of regulations, paper trail transparency, and auditing. Organic Certification has definitely evolved over the last 40 years. While full of positive changes, including a bigger organic sector, consumer demand for organic, and, most importantly, an ever-growing community of organic and food producers, this type of transition can be difficult for people who are conditioned to the founding philosophy of BC’s organic grassroots movement.

Although the requirement to follow these regulatory documents in detail can seem daunting and bureaucratic, we should view it as a communal commitment to do our best to identify potential areas where organic integrity may be at risk. The idea is that as an organic community, we want to continually improve our skills and products. But many changes all at once can cause ‘change fatigue,’ a sense of resignation people feel when faced with too much change, and thus result in decreased commitment.

In addition to the regulation of organic, record keeping skills have been pushed into the spotlight as the transition to digital means it is possible for every last detail to be captured and stored. Operators are being pushed to step up their game and ensure their records contain all the detail required by the regulations to ensure full transparency and accountability.

The introduction of pre-made templates for record keeping is an essential and valuable move to support producers with the demands of record keeping. These helpful, ready-to-use templates are being promoted for use by all Certifying Bodies (CBs) under the COABC umbrella.

If we can all use the same record keeping documents, it will increase consistency amongst BC’s organic producers and make the job of Certification Committees (CCs) and Verification Officers (VOs) more efficient, as they will not have to sift through various record keeping methods and formats. They will become familiar with the specific set of forms and where the information they are trying to find is located. This will also assist members if they need to transfer to a different CB, as the record trail will be the same for both CBs. Above all, record templates will help new members understand which information they are required to keep, and it means they don’t have to worry about developing their own records, while simultaneously developing their farming skills.

The online portal (iCertify) is a big change from days of handwritten documents being mailed in to CBs. Many folks have already transitioned to electronic documents over the last few years. Sending multiple files via sometimes-multiple, size-restricted emails can be time consuming and the risk is that file attachments and notes in email messages may not make it into an enterprise’s digital files. iCertify will eliminate lost files, as each document uploaded by an operator will be instantly stored securely and indefinitely on COABC’s own dedicated server, ready for retrieval by their CB administrator, CC, or VO. It means operators will also have access to all their current and previous application and renewal answers and all previously uploaded documents anytime with the click of a button. This is a future change that will initially require some training and new skills development, but in short order it is bound to make certification easier for everyone involved in the process.

With many changes in the organic sector, we must keep in our minds that our goal, as a community, is to continue to improve organics and make our processes more efficient. We cannot allow change fatigue to hold us back. Instead, we should strive to be adaptive and view future changes in organics as a continual evolution.

We want to maintain the feeling of community with our fellow organic growers, and not allow that connection to get lost in regulatory documents and feelings of scrutiny. We need to hold on to some of our past as we evolve into the future. We cannot forget that people choose to grow organically, not only as a profit seeking initiative, but because they share a belief in the values and philosophies of organic, for the health of ourselves and the world.

The beauty we must remember is that we all get to have our say in the ongoing development of the organic standards via the standards review process.

We are still a community. We are just bigger.

Stay tuned for iCertify updates!


Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA): certifying farms on Vancouver Island and Surrounding Islands since 1990.

Funding for iCertify has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Adapting at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative

in 2019/Climate Change/Crop Production/Fall 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Organic Community/Pest Management/Seeds/Soil/Tools & Techniques/Water Management

Photos and text by Michael Marrapese

In 2018 Fraser Common Farm Co-operative—home of Glorious Organics—undertook a year long on-farm research project to explore how small farms could adapt to climate change. Seeing the changes in seasonal rainfall, climate predictions by Environment Canada, and new ground water regulations from the provincial government, the cooperative could see that water availability would eventually become a significant limiting factor in farming operations. 

The discussions about adaptation were complex and multi-factored. Every operation on the farm is connected to something else and many systems interconnect in differing ways throughout the season. Changing practices can be difficult, time consuming, and sometimes risky. 

During the year-long project, funded by Vancity, Co-op members worked to evaluate farming practices and areas of opportunity and weakness in farm management. The project generated several feasible solutions to decrease the demand on groundwater, buffer water demand, harvest rain water, and use irrigation water more efficiently. Some solutions were fairly straightforward and easy to implement. Others required more expertise, better data, and further capital.

Mark Cormier: Improving Water Practices

Mark Cormier explains how Glorious Organics uses edible, nitrogen fixing peas, and Fava beans for cover crops. He’s moved away from overhead spray irrigation to drip tape for the bulk of Glorious Organics’ field crops. He puts drip tape under black plastic row mulch. The plastic mulch significantly increases water retention and suppresses weeds. After the first crop comes off the field he rolls up the plastic and plants salad greens in the same row without tilling. Glorious Organics plans to double the size of the artificial pond and and dredge out a smaller natural spring basin to provide more water for the longer, drier summers the region is experiencing. Cormier notes that this year they are selling a lot of plums, a crop that they don’t water at all. 

Mark Cormier with Fava bean cover crop.
Mark with black plastic mulch and drip tape irrigation.
Plums in the upper orchard
Artificial pond and solar powered pumping station.

David Catzel: Developing Diversity

Catzel has several plant breeding and selection projects on the go to develop populations of productive, flavourful, and marketable crops. Preserving and expanding bio-diversity on the farm is vital for long-term sustainability. With his multi-year Kale breeding project, David has been seeking to develop a denticulated white kale and in the process has seen other useful characteristics, like frost-hardiness, develop in his breeding program. He’s currently crossing varieties of watermelon in order to develop a short-season, highly productive variety. His development of seed crops has also become a significant income source. He estimates his recent batch of Winter White Kale seed alone will net $1,500 in sales. As the Co-operative diversifies its product line to include more fruit and berries, organic orchard management practices have become increasingly important. Catzel has been instrumental in incorporating sheep into orchard management. A critical component of pest management is to keep the orchards clean and to remove any fruit on the ground to reduce insect pest populations. The sheep eat a lot of the fallen fruit and keep the grass and weeds in check making it easier to keep the orchards clean. 

David Catzel and the Kale Breeding Project.
David Catzel crossing Watermelon varieties.
David Catzel with his Winter White Kale seed crop.
David tending sheep.

Barry Cole: Gathering Insect Data

With the arrival of the spotted wing drosophila fruit fly, Fraser Common Farm was facing a management crisis. There seemed to be little organic growers could do to combat the pest, which destroys fruit before is is ripe. Infestations of Coddling Moth and Apple Maggot were making it difficult to offer fruit for sale. Barry Cole set about to gather meaningful data to help understand pest life cycles and vectors of attack. He’s set up a variety of traps and tapes and monitors them regularly to determine when pests are most active and which trees they prefer. The “Bait Apples” attract a large number of Apple Coddling Moths. The yellow sticky tapes help determine which species are present at various times in the season. Since many of the fruit trees are more than 20 years old, he also monitors and records tree productivity and fruit quality to better determine which trees should be kept and which should be replaced. 

The fake apple trap.
Identifying active pests.
Inspecting Early Harvest.
Barry Cole inspecting walnuts for pests.

Michael Marrapese is the IT and Communications Manager at FarmFolk CityFolk. He lives and works at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative, one of BC’s longest running cooperative farms, and is an avid photographer, singer, and cook.

Feature image: David Catzel’s watermelon varieties.

Clockwise from left: ; the fake apple trap; identifying active pests; Barry Cole inspects walnutd for pests; Mark Cormier with fava bean cover crop; plums in the upper orchard; David Catzel with his White Winter Kale seed crop. Credit: Michael Marrapese. 

Biodynamic Farm Story: Putting the Dynamic in Biodynamic

in 2019/Crop Production/Fall 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Soil/Tools & Techniques

Anna Helmer

I used to write a small weekly column for the local paper, telling stories about the farm each week. I kept it going through the busy times and the not busy times. I hardly remember how I managed to write the required 600 coherent words during those intensely busy summer weeks. Maybe they weren’t coherent. Likely not, now that I think about it. Maybe coherence was not a goal. If you can’t do it, don’t make it a goal, I always say.

Those winter columns, though. I remember writing those. They were the ones where I had done precious little farm work during the week and now had to write about it. They were a challenge to compose. At least in the summer weeks there was lots of material. However, I did learn how to make 600 entertaining words out of, say, a flat tire and a quiet market.

I am feeling reminiscent of those lazy days of winter and cobbling together something interesting about scant farming activities because I have agreed to do another installment of Biodynamic Farm Story, but I really haven’t done much Biodynamic stuff lately.

The blame for this lies entirely with the farm. In addition to non-descript regular farm work, each tractor has broken down several times, we’ve poured new concrete, built a new shed, and started attending our local market about six weeks earlier than ever before. The events have very much taken precedence over Biodynamic activities. The original Biodynamic lectures don’t seem to specifically address what to do when this happens.

Those lectures contain a fair amount about the importance of talking with other farmers about Biodynamic methods, however. I gather Steiner, the lecturer, understood that much of his content was untested in real farm-world situations. There is also acknowledgement that every single farm, being its own entity consisting of its own unique people, soil, and environment, will have to find its own way.

(Cosmic) Hightland Cow. Credit: Nilfanion (CC)

I think that’s the story this time: how does it work to be a Biodynamic farm (or farmer!) when events overtake intentions? This is about how we can’t seem to follow the Biodynamic calendar very well, and how in actual fact, we seem to forget all about being Biodynamic when the fur starts flying on a busy farm season. Perhaps this is when the “dynamic” part comes into play.

I would like to think that the work we do in the shoulder seasons—creating composts, using the preparations, planning planting around propitious dates in the calendar—all contribute to the strength of the farm now, when it is being fully taxed. I suppose it possibly might be so.

Theoretically, what would a biodynamically active farmer not like me be doing right now on the farm? I would have two things on the list: compost management and Biodynamic Preparation 508.

Priority one: turn the cow manure pile and bung in more Biodynamic preparations, purchased in a set from the Josephine Porter Institute—nettle, yarrow, dandelion, oak bark, chamomile and valerian. They are intended to not only stimulate the biological breakdown of the material into humus and whatnot, but also to create a source of energy for the farm. How cool is that?

I came across a metaphor for the Biodynamic compost heap several years ago, the source regretfully forgotten, the actual meaning mangled: Cosmic Cow. Consider the cow that can transform the energy of the sun (via green grass) turning it into precious manure that may be used to grow our eating plants. It is a remarkable feat that is accomplished in a complex digestive system. Even more remarkable, the function carries on despite the animal eating all kinds of garbage along with the lovely grass. And through thick and thin, the animal maintains a more or less even disposition, emanating a particular energy that is quite powerful, in its own way.

So the Cosmic Cow Biodynamic Compost heap can do the same sort of thing. Its digestive system is powered up to produce the desired dirt, and the whole thing is solidly grounded to be able to broadcast the infinite energy of the universe to the farm.

If I had some time, and if the loader tractor hadn’t developed a leak in the axle and the right seal had been sent from the source of seals and if it therefore had a wheel, I totally would have done that job by now. Pretty certain it is high on Dad’s list too. The wheel will eventually go back on, surely. Meanwhile, the pile sits patiently in the field, the essential activity continuing despite neglect.

I am also looking into the preparation called 508. It uses horsetail in either a tea form (very easy to make) or a more complicated distillation. There has been a lot of rain, heat, and wind lately and fungal issues may arise. The 508 may help cope with that. Plus, it is all the rage right now in Biodynamics and I am nothing if not keen to fit in.

If there is one weed we have plenty of in the potatoes this year, it is horsetail. Do I go to the effort of picking it, boiling it up and spraying it around? So far, I do not.

A look into my farm notes for the past couple of months reveals at least a passing nod to the Biodynamic Calendar. I have noted when something I did was done because it was a good day to do it according to the position of the moon and the planets. It still means nothing to me, but I think the plants get it, so that’s good. For example, the carrots were done right. As that field also had a good helping of BD 500 both last fall and this spring, I could expect one of our best crops ever. I don’t, however. Biodynamics is a method, not a guarantee.

Unlike chemical fertilizers. They are more of a guarantee. It is very plain to see the appeal of popping in a wee bit of N, P, and K at planting time. Conventional farmers in Pemberton who planted potatoes weeks later than us are pleased that theirs came into flower right at the same time and achieved row cover well ahead. It’s just a fact of science.

A fact that means nothing to me. Today when I walked through our potato field, I would have needed a machete to get through the White Rose and Fingerlings. As an aside, did you know that potato flowers smell delicious?

I boast like this because I think Biodynamic farming can be a difficult sell to…well…most farmers. Let’s face it. The positive results are heavily anecdotal. I must add my own.


Anna Helmer farms with her family and friends in the Pemberton Valley and could have submitted the picture that featured a lot of weeds but instead chose the one that did not.

Feature image: Tractor wheel in a beautifully weed-free potato crop. Credit: Anna Helmer

Organic Week! September 9-15, 2019

in 2019/Fall 2019/Marketing/Organic Community/Standards Updates

Supporting the Entire Organic Food Chain by Increasing Awareness of Organic Products Nationally

Karen Squires

This year will mark the big 10th year anniversary of Organic Week occurring September 9-15, 2019! Please check out Canadian Organic Trade Association’s (COTA) website for more information on Organic Week 2019, our online contests launching in July, our IQ Organic Quiz launching September 2 and our ongoing national consumer awareness campaign.

The Organic Grows On You campaign was launched this year to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Organic Week. The concept is a play on “you are what you eat,” reinforcing the notion of choosing organic and feeling good about yourself and your choices. The campaign’s secondary message, “invest in yourself,” is a subtle way to reinforce feeling more connected to your food source and the farmers who grow it—by choosing organic you are shopping with your values in mind and organic is an investment in your health and the environment.

COTA coordinates Canada’s national organic consumer marketing campaigns on behalf of its members and the industry. You can review the Organic Week 2018 Overview Report on COTA’s website to get a sense of the reach the campaign had last year, which engaged over 3,500 retailers nationally, distributed 1,144 point of sales kits to retailers, achieved 4 million advertising impressions, 8 million social media impressions and reached millions of Canadian consumers. COTA works in collaboration with provincial associations and industry from across the country to lead this campaign each year.

Organic Week is a massive collaborative undertaking, coordinating industry to cross promote and reach new Canadian audiences with a synchronized marketing strategy, engaging at all levels (retail, community events, media via magazines, newspapers, online and consumer contests, etc) to reach Canadian consumers to deepen their knowledge of organic, reaffirm their commitment to purchase organic, or learn about organic for the first time. After last year’s Organic Week activities, IPSOS polling of 1,000 Canadians indicated that public trust in Organic rose 4% directly after our marketing efforts, landing at 48%. Sixty six percent of Canadians are purchasing organic products weekly! Make sure your brand is seen as a leader and is at the forefront of Canadian’s minds, as a committed company offering organic products.

For more information on Organic Week, please contact Lauren Howard at intern@canada-organic.ca. Lauren will be happy to explain the various ways you can get involved in future events, including joining in the conversation on social media, having in store promotions or holding special events in your community!

Otherwise, for more information on membership or partnerships with COTA, please contact ksquires@canada-organic.ca.


Karen Squires joined COTA as Member Relations & Business Development Manager with over 15 years’ senior level experience in the non-for-profit sector. Karen works with COTA members to develop innovative partnership models that leverage budgets while continuing to advance Canada’s organic sector!

Feature image: Organic cauliflower. Credit: Moss Dance

Ask An Expert: A New Agricultural Environmental Management Regulation

in 2019/Ask an Expert/Fall 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Water Management
Agricultural Management code of practice BC ministry of Agriculture Farmer in a field

By the Province of British Columbia

In keeping with the respect BC’s agricultural operators have for the land, air, and water, new rules for agricultural environmental management are now in place. After years of science and evidence-based analysis, as well as conversations with agricultural operators throughout the province, a new regulation called the Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM Code) came into effect on February 28, 2019. The goal of this Code is to provide more clarity for the agriculture sector while better protecting the environment for all British Columbians.

Organic farmers will see that some requirements are continued from the previous regulation, such as no direct discharges into watercourses, some have been revised to clarify expectations, and some are new, several of which are being phased in over the next decade.

Why a new regulation?

Through several consultations we heard that the old rules were too vague for operators and weren’t adequately protecting the environment. Working with farmers, we built a fair set of rules that ensure agricultural practices protect our drinking water, watercourses, and air.

The new AEM Code takes a different approach to the previous regulation. Requirements are more clearly outlined, and they’re both risk-based and science-based. For example, more protective measures now need to be taken in high-risk areas and during high-risk conditions. Also, soil samples are required to be taken to help determine what measures are necessary on specific farms.

Who does this regulation apply to?

It applies to all agricultural operations in BC, from small hobby farms to large commercial operations, including organic farms. That said, the regulation has been built with the understanding that not all agricultural operations are the same and that there are differences from one region of this province to another. Various requirements are contingent on an operation’s location, size, and type of activity. Many farms won’t need to make big changes to adjust to the new regulation.

What does this regulation include?

The new regulation includes provisions that aim to: ensure watercourses and groundwater are protected through proper storage and use of manure, other nutrient sources, and other materials, such as wood residue; prevent water quality impacts from contaminated run-off; prohibit direct discharges into watercourses; require nutrient management planning; allow for increased monitoring in high-risk areas; provide clear compliance expectations for agricultural operators for setbacks, storage, and nutrient applications; and, require record-keeping.

When is this happening?

The new rules came into effect on February 28, 2019, but some of the requirements, such as nutrient management plans, will be phased-in over the next decade. This approach will give agricultural operators time to plan for and adjust to the new rules, and for government to work collaboratively with industry to develop the necessary tools to support implementation.

What does this mean for me?

Organic farmers will need to demonstrate a basic level of environmental protection, but many are already doing what the regulation requires. This includes:

  • ensuring minimum setbacks for various activities and proper storage requirements are followed;
  • preventing contaminated runoff, leachate, solids, and air contaminants from entering watercourses, crossing property boundaries, or going below the seasonal high water table;
  • registration for boilers and heaters with greater than 0.15 MW capacity, and meeting emissions limits for opacity and particulate matter;
  • nitrogen application rates that meet the crop’s needs and not more, for applications to land and other than to land (e.g., grown in containers);
  • collecting and containing wastewater, contaminated runoff, or leachate;
  • wastewater needs to be treated prior to discharge into the environment; and
  • record-keeping to demonstrate compliance.

Requirements will affect farms differently depending on whether they are in a high-risk area, what their current practices are, and the nature and size of the farm. In addition to the basic level of protection above, these include increased monitoring and protective measures in high-risk areas and during high-risk conditions, such as:

  • protective bases for greenhouses and storage structures in vulnerable aquifer recharge areas to ensure no leaching down into the aquifer;
  • covering temporary field-stored piles, including agricultural by-products or wood residue, and outdoor agricultural composting piles, in high precipitation areas from October 1 to April 1.

How will the regulation be enforced?

As we roll out the new regulation, we will be working with you on how to best help you comply with the new rules. Our goal is to support agricultural operators so that, working together, we can better protect the environment.

There are dedicated staff within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy who will work with you to understand your obligations under the Environmental Management Act, which this regulation falls under. The team uses a consistent and risk-based approach for establishing compliance and enforcement priorities.

Learn more: to find out if you are in a high-risk area, or need more information on what records you need to keep, or what minimum setbacks you need to follow, please visit the following website at: gov.bc.ca/Agricultural-Environmental-Management.

Questions? Contact: AEMCoPenquiries@gov.bc.ca 

All photos: Province of British Columbia

Biodynamic Farm Story: Cosmic Compost

in 2019/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Preparation/Summer 2019/Tools & Techniques

Anna Helmer

Hello and welcome once again to The Biodynamic Farming Experience for the Celestially-Challenged: a partly-formed, poorly-articulated, and over-hyphenated chronicle of a particular journey in which a woman-farmer-of-a-certain-age-and-experience (me) delves into the theory and, more importantly, the practice of Biodynamic farming in search of fun and the future of farming.

Rambling along here, aren’t I? I do that when I am not sure of the destination. And now that I am in full digression, I can see that “journey” is not the right word as it would suggest both a destination and a plan, neither of which I can guarantee. Voyage of discovery? Too fancy. Is it a process? Nope. I don’t think that sounds like fun. Compost heap. I think it might be a compost heap: piling up ideas, layering with experience, mixing up theories (some quite junky), letting it sit. For absolute certain something good is going to come of it, but it might take a while depending on how raw the material is.

The bottom layer in my compost pile of cosmic cognitive sentience (how about that!) is a cover-to-cover reading of the original lectures (the Biodynamic farming origin story) delivered by Dr. Rudolph Steiner. I am just about done. I remain perplexed most of the time, although I experience (sadly random and rare) flashes of triumph when I realize I have managed to grasp a concept or follow an argument, very quickly snuffed out usually by the next paragraph. I persist however, because I find it fascinating.

Another batch of Biodynamic Preparation 500: cow horns neatly lined up at Helmers Organic Farm. Credit: Helmers Organic Farm

In the last article I mentioned Biodynamic Preparation 500, which we have been using for years on the farm. It’s easy to make. You just stuff a cow horn full of fresh manure and bury it a foot or two down in the soil for the winter. In the early summer, when dug up, the manure has transformed into a delightfully hummus-y, sweetly-smelling substance which is incorporated into water and sprinkled about the fields and gardens. Steiner manages to explain why the use of a cow horn is necessary, but I can’t. The point though, is to avail the farm of the powerful forces of the universe.

Well the thing of it is, I have discovered that BD 500 works not just on the crops and soil: it works on people too. If you are not picking yourself up off the floor after collapsing there in a dead faint of amazement, I have not expressed myself well. This reflects a problem with the writing, not with Biodynamics. You see, I myself have been made available to believe that the universe has an influence on the health of the farm because I have been using the Biodynamic Preparation 500. Probably it’s what’s made the lectures readable and fascinating too. I did try a decade or so ago but there was no joy.

I realize in fact, that it’s taken close to 20 years of using the preparation for me to get to this stage. I hope it doesn’t take everyone else that long to feel its affects. Steiner seemed to think about four years should do it.

To return to the point of this exercise: is Biodynamics fun? Is it the future of farming? I remain firm in my conviction that it might be both. It is certainly more fun than the organic certification process, which I find has gotten a little dry. It’s necessary of course, if we are keen to relieve certain large industry leaders of their self-appointed mantle of agricultural way-finders. It’s obligatory, if we want to sell to people who feel the same way we do.

Practicing biodynamic farming, while still offering the certification experience, brings some serious, additional motivation. I count inspiration, wonder, amazement, incredulity, reality-checks, positive feedback from customers, and tantalizing experiences of powerful forces among the benefits of the practice. Oh, and increasing yields of very tasty produce. Lovely things to add to a compost heap of galactic oomph. I think I am going to be a better farmer because of it. Certainly, the farm is better because of it.

The Biodynamic practice of filling cow horns for preparation of preparation 500 or “horn dung.” Credit: Sugar Pond (www.flickr.com/people/88927846@N00)

Could Biodynamics be the future of farming in general? There are snags. One of them has got to be that it can get a little bogged down in discussion, which I would like to flag as one of the biggest hinderances to farm productivity. A talking farmer is very often not a working farmer.

Another issue is this insistence on involving the position of the sun and the moon in relation to the stars and planets when making farming decisions. People like me, whose astrological understandings end even before the horoscopes page, are simply going to switch off when this topic arises. People who like a little more conventional science in their lives will also be left wanting, and very little apology is made for that. These are difficult aspects to accept, and in my case required 20 years of using BD 500 to get over.

Cynically, I would also suggest that the fact that Biodynamic farming does not require much in the way of support from the agricultural industry is a close-to-fatal flaw. Apart from the odd tractor, a few implements, and some cover-crop seed, Biodynamic farmers spend very little in the mainstream agricultural system. There is simply no need. Thus, there will be no corporate champion, with a big marketing budget, to help turn heads and change minds.

So, as far as the future goes, Biodynamic farming can be hazardously non-productive, bizarrely off-putting, and doesn’t contribute to the bottom line of the world’s largest companies. This is not promising…or is it?

It’s May, it’s go-time, and theoretical considerations on fun and the future of farming may not strike quite the right tone at your place just now. I completely understand. It would not hurt in the least however, since you have read this far, to throw a little Biodynamic 500 around as you carry on with the business of farming. At the very least, your soil and plants can get busy working with the infinite energy of the universe. You’ll get there too, although perhaps that doesn’t matter as much.


Anna Helmer farms with her family and friends in the Pemberton Valley and recently hosted a farm open house that could have gone really badly, but didn’t.

Feature image: Compost heap. Credit: Andrew Dunn (www.andrewdunnphoto.com)

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