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certified organic

Weeds: Don’t Shoot the Messenger

in 2018/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Pest Management/Summer 2018

(Not Until You Understand the Message)

Av Sing

This article first appeared in The Canadian Organic Grower, with thanks.

All too often when farmers start talking weeds, a common first question is “How do I get rid of a bad case of…?” when a more appropriate question is “I wonder why my field has a bad case of…?”

The subtle difference in the above question requires a surprisingly dramatic paradigm shift in your view of weeds. Weeds must shed their role as problems, pests, and sources of frustration, and instead take on the role of symptoms, storytellers, and healers. Weed advocates consider weeds as plants with a mission and look to learn what the weeds can tell us about our soil conditions (e.g. pH, drainage, compaction, etc.) or our management practices (e.g. crop rotation, row spacing, stocking rate, tillage, etc.).

Weeds Redefined

Nicolas Lampkin, in Organic Farming, stresses that it is the human activity of agriculture that generates weeds. He defines a weed as “any plant adapted to man-made habitats and interferes with human activities.” For weed spin doctors, even that definition is too harsh because it focuses too much on the negative. The first step in our weed propaganda is to begin viewing the appearance of weeds as beneficial.

We are all familiar with the saying nature abhors a vacuum. Well, cultivation essentially creates a vacuum where whole communities of plant and soil life are disrupted and/or destroyed. Nature responds with weeds. Within days, pioneer plants such as pigweed, lamb’s quarters, and purslane grow rapidly and thickly. They anchor the soil and generate organic matter that feeds the soil life. These fast-growing annuals also provide shade, hold moisture, and moderate soil temperatures that allow other plants, such as biennials and perennials (including grasses), to initiate growth. If left for another season, this land will have fewer fast-growing annuals and favour later successional plants.

In our fields, the soil is in an unnatural state of continuous disturbance and as a result we primarily deal with the early colonists. Most of these fast-growing annuals grow without associated mycorrhizal fungi (primarily because their life cycle is too short to benefit from a symbiotic partnership). Expectedly, soils rich with mycorrhizal fungi (e.g. pastures, forest floors, agricultural soils rich in organic matter, especially through the use of compost) have fewer annual weeds. Elaine Ingham of Soil Foodweb Inc. suggests that the presence of the fungi serves as a signal that keeps annual weeds from germinating.

Learning From Your Weeds

Now that we better appreciate why weeds appear in our farms and gardens, we can take a closer look at how we can use weeds as indicators for our soil conditions. It is important to note that many weeds can tolerate a wide range of conditions and therefore the appearance of a few individual weeds are not necessarily proof of an underlying soil condition. For example, both perennial sow thistle and dock indicate poor drainage, but dock prefers more acidic soils, while thistle favours a higher pH. You can however learn about the conditions if the weed population is dominated by several species that all prefer similar conditions. For example, if plantain, coltsfoot and ox-eye daisies are the predominant weeds, this could indicate that the soils are waterlogged or have poor drainage.

Agricultural practices such as cultivation, fertilization and grazing management can have a great impact on the soil and, in turn, on the appearance of particular weed species. Frequent tillage will disturb the billions of viable seeds in the soil seed bank and, with sunlight, these will germinate and occupy bare soil. Weeds such as lamb’s quarters and redroot pigweed can produce 75,000 to 130,000 seeds per plant (respectively), which can remain viable in the soil for up to 40 years.

The presence of legumes, such as vetch, medic and clover, may suggest that the soil is lacking nitrogen. In contrast, weeds growing on the same soil that appear pale yellow and/or stunted also indicate low fertility. Overgrazing of pastures may lead to compacted soils and then the presence of perennial bluegrass species and bentgrasses may predominate.

The lack or imbalance of calcium can allow soils to become compacted and without the proper biology in the soil (fungi in the case of calcium), calcium will not stay in the soil.

Soil pH

In addition to helping protect and improve the organic matter content of the soil, weeds can also indicate the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. Most agricultural crops do best in a slightly acidic soil (pH of 6 to 6.5). An increasing presence of weeds such as plantain, sorrel or dandelion may suggest that the pH is dropping below a desirable level. However, having acidic soils should not be viewed as detrimental. Much of Albrecht’s work highlighted that poor plant performance on low pH soils was in fact a consequence of low soil fertility or an imbalance of soil nutrients, rather than soil pH. For example, many alfalfa growers have witnessed a dramatic invasion of dandelions after spreading high levels of potash. Essentially, the potash had suppressed calcium levels in the soil. The deep-rooted dandelion scavenges calcium from lower depths and upon its death released the calcium at the soil surface. The appearance of dandelions may be interpreted as indicating acidic soils when in fact the ratio of calcium to potassium caused their appearance.

Extreme Weed Makeover: Look for the Positive in Weeds

  • Weeds can act as a green manure or cover crop.
  • Weeds can serve to cycle nutrients from the subsoil (e.g. deeprooted weeds such as dandelions or burdock).
  • Deep-rooted weeds can break up hard pans, thereby regulating water movement in the soil.
  • Weeds can conserve soil moisture.
  • Weeds can provide habitat for beneficial organisms.

An imbalance of magnesium relative to calcium can lead to tight soils and eventually anaerobic conditions. Calcium causes soil particles to move apart, providing good aeration and drainage; fungi help to prevent the leaching of calcium out of the soil. Magnesium makes particles stick together and if soils become too tight, oxygen becomes limited and beneficial forms of soil life disappear. In such conditions, organic residues in the soil do not decay properly, and increased carbon dioxide in the soil favours fermentation of the organic matter, resulting in byproducts such as alcohol and formaldehyde. These substances inhibit root penetration as well as create favourable conditions for soil diseases such as pythium and phytophora. Fermentation can also create methane gas which is conducive to the appearance of velvetleaf, or ethane gas which helps jimsonweed to prosper. Grasses with their fine and numerous roots attempt to break up tight soils, while the presence of many grassy weeds may indicate tight soils.

Mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between fungi and plant roots. Most agricultural crops depend on, or benefit from, their associations with mycorrhizae. In exchange for carbon from the plant, mycorrhizal fungi make phosphorus more soluble and bring soil nutrients (N, P, K) and water to the plant. The Cruciferae family (e.g. broccoli, mustard) and the Chenopodiaceae family (e.g. lamb’s quarters, spinach, beets) do not form associations with these fungi. Frequent tillage, fungicides and high levels of N or P will inhibit root inoculation. Similarly, the practice of fallowing will reduce levels of mycorrhizae because the plants that establish following tillage usually do not form associations with the fungi.

This article is based primarily on the knowledge and observations of farmers who wanted to better understand the connection between what was growing in their soil and the various management practices they were employing.

The American poet Emerson once wrote, “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,” perhaps referring to their greatest virtue to farmers as messengers of the soil.

Recommended reading (available from the COG library): 

Pfeiffer, E.E. (1981). Weeds and what they tell. Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Assoc, USA.

Soil Association. (1982). The Value of Weeds. Soil Association, UK.


Av emphasizes farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange and works to hone farmer intuition in making management decisions. Currently, Av serves as a cannabis cultivation advisor to many Licensed Producers in North America and the Chief Science Officer with Green Gorilla (a Hemp and Cannabidiol Company). Av is also serving as the Vice-President of the Canadian Organic Growers and is proud to be a member of Slow Food Canada, Food Secure Canada, and the National Farmers’ Union. Av is also a faculty member at Earth University (Navdanya) in India where he delivers courses on agroecology and organic farming. Av can be reached for questions or comment at 902-698-0454 or av@fs-cannabis.com.

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Foodlands Cooperative of BC

in 2018/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Summer 2018

Breaking New Ground

Michael Marrapese

Spring is often a time of optimism and renewed expectations. This will be Ariella Falkowski’s first year breaking ground for her new Sweet Acres Farm.She is leasing two acres of land at Lohbrunner Community Farm Cooperative on the outskirts of Langford, BC. She’s still getting to know the land and is excited by its potential. “It’s been really busy,” she says, “but some parts of the field dried up fairly early so I’ve been able to get crops in the ground earlier than I expected. My two projects this month are to finish putting up my hoop house structure and installing the drip irrigation.”

The Lohbrunner Farm is also home to Vitality Farm. Farmer Diana Brubaker and her husband Doug have been growing market vegetables on the property since 2012. When Brubaker first arrived on the property it was held in trust by the Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC). Norma Lohbrunner had wanted the 40 acre property with its rich peat soil and rolling wooded hills to be preserved as a working farm and wildlife sanctuary. Brubaker and a group of community volunteers signed on to maintain and enhance the existing crop beds and berry bushes after Norma Lohbrunner died in 2011. However, TLC was facing financial difficulties and the fate of the farm was uncertain.

There were hopes that TLC would still function in some manner and that the group of fledgling farmers could arrange to lease the seven acres they were hoping to farm. “We tried for about four years but it just didn’t happen. Our second option was to buy it,” Brubaker explains. “We were trying to develop a co-op and buy the property. TLC couldn’t do that because they were in the courts trying to resolve their difficulties.”

Ariella Falkowski with her walk-behind tractor
Ariella Falkowski with her walk-behind tractor. Credit: Diana Brubaker

Unfortunately, the process ended up with a court order to put the Lohbrunner Farm and other properties up for sale in order to cover some of TLC’s funding shortfalls. Brubaker and her farming group had to scramble to find another option. “The last option for us was to look for someone to transfer the land to who could hold it as a farm for eternity. That was our main drive: how do we keep this farm as a farm forever.”

The group turned to the newly formed Foodlands Cooperative of BC (FLCBC). FLCBC’s visionary mandate is specifically to hold farmland in trust and ensure that it is actively farmed, managed by a community group, and accessible to the broader community. Heather Pritchard, the co-op developer with FLCBC, notes the process of developing Lohbrunner Cooperative and taking a farm in trust is new ground for all involved. “The leases, agreements, governance processes, and Cooperative structure of Lohbrunner are essentially the template for how other farmlands can be held in trust,” she says. “The lessons learned from Lohbrunner Community Farm will be the basis for other lands held by the Foodlands Cooperative.”

However, FLCBC hadn’t finished incorporating and couldn’t act quickly enough to take the Lohbrunner lands into trust. Pritchard met with funders and stakeholders and arranged to secure the funding and have FarmFolk CityFolk hold the title until FLCBC had fully incorporated and secured charitable status.

Celebrating the Fall harvest web. Credit: Michael Marrapese

Brubaker recalls that, even though the farm had been secured, the co-op members at Lohbrunner soon realized there was still much to be done. The governance and management structure, the co-op’s constitution and by-laws, and core operating agreements all had to be worked out. “The Foodlands Cooperative has been so supportive in helping us establish our own co-op. It’s given us lots of flexibility to design something that works for us. It’s truly incredible to be in this place of options and choices. We’re extremely blessed,” she says.

While cooperative ownership can be challenging, it has big benefits, particularly when starting a new enterprise. Principally, with the high cost of farmland, pooling personal and community resources can be one avenue to secure financing. Falkowski notes that there are other practical benefits. “One of the things that initially drew me to leasing land at Lohbrunner was the opportunity to have a more stable long-term lease. Another benefit is that we have really helpful co-op members with really different skill sets. Different people have different experience and different connections that they can bring to the table.”

One of the current challenges is securing organic certification. As it turns out, the unusual ownership model has made organic certification more difficult. Initially, the Islands Organics Producers Association (IOPA) was suggesting an incubator farm model but it just didn’t fit. Brubaker reflects that, “the problem seems to be that we’re the ‘square pegs that don’t fit into their round holes’. I really liked the idea an incubator farm model where a new farmer, who doesn’t necessarily have the skills, could be mentored to help them get started. However, when they wanted to move on, they couldn’t take that certification with them—they’d have to start over again.”

Falkowski was involved in a lot of back and forth discussions. She recalls that, “what seemed to make the most sense for Lohbrunner was to certify as three different entities—as Vitality Farm, Sweet Acres Farm, and Lohbrunner Community Farm. One of the benefits of doing it this way is that if I were to leave the property or to lease some additional land elsewhere, my certification number would go with me.”

Diana Brubaker working the field while her dog Bella supervises. Credit: Ariella Falkowski

The downside to this process is that each certification will cost $500. “Using this approach we now may have to pay $1500 a year to be certified,” Brubaker says. “At this point, I’m not sure there’s enough revenue off the farm to justify the expense.” The further implication is that when other farmers come onto the property the costs could rise to $2000 or $2500 a year.

Brubaker also finds the certification process particularly arduous for their diverse market vegetable operation. She has many different inputs for the different crops. Chief among them are all the different seeds she purchases—three to four hundred different seeds from different catalogues. “I’ll have to detail why I choose one over the other and whether they are organic or not. If we were just growing one or two crops it would be far less work.”

Despite the difficulties, Brubaker asserts that the certification process has been valuable for her. “As part of my professional career as a leader in health care one of my roles was quality improvement. When I apply those similar principles to the certification process I appreciate that it is a really good process to go through. I look differently now at everything I buy, everything I bring to the farm. I think that, in the beginning, we had the very basic principles of organic farming but this process has taken us a step further.”

Trying new processes and new approaches, breaking new ground, is difficult but in the spring, the season of optimism, it seems possible. “It’s not going to be easy,” she says, “and there are lots of unknowns. We’re hoping this year has more laughter and hugs than tears.”

foodlands.org

lohbrunnercommunityfarm.org

sweetacresfarm.ca


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 photo: The Lohbrunner Farm crew with their garden hoophouse. Credit: Michael Marrapese

2018 Conference Recap

in 2018/Organic Community/Spring 2018
Rebecca Kneen, Carmen Wakeling, Heather Pritchard at COABC 2018 Conference

Bioregionalism: Resilience in a Changing Climate

Moss Dance

One thing that struck me about this year’s annual COABC conference was the high level of engagement and the cohesiveness of the organic community. This year’s theme was “Bioregionalism: Resilience in a Changing Climate,” and the organic farmers and friends who showed up to learn, share, and connect with community brought so much attentiveness and presence to the conversation. We also had an incredible array of speakers and workshop presenters who co-created an inspiring weekend for the organic community in B.C.

Food Is Sustenance First

Dawn Morrison, celebrated Indigenous food sovereignty activist from Secwepemc territory, kindled the fire for our weekend conference during her Friday keynote speech. Dawn is Director of the Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty and during her address, she generously shared Original Instructions from her Elders and teachers about the importance of food and access to land and foodsheds with a crowd of keen organic farmers. I found Dawn’s speech moving on many levels—what really struck me was her kind and candid approach to the issues we all face after a long legacy of colonization and genocide of Indigenous peoples.

Dawn Morrison’s Saturday morning keynote speech

As a settler myself, I often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues I have faced as a “landowner” and a farmer on stolen land. How do I reconcile myself with the fact that, as a farmer, I need secure access to land to produce food, and that, as a settler, I benefit from the theft of Indigenous lands? How do I succeed as a farmer and decolonize my relationship to this land; acknowledge past wrongs and take action to heal them?

There are no easy answers to these questions—and throughout the weekend, Dawn, and Rebecca Kneen, who co-facilitated a Saturday session with Dawn, encouraged us to stay in our discomfort. We can have amazing dialogues and find incredible common ground from a place of questioning and seeking new answers.

A practical suggestion from Dawn had me reconsidering my approach to farming—she urged the farmers in the room to stop using the word “product” to describe food. Food is sustenance first, and all living things are related. Honouring the necessity of food for life, the energetic qualities of food (grown organically, with care and the best inputs) is something food growers in this community can understand in day-to-day life. That’s why we are a part of this movement.

Organic Family: Singing Cathleen Kneen’s meal blessing song at the Saturday evening banquet

50 Million Farmers Needed in Canada & US

The following morning, Kent Mullinix lit within us a call to action with his keynote address: “Food Systems in a changing environmental, economic, and societal climate: our path to a sustainable food system future.”

Kent gave a passionate plug for young and upcoming farmers—yes, those infamous Millennials! It was inspiring to hear his take on the drive and ingenuity of this generation based on his direct experience working with young farmers enrolled in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Sustainable Agriculture Program. In fact, we had a number of KPU students in attendance over the weekend.

Kent focused on the role of organic agriculture in the years to come, outlining key strategies to continuing the movement and building a larger sustainable agroecological movement. He urged us to continue our work to remain credible and build trust in society for organics, and to focus on the family farm—however we might define our family units! Kent also outlined some very strong arguments for the decommodification of agricultural land in BC. These points are summed up nicely in a recent CBC article.

The Trade Show was bursting with seeds, info, and tools!

And the Winner Is…

This year’s Brad Reid Award winner was Rebecca Kneen. Rebecca was honoured for her outstanding contributions to the organic community, her social and environmentally-minded approach to business, and for coming up with really excellent names for craft beers like Backhand of God and Insurrection IPA.

Rebecca is co-owner of Crannóg Ales and Left Fields, a farm and microbrewery in Sorrento on Shuswap Lake. She has served as a director of PACS, NOOA and the COABC, put in several years on the COABC Standards Review Committee, and currently serves on the Certification Committee for NOOA as well as being the BC representative to the Organic Federation of Canada. Rebecca also worked with her late mother, Cathleen Kneen on the editorial/design team for the BC Organic Grower! Rebecca grew up on a commercial (non-organic) sheep farm in Nova Scotia, then wandered about Canada working on various farms and for arts and social justice groups for several years after completing her BA. She has worked with FarmFolk/CityFolk in Vancouver organizing the Feast of Fields.

Left Fields is 10 acres of mixed production, in hops, house garden/orchard, Icelandic sheep, and pigs—and is also the primary land base for Stellar Seeds. Rebecca’s family background is in food policy and community organizing (Brewster and Cathleen Kneen, the Ram’s Horn), and her interests are primarily in sustainable food production and social justice, as well as fibre arts (spinning, knitting, felting), culinary/brewing arts, and feminist science fiction. Rebecca has also been providing leadership in the organic community around creating understanding around Indigenous Food Sovereignty and Indigenous rights.

Crannóg Ales was the first exclusively organic brewery in BC, and has been certified since opening in 2000. It is also a zero-waste system, with everything (except one bag of garbage a week) being recycled or re-used on the farm, from wastewater to spent grains.

We’d like to offer congratulations to Rebecca for receiving this award, and our heartfelt thanks for all she has done to support the organic community over the years!

Rod Reid, Charlie Lasser, and Susan Davidson share stories from the Vanguard of Organics

Tell Your Story to the ALR

The ALR Roundtable focused in on food growers’ stories about farmland challenges, and discussion of practical solutions that the ALC could adopt to deal with rising farmland prices and decreased access to farmland for farmers.

A few great ideas I heard at the ALR Roundtable:

  • Ensure market rental rates when land is leased for farm use.
  • Concentrate on saving land from development.
  • The Home Plate: limit footprint of housing to a certain number of square feet or a percentage of total land area.
  • The ALC needs to acquire farm land and hold in trust—lease back to farmers on 20 year leases at reasonable rates (it’s not a new idea! This has happened in the past.)
  • Raise property taxes when farmland is not being used for agriculture.
  • Require potential buyers of agricultural land to present a farm business plan.

These measures could really add up to increasing access to farmer access to agricultural land, and increase the number of farmers and profitability of farm operations in BC. Agree? Disagree? It’s time to have your say on the ALR, and if you haven’t already, please be sure to submit comments or fill out the survey prepared by the Minister’s Advisory Committee on the ALR by April 30.

Rebecca Kneen, Daria Zovi, and Heather Stretch on the Record Keeping panel session

Organic Online System (OOS)

Darcy Smith and Jen Gamble gave us an exciting sneak preview into the Organic Online System. The OOS session was great for identifying a few glitches and helping the team to identify some additional user needs and functional improvements. Hooray for crowdsourcing farmer ideas!

The OOS is really going to help streamline organic applications of new applicants. While long time farm operators may find the transition a bit challenging at first, the takeaway I got from this session is that the online system is long overdue and will improve the resilience and accessibility of organic certification in B.C.

Singing for supper at the Saturday night Organic Banquet

Plan for Organics

One final highlight from the conference was the unveiling of the COABC BC Organic Strategic Plan by COABC President Carmen Wakeling and Executive Director, Jen Gamble. The November 2017 planning session produced a simple, streamlined strategic plan with 4 high level goals.

Want to get with the program? Find out more on the BC Organic Strategic Plan.

Community Coming Together

I am always blown away by the incredible community we are all a part of. This year’s conference was no exception—new babies and snowstorms in the Lower Mainland meant that a number of presenters were unable to make it to the conference, and people stepped up at a moment’s notice to fill those workshop sessions with rich content and thoughtful discussions. What a testament to the knowledge and giving spirit in the room.

This year’s silent auction, organized by Natalie Forstbauer, was a record breaking success. Together, we raised almost $5,000 that goes directly back into COABC and growing BC organics. COABC exists because of the ongoing participation and support of the organic community, and this year’s silent auction was an amazing show of support from that community. We hope you enjoy your silent auction godies—also sourced mostly from within our ranks.

Thank You Jesse!

Finally, I think I can safely speak on behalf of all of us in thanking Jesse Johnston-Hill for her enormous effort organizing this year’s COABC gathering. It was a really wonderful weekend full of amazing takeaways to inspire us all for the coming season. Thank you for all of your hard work, Jesse!

Photo Credits: Thank you Michael Marrapese for capturing the weekend in photos and sharing them with us for this recap!

Organic Stories: Spray Creek Ranch

in 2018/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Organic Stories/Winter 2018
Tristan and Aubyn walking in the pasture at Spray Creek Ranch

Regenerative Ranchers

Michelle Tsutsumi and Tristan Banwell

Tristan and Aubyn Banwell, managers of Spray Creek Ranch, have shared quite the journey. They met in high school band class in Northern California, spent their university years as urban vegans and then homesteaded off-grid for five years before moving to the juxtaposed landscape of Northern St’at’imc Territory near Lillooet. Situated between rugged cliffs, endless forested mountains and the mighty Fraser River, Spray Creek Ranch is also home to cattle, pigs, and poultry, as well as an on-farm abattoir and meat shop. Of 260 acres, around 125 are under gravity-fed irrigation, including open perennial pastures, orchards, silvopasture, and homestead gardens. The remaining land includes mostly native forest and protected riparian areas.

For thousands of years, the land where Spray Creek Ranch is situated was a gathering place for St’at’imc people. The old homestead cabin and original irrigation ditches date back to the late 1800s and the land was deeded in 1897. More recently, the farm was a commodity cow-calf ranch, producing winter feed like hay or corn silage while the cattle spent the summer on range in the mountains. Calves were sold at auction in the fall and the cycle started again. In 2014, Tristan and Aubyn moved onto the land and began the process of reshaping the ranch from a conventional, small-scale commodity model to an organic and regenerative agroecosystem.

Regenerative Agriculture builds on the organic Principle of Care, whereby agriculture “should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment,” (IFOAM Organics International) by specifying concrete actions towards improvement. Thinking in terms of regeneration guides producers in their quest to increase biodiversity, enrich soil, improve water cycles, enhance ecosystems, develop resilience to climate fluctuation, and strengthen the health and vitality of their communities. “Organic is our foundation,” says Tristan, “and we’re building from that foundation with regenerative practices.”

Conventional, continuous grazing is like driving a tractor without brakes or a steering wheel. We are now able to use our cow herd as a tool to improve the soil environment, which is the foundation of plant and animal health.

Soon after arriving on the farm in 2014, Tristan and Aubyn started Management-Intensive Rotational Grazing (MiG) à la Jim Gerrish and Allan Savory. This involves keeping the cows on the move anywhere from once every three days to a few times per day, depending on the season, pasture condition and their goals.

“Cattle are the primary tool for regeneration on the farm and they work hard every day turning grass and mountain water into fertility,” says Aubyn. Next come the poultry flocks—also major contributors to soil health—turning farm-milled organic feed into powerful fertilizer. They break up the cow manure and grass thatch that accumulates in the pastures, allowing new plants to germinate and thrive. Pigs act as a disturbance agent on the farm, breaking up the ground in preparation for reseeding more diverse pastures.

MiG is labour-intensive, but Tristan says that the benefits far outweigh the additional effort. “Conventional, continuous grazing is like driving a tractor without brakes or a steering wheel. We are now able to use our cow herd as a tool to improve the soil environment, which is the foundation of plant and animal health.” Using portable electric fencing, the cows are moved to fresh pasture, usually each day, along with their portable water and mineral feeder. Moving the cows across the ranch this way spreads their impact and fertility evenly over the pastures, encouraging healthy plant growth and carbon sequestration while disallowing the over-grazing, nutrient pollution and compaction that comes from conventional continuous cattle grazing systems. The level of attention to, and care for, their cattle does not stop here.

Tristan and Aubyn are selecting for smaller-framed cows, high fertility, calving ease, and heat tolerance using purebred Red Angus bulls. Acknowledging Mother Nature’s wisdom, they have transitioned the herd to later calving and a shorter breeding season. “The cows calve onto fresh green pasture in May and June, along with the deer, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep in the area,” Aubyn says. “Calving later has helped eliminate the calving problems we used to see. In 2017, we didn’t assist a single cow, had a 100% calf crop and 96% of the cows and heifers exposed were bred in two cycles.”

In late summer, grazing is carefully planned so that as much standing forage can be stockpiled on the farm as possible. This is then rationed out over the winter to extend the grazing season well into the new year. “Every day we’re grazing, the cows are working for us, and we’re saving hundreds of dollars,” says Tristan. What little hay is needed is purchased from local certified organic farms. Because the cows have a chance to recover their body condition on spring grass before calving, calves are able to winter with their mothers, postponing the stress of weaning until the calves are older. When calves are weaned, it is done so using a multi-stage process to keep weaning stress on both cows and calves to a minimum.

During the fall of 2015, baseline soil carbon monitoring was completed across all fields on Spray Creek Ranch. This was conducted in partnership with a Thompson Rivers University Master of Science student, Dan Denesiuk, who was part of Dr. Lauchlin Fraser’s interdisciplinary plant ecology and land management lab in Kamloops. Meaningful research conclusions will not be available for some years, but there are compelling qualitative observations that the land is celebrating the shift to regenerative agriculture.

In terms of increasing biodiversity, there has been an increase in the variety and abundance of clovers without seeding. The clovers initially came back from the pasture seed bank during the long rest periods between grazing, and are able to set seed again each season. Another key observation is that their 80% alfalfa hay fields filled in with grasses in only two years. Leaving tall residual after grazing appears to favour grasses, as they can recover more quickly than the alfalfa, which has less leaf area at the bottom of the plant. They have also decreased the amount of irrigation water applied to the land as organic matter builds and trampled forage reduces soil temperature and evaporation.

When analyzing the financial picture, it was evident that a right-sized commodity cow-calf operation would not provide a livelihood. At the same time, they knew that the land could provide much more with additional labour. Much deliberation was focused on the mix of enterprises that would work on the land and in the local markets. Thus began a period of adding and trialing elements, then eliminating the ones that were not a good fit. They also began development of an on-farm abattoir and meat shop, starting with obtaining a Class D slaughter licence. This allows on-farm slaughter of many of their animals, and their eventual goal is to slaughter, butcher, and package all their production right on the farm for direct marketing. The abattoir and meat shop is also developing into an independent enterprise that will help other local, small-scale producers get their products to market.

Beyond the reach of their business, the Banwells have found other ways to contribute to the well-being of the community. Soon after moving to Lillooet, they began working to reduce barriers for small-scale farmers in the area. In 2015, they trialled a cooperative marketing effort for Lillooet-area farms, which led to the creation of the Lillooet Agriculture & Food Society (LAFS). This non-profit supports local farmers, ranchers, growers and other passionate individuals who are building a sustainable food system. Bringing workshops to town, launching the Lillooet Grown brand, and tirelessly working to improve market access and local production and processing capacity has kept the dedicated board, staff, and contractors busy.

In addition to chairing LAFS, Tristan will be representing the North Okanagan Organic Association on the COABC Board starting in February. Aubyn sits on the board of the Lillooet Farmers’ Market Association, and is working to bring the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program to the community. The couple has been very involved with Young Agrarians (YA), taking advantage of mentorship and learning opportunities as well as sharing their knowledge at YA events. They also donate their products and time to support local fundraisers and initiatives like the Lillooet Friendship Centre Food Bank, the Lillooet District Hospital Foundation, the Náskan Ūxwal (I’m Going Home) Walk, Love Lillooet, the T’it’q’et Amlec Food Security Initiative and Lillooet Seedy Saturday.

Tristan and Aubyn have already had a remarkable impact in terms of strengthening the health and vitality of their soil, pasture, livestock, community, and livelihood through transitioning the land and their lives toward organic regenerative practices. The significance of protecting land and water for future generations is even more meaningful with their first child due in early February.

To follow along with their unfolding journey join their newsletter, find them on social media, or check out their website: spraycreek.ca

Michelle Tsutsumi is a part of Golden Ears Farm in Chase, BC, looking after the market garden, 15-week CSA Program, and events with her partner Tristan Cavers and daughter Avé. goldenearsfarm.com

All photos: Tristan Banwell

Cleaning: Sanitizing, Sterilizing, and Disinfecting

in 2018/Organic Standards/Preparation/Winter 2018
No loose hair in a food processing environment unless it's a photo shoot! Rebecca Kneen at Crannog Ales

Feature photo: No loose hair in a food processing environment unless it’s a photo shoot! Rebecca Kneen at Crannog Ales

Rebecca Kneen

Cleanup. We do it every day, in our homes and on our farms and in our food processing. For some of us, cleaning and sanitizing takes up more time than actually making or growing. For many farmers, though, cleaning is very much secondary to our primary goal of growing great food. Sure, we’ll spray out our picking baskets with water after digging potatoes in the rain, and we’ll make sure our salad spinner is free of chunks of clay and dried plants, but how much further do we need to go? And do we need to worry about sanitation at all?

Our regional Health Departments tend to prefer every food surface be disinfected, not just cleaned and sanitized, but few of us would adopt this either in principle or in practice. Fortunately, there’s a middle ground. I shall insert here a caveat for all readers: I am NOT a food safety expert. I am a Certification Committee member for NOOA and a brewer and farmer. This article is not the final word, but will hopefully be a useful basic guide.

First, it is necessary to differentiate between cleaners and sanitizers. Cleaners remove dirt, organic material, and some germs (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) by physically washing them away. They do not kill. Sanitizers are chemicals that actually kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Disinfectants kill more than sanitizers, but are not always necessary. A surface that is not already clean cannot be sanitized, no matter how hard you try. Cleaners and sanitizers must come in contact with 100% of the surfaces, including valves, corners, and other “blind” areas. And yes, more time and the correct temperature will increase effectiveness, while increased concentration can actually impede the usefulness of any given chemical.

The main principles of any cleaning and sanitizing regime are correct chemical & concentration, complete coverage, and sufficient time and temperature.

For most daily low-risk food applications, proper cleaning is all that is required. If a food is likely to be directly ingested after harvest (as with herbs, microgreens, or sprouts) without the consumer washing them, handling surfaces must also be sanitized, as water- or soil-borne bacteria can relatively easily remain on the food.

Our first approach, of course, is to use only water that is potable and to test regularly. City water is tested daily, but on-farm water sources should be tested annually or, for microgreens and sprouts, at least semi-annually. Water must be tested at the point of use—not at the wellhead, but at the tap in your washing station.

A wide variety of cleaners are usable in the organic standard, and most detergents are up to normal farm cleaning needs. However, reading the consumer label is not enough. Labels such as “biodegradable”, “natural”, or “non-toxic” are essentially meaningless and unregulated. Therefore it is important to not just read the label for active ingredients, but to get an MSDS sheet for the cleaning product and find out what else is in it, as carriers and surfactants can be on the prohibited list. This may require a direct request to the manufacturer and some effort to discover, but it will prevent you from having your certification removed.

 

Food processing, abattoirs, and sprout/microgreen production all require a bit more by way of cleaners and sanitizers. Dairies, slaughterhouses, and breweries face challenges in cleaning fats and proteins, and require both caustic and acid cleaning. Surfaces should be designed for easy cleaning and resistance to the chemicals needed, while appropriate chemicals to clean the particular type of soil must be sourced. In other words, know both your chemical and what you are trying to remove.

Sanitizers can be used to prevent or manage fungal diseases like damping off in greenhouses, or for tools being used for pruning in orchards, hopyards, or berry plantations. Different uses and different surfaces require different approaches, as with cleaning. Some sanitizers require a post-usage rinse with potable water, while others are “leave-on”. Soak or contact time is critical with sanitizers in particular, as there’s no easy “look test” to see if the sanitizer has done its job. Standard operating procedures help everyone maintain those critical thresholds.

Many producers rely on common household bleach for basic sanitation. Chlorine bleach is listed on the PSL, but beware: many bleach formulations include fragrances that are not allowed. Be very careful about dilution, and ensure the correct ratios are observed. Peroxyacetic Acid (hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid blend) is widely used as a substitute, and is considerably less toxic. It breaks down quickly into a mildly acidic water, which is great for your waste stream, and which is easy on the humans using it. Both bleach dilutions and peroxyacetic acid break down, which means that your mixes must be refreshed or replaced rapidly. Peroxyacetic acid is also a no-rinse sanitizer, which makes it easier to use.

Daily Operations Made Simple

The basic principle here is that if something is not straightforward, it will be done incorrectly. Clear, well-written, and organized procedures with tools directly at hand will ensure that everyone does the job right and rapidly every time.

First, think about what you are cleaning: are you simply doing an annual clean of your start trays? Are you cleaning your daily work surfaces? What are they made of, and what are you trying to remove? What are the potential bacteria, viruses or fungi you are trying to get rid of?

Do your homework: Research your chemicals and make sure everything you need and want to use will be allowed. Do this before the next certification application, so you aren’t caught out in non-compliance in the middle of operations. Get MSDS sheets, write to the manufacturers, and spend some quality time with the PSL. Trust me, it’s riveting.

Look over your equipment: what can you remove and soak in cleaner and sanitizer easily and safely? What needs to be cleaned in place (CIP)? Do you have the appropriate pumps, spray balls etc to run a CIP system? Will it reach all the blind areas? Do you have more than one cleaner type to make sure you can clean the different types of gunk?

Set up your tools: Set up spray bottles, measuring tools and mix buckets for both cleaners and sanitizers. Label each of them with the target dilution (especially spray bottles) and have recipes posted where chemicals are stored. All your chemicals should be in safe, secure storage where they are easily accessed by adults but not children and where you can also keep your measuring tools, but also where there is no chance of contaminating your food or ingredients if you spill.

Write it down: Follow yourself around for a day or a week, and observe what your regular processes are. How often do you need to clean and sanitize? Are you doing it? Are you not doing it because you don’t have the right hose nozzle, or someone keeps borrowing the scrub brush? Is your sanitizer spray bottle too far away or in a spot that’s too hard to reach? Is it a huge chore to set up your CIP system for one piece of machinery? Once you see what you are actually doing, you can see why you are not doing certain procedures—and then you can create a setup or a system that will make it easy to improve.

From that experience, you can create a Standard Operating Procedure, a routine that enables every person to do the same procedure reliably. It includes when to clean and sanitize every piece of equipment or surface, what the appropriate concentrations of chemicals are for different uses, and how frequently to replace chemical mixes. Daily checklists can be incorporated into your batch records or cleaning logs can simply be posted in the work area. Initialing tasks as completed is vital, especially for things like knowing who restocked the sanitizer spray bottle and when, as a missed day can mean no effective sanitizer was applied.

We check on our SOPs periodically, to make sure that they are working for everyone—sometimes you discover that a tool is missing, or a new employee can’t actually reach everything, or that interesting substitutions have been made. Even when you discover problems, they can teach you to change procedures, chemicals, or training. We have also discovered that all staff have to be trained to understand why the SOP is set up the way it is—why certain tanks have to be cleaned differently from other tanks, why contact times are important for sanitizers, and so on. For committed and interested staff, understanding the why will not just improve compliance but can improve the entire system.

Some Common Chemicals and their Effects

Ammonia and bleach (sodium hypochlorite) causes asthma in workers who breathe too much of it in their jobs. They can trigger asthma attacks in children or ECE providers who already have asthma. They can also irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract.

Quaternary ammonium compounds (also known as QUATs, QACs, or QATs) are not volatile compounds, but using them as sprays can cause nose and throat irritation. Benzalkonium chloride is a severe eye irritant and causes and triggers asthma. Exposures to QUATs may cause allergic skin reactions. Use of QUATs has been associated with the growth of bacteria that are resistant to disinfection. Sometimes this resistance also transfers to antibiotics. In laboratory studies, QUATs were found to damage genetic material (genes).

Terpenes are chemicals found in pine, lemon, and orange oils that are used in many cleaning and disinfecting products as well as in fragrances. Terpenes react with ozone, especially on hot smoggy days, forming very small particles like those found in smog and haze that can irritate the lungs and may cause other health problems and formaldehyde which causes cancer, is a sensitizer that is linked to asthma and allergic reactions, has damaged genes in lab tests, is a central nervous system depressant (slows down brain activity), may cause joint pain, depression, headaches, chest pains, ear infections, chronic fatigue, dizziness, and loss of sleep.

Triclosan is a suspected endocrine disruptor and may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Phthalates are used in fragrances that are found in air fresheners and cleaning and sanitizing products. They are endocrine disruptors. Research indicates that phthalates increase the risk of allergies and asthma and can affect children’s neurodevelopment and thyroid function. Studies show links between phthalates in mothers to abnormal genital development in boys. Phthalates have been found in human urine, blood, semen, amniotic fluid, and breast milk.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals that vaporize at room temperature. Many VOCs that are released by cleaning supplies have been linked to chronic respiratory problems such as asthma, allergic reactions, and headaches.

Environmentally friendly cleaners and sanitizers (not the same as organic!)

EcoLogo is a program of Underwriters Laboratory based in Canada. Some of these products are available in the U.S. and some are not. A list of certified cleaning products is available at ecologo.org/en/certifiedgreenproducts.

Green Seal is a program based in the U.S. And used by many institutional purchasers. A list of Certified Cleaning Products is available at greenseal.org/FindGreenSealProductsandServices.

Design for the Environment (DfE) is a U.S. EPA program. DfE certifies both institutional and retail/consumer products. A list of DfE-certified cleaning and other products are available at www.epa.gov/dfe/products.


Rebecca Kneen farms and brews with her partner Brian MacIsaac at Crannóg Ales, Canada’s first certified organic, on-farm microbrewery. They have been certified organic since inception in 1999. Their farm is a 10 acre mixed farm growing hops, fruit, and vegetables as well as pigs, sheep, and chickens. Rebecca has been involved in agriculture, food, and social justice issues since she met her first pair of rubber boots at age three on the family’s Nova Scotia farm.

BC Seed Gathering 2018

in 2018/Organic Community/Seeds/Winter 2018

Uniting Community, Spurring Plans for Action

Shauna MacKinnon

The BC Seed Gathering is not your typical conference. The foundation of the event is a deep commitment to responding to community needs and providing a place for experienced and new seed growers to come together to learn, network and strategize together. The Gatherings are a connection point and forum to discuss what is needed to propel BC seed systems forward.

At the 2012 Gathering plans for the BC Eco Seed Co-op were hatched. The Co-op was launched at the 2014 Gathering and 2017 offered an opportunity to keep building the momentum. The Gathering participants were ready to do just that—the energy and enthusiasm in the room on Friday evening for the official opening was incredible! Perhaps people were already buoyed by conversations during the field tour of the BC Seed Trials at UBC Farm or in the afternoon BC Eco Seed Co-op, Community Seed Organizers, and research focus group sessions. Or maybe folks were just happy to have a chance to relax and connect after a long season. Regardless, the positive energy of the participants set the stage for a productive and inspiring event.


The official opening began with remarks by Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Elder in Residence Lekeyten and Kwantlen First Nation’s Education Coordinator Cheryl Gabriel, who set the tone by emphasizing the importance of seed work to future generations.

Dr. Michael Bomford, a professor in the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems at KPU, Dr. Hannah Wittman, Academic Director of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC, Harold Steves, Richmond’s longest standing city councillor, and Arif Lalani, the Assistant Deputy Minister for the BC Ministry of Agriculture each spoke on Friday evening. The common theme shared by these speakers was their interest in supporting the BC seed sector and vision for how seed can and should be the foundation of sustainable agriculture in BC.

What set this year’s Gathering apart from past events was this unprecedented level of support from multiple academic institutions and the Ministry of Agriculture. “My goal is clear—I want to help create opportunities for BC farmers and food producers and this includes seed producers,” said Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. “As a former farmer myself, I know how important the BC seed sector is to BC agriculture. I want to thank our seed growers for the important role they have in ensuring we have food on our tables and jobs in our communities.”

New Assets for the Seed Community

KPU has long supported the BC Seed Gathering as the co-host for all three events. This year, support ratcheted up a notch with the unveiling of the new KPU Seed Lab and introduction of the Garden City Lands where variety trials for seed will take place. These facilities will be put to use to further KPU’s commitment to providing post-secondary education, extension programming and research focused on fostering a sustainable, regional food system. These new assets were developed in response to several years of consulting with partners to identify priorities for research and teaching programs. Research support for the growing organic seed sector was consistently identified as a priority and an appropriate seed testing facility focused on vegetable seeds was a gap that KPU knew they could fill.

The Seed Lab and variety trials at the Garden City Lands are part of KPU’s vision of organic seed production becoming an important component of the agricultural landscape, providing exciting opportunities for growers to have a broad impact on seed diversity and quality.

Similarly, UBC and FarmFolk CityFolk have partnered to deliver the BC Seed Trials where over 25 participating farmers have conducted variety trials on their own farms along with the primary research site at UBC. The BC Seed Trials offer opportunities to strengthen farmers’ skills in trialing crops while also providing much needed data on how bioregionally produced seed performs in comparison to commercial varieties. Ultimately, the trials will help determine which varieties are the best candidates for further breeding and seed production. This project has increased UBC’s interaction with the seed community and laid the groundwork for more research in the future.

Skills Sharing

The participants themselves are a huge part of the draw of the BC Seed Gathering. Over 100 seed-loving folks gathered together this year from as far away as Smithers, Moberly Lake, and the Kootenays. Getting the perspective on seed from these communities enriched the conversation about what resilient BC seed systems really mean. Any Canadian seed event should include conversations about the challenges of growing seed in mountainous or northern climates and the value of dedicating a seed library exclusively to seeds with short days to maturation and cold hardy plants.

The Gathering featured over 25 presenters, each bringing their own unique experience and deep knowledge of their subject area to share with participants. Keynote speakers Steve Peters (part of the staff team for Organic Seed Alliance in California) and Dan Brisebois (founding member of the Tourne-Sol Co-operative in Quebec) shared their perspectives on the potential of open-pollinated seeds to outperform hybrids and how to improve the business side of growing seed. BC speakers included Mel Sylvestre from UBC Farm on how to integrate seed into your vegetable production, Rupert Adams on growing seed for medicinal plants, and Vanessa Adams on growing seed and propagating native plants for habitat restoration. Many of the presentations and session notes can be downloaded at: bcseeds.org/gathering

Community Seed Advocates Connect

A true highlight of the Gathering was the number of Seedy Saturday and Seed Library organizers that participated. The “community stream” started on Friday afternoon with a strategy meeting and continued with a full day of programming on Saturday. By the final session on Saturday community organizers wrapped up their time together by identifying 11 action points to increase the collaboration and connection between community initiatives and concrete steps to support more resilient seed systems. You can view the 11 steps at:
bcseeds.org/gathering

What’s Next

The format of the Gathering socials and sessions were designed to generate feedback in the form of individual written portraits, flip charts, and evaluation forms. As we continue to build and shape the BC Seeds program at FarmFolk CityFolk we will be putting all of this information to good use. One thing that came up again and again is the request for more regional Gatherings, training, and networking opportunities. We heard you! Stay tuned for expanded regional training opportunities in 2018.

A big thank you to our co-host KPU, our many sponsors, volunteers, and Gathering Advisory Committee members—without you the event would not have been possible!


KPU Seed Lab

KPU secured funding support from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund to establish a Seed Testing Lab and Research Farm at their Richmond campus. The lab is currently under construction and will have equipment such as growth chambers for germination tests, optical seed sorters, seed driers, density sorters, and gravity sorters. The research farm will provide a site where variety trials, new crop development research and production systems research can be carried out. The type of research and services the lab can provide will assist in the development of performance metrics and research-based best management practices for seed production in BC to ensure and enhance the quality and diversity of seeds offered. The lab is expected to be operational by Spring 2018 with the aim to begin conducting analysis on 2018 crops. Growers and retailers can connect with KPU to let them know how they can best be supported. For further information contact Rebecca Harbut: Rebecca.Harbut@kpu.ca


Shauna MacKinnon has been working on food issues for over a decade, from running environmental campaigns to holding the position of BC outpost for the Canada Organic Trade Association. She recently joined the BC Seed Security Program, a collaboration between the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security and FarmFolk CityFolk.

All photos: Michael Marrapese

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative

in Crop Production/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2017

Cari Hartt

Growing Prairie Grain

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative is a 4-year, $2.2M tri-provincial project dedicated to achieving resiliency and stability in the prairie organic sector by focusing on increasing the quantity and quality of organic grains, and developing relationships across organic market value chains.

A partnership between Organic Alberta, SaskOrganics, and Manitoba Organic Alliance, the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative is bringing the community together to develop a strong foundation of programs, resources, and relationships upon which the prairie organic grain sector can truly flourish. Other industry stakeholders integral to the project’s success include COABC, the Canadian Organic Trade Association, Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada, Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, and organic processors, brokers, buyers, and certification bodies.

One of the flagship programs is the Pivot and Grow campaign, which makes the transition to organics simple by providing producers with the tools required to tackle major concerns such as the certification process, weeds, and nances. Resources like the New Farmer Kit and mentorship programs help make the journey through transition easy and profitable.

Iris and Becky and participants with green manure at Newells Field day

The Initiative also focuses on compiling innovative research to create resources for producers that improve best management practices and consequently their resiliency, stability, and profitability. A primary objective is to help farmers increase yields and improve grain quality. Workshops, field days, and conferences train producers how to implement best management practices that build soil fertility, manage weeds, and maximize grain quality. The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative has released a series of fact sheets that provide practical information for organic farmers to consider and integrate into their farming systems, including:

  • From Harvest to Sale: Maintaining food quality in storage
  • Intercropping: Increasing crop diversity
  • Rotations: Designing a System that Works for You
  • Cultural Practices: To Give the Crop Advantage
  • Living with Weeds: Putting Weeds into Ecological Context

The fact sheets can be accessed on the Pivot and Grow website.

The Initiative has also developed a series of short videos designed to inform and introduce organic grain production to those unfamiliar with organic farming methods:

  • Weeds: The First Emergence after Disturbance
  • Intercropping: Utilizing More Efficiently the Acres that we have
  • Planning Crop Rotations: The Diversity is what makes you
  • The Organic Ration: Eyes per Acre
  • Grain Quality: From Producer to Consumer
  • Strategies for Successful and Sustainable Weed Management

View the videos and subscribe to Pivot and Grow’s You-Tube channel.

Copy-of-Wheat_2015

Another exciting project from the Initiative is the Organic Agronomy Training Program. The Organic Agronomy Training sessions are being held in partnership with University of Manitoba. In the Spring and Summer of 2016, Martin Entz of the U of M, along with experts such as Brenda Frick, Joanne Thiessen Martens and other U of M instructors, held three successful training sessions across Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, that trained 120 participants.

Currently, the Prairies have a shortage of agronomists who are trained to work together with organic farmers. The goal of this program is to train agronomists to provide agronomic advice to organic farmers in areas such as nutrient management, crop rotation planning, weed management, and grain quality. Participants were equipped with data gathering and decision support tools to take a systematic and comprehensive approach to working with farmer clients. Participants have been staying in touch with the instructors and each other through emails, Facebook, and organized teleconference calls, allowing for valuable continued learning and sharing.

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative is also working with Martin Entz and Joanne Thiessen Martens on the Organic Nutrient Management Program. Martin and Joanne have developed a spread sheet-based tool to help organic farmers assess crop nutrients. Because nutrients are made available through biological activity, rather than synthetic fertilizers, understanding how to manage these nutrients properly is critical to improving organic grain quality and quantity. The tool uses information from the farm including soil, plant, and grain samples, and cropping history.

Through the Initiative, the program has been extended across the Prairies. The program connected agronomists and organic farmers to develop nutrient budgets that inform management recommendations. Ten agronomists, several of whom are participants of the Organic Agronomy Training Program, work with 40 farms across Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and one farm in the Peace River Region of British Columbia. [Editor’s note: for more on the Nutrient Management Program, visit Footnotes from the Field: Organic Nutrient Management.]

Steve-Crudge_Jason-Rottier_Luke-Donnan_Soil-Pit

The Initiative is also working with Joanna White and Dr. Andy Hammermeister from the Organic Agriculture Center of Canada on the upcoming release of an online Green Manure Management Tool. This online resource will aid farmers in selecting the appropriate green manure to include in their crop rotations to build soil fertility. The Green Manure Management Tool will include five interactive modules, and will be available on the Pivot and Grow website in January 2017 and includes the following titles:

Module 1: Choosing A Green Manure
Module 2: Green Manure Profiles
Module 3: Managing Green Manures
Module 4: Green Manures and Weed Management
Module 5: Green Manure Resource tool for Professionals

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative is working to improve resiliency and stability in the Prairie organic grain sector. If you would like more information on the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative and how you can access its programs, resources and tools, please contact info@prairieorganicgrain.org. Working together, we can achieve a resilient, stable, and profitable industry for Canadian prairie organic grain.


Cari Hartt is the new Communications Coordinator for The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative. A graduate of MacEwan University with a degree in professional communications, she is new to organics, but is thrilled to offer her skills to such a wonderful and welcoming community.

Horse Power

in Livestock/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2017

Naomi Martz

Sometimes the best tool for a job isn’t a tool at all

Despite what some may think, farming with horses is not always about wanting to go back to the “good old days”. For me, it comes from a pretty extensive list of things that are important to me as a young person starting a farm business: less time spent fixing engines and running power tools, more time listening, less fossil fuel use, more conscious fine-tuning of the work/play/sleep/love/grow balance that sounds great in theory. With all that in mind, choosing to start farming with live horsepower has very much been a decision based in the present.

At this point, I would consider myself to be “barely a beginner” at draft horse work, so if you are looking here for expert advice I strongly suggest seeking out experienced teamsters who are willing to share their craft. Publications by Lynn Miller, Stephen Leslie, and the Small Farmer’s Journal can also provide a jumping off point for further resources. But I can share what adding two 2,000 lb coworkers brought to my first year running a farm.

Having completed an apprenticeship with Ice Cap Organics where the Zayacs gave me the inspiration and confidence to start my own vegetable-growing endeavour, I spent the 2015 season at Orchard Hill Farm, a horse-powered CSA farm in south-western Ontario in the hopes of putting to rest my curiosity for draft animal power. While there, somehow the Laings managed to instil me with enough confidence to return home to BC, find some land to lease, and buy a pair of draft horses the following spring.

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This season, Four Beat Farm grew produce for a 20 week, 30-member vegetable CSA as well the local farmers’ market. I rent a small house and 10 acres of farmable land as part of a larger property, with 4 acres in cultivation at the moment (1.5 in vegetables, 2.5 in cover crop to expand next year’s vegetable production), and the remaining 6 acres are used for horse pasture with intentions of haying and diversifying in the future. Currently theoperation is in transition to organic and biodynamic practices are employed as well. There are countless neighbours, family members, and friends who provide infinite moral and practical support, but on paper and in the field Four Beat Farm is currently a one-person, two-horse operation, with a dog who works bear patrol.

Tom and Judy, two Belgian drafts in their mid-teens, were purchased based on their kind demeanour, having done farm work and wagon rides before, and their ability to stand still. If the latter seems silly, imagine being a work crew of one with a tractor that cannot reliably be taken out of gear or turned off when something needs to be tweaked or loaded in the field. Other than the initial ploughing that was hired out in the spring around the time the horses were purchased (ploughing is heavy work and can easily lead to soreness for out of shape horses and a frustrated novice teamster), the vegetable farming has been horse-powered this year.

This has included lots of discing and harrowing to prepare for vegetables and manage cover crop, using a straddle single-row cultivator for weed control (all crops except salad beds and one row of hot crops are direct seeded or transplanted in single rows with 3’ between to allow space for the horses to walk), planting and hilling potatoes, spreading compost, and hauling in crates of produce as well as moving other heavy objects, such as bags of soil amendments, around the farm.

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While a task like hilling an eighth of an acre of potatoes is not unreasonable to do by hand, establishing horse-powered systems that can be scaled up in the future, not to mention improving my own teamster abilities, was a key priority for this season. Taking the eight minutes to harness and hook up the team rather than doing a repetitive task by hand whenever feasible meant not just a lot of time savings overall, but also that this autumn I felt physically better than ever after a season of farming. This seems like a key component of sustainable agriculture that us youthful small-scale farmers prefer to overlook when handling heavy storage crops in the cold rain.

There are many articles written and discussions to be had about the role of draft horse power on a working, profitable farm. Horses can eat from, work on, and fertilize the fields. Horses are light on the land, and they can be worked in single- or multi-horse hitches depending on the task at hand. With the right knowledge and equipment, horses can also grow and harvest their own hay and grain, and breeding can lead to new engines being born and trained on the farm as the older ones slow down.

I agree with all of these and dare to add a few of my own. For one, farming with horses lends itself well to the pursuit of thrift and of mechanical simplicity. My equipment repertoire currently includes some long-forgotten tractor discs and harrows, a roller-packer, a work sled built in an evening from scrap lumber, a small borrowed trailer, a forecart which has a ball hitch attachment to pull the trailer or discs with horses, and a row cultivator. Other than the forecart and cultivator, which worked out to about $1000 and paid for itself in time savings within about six weeks, the rest of the implements ranged from free to one hundred dollars.

When things break or need restoring sometimes I make time to work on them myself; sometimes I drag them to a neighbour’s shop if they can make time to fuss around with my antiques, knowing someone else will do twice the job in half the time and I enjoy visiting with neighbours. Developing the skill set to speak the language of engine repair, not to mention actually repair engines, would not be impossible but would be a big learning curve in comparison. If I were a person who enjoys and excels at running heavy machinery and tinkering with tractors, or if I did not actually like horses, my farm would probably look quite different than it does at the moment.

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As a final note, horses appreciate the importance of a morning routine, of stopping for a midday break in the shade, of that extra ten seconds of grooming before suit- ing up for the day, and this is reflected in their work quality and productivity. I daresay I am similar but am equally prone to working myself into the ground when left to my own devices. Farming can be overwhelming on the quietest of days, but 4,000 lb of friendly, hay-burning accountability helps to keep me physically, emotionally, and financially grounded and present.

It goes without saying that there are unique challenges. Sometimes my horses have had several days off and have lots of energy and need to pull something heavy for a half hour to let off steam before they are ready to carefully cultivate baby beets. Sometimes even when they are doing a spectacular job a bear pops out of the woods and causes a hoof to sidestep, which can mean a few broccoli plants get stepped on. Sometimes I am amazed by how often I need to buy hay or set up a new pasture fence, and I have to remind myself that relying on a renewable fuel source that can be bought from neighbouring farmers and turned into next year’s compost pile is worth more than just the cost of hay on a budget sheet.

So that is a bit of what happened in this first year of horse-powered vegetable farming in southwestern BC. Lucky for me, as the list of things I know I don’t know just continues to grow, there is plenty of work to enjoy for a long while yet.


Originally from Vancouver, Naomi Martz is thrilled to have stumbled across a career that incorporates her love of math, mornings, and good food. She sees farming as an excuse to tromp around in the rain, a means of satisfying her appetite for carrots and community, and a way to live well in a changing world.

40 Years of Thinking Like an Insect

in Crop Production/Grow Organic/Organic Stories/Pest Management/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2017
Certified organic apples

Bob McCoubrey

Gary Judd is passionate about his work. As a researcher in tree fruit entomology at Agriculture Canada’s Summerland Research Station, he works hard at balancing his passion for doing the research with his enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge with growers—particularly organic growers, many of whom he has come to regard as good friends. Over his four decade career he has proven to be a true friend of organic agriculture.

Born in England and raised in South Surrey, BC, Gary had many interests as a child, and was headed for a career in marine biology, when a couple of Simon Fraser University courses in entomology, taken to fill out his timetable, drew him into the realm of insects.

Career Metamorphosis

Once bitten, Gary was hooked. He worked as an assistant to Dr. John Borden, which led to enrolling in the Masters in Pest Management program at SFU. That led to work with Bob Vernon’s pest management company, consulting with vegetable growers in the Fraser Valley. When Bob went off to pursue a Doctorate, Gary bought the company, which he ran for three years, before pursuing his own doctorate degree.

Following the conventional wisdom that postgraduate degrees should be from different universities, Gary, now married to Linda and with a new baby in tow, headed to England to study at Imperial College. He was soon back at SFU wanting to complete his degree under Dr. Borden, the man he describes as the foremost Canadian authority in chemical ecology, the study of chemicals involved in the interactions of living organisms, particularly the production and response to signaling molecules. When he defended his thesis on the Behavioural and Chemical Ecology of Onion Flies, the external advisor on his committee, Dr. Ron Prokopy, set the tone for his career when he asked Gary if he was ready to start thinking like an insect.

As he entered the doctoral program, the federal government was offering to put promising doctoral students on the payroll, with the understanding that graduates would work for Agriculture Canada once their degrees were completed. So, with a PhD in hand, and a new way of thinking in mind, the Judds were off to Harrow, Ontario in 1986, where Gary conducted research in the field of vegetable entomology for three years before securing a position at Summerland in Tree Fruit entomology in 1989.

Always one to recognize the contribution of colleagues, Gary credits some of his success to the technicians he has worked with at the research station, particularly Don Thomson, who was on the job when he arrived, and Mark Gardiner, who took over when Thomson left to work for Pacific Biocontrol Corporation. Gardiner is still helping with the important research Gary performs.

The Apple of His Eye

Early on, Thomson introduced Gary to Similkameen Valley organic growers who were struggling to control codling moth (the proverbial worm in the apple) in preparation for the Sterile Insect Release (SIR) program, which was preparing to implement Sterile Insect Technology (SIT) whereby high numbers of sterilized codling moths would be released in apple and pear orchards to reduce the opportunities for successful mating, leading to lower and lower populations as the years went by.

The theory behind Sterile Insect Technology held that a ratio of 40 sterile male moths for every wild, fertile male moth would eradicate codling moth in the orchards. As the program evolved, it became clear that the goal of eradication would have to be scaled back to one of economic control.

The success of the release program depended on starting with the lowest possible moth population levels when the first sterile moths were released. Without conventional pesticides, the tools that organic growers used to achieve low levels were limited to the removal and destruction of damaged fruit and the banding of trees with corrugated cardboard bands to trap the larval stage of the moth as they searched for a protected place in which to pupate.

Gary thought that Mating Disruption Technology (MD) would be a useful tool for both organic and conventional farmers. The technique uses synthetic versions of pheromones, the chemicals that female insects emit to attract males for mating. Codling moth pheromone had been identified in 1971, and had been successfully used in monitoring to lure males into a sticky material in a cardboard trap so they could be counted. Research had determined economic thresholds upon which control strategy decisions were based—choice and timing of chemicals.

Apple trees in bloom

Beginning in 1989, Gary researched pheromone dispenser design, concentration and application rates, and orchard placement of dispensers to determine the role that mating disruption could play both in reducing populations prior to Sterile Insect Release, and as a stand alone codling moth control strategy. A five year study in John Hutchinson’s Cawston orchard, using mating disruption, banding, and hand thinning, drove damage levels down from 25% to 1% at harvest time, and reduced larvae counts in the cardboard bands from 1000 per hectare to 1 per hectare. By 1994, many organic orchards had lower population pressure than conventional farms, which had been using synthetic pesticides to tackle the problem.

Because the monitoring of insect populations is essential for effective decisions on control strategies, work was done to find ways to gain accurate information from pheromone traps in orchards where Mating Disruption applications had permeated the tree canopy with the same pheromone. As sometimes happens in science, a serendipitous error in mixing pheromone doses in trap lures revealed that a dose rate 10 times the normal rate would be effective under Mating Disruption conditions. Gary credits Don Thomson with the observational skills that found the solution.

Gary’s work on Mating Disruption led him to champion the technology as a stand alone strategy for codling moth. However, the political leaders of the British Columbia tree fruit industry, and the SIR Board, made up of municipal representatives of the Regional Districts that were collecting and contributing tax revenues to fund the program, decided to proceed with Sterile Insect Release.

As sterile moths began to be released, organic growers needed to learn how SIT and MD could work together, since they lacked the synthetic pesticides that conventional growers were using to try to keep moth populations low enough for SIT to work. From ’95 to 2000, Gary’s work compared three control strategies: SIT alone, SIT with the synthetic chemical Guthion, and SIT with Mating Disruption. His research benefited from the data he had collected in organic orchards prior to the release of sterile moths, and showed the best results from a combination of SIT and MD.

With the SIR program well under way, Gary shifted his focus to secondary pests, which scientists suspected would become significant when heavy duty chemical controls for codling moth were replaced by SIT. Bud Moth and Leafroller were two such secondary pests for which Mating Disruption held promise as a control strategy, since all three species, members of the Lepidoptera order of insects, employ pheromones to help male moths find their mating partners. Dual and triple lures were tested, proving that all three pests could be controlled with the application of a single lure containing three distinct pheromones without affecting the efficacy of the strategy.

An Organic Perspective

Throughout his career, Gary has preferred to work in organic orchards. From a scientific perspective, the absence of conventional chemical pesticides eliminates one of the factors that can alter and confuse results in research conducted in conventional orchards. On a personal level, he prefers not to be exposed to toxic chemicals while doing the research, and he finds organic growers to be great people to work with, enjoying their company and their ways of approaching the work they do.

As retirement approaches in a few years, Gary is looking forward to travelling, doing a bit of fishing, driving the ‘65 Austin Healy he restored a few years back, and most importantly spending time with family—he and Linda, married for 36 years now, have four children and three grandchildren. But he plans to stay in the Okanagan, and to stay involved in the industry, doing some consulting and helping with a start-up pheromone company that will use wireless aerosol delivery of pheromones for mating disruption control strategies. His travel plans will include sharing his knowledge and skills around the world where it might be useful.

In the meantime, there are filing cabinets full of research that needs to be written up, and there are new challenges that keep emerging. Invasive species that continue to surface will need attention.

The Future of Fruit Tree Pest Management

Apple Clear Wing Moth is emerging as the most important pest in organic apple orchards. First identified in the Okanagan Valley in 2005, it is difficult for organic growers to control, as its larval stage can spend two years buried under the bark of the tree, eating the cambium layer and hiding from control measures. Gary is working on a mass trapping strategy that will use ower and fruit odours to trap out the females, combined with pheromones to disrupt mating.

Another recent arrival is the Brown Marmorated Stink bug, a pest of apples that will also attack soft fruits and vegetables. There seem to be no end of challenges to last till Gary’s retirement. His message to anyone interested in entomology: there is opportunity for a fascinating career, exploring the life cycles and habits of a wide range of species, and devising ways for humans to control the impact of those that cross swords with us.

His advice—just develop the skill of thinking like an insect.

For a person who has spent four decades in the world of creatures that most of us tend to ignore until they get in our way, Gary Judd has had an impact on the lives of organic and conventional farmers throughout agriculture in the Okanagan Valley and beyond, with contributions that are impossible to ignore. He has earned a sincere debt of gratitude.


Bob McCoubrey is a retired organic orchardist in the Okanagan’s Lake Country. With his wife Sharon, he farmed eight acres for 38 years before turning his efforts to mentorship, writing, volunteering, and community building.

Ask An Expert: Transitioning to Organic

in 2016/Ask an Expert/Fall 2016/Organic Standards
Kale with Water droplet

Rochelle Eisen, B.Sc.(Agr), P.Ag

We asked farmers transitioning to organic for burning questions they’ve been dying to ask. From paperwork to fence posts, standards junkie Rochelle Eisen has the answers they — and you — have been seeking!

Q: How much detail does my record keeping require for the inspector (crop seeding, planting, rotations, dates, etc…)?
A: The more detail the better as the inspector will try to establish if you had enough seed/transplants for the amount of the crop produced. Also, rotation plans, green manure seeding dates, and input use records are necessary to establish if good organic ag practices are in place. Sales records, crop seeding dates, and harvest dates are helpful with yield estimations, especially if plantings are staggered. Such detailed records help you to become a better farmer, as you have the necessary details at your ngertips to help you plan and identify your successes.

Q: If I need advice with paperwork can I ask my inspector?
A: Verification officers (VOs) cannot assist with paperwork except to explain the requirement/standard, as it would be considered consulting and giving you an advantage over other operators. Some certifiers offer workshops and others have someone who can answer your questions. Otherwise, provincial specialists are sometimes helpful. In the end it might be best to hire a consultant. Certifiers sometimes keep list of available consultants.

Q: Do I have to use all certified organic seed (and what if there is no organic option)?
A: Yes, organic seed is required. When you can’t find the variety you are looking for in the quantity and quality you need, you can use non-organic untreated seed. BUT (there always has to be a but, n’est ce pas?) you can’t play that card year in, year out for the same variety. Most certifiers will expect to you to explain what your plan is to help develop an organic source over the coming years, and this question will be asked annually. And just to round out this answer… as the most logical next question is “what does a commercial availability seed search look like?’ The answer is, most certifiers expect growers to contact three credible organic sources to establish the lack of supply. Such searches are to be repeated annually.

Q: Can I use saved seed, such as the garlic I saved from last year’s harvest?
A: Assuming the operation is organic or even in transition, the answer is an emphatic yes, as the seed was raised organically. This has to be tempered by the question: is it wise? It all depends on if you have clean and true to type seed. For example, garlic is one of those crops prone to seed borne diseases such as white rot. Saving your own seed if there is any level of infection may be your own undoing.

And as mentioned, transitional seed is acceptable too, as it was raised organically—it just comes from land that hasn’t met the 36 months from last prohibit substance requirement and can’t be sold as organic. See SIC Q113 for further insight:

“Does the requirement to use organic seed, tubers etc. (5.3) preclude the use of seed grown on transitional landwithin the same operation? (113) Answer: Seed grown on transitional land is acceptable as it meets the require- ment of 5.3 and as it has not been grown using prohibited substances or techniques.”

Q: I have had much discussion with other farmers, certified organic and those considering certification alike, about use and re-use of treated posts. Is a treated post that is already on your farm allowed to stay on your farm only if it remains in place, or is it acceptable to move and reuse posts within the farm as we change or rebuild fencing?
A: Good news—existing inventories can be used anywhere within your farm (see subclause 5.2.3 b of CAN/ CGSB-32.310). Be sure your certifier is aware of this existing inventory so there are no surprises when the VO does their site visit, or when your certifier reviews your Organic Plan and the VO report.

Q: What’s the difference between green manure, manure and compost?
A: Manure is animal waste. Green manures are plough down cover crops grown purposefully to build soil health. Compost can be made from animal or plant material and any combination thereof. Refer to the ‘compost’ definition (3.15 in CAN/CGSB 32.310) and the ‘compost feedstocks’, ‘compost from off-farm sources’ and the ‘compost produced on the farm’ listings in PSL Table 4.2 for complete details. Manure management requirements are outlined in 5.5 of CAN/CGSB 32.310.

Q: What’s the amount of time required between com- post application and harvest?
A: From a standards perspective, compost can be applied any time of the year, but compost containing animal waste or other risky feedstock that may contain human pathogens has to be effectively composted first. Otherwise, the material must be applied to the land 90 days before harvest when the crop doesn’t touch the soil. That would be the case with tree and cane fruits. 120 days is required pre harvest for any crops that commonly touch the soil (potatoes, lettuce, strawberries, etc…). Think about it this way—120 days is required unless the crop is obviously off the ground.

Q: What is required for mulching materials?
A: Plant materials from organic sources must be used as mulch but if organic sources are not available, then crop materials, such as straw and hay, that haven’t been treated with any prohibited substances for at least 60 days pre-harvest can be used as mulching material.

Q: Can I get animals I already own certified? (i.e. dairy cows)
A: Dairy herds and individual herd animals can be transitioned, but it takes 12 months of organic management before the milk collected can qualify as organic. None of the animals transitioned can ever qualify as organic meat animals. To qualify as organic meat, animals must have been born by an organic dam or the transitioning dam must be under organic management by the onset of the third gestation period.

Q: What’s the most appropriate way to label my transitional organic products?
A: Transitioning farms or “farms in conversion to organic” selling all their products within BC may identify their products as “transitional” or “in conversion to organics” or other similar language on all marketing materials including websites signs and labels. But they cannot refer to their operation or transitional products as “organic”, “organically grown”, “organically raised”, or “organically produced”. For products being shipped out of province the only acceptable phrases are “in transition” or “ transitional” or “in conversion”. The word “organic” cannot be included in any of these claims.

Q: What type of signage may farms in transition use?
A: A farming operation in transition or conversion is not “organic” and must not mislead consumers with false organic claims. For example, a transitioning farm, certified by a COABC regional CB, may not call itself “Joe’s Organic farm” or use the word “organic” “organically grown”, “organically raised”, “organically produced” or similar words, including abbreviations of, symbols for and phonetic renderings of those words, in any signage. The British Columbia Certified Organic Program allows “in transition/conversion to organic” claims on signs, labels, and other marketing tools to be used by transitioning operations. However, for operations shipping out of the province, this phrasing is not acceptable to the Canadian Organic Regime. Transitioning operations may not use either the provincial or national organic logos. Check with your CB if they have a transitional logo you can use.

Q: How should I market transitional organic products?
A: Label your products as transitional or in conversion and be sure to tell your story/journey to your customers. Some of the distributors, especially those who specialize in organics, may also be interested in your product if it fills a gap. Don’t hesitate to approach.

For more Organic Standards FAQs, visit COABC’s Grow Organic Toolkit.


Rochelle Eisen is a standards junkie who has been working in organics for close to 30 years, as well as with other certification systems. Like Einstein, she believes “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right” and that assurance programs are a means to level the ecological playing field.

 

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