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Organic Stories: Gathering Place Trading Company

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

From Farmer to Family

Renée Hartleib

There can be major advantages to getting lost. Just ask Lovena and Ryan Harvey, owners of Gathering Place Trading Company, a family run company in BC.

Fifteen years ago, they were travelling in South Africa, Ryan’s birthplace, in their vintage VW camper van. On an afternoon jaunt through the countryside, they got lost and ended up asking for directions at an organic Rooibos farm. At the time, the Harveys were organic farmers back in Canada, so this felt like an interesting coincidence.

It soon turned into much more than that. The farmer invited them in, and the couple were treated to the best cup of tea they had ever tasted. Being tea connoisseurs, Lovena and Ryan were full of questions. What made this tea so different? They discovered that the farmers took the time to harvest their certified organic tea by hand, fermented it in small batches, and then sun dried it, resulting in a superior quality Rooibos.

Women farmers harvesting herbs in India

A friendship was formed that culminated in Lovena and Ryan deciding to try their hand at tea selling back in Canada. They proposed an unorthodox trade. A ton of tea for the VW camper van that their new South African friends had fallen in love with.

The rest, as they say, is history. But first, the Harveys had to figure out how to actually transport a ton of tea across the ocean. Their decision to use ocean freight rather than air was in line with how they lived, as good stewards of the Earth. Over time, this has become one of their company’s pillars, one that easily distinguishes them from their competition. The company never ships by air, despite the convenience and ease this would undoubtedly allow.

Lovena and Ryan set up shop on their Cortes Island homestead and opened for business with a single product—a 100g bag of loose Rooibos. They sold the tea at local Farmers’ Markets, and to restaurants and natural food stores in their area. “I basically pounded the pavement all the way up and down Vancouver Island,” says Lovena. “I went from one natural food store to the next, telling our story.”

Harvey family with Wild Mountain Honeybush farmers in South Africa
Harvey family with Wild Mountain Honeybush farmers in South Africa

And people responded. From the get-go, it was this personal connection, plus their rock solid company values that attracted customers to Gathering Place products. In addition to their commitment to the environment, the Harveys also stand out for the way they live the term “family business.” Their three children have always been involved in the running of the company. “We bring our kids sourcing with us, we consult them in our decisions, and we rely on their opinions,” says Lovena.

As their product line has grown to include certified organic spices, vanilla, coconut, and more teas, as well as farmer-direct dried fruits and dried Kalamata olives, their founding business decision—to direct source—remains unwavering. They favour certified organic farms, as their company gained certification three years ago, but do consider farms that grow organically but haven’t been able to afford certification. The company never sources from distributors, and goes to great lengths to find just the right family or cooperative farmer to supply their products.

This has meant travelling to South Africa and India, where the bulk of their products are grown. “When we meet with people face-to-face, we immediately get a vibe for the farm and the integrity of the operation,” says Lovena. “We look for strong environmental policies and an amazing product that is harvested carefully.” The Harveys also ensure that workers on-site are being treated and paid fairly.

Lovena's daughter Asha with a woman farmer and her mother in India
Lovena’s daughter Asha with a woman farmer and her mother in India

It was on one of these trips to India that Lovena and Ryan encountered the small-scale cooperative that would end up supplying their company with a whole new spice line. “That was a real turning point for us,” says Lovena. “Having a direct source for spices meant a much higher quality, fresher product, and customers really noticed.”

Lovena explains that with other spice companies or with big grocery chains who use middle men, the spices often sit in the country of origin for more than a year, and upon import, might sit in a warehouse for another year. “By the time you buy your spice package, it could already be two years old,” she says. “Ours are always the current year’s harvest and are very distinct and vibrant in colour.”

When the time came to expand their spice line to include a greater array of culinary herbs, the Harveys had a chance to put another of their founding company values to work. “Right from the get-go, we made a decision to never import anything to Canada that would compete with Canadian farmers,” says Lovena. In this case, the company could have easily sourced cheap thyme from China or oregano from Turkey, but instead they turned to Canadian organic growers.

Heritage figs on racks in the sun at a sixth generation Fig Farm in South web
Heritage figs on racks in the sun at a sixth generation Fig Farm in South

After contacting dozens of small operations, they found a multi-generational, certified organic, family farm in Alberta who now grows their thyme, oregano, dill, sage, and basil. Another small farm in Saskatchewan grows the brown and yellow mustard seeds that Gathering Place uses to create a beautiful mustard powder at their packaging facility in Campbell River.

To bring the company values and story full circle, Lovena and Ryan actually grow the rosemary and bay leaves they sell to customers at their home on Cortes Island! “We’ve had incredible consumer response to these Canadian-grown herbs and spices,” Lovena says, noting their sales have doubled in the last year alone.

From a ton of tea garnered through a trade to over 70 tonnes of product shipped annually, the Gathering Place takes their motto, “From Farmer to Family,” seriously. “We love knowing our farmers and wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Lovena. She and Ryan also love being able to trust the impeccability of their products for their own family and for all the other families who have come to trust the Gathering Place name.

According to Lovena, the basis of all of their business decisions is simple. “We only bring in foods that we want to feed our family.” Full stop.

gatheringplacetrading.com

Gathering Place Farm on Cortes Island where they grow the Bay and Rosemary that they dry, package and sell
Gathering Place Farm on Cortes Island where they grow the Bay and Rosemary that they dry, package and sell

Renée Hartleib is a professional writer, editor, and writing mentor based out of Halifax. Although she lives in Nova Scotia, Renée visits BC every summer and consider it her second home. To see more of her work, and some of the online writing programs Renée offers, check out her website: www.reneehartleib.ca.

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From the Chilcotin Wildfire Front: A Rotational Grazer’s Story

in 2018/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Summer 2018/Tools & Techniques
Wildfires scour the landscape around Riparian Ranch

Shanti Heywood

This story first appeared on the Young Agrarians website.

Protecting my home was just something I had to do. People keep commenting on how brave I was—but I like to think everyone has some grit inside of them somewhere to fight when they have to. My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes and those who are still fighting to save homes.

We bought 256 acres of cleared but poor quality (and consequently, affordable) land out in the middle of nowhere. My husband wanted to live off the grid and I grew up off grid, so it wasn’t a huge stretch buying this place. With technology these days we have a lot more creature comforts available off grid than I did as a kid in the ‘90s.

The only catch was my hubby has a company down in Burnaby so I’m up here by myself 90% of the time learning to do a lot of things I never dreamed I’d be doing. Since the land needed improving and was not fenced we bought some solar powered fencers and step in posts and got to work. With affordable solar fencers, the voltage isn’t that much, so you really have to work with the psychology of the animals. If they’re not satisfied they will just leave. Solar fencers definitely let you know if your animals are happy in a hurry.

I moved them last year every 24 to 48 hours, and I saw a good deal of improvement. This year we dedicated a lot of time to fencing. I would only move them once per week but it still did what it was supposed to do.

The forage stayed green a lot longer than the ungrazed areas despite extreme drought conditions. Once the fire started I kind of knew we were in a good spot. Some of my friends, bless their hearts, were heavily involved in helping people evacuate livestock. They were quite insistent that I should get my animals out of there, but I refused. They’re as much my coworkers as they are livestock and they had as much of a job to do during the fire prep as I did.

I put my cows and horses in the hay field (the only area that had not yet been grazed…lots of fuel growing in peat soil) and started to move the step in posts closer to the forest every time they had finished a section. The fire danced around me for a month and finally made a pretty decisive b-line for me. Once the fire started to come I moved the posts back to the grazed area so they wouldn’t burn and set up a second water source in case the first source had fire near it. I moved the animals’ loose mineral tub back to where I thought was safest so they knew that was the best area to hang out, and that was that.

Intensively grazed pasture stopped the spread of fire
Intensively grazed pasture stopped the spread of fire

We watched the fire come in on all sides in one wild night. There’s no way I can describe the power of this fire so I’ll just give a rundown of what happened. August 11—I kind of knew it was the day the fire would come. Five weeks of waiting, watching, and preparing. That morning I got my chores done early and headed inside for a nap. I woke up in the afternoon to roaring fire on three sides and hot—I mean HOT—wind.

My neighbours Becca and Darrel showed up not long after. Darrel was worried about a cabin in the woods, Mikey’s cabin, and wanted to go check that the pump was still running. He went one way and Becca and I went the other way to break a dam upstream to let more water in to the creek for Mikey’s pump. There we are, two girls sitting in the mud listening to the roar of the fire behind us. Once we started heading back we quickly realized the fire was already almost at my property and became pretty worried about Darrel. He never made it to Mikey’s pump because the fire was already in the surrounding forest. We all figured the cabin was a pile of ash.

Another neighbour, Robert, showed up at that point, as did the one and only guy we had ever seen from Quesnel (who is supposed to be managing this fire). He quickly left. There wasn’t much we could do. We stood and watched the flames come in on all sides, completely surrounding us and cutting off all exits.

Once the fire had come in close I turned the waterfowl and billy goat loose and went in to the field that the goats and dogs were in. I called them all out of their huts as I was worried the roofs might catch a spark and led them to the sprinklers. They seemed to understand what I was showing them, as they never walked back in to their huts that night. I was not concerned about the cows and horses out in the hay field. We do managed intensive grazing, which proved very effective at stopping the fire in its tracks. I was pretty confident they were completely safe.

Then the smoke came down on us and for most of the evening we were choking on smoke and couldn’t see a thing. We had a couple little hot spots in paddocks and pastures throughout the night but they either burnt themselves out or were put out.

About midnight the fire calmed down on the Northern side and much to our surprise we heard the buzz of Mikey’s pump in the distance—the cabin had survived. The water from the dam had finally made its way down to us so we used it to put out a few fires and wet certain areas down. At the end of the night we all stood in awe of what had happened and what was still going on. Robert cut his way through my driveway to get home and we headed to bed. Darrel stayed up to keep watch.

The next day my husband finally was able to make it home and the fire ripped through two of our neighbour’s properties (they both made it). We weren’t able to be there for either of them but we cut our way through and went to help as soon as we could. Later that evening Robert’s wife Mamie said, “Who’s even going to believe this? Two people in their mid ‘60s running around with hoses fighting a wildfire.”

The fire burnt right up to where they had grazed and stopped. It was very hot and burnt pretty much anything in its path including green marshes and willow bushes. In one spot where I had just grazed but didn’t move the posts back to the grazed area the fire actually burnt the hot tape but not the posts because the cows had reached under and grazed around them.

Peat soil is quite notorious for burning underground for months…even through the winter…but for whatever reason the field appears to be just fine. My poor neighbour who owns another part of this field about two km away is still battling underground hot spots in his peat soil and he had the fire pass through one day after me. We’ve been over a few times to help him put out spots and move hay.

We have major wolf problems in the winter so fencing and LGDs (livestock guard dogs) are actually more important than this fire ever was. I shocked the heck out of the structure protection crew when I told them my puppies in training were more important than their hoses and I would NOT move them out of their field. Never a dull moment around here.

Horse and cows happy to be safe and sound!
Horse and cows happy to be safe and sound!

None of us are able to get fire insurance due to our remote off the grid locations, so of course we all stayed to fight. We have been spending every day since checking on the properties and putting out little hot spots. It won’t be something I will ever forget, nor will this area ever look the same within my lifetime.

In the end, we didn’t lose anything to the fire. There’s no damage other than a few singed fence posts and of course my canoe I forgot about until we had gone to break the beaver dam when the fire was here. All the prep I did made it a fairly easy experience and the people that stayed with me of course helped immensely. I was never very good at studying for tests in school but this one I feel like I did my homework and was pretty well prepared for.

The fire is still blazing to the East of me. I can see plumes of smoke rising as I type this but for the most part we are safe. It’s never a dull moment here but I think it is safe to say this was one of the most exciting.

facebook.com/riparianranch


Shanti Heywood manages Riparian Ranch, an off grid ranch in the Chilcotin working towards providing humanely raised meat and livestock in the most natural and peaceful setting possible.

All photos: Riparian Ranch/Shanti Heywood

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!

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

Footnotes from the Field: Root Cellar Art

in Footnotes from the Field/Organic Community/Spring 2017

Editor’s note: We’re taking a detour from the usual Organic Standards focus of Footnotes to explore the inspiration that can strike while working in the field. A farmer’s life is more than physical labour and paperwork—spending so much time in the natural world opens a window into art for many, including Cathie Allen, who wrote about her art for this issue.

Cathie Allen

“Stored away in the root cellar of my mind” is how Cathie Allen begins to discuss the subjects of her watercolour paintings. Like all full-time organic market gardeners, Cathie’s summer life is consumed by cauliflower, chickens, meals for the crew, and everything else that makes up a farm. Yet, these seasonal images linger, and are “stored away” (and sometimes reinforced with photographs) until winter, when they come back to life with brush and paper.

For the most part self-taught, Cathie acknowledges the inspiration she received from her Mom, who at 90 still paints; she was also strongly influenced by Karen Muntean, who provided instruction at the Island Mountain School of Arts in Wells, BC. Cathie’s work has been described as “fresh”, “keenly sensitive to detail”, with an “earthiness” that saturates it all.

Her recent works, the root series, are filled with good examples. “With these paintings, I wanted to expose some of the beautiful vegetables which mostly grow underground, often unnoticed. Especially nowadays with the huge disconnect between people and their food sources, much more than flavour and nutrition stand to be lost.” Her root series consists of 10 original watercolour paintings, featuring beets, summer turnips, leeks, potatoes, shallots, radishes, garlic, parsnips, carrots, and onions.

The painting with the horses, the one she calls “family portrait”, depicts the four black percheron horses working abreast, pulling a disc. It was these four horses who broke the five-acre market garden, half an acre a year. “Sadly, these four horses are now all buried here, but we have a replacement team to carry on with the farm work and provide me with future inspiration”, adds Cathie.

Cathie’s work has been displayed in Cariboo and Central Interior galleries, as well as being selected for display by the BC Festival of the Arts. She also painted the cover and chapter illustrations for a children’s historical novel, Moses, Me, and Murder.


Cathie Allen has been a life-long painter. She lives and farms with her partner Rob Borsato at Mackin Creek, on the west side of the Fraser River, about 45 kms north of Williams Lake, BC. They have operated Mackin Creek Farm, a five acre, horse-powered market garden, since 1988.

Ask an Expert: Transforming Conflict on the Farm

in Ask an Expert/Organic Community/Spring 2017

Keeley Nixon

Seeds ordered? Check. Planting calendar set? Check. Staff hired? Check. Conflict resolution preparedness in place? Wait, what?! Though it’s often overlooked in the sheer onslaught of too-much-to-do-not-enough-time of daily farm life, collaborative communication practice can be one of our strongest tools,.Think you’ve got this covered? Remember back to the hardest moments of last season—could something have been made easier by clarifying a directive or job duty? Sharing feedback sooner? We can’t go back, but wouldn’t it be nice to avoid the uncomfortable hardship of unresolved conflict?

This is the crux of good communication; it’s not something we’re explicitly taught, but it is something we can always improve with practice. And while unfamiliar communication tools may feel awkward at the time, the alternative of inaction is often much worse.

Our communication muscles are underdeveloped—the good news is there are simple things we can start doing to build them.

Change how you understand conflict

Conflict is not inherently bad or negative. Conflict is normal and part of an ongoing cycle of change. Recognize where conflict comes from. Assumptions, misunderstandings, and perceptions can all prompt conflict, and forces such as the individuals involved and their relationship, time demands, and stress can impact it.

  • See the agenda and relationship. In any conflict there’s an agenda and a relationship at play. How we deal with conflict is dependent on the focus of each.
  • Aim to depersonalize. It won’t be neutral but strive for cooperative instead of adversarial. Think “us vs. issue” instead of “you vs.me”

Know thy self

It’s important to acknowledge your lenses. Values, ego, expectations, goals, needs, attitudes, and beliefs inform how we engage. Be mindful of what these are for you. Next, identify your default style. When a conflict arises do you cooperate, direct, compromise, accommodate, or avoid? Each has a time and place, and knowing your default will help you build awareness of when it serves you best—and when to try a different approach.

Slide 1

Lean in to process

Think of the process as a messy Venn diagram of 4 overlapping stages:

1. opening (approaching the issue)
2. identifying (sharing perspectives)
3. exploring (building understanding) and
4. closing (agreeing on solutions).

Each has certain goals and tasks, and in order for communication to be effective, there are some important considerations:

  • Be mindful of language. Use “I” language to speak from your experience and use “we” language for collective goals and impact.
  • Where and when a discussion happens matters. Friday afternoon at the wash up area is likely not the best time or place. Think about a space where everyone is comfortable, allocate time to bring the topic up, and share enough information to clearly convey the topic. This could sound like, “I’d like to check in with you about how we each feel the season is going so far… Could we make time after lunch one day this week?” Making time for regular check-ins creates space for conversation before issues arise and a space to channel ideas in-between.
  • Check your body language and don’t interrupt. Listen to understand before you speak to be understood
  • Question assumptions. Try asking, “Can you tell me what makes you think that way?” or, “What have I done/said that makes you think that way?”
  • Anticipate emotion. When you feel emotion rising, stop and breathe before you respond. Defensiveness comes on fast, don’t let it.
  • Stay open to resolution. Recognize that there’s no right way to resolve a conflict and in sharing perspective, listening deeply, and engaging you may be surprised where a solution does emerge. If a resolution isn’t apparent try taking a break and coming back at a set time, obtaining more information to help inform the group, or agreeing to disagree.

Tension and conflict are inevitable in any job. With the lived realities of being a farmer, or working for one, prickly situations are common. We owe it to ourselves and each other to strengthen our businesses and practices by learning how and when to approach tough conversations and show up with open ears and an open heart both on and off the farm.


Keeley Nixon has been involved in farming and food sector organizing since moving from the BC interior in 2001. After stepping out of field last season she’s pursuing training in mediation with a focus on agriculture. Keeley thrives on working with farmers to create durable changes and preserve important relationships. She brings her passion for food, good design, community engagement, and general joie de vivre to all that she does.

Passing on the Farm

in 2016/Fall 2016/Organic Community
Claremont Ranch Organics transition planning

Bob McCoubrey

A Succession Planning Story

After more than 35 years of growing tree fruits and vegetables on our small farm in Lake Country, it was time to think about retirement. Our joints were telling us to ease up on the physical work and our son and daughter had moved on to other towns and careers.

The idea of selling the property was a bit scary, as we had become attached to the land and the houses. The main house was just a year or two shy of its 100th birthday, and the “guest house” was one my father had built for a previous owner when my parents first moved to the area to take up farming, back in the late 1940’s. Both houses had heritage value for us.

The land had supported our family well over our time on the farm. Sharon and I had transitioned the land to certified organic status beginning in 1989, and we didn’t want to see new owners abandoning what we had achieved by going back to conventional farming methods. We were reluctant to list the property with a realtor, taking a chance on the intentions that new owners might have.

We didn’t want to see new owners abandoning what we had achieved by going back to conventional farming methods”

Our Okanagan location meant we could benefit from the overheated real estate market. Land prices were high. However, that meant many of the people who might share our values and plans for the land might not be able to afford the in ated prices. After a lifetime of living here, close to family and friends, we wanted to stay in the area, which would mean buying in that same overheated real estate market, leaving us unwilling to sell for a discounted price to encourage like-minded buyers.

As we struggled with what to do, we were fortunate to meet Molly Bannerman and Matt Thurston. Recent graduates in agriculture from the University of Guelph, and fresh from a year of WWOOFing and touring in the United Kingdom, they were about to get married and were thinking of settling down on an organic farm. It seemed like a perfect match. They both found good jobs related to farming, and we began a three to four year “dance” to see if we could put a deal together.

There was a period when they leased the farm and lived in the small house, followed by a few years with us running the farm again, while they moved in to town, only to come back to rent an acre to grow some vegetables. It became clear that we all wanted to make it work for Matt and Molly to acquire the farm.

The farm had all of the basic equipment needed to grow the crops we had been producing, and we had recently built a cold storage facility, which would make it easier for the Thurstons to grow, store, and sell their crops while continuing to work off farm. The biggest challenge was to find a way to finance the sale in a way that the cash flow could handle the debt servicing requirements.

The key turned out to be rethinking how we would invest for the future.”

A paradigm shift needed to happen in our minds about how to manage our needs and our assets. I had always thought we would sell the farm, buy a retirement property, invest the remainder of the proceeds, and live happily ever after. The key turned out to be rethinking how we would invest for the future.

Financial advisors told us to avoid high risk investments as we moved into retirement in an effort to keep our assets safe. That would mean lower but stable returns from nancial products such as term deposits. We wouldn’t be making a lot of money, but we could see that we would have all we needed to enjoy life.

As we looked for a solution, we recalled the help given to us by the seller, when we bought the farm back in 1973. After scraping together a down payment and borrowing the maximum available to us on a first mortgage from Farm Credit Canada, we still needed to find 20% of the purchase price. The seller took a second mortgage on the property, with payments of only the interest for a number of years to keep our cash flow requirements low while we got ourselves established.

The real estate market had changed in the 38 years since we started farming. Interest rates were much lower, but the principal amounts were significantly higher. The financing solution we needed would have to put even more importance on keeping the cash flow required to service the debt as low as possible. In the final agreement, we took 30% of the sale price in cash, financed through a first mortgage by the Thurstons. The remaining 70% was financed through a second mortgage that we hold, with payments of only the interest, at a rate slightly higher than what low risk investments would pay us, but lower than what a second mortgage would cost on the open market. After four years, half of the second mortgage was to be paid out, leaving 35% of the sale price in the second mortgage for the full 10-year term.

All we had to do was to decide to invest in the future of organic farming by trusting and investing in the next generation of organic farmers.”

Some would suggest that we were putting ourselves in a much higher risk position than we would experience by investing in penny stocks on the Vancouver Stock Market; however, we had come to know and trust the Thurstons, and thought the risk was acceptable. Our lawyer did his job well, pointing out all of the things that could go wrong, and suggesting contract wording that would protect everyone’s interests. But, being an organic farmer himself, he understood our desire to believe in our new partners in farming.

So in 2011, we moved our belongings to a quiet property where we enjoy a bit of gardening and watching the weather on the lake. The financing arrangement met all of our needs. We never looked back and have not regretted any of our decisions.

Five years into the agreement, the Thurstons are ahead of schedule with their payments, and the farm is thriving. The transitions — into retirement for us and into farming for Matt and Molly, have been smooth and painless. All we had to do was to decide to invest in the future of organic farming by trusting and investing in the next generation of organic farmers.


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.

Farming on the Edge at WoodGrain Farm

in Fall 2016/Farmer Focus/Grow Organic/Organic Stories
WWOOFers at Woodgrain

Jonathan Knight

If you walk out the back door of the little blue farmhouse at WoodGrain Farm, past the acre of market gardens and the old log outbuildings and barns, and back through the forest high along the banks of the Skeena River, there is wilderness. This is real wilderness, where one could follow ancient footpaths of the Gitxsan people and century-old telegraph trails hundreds of kilometers into the heart of the Sacred Headwaters, from where the three great salmon rivers of northern BC, the Skeena, Stikine, and Nass, flow.

I’ve always been drawn to places on the edge, interested in the transition between where one place ends and the next begins, whether a seashore or a mountainside. This valley is very much where the last patchwork of rural habitation meets the wide open wilderness of the northwest.

I wasn’t always planning on being a farmer, but knew I would one day end up on a homestead in a wild place. Yet I was aware that once you choose to live deliberately on a piece of land, you don’t do much else, and I had other lives to live first. During time spent living and travelling around Europe and India in my early twenties, I explored my relationship with food, particularly drawn to old methods of craft food production, culminating in an apprenticeship in organic bread making.

Spring Garden at Woodgrain Farm
Spring Garden at Woodgrain. Credit: Jonathan Knight

I’ve always been drawn to places on the edge. This valley is where the last patchwork of rural habitation meets the wide open wilderness of the northwest.”

The apprenticeship was followed by a couple of years cycling and WWOOFing across Canada, after which I returned to BC and opened the popular True Grain Bread in Cowichan Bay. In the second year the bakery installed a stone mill, which shortened the links between the farmer and the baker, opening up a treasure trove of heirloom grains and the opportunity to work with local farmers to get grain growing on Vancouver Island. As passionate as I am about craft bread making, I still felt the strong pull backwards, towards the very basics—the grain, or seed, and the soil. In 2008 the bakery was transitioned to its present owners, and I set off with my then-partner on another bicycle odyssey of rural Canada.

If you trace the line on the map, Highway 16 heads northwest out of Prince George where it leaves the interior plateau and passes into the broad, pastoral Bulkley Valley. Past Smithers, the Bulkley flows into the Skeena, and the highway makes an abrupt left to follow the river’s course southwest to Terrace and the coast. At this confluence of the rivers, the northernmost point on the Yellowhead, lie the villages and settlements that comprise the Hazeltons. Instead of following the highway downstream, turning right to follow the Skeena due north for 20km will bring you to the Kispiox Valley, the most northern reach of the Agricultural Land Reserve west of the Rockies and, at one point, home to the second oldest Farmers’ Institute in BC.

When we first pedalled through these parts, we were struck by the mountains and open spaces of the Bulkley Valley, and by the vibrant youthful community around Smithers. We returned that fall with the intent of looking for land, and people kept telling us “you have to check out the Kispiox Valley” in a way that sounded almost mystical. In a practical sense, the Kispiox enjoys a temperate coastal influence from the Skeena, which makes it noticeably warmer than Smithers just an hour to the east, but with not nearly the precipitation of Terrace two hours to the west. It felt like the right balance for making the most of the shorter but more intense northern growing season.

Red Fife Wheat at Woodgrain Farm
Red Fife Wheat. Credit: Jonathan Knight

It also fit another important criteria. I didn’t want to end up living just somewhere along a highway, where there is the tendency to drive into town whenever you need something or are feeling social. The Kispiox Valley is definitely a place unto itself, with a strong character and community. Beyond the Gitxsan village at the Kispiox River’s confluence with the Skeena, the valley is home to about 200 folks of mostly rancher/logger or back-to-the-lander origin, with a thriving community hall and annual rodeo and music festival.

The valley was first farmsteaded about a hundred years ago, and this farm was one of the original staked. It had been sitting gracefully fallow for about 30 years when we found it, and began the work of slowly bringing it back to life. A fair number of valley folk today have roots on this farm, and the support we’ve had from our neighbours since the beginning has been immeasurable. Wilfred, an old-time neighbour who tilled our first garden space for us, remembers running and hiding under the bed when the valley’s first tractor was being unloaded on the farm. That rusty W4 is here still.

When I’m asked for advice by prospective new farmers, it is not to rush into too much, too soon. That first year, we helped get a fledgling Hazelton Farmers’ Market going, planted a modest market garden on freshly tilled old pasture (with no rototiller), bought the sweetest Jersey cow named Elsie, sheep for the pasture, pigs for the tillage, and a hundred laying hens. Never mind that the buildings were all in need of serious repair, the house was decrepit, there wasn’t an intact line of fence on the place, we had no haying equipment, and I was also committed to help get a small social enterprise bakery in town off the ground. Whether the decisions we made to jump in with both feet had much of a bearing on it or not, the outcome was that by the second year I was alone on the farm.

WoodGrain Farm at sunset
WoodGrain Farm. Credit: Jolene Swain

Well, not quite alone. There were always the WWOOFers. My experiences WWOOFing have been invaluable in a lot of what I have learned how to do (and not to do!), and I am privileged to be able to offer that in return. No matter how hectic things can feel at times, I try and always keep in mind that the experience this person is having here may just well be changing their lives. It had changed mine.

More permanent help soon arrived. Andi and Ryan came fresh off a SOIL apprenticeship and partnered for a season of market gardening, where we quickly out-produced the demand in Hazelton and started to regularly attend the Bulkley Valley Farmers’ Market down the road in Smithers. Next came Angelique and Lynden, first as WWOOFers and then for two seasons as market gardeners. They, with their new daughter born on the farm, are moving on this spring. But, as with Andi and Ryan and their new twins, to another place just around the corner. The valley’s population has grown by seven.

Jonathan and his hand built grain mill
Jonathan and his hand built grain mill. Credit: Marjorie Harris

Going into this seventh season of farming, the balance between farming as a business and homesteading as a life choice feels more settled. Growing systems are figured out, perennial weeds are getting worn down, fences are keeping animals put, buildings are staying up, the farm is established at the markets, and farm earnings are forecastable. It’s now easier to make deliberate choices, about where to focus and what to cut back on. Hay needs to be brought in for the winter, but otherwise the balance can be tipped from side to side. Grow more for the markets, or work on improving self-sufficiency on the farm. Farm to earn money, or farm to reduce the money needed to be earned. Feed and nurture your community, or feed and nurture your soul.

When I manage to stand back far enough to get a good vantage point of the farm as a whole, it is neither here nor there. Not what is was in the past, and not what it will become in the future. I have incredible admiration for the work that was done by the original homesteaders, clearing the land and building the hand-hewn log house with an axe, but I wouldn’t wish to be in their shoes for a moment. My respect is not diminished for the later generation who raised cattle here because they might have sprayed Tordon, those were different times. The thistles survived it nevertheless. Nowadays, the soils are healthy and being improved with each season. The fertility of the fields is passed through the animals to the market garden. Innovations like drip irrigation, electric fences and hay balers are the envy of those who have farmed here before us.

The farm provides our vegetables and fruit, grains and bread, dairy and cheese, meat and eggs, and our livelihoods. But others will come and go, and hopefully settle close by, and this place will continue to evolve with the people who live here. The farm will remain on the edge, of what it has been and what it might become.


Jonathan Knight organically farms WoodGrain Farm with his partner Jolene Swain.

*The photo of WoodGrain farm that appeared on the cover of the Fall 2016 BC Organic Grower was taken by Jolene Swain and attributed in error to Jonathan Knight.

Organic Certification

in Fall 2016/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards
Certified Organic farmers at Golden Ears Farm

Michelle Tsutsumi

“More than a piece of paper, organic certification comes with a remarkable community”

Community members who visit local farmers’ markets are increasingly asking food growers very pointed questions such as, “Are you organic?” We hear that at least once every market – and it’s so much simpler to be able to answer with a clear “yes!”

Once we decided to engage in the organic certification process, it was a full-on commitment from everyone at Golden Ears Farm to compile the necessary information. It was an enjoyable exercise in learning about the historical context of the land – what had been planted before, for how long, and in what capacity. It also felt like coming full circle, as the farm had been certified organic in the past and was returning to it two decades later. Going through the process has been informative and inspiring for us to better our animal husbandry, crop planning, and record keeping.

Certification doesn’t mean that we’ve made it and now we can coast. Being certified organic provides the public with a commitment to uphold the minimum standards, and doesn’t hold food growers back from going beyond that. We are always looking for ways to grow food more ethically, both for the people involved and the land that we are on. We want to take care of this land (and water!) and acknowledge all that it provides for us.

Certified Organic farmers at Golden Ears Farm

The most meaningful part of the organic certification process has been the supportive and knowledgeable community that we’ve joined. The depth and diversity of knowledge amongst organic growers and processors in BC is phenomenal. And the amazing thing is that the overall atmosphere is one of collaboration and cooperation. Our regional certifying body hosts regular meetings with information sessions and discussions, and the annual conference hosted by the COABC is both a networking haven and time to geek out about agro-ecology (a winning combination).

A comment we hear frequently is that the certification process is too expensive. The base fee that goes to our certifying body is reasonable when one considers that it covers the administration of files and an annual site visit. COABC’s sliding scale membership is also incredibly fair, being based on gross annual organic sales. Our certification fees are less than 5% of our organic income, whether you look at gross or net income.

Certified Organic farmers at Golden Ears Farm

When considering certification fees, it is also important to recognize the tireless efforts of this grassroots, non-profit organization in advocating for organics on a provincial level. The COABC has helped BC be at the forefront of organic standards in Canada and has been dedicated to educating the public about organics and non-GMO growing. Golden Ears Farm sees the fees as being a public commitment to, and investment in, the values and philosophy of organic agro-ecology: supporting sustainable health and productivity of the ecosystem, growing food in an environmentally regenerative and socially responsible way, feeding the soil and promoting biodiversity.

At the beginning of the process, three years felt like a long time to become fully certified, and yet, here we are – in year three – and it has flown by. Some of our fields were considered certified in the first year; however, having the three years to become completely certified has allowed us to really settle into organics and the community that surrounds it.

We are grateful for the learning we have enjoyed through this process (even the rough times, which is often when the best learning takes place) and love the good people and friends that we have come to know through organics. Without a doubt, the choice to certify organic was a solid and indefatigable one.


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.

All photos: Abbie Wilson

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