Category archive

2022

Biodynamic Farm Story: Cold Comforts

in Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Soil/Spring 2022

By Anna Helmer

Alas, alak. Which is to say, phew. My self-celebrated cull potato Biodynamic compost pile is not available to evaluate in time for this article deadline: the snowpack beneath which it languishes lingers still. Truth be told, I am relieved. I have not been shy about leading us all to believe I am a composting genius, capable of turning old potatoes into a priceless pile of loamy soil teeming with life, energy, and spiritual sensitivity. On the other hand, it might be a pile of mucky old potatoes. I am saved, for now, from the big reveal.

This winter’s snowpack has had a more notable affect on life this winter than just preserving my pride. Most of it is from December’s excesses, when several feet accumulated in just a few days. The temperature plunged and the farm was in the proverbial grip of winter. The work focus narrowed: clear greenhouse, shovel path to chicken house, monitor the cooler temperatures, keep water pumps from freezing. As always, the first few days of minus twenty were fine, but then things started to freeze. It’s amazing how much work this becomes.

Rain is inevitable of course, which adds crushing weight to snow that was this year extra sticky, clinging even to the metal roofs of barns and homes. This became a grave concern. Not only is there the potential collapsing problem, but a very real danger to anyone or anything in the line of the sliding snow when it finally does let go.

Our farm escaped the situation with little more than one blown apart railing, one bent greenhouse rib (from a tractor-mounted snow blower injury), and a day or two of frozen water pump. It’s not hard to spot other winter casualties in the area and it is considered polite to avert your eyes and not mention it.

Meanwhile, under the snow, the soil has been hard at work. It’s hard to believe, as the landscape seems so inert in the depths of winter, but Rudolph Steiner says it’s so. This year in particular the soil seemed so remote, buried under four feet of concrete snow. A lot of the time it was a walkable snowpack and striding about the farm on an elevated even surface felt like freedom. Anyway, it was easy to assume there wasn’t much going on down there.

Biodynamically-speaking, however, winter is a time of dynamic change in the soil. I really don’t pretend to understand the technical aspects of many of Steiner’s arguments, and this one has really confused me. Something to do with the formation of crystals deep down which will collect the forces emanating from the further reaches of the universe and stream them upwards into the plants. Don’t quote me.

Obviously, there is activity. We habitually try to rotavate the next year’s potato field last thing in the fall before winter. Just a shallow rotavate, and perhaps a slightly deeper spading. It breaks up the sod that has formed over the previous five years of cover-cropping. It’s pretty rough, but in the spring, this field will dry a little quicker and much of the organic matter will have broken down. This is a sign of winter activity, isn’t it?

It’s more than that, though I am struggling to put my finger on it. My understanding was nudged along when we went to dig the equipment trailer out of the snow. We had parked it under a barn roof line. Oops. See above. It was buried early and often this winter. The extraction project took place over a two-day period and involved heavy equipment. When done, a churned-up mess of soil, snow, ice, and mud was left in its place. The ground won’t recover from that this year.

We would never do this to a field, but the message remains the same: we farmers ruin soil. The soil needs winter so it can get away from us and do its thing. If you haven’t slapped your head with understanding then I haven’t done a good job of writing, for this is very profound.

Think about the fall-rotavated potato field. It will emerge from the winter ready for an (almost) single tractor pass for final seed bed preparation. When we don’t do the fall rotavating and spading it takes several passes with disc, cultivator, spader, rotavator, and harrow to do the same job, with likely a substandard result.

The field, left alone in the grip of winter, was busy, busy, busy and did a better job of it than we could have done.

The BD500 preparation, which some call the gateway drug of Biodynamics, is buried over winter. I won’t get into the details, but it transforms from a muck of fresh manure into a dryish plug of pure power. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes sense, but I admit to a slight glimmer of understanding.

Now I am kind of excited to see the compost pile. I think it was always out of my hands.


Anna Helmer farms in Pemberton and is grateful for the opportunity. helmersorganic.com

Featured image: Credit: Hemler’s Organic Farm

Ag Tech Breaking Down Barriers

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Spring 2022/Tools & Techniques

By Crystal Arsenault

Innovative technology for agriculture is all the buzz these days and farmers appear receptive to trying new things in an effort to increase their profits as well as make better decisions that support the mitigation of climate change. But, for many, the hard decision is which tech to invest in. Not only does new tech usually involve a financial commitment, but there is inevitably a time commitment as well—time taken away from farming to learn the new technology, set it up, then use it as part of your daily routine in order to hopefully gain some insights and benefits a year or so down the road. It can be challenging to determine which tech is best for your specific operation, and all too often money and time are spent only to discover that the program was built to sell you a product and doesn’t actually benefit you individually. Not all programs are created equally.

Luckily for farmers, many innovative products are now available with farmers and the environment in mind—and best of all, they don’t cost a dime. Two such tools are Organic BC’s online organic certification program, iCertify, and UBC’s farm management program, LiteFarm.

Both programs are helping to break barriers to organic certification and encourage sustainable farming practices. iCertify is now in its third year of use, with all regional Organic BC certifying bodies onboarded. LiteFarm has recently released an update that will directly benefit organic growers.

Record keeping has often been seen as a barrier to organic certification for many new operators. Sitting down for a little light reading of the Canadian Organic Standards while trying to find and purchase land as well as starting a new business is intimidating. iCertify walks new applicants through the certification process with a simple question and answer format. It includes a multitude of references to the standard for quick access to information that is relevant to your operation.

Additionally, iCertify provides premade record keeping templates. No more wasted time trying to design forms yourself that meet all the requirements. Available for download within iCertify and on the Organic BC website, these ready-made forms take the guess work out of certification. They help inform operators about the specific information they need to track in order to demonstrate compliance. At the same time, these templates provide the certification committee and verification officers a standardized version of the exact information they need to complete a comprehensive review.

But wait, it gets better yet. Imagine not even having to fill out the form yourself! LiteFarm has been developed with iCertify and organic certification at the forefront. Through a collaborative project with UBC, LiteFarm can now generate several of the standardized templates used in organic production. With one click your Seed Records, Input Records, product compliance documents, maps and more, are created, downloaded, and ready to upload directly into iCertify.

LiteFarm is a free, open-source farm management program designed for biodiverse operations and includes insights about on farm biodiversity, sustainable farm practices, profits, and even tracks labour cost per crop. To save time for busy farmers, LiteFarm has an extensive database of crop stats provided by researchers from UBC. Creating a crop management plan is as simple as selecting a crop and picking a seeding date. From there, LiteFarm will automatically create seeding, transplanting, and harvest tasks directly on your calendar To Do list. Additional tasks, such as soil amendments, preventative pest treatments, hand weeding, and more can be added at any time and easily assigned to farm workers. Multiple users including owners, supervisors, and farm workers each have individual role-based access. Users have the ability to see tasks that have been assigned to them, indicate in real time when they have been completed, log work hours, and leave notes about crop concerns, all on their mobile phones or desktop.

LiteFarm tracks seeding dates, amendment product use, dates and location, harvest, and quantity information, all easily accessible by verification officers when performing volume and traceback audits on any crop being managed at your farm.

Anonymous, aggregated data can be used to drive further research into the benefits of specific farming practices and help users quantify and analyze their own reliance on purchased inputs, labour, and more.

Designed for and by farmers, these tools are breaking down the barriers to organic certification and helping more farmers see the benefits of transitioning to regenerative organic management practices.


Crystal Arsenault is the technical advisor for Organic BC, UX designer and organic subject matter consultant.  Having owned a certified organic farm as well as working in tech design, Crystal has a unique perspective on challenges faced by both industries as we attempt to unite the two in order to quantify sustainable farm management practices.

All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Go

in 2022/Current Issue/Livestock/Spring 2022/Standards Updates

Ready for Growth, Small-Scale Meat Producers are Limited by Access to Processing

By Julia Smith

The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association recently completed a province-wide survey of the small-scale meat producing sector in which we heard from 708 operations representing 2,110 producers across all 27 regional districts of the province. Eighteen respondents reported being certified organic, and 15 of these were located in the Okanagan.

The survey identified that small-scale meat producers in BC tend to have very diverse operations, and are practicing a range of land management techniques. Of the respondents, 97% reported using at least one of the following practices to steward their land:

  • multiple species grazing (43%)
  • intensive grazing (38%)
  • regenerative agriculture (38%)
  • no-till farming (36%)
  • diversified forage (36%)

It will be interesting to see if these types of land management techniques become even more popular given the rising costs and supply chain issues associated with more conventional methods and inputs.

Not surprisingly, the biggest obstacle preventing the growth of the small-scale meat industry in BC was access to slaughter and butchery services. While this has proven to all but stop the industry as a whole in its tracks, it hits certified organic producers even harder, as there are very few, if any, certified organic abattoirs or butcher shops offering custom services to small-scale producers.

Chickens at UBC Farm. Credit: Hannah Lewis.

There is a little wiggle room: it is possible for a processor whose facility is not certified organic to complete an “Organic Compliance Declaration” in which they agree to uphold the certification requirements for a producer. However, it is unlikely that most processors would be willing to accommodate this. Processors are completely booked up months (often over a year) in advance without having to jump through any additional hoops.

At a time when it is extremely difficult for anyone to book slaughter and butcher dates for their livestock, organic producers are faced with the added burden of needing their processing facilities to comply with their organic certification standards. Survey respondents reported that they often can’t even reach their abattoir on the phone. It seems unlikely that a business that doesn’t even have time to answer their phone would be willing to entertain the extra steps and paperwork required to serve the certified organic market.

Even if the butcher is willing to take these steps, they are only allowed to cut into basic raw cuts if the product is to remain certified organic. Products of further processing, such as sausage making or smoking, are not able to remain certified organic unless the facility itself is also certified organic. Furthermore, not even the raw cuts can be labeled as certified organic by the butcher unless their facility is also certified organic. The producer themselves must take that meat home, unpack it and label everything to remain in compliance.

Happy pigs. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association

It seems unfair that a producer who complies with the necessary production and animal welfare standards to achieve organic certification should not be able to market that product as certified organic due to insurmountable obstacles in the final step of the process. It may take three years to finish a certified organic steer and a matter of hours to process it.

The new Farmgate Plus slaughter license has the potential to offer some hope. 41% of survey respondents indicated that they are interested in pursuing a license which would allow them to slaughter up to 25 animal units (AU – 1,000 pounds of live weight = 1 AU) per year on their farm or ranch. This license is for slaughter only, and the carcass needs to be butchered at a licensed cut and wrap facility. Unfortunately, 25 AU isn’t likely to be enough volume for one operation to justify the expense of setting up a certified organic cut and wrap facility, but perhaps if there were enough organic livestock producers in a community, they could come together to solve this piece of the puzzle.

Profitability was another challenge identified by the survey and one where organic producers will certainly be feeling the pinch with rising costs and limited availability of everything from feed, to fuel, to fertilizer.

Overall, producers reported that they would like to grow their businesses and that market demand far exceeds their current production capacity given processing challenges. There is tremendous potential for this industry to make a significant contribution to food security and the economy. Given the undeniable need to move toward more environmentally sustainable production methods, the need for growth in the organic sector has never been greater.

To find the survey report, learn more about SSMPA and join as a Producer Member for $35 or as a Supporter Member for free, visit smallscalemeat.ca


Julia is a founding member and currently serving as Vice-President of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association. She farms and ranches in the Nicola Valley where she raises critically endangered Red Wattle hogs and beef cattle.

Feature image: Turkeys on pasture. Credit: SSMPA.

Your Land, Your Legacy

in 2022/Current Issue/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Spring 2022

A Farm and Foodlands Owner’s Guide

By Michael Marrapese

The Foodlands Cooperative of BC has a bold vision—to secure farmland for farming for future generations. While the Agricultural Land Reserve offers some protection by restricting the allowable activities on farmland, it has had only a modest effect on the selling price and accessibility of farmland in BC. Our primary activity is to facilitate the acquisition of land by cooperatives, non-profit groups and charities, municipalities, or Indigenous communities.

In the summer of 2021 we published Your Land, Your Legacy: A Farm and Foodlands Owner’s Guide. The Guide is expressly designed for owners of farm and food-provisioning lands who wish to create a legacy by preserving their land for generations to come.

Written by Ava Reeve, the guide is a culmination of a two-year research project made possible by funding from the Law Foundation of BC and the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC. It focuses on two particular processes to secure land for agriculture. One is to donate land to a community organization. Another approach is to register a covenant on a property. The guide covers both of these processes in detail.

North of town. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

For many farmers, selling the farm is a major part of their financial and retirement planning. However, selling their property often means it will not be used primarily for farming. In much of BC, farmland is being bought up and converted into recreational acreages, vacation homes, or rural estates—or for future real estate development.

Over the last five years the Foodlands Cooperative of BC has met with dozens of landowners who want to ensure their properties continue to be farmed and used for the benefit of their communities. We found that lawyers and estate planners are often unfamiliar with the unique legal and taxation statutes that apply to these situations, not only because it is unfamiliar but also because the process can be very nuanced and specific to each property and situation.

While many farmers are sympathetic to the plight of aspiring young farmers, transferring land by any other method than direct sale is a daunting process. As Chad Hershler, Executive Director of Deer Crossing the Art Farm observes, “transferring land ownership, legacy planning, formalizing a vision—these are all emotionally fraught, extremely challenging things to do, no matter the context. When it comes to food provisioning (and, in our case, culture-making), this is even harder.”

Cows make great neighbours. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

We engaged a team of legal experts to review existing legislation, and possible approaches to transfer land out of the speculative market, and present it in terms accessible to the layperson. “There is a gravitational pull towards doing what everyone else is doing, doing what comes easiest,” continues Hershler. “Every bit of help to move against this is crucial—and this guide is more than a bit of help. It clearly outlines steps we need to take, people we need to talk to, documents we need to draft. It takes something massive and breaks it down into simple achievable steps.”

The Foodlands Cooperative is exploring several avenues towards returning land to the public commons and out of the speculative market. While registered charities are one kind of qualified donee, the CRA recognizes a number of others. Under the Canadian Income Tax Act, qualified donees can often issue official donation receipts. Qualified donees can include the Crown at federal and provincial levels, municipal governments and other public bodies, and, interestingly, the United Nations. Many Indigenous governing bodies are also now registered as qualified donees.

When we began this project three years ago, there was an obvious need for clarity around the various options, processes, and costs of having land transferred to a land trust, either via donation or through other transfer mechanisms. In creating a plan for their estate and a succession plan for their farm operation, a landowner will want to understand the tax benefits or policies that will apply to their situation. The guide has an extensive section on Canadian tax law that explains the considerations when making a donation of land and the implications of various types of land transfer. It also lays out some practical examples of how tax law might be applied. There is a complete glossary of all the legal and financial terms to help make the material more useful and approachable.

The final section of the Guide lays out very specific steps for due diligence when a landowner is considering donating their property. Some seem quite obvious—engaging professionals such as lawyers and appraisers. Less obvious may be the need to have the property surveyed to confirm boundaries, to document encroachments and Right-of-Ways, and the existence of any environmentally sensitive or protected areas.

We are keen to pass this knowledge on to the general public through our our lawyer-reviewed guide. The guide will undoubtedly help to alleviate many of the challenges of planning farm and foodland trusts, lead to greater community access to foodlands, and to foster sustainable farming.

We see this as a first step in opening up possibilities for landowners to create a lasting legacy with their farmland.

Your Land, Your Legacy, A Farm and Foodland Owner’s Guide is available for free at foodlands.org/a-farm-and-foodland-owners-guide


Michael Marrapese lives and works at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative in the Fraser Valley on the unceded territory of the Kwantlen and Katzie peoples. An avid photographer, writer and musician he loves working on the farm and marvels at the beauty of nature. Though recently retired, he continues to be involved in various interesting projects and seems to be willing to travel at the slightest provocation.

Feature image: Tilling at Sunset. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

Reflections on the History of Organic BC

in 2022/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2022

We asked past presidents and board members of Organic BC to share memories from their time on the board—so many people have contributed so much over the years. These reflections are snapshots from the past 30 years, as we grew from small group of dedicated farmers, ranchers, and processors to the incredible community we have today. Here’s to many more decades of cultivating a resilient organic movement in BC!

Robert Hettler – Pilgrim’s Produce

Board member from 1993 to 1995

I was chosen by the North Okanagan Organic Association in the early 1990’s to be their representative on the board of what is now Organic BC.

I have many memories from the era of being on the board. The strongest is the commitment of all the board members of the time to get the job done, no matter the distance travelled, the time spent reviewing the few other standards written at the time, and the long hours spent thrashing out our first versions and then revisions after revisions.

Beginning with the travel, most of the board members came from the interior, Hans Buchler from Oliver, but more so Paddy Doherty and Lee Taylor from the Cariboo (an eight-hour drive), and especially Bill Smith from the Peace and his overnight drives of 12 or 16 hours. If I felt like whining over my four to six hours of winter driving, the guys from the north had us beat by a long shot. Sure, there was Fred Reid just half an hour down the road in Abbotsford, and Harvey Snow, who at the time worked for the BC Ministry of Agriculture, who also had little travel. Harvey Snow had a small office in Cloverdale, where we would all pile in and get to work.

Many a time I would arrive at Harvey’s Ministry of Agriculture office before 8 am to find Hans asleep in the cab of his Datsun pickup.

I remember reviewing the organic regulations from California and Oregon especially, but also some from Europe. None of us had experience writing regulations like many do now, so there were hours and hours of working out the principles we wished to convey, and then the tough job of choosing the right words and phrases with which to express our ideas. There seemed to be endless revisions made in those early days.

Since we met one day per month in the winter, in most cases we would work all day on regulations, and then usually it meant a drive back home at the end of the day, at least for me.

At the time the Apple 11e computer was the latest aid in doing regulations, which Harvey used to record our meetings, as were fax machines, which aided greatly in sending documents to each other. No cell phones back then and selfies had not been invented, so no pictures even contemplated —but we had Tim Hortons coffee and doughnuts to keep us going.

Paddy Doherty (centre) washing carrots at West Enderby Farm. Credit: West Enderby Farm.

Paddy Doherty – West Enderby Farm

Board member 1993-2000; 2012-2020; Staff 2001-2005

I remember particularly the friends I made. There were so many, and so many are still close friends. Gunta Vitins was working at the Ministry of Agriculture in the early 1990’s. She was assigned to the fledgling Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC) to help us get the organization off the ground. She found the funding somewhere and got us started on our first strategic plan.

I must admit I didn’t know what a strategic plan was. Bill Smith, Rob Hettler, Fred Reid, Harvey Snow, Brian Mennell, Brian Hughes, and I all worked on this plan, but Gunta made it happen. It was a great plan. We’ve accomplished most of the aspirations described in it—I don’t have a copy anymore.

I recall Bill Smith saying, “We have a great organization on paper, but we don’t have anything on the ground.” The COABC was the administrator of the Organic Agricultural Product Certification Regulations under the Food Choice and Disclosure Act. We were in charge of administering an act of the BC legislature but we had no office, no money, and no employees.

The economic development official in Quesnel happened to be a friend. He told me, “You need a secretariat. Ask the government for a secretariat for your organization until you can get on your feet.” A friend and I went to visit David Zirnhelt, then the Minister of Agriculture, who coincidentally owned a ranch in the next valley over from our place. We brought a proposal—this was another thing I had no experience with, but luckily had help from people who did.

People in the Ministry said it was irregular to approach the Minister in such an informal fashion, but it worked. We were provided with $275,000 in seed money to get us started, as well as a ministry staff person (and office) for three years. The next week I received a cheque in the mail for $80,000. We didn’t even have a bank account so I opened one at the Quesnel Credit Union.

The Ministry was holding an agriculture standing committee—in the summer, which was awkward. I was haying, but I really felt it was important to attend. After I finished baling, I drove all night to catch the first ferry to Victoria. I met Brian Hughes and Mary Alice Johnson outside the legislature, and they accompanied me. Somehow, I had managed to draft a speech for the standing committee. I don’t have it anymore, but I recall the opening: “I’m here to give you some good news about organic farming in BC.” I didn’t ask for anything, I just told them how great we were and what great things we were going to do. I also told them about the incredible market for organic food, and how fast it was growing. I could see the committee’s eyes light-up.

That was the first of many meetings where I was one of a group representing agriculture in BC. I was hanging out with the commodity groups like the chicken farmers, cattlemen, etc. Once the BC Agriculture Council was formed, I spent many hours attending meetings—often not doing much, but just being there.

Carmen and Glen Wakeling in the sunflower shoot house at Eatmore Sprouts. Credit: Eatmore Sprouts.

Glenn Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 1997-2001

I first attended a COABC AGM as a board representative from the Comox Region. I was thirty-something at the time and in the first decade of operating Eatmore Sprouts with three business partners. One of them, Carmen, was the whole reason I was here—a Kiwi growing sprouts in BC.

At the time, Hans Buchler was wrapping up his presidency. Paddy Doherty was coaxed in as president with a cell phone provided by COABC, and later a computer provided by Cathleen Kneen. Somehow, I ended up on the executive and became president several years later (the world is run by those who show up!).

The big issues of the day were recognition of the Standard (e.g. getting BC organic apples into Europe) and marketing boards (chickens and eggs). The Ministry was engaged. As is still the case, many farmers wanted little or no governance, with a handful who wanted everything, both federally and provincially.

Both of my parents in rural New Zealand did a lot of community time on boards. I felt it was important to participate. I jumped in deep, learning lots. We were still using dial up internet and basic computers. This kept the beginners mind active—looking back I was in way over my head!

I met a lot of amazing people, and we had a lot of good times.

Deb Foote – The Organic Grocer

Board member 2004-2008

I think I was the first non-producer coming from the world of distribution, retail, and marketing.

The mid-2000s were a time of big growth for COABC and organics. Just some of the issues that the sector faced during that time were:

  • West Nile virus and the potential impacts of use of malathion on organic farmers. The Province asked COABC for input
  • Plant Breeder Rights and seed severity
  • Marketing board accommodations for organic and specialty producers
  • National Standards development and implementation
  • Discussion of aquaculture certification
  • Collaboration with BC Ministry of Agriculture and Ag Canada
  • Introduction of the Environmental Farm Plan program
  • Abattoir regulations
  • GMO contamination
  • Organic Harvest Awards
  • BC’s adoption of the Canadian Organic Standards
  • An Organic Extension Officer position was created
  • Buy Local and the 100-mile diet took off

Hermann Bruns – Wild Flight Farm

Board member 1998-99; 2004-2006; 2011-2013

I was the NOOA rep on the COABC board over 20 years ago now. The world was a lot simpler back then, and we were all making it up somewhat as we went along.

My strongest memories are of getting an office set up for COABC. NOOA also needed an office space. At that time the Ministry of Agriculture was downsizing a lot, so one of the NOOA board members was bold enough to ask the Minister at the time, Corky Evans, if we could take up one of the empty offices in their Vernon building—and he agreed! Not all of the Ministry staff were pleased, however, so they created an outside entrance to the office.

NOOA moved in first and COABC followed soon after. The NOOA part-time administrator, Shelly Chvala, was also tasked with some of the COABC administrative work. Prior to that time, all the work was being done by board members from their homes, with regular meetings to get the organization up and running.

When that office space become too small, NOOA and COABC moved to a second office down on Kalamalka Lake Road for a number of years, then to a small house downtown that was also shared with PACS. In 2008, COABC moved to its own office at the current location.

Accreditation in the early years was being done by a committee of a few board members, with a government representative funded by the Ministry acting as Chair. At first it was about trying to get the certification bodies to work together, and then eventually our own standards came over time.

The first COABC website was created by Tim Jackson, son of a local organic fruit grower and university student who knew a little bit about html. I had to convince the board that a website would be a good thing; I thought it was important to have information more easily available for the organic community—as a kind of ‘open filing cabinet.’ Right from the beginning we envisioned a directory of all the certified operations, and we created the listserv which was very active at the time.

Carmen Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 2003-04; 2009-10; 2014-2019; 2021

I stepped into the role of president of COABC right when mandatory organic labelling in BC was announced in 2015. If I had known what that meant I may not have taken the job! So much work but a definite strengthening of organics. We worked with ministry, consumers, producers, and everyone in between to develop a staged approach to achieving this outcome. I remember one moment particularly well, when we were given a bit of an ultimatum: “If you want this, you must…” I felt my heart hit the floor—and then we figured out how to get through it. When I walk around the grocery stores now, I can see that our work on this has helped so much in giving consumers a clearer way to purchase certified organic products. This makes me very happy!

The current strategic plan was developed during my time as president. I feel very pleased that we were able to take the organization’s ability to work together and to identify gaps so solutions could be found to overcome challenges and build on opportunities. It was through this strategic plan that “iCertify” and the core review were undertaken. I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for Organic BC, as I know that many of the identified gaps will be addressed in the short- and medium-term.

It was so great to be supporting the work of the generations of leaders before me, and building opportunity for generations of leaders to come. It was an honor and a privilege to hold this position and contribute the important work of making the world a better place through organic agriculture. Step by step, bit by bit, building stronger communities and building stronger bridges is essential to humanity currently.

Keep up the good work everyone!


Feature image: Hermann Bruns with early spring greens in his moveable greenhouse at Wild Flight Farm as part of the Organic BC Virutal Field Tours 2022. Credit: Organic BC.

In Memory of Dave McCandless

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

Over the past year, the Organic BC community lost two very special people, Dave McCandless and Bob Mitchell.

We remember them here with sadness for their passing, and with gratitude for the legacy of their knowledge, skills, rich soils, stories, passions, and contributions.

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Dave McCandless (1934 – 2021)

By Medwyn McConachy

In the fall of 2021, the organic community lost one of its early pioneers and advocates, Dave McCandless. As a long-term member of the BC Association of Regenerative Agriculture Dave’s focus was always on creating positive solutions for farmers working towards organic standards.

Dave was determined to eliminate fossil fuels. When he left us he was still engaged in pursuing a fossil-free future for organic farms. His partner Susan Davidson tells the story: “his passion for getting OFF fossil fuels was paramount, I remember helping him to write a letter to the president of Kubota tractors, urging them to develop a kit for converting diesel tractors to electric.”

Dave walked his talk by driving one of the early hybrid Prius cars. Susan recalls the time she was driving a car full of recyclables to the end of the driveway and when she rolled down the window, she saw a sticky note on the mirror that said, “is this trip really necessary?”

Dave influenced our Organic BC community widely. As Rochelle Eisen noted in a correspondence with Susan “…once again Dave has raised my consciousness. The gist of Dave’s message was organic farms should not be allowed to use fossil fuels. And as we know ….. the logistics of even reducing our dependence is daunting. But I agree with Dave’s underlying thoughts as it is true: organic farmers are deluding themselves if they think they are making a difference practicing replacement agriculture.”

Dave’s journey to find his passion for organic agriculture was rich and varied. As the firstborn son of Stella and George McCandless, he began his working years with his father on the MV Uchuck, plying the waters from Port Alberni to Bamfield. The ship carried freight and passengers to remote communities. Dave left his sea legs and found his footing on land when he started a career in urban landscaping, discovering his love of fruit tree propagation and pruning. He carried this passion with him to Fraser Common Farm in Aldergrove in the 1980’s.

Dave was committed to cooperative living and working. He was an early member of Community Alternatives Society living in their Kitsilano cooperative housing community. With his partners in the Glorious Garnish and Seasonal Salad Company—the farming enterprise that grew out of the fertile soils of Fraser Common Farm—he co-created a workers’ cooperative now known as Glorious Organics.

In the late 1990’s Dave and Susan were instrumental in gathering the necessary shareholder energy, finances, and enthusiasm to create the cooperative that purchased Glen Valley Organic Farm, a 50-acre certified organic farm in danger of becoming just another cranberry bog in the Glen Valley. Reminiscing about Dave’s contribution, Paige Dampier, one of the current farmers at Glen Valley, recalls “Dave will be remembered for his enthusiastic participation at farm work parties in the early days of the co-op, his valuable time as a member of the Stewards, his passionate input and regular attendance at all of our meetings, and his sincere concern for the planet.”

Dave demonstrated this concern in so many ways. At Fraser Common Farm Dave restored an almost-invisible trickle of water running through the small forest beside the driveway into a viable salmon habitat, and was rewarded with the salmon returning to spawn in the stream. His determination to improve organic soils led him to experiment with Biochar—learning to make and use it on crops for Glorious Organics. Dave worked with UBC Farm to evaluate the benefits of biochar. He said, “as a soil amendment, it acts like a coral reef for soil organisms, helping to house beneficial micro-organisms, creating air pockets, holding moisture, and it lasts for a VERY long time.”1

Recognizing the importance of crop planning and land management, and before having access to sophisticated technology tools such as GIS and Google maps, Dave took the initiative to create land use maps for both Fraser Common and Glen Valley farms. Starting with a simple sketch, the data he collected was then enlarged and copied onto mylar, which was then used to support walkabouts on the land to gather more details. The end result was an accurate record of built and natural features on both farms.

Committed to the planet from the smallest worm on his fishing hook, to the mysteries of the night sky, it seemed no accident that the day of Dave’s birth, April 22, was declared Earth Day and is celebrated by more than 1 billion people in 193 countries every year.


1 Gary Jones, Inside View, Greenhouse Canada, 09/25/2012, greenhousecanada.com/in side-view-3314

Feature image: Dave McCandless in the field. Credit: Glorious Organics.

In Memory of Bob Mitchell

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

Over the past year, the Organic BC community lost two very special people, Dave McCandless and Bob Mitchell.

We remember them here with sadness for their passing, and with gratitude for the legacy of their knowledge, skills, rich soils, stories, passions, and contributions.

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Bob Mitchell (1939-2022)

By Robin Tunnicliffe

Metchosin just got a little quieter, a little more docile, and definitely less colourful. A library of local history has burned. On February 13, Bob Mitchell passed away at Victoria Hospice at the age of 83. Farmer, politician, thinker, and International Man of Mystery, the tales of Bob’s adventures will live on in the many lives he touched.

I met Bob because he got a copy of our book, All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming. He wanted to meet, because he had gone through three farm managers in five years. He thought I sounded serious, so he called me. At the time, I didn’t want to leave Saanich, but I have a soft spot for older farmers, so I went out to meet him.

I took one look at the soil, and I was hooked! He and his dad had been building beautiful soil there for decades, and evenly fertile crops flourished on class A ag land. Woah! Bob promised me a farm succession plan as bait, and the deal was sealed. We were there for nine years to the month when he died. Bob thrived, surrounded by younger farmers, and he loved talking politics and most anything during our daily communal lunches. As a tribute to his legacy, Sea Bluff Farm will be farmed in perpetuity to feed the surrounding community.

Bob was born in Saskatchewan but came to Metchosin as a young boy. He fondly recounted a rich childhood spent blowing up stumps with dynamite and tossing hay bales with his father. Bob’s wild years were enlivened by running after-hours nightclubs in Arizona and Seattle. He recalled these years as the best of his life. He met and married Jackie Slater and fathered his only son, Geoff. He wasn’t one for domestic life, and soon ended up in jail after getting busted for turning his agricultural gifts to the cultivation of marijuana. We guessed that Bob’s short stint in jail was the thrill of his life, for we heard many a soliloquy about his time behind bars. He continued to advocate for youth detainees and for prisoners at William Head for many decades.

Bob’s adventures spanned some years up at Clo’ose on the West Coast trail. He loved recounting tales of incoming storms into the beach, and having to sail out to anchor his boat, and then swim to shore to keep his rig from getting tossed into the rocks. He continued to visit the site, and was there last fall and had to hike out because of a misadventure.

Bob served on the Metchosin council for three terms. His slogan? “I’m the only one running that has a conviction!” The folks of Metchosin will be familiar with the sight (and smell) of the tractor and trailer loaded with seaweed coming up from Weir’s Beach. He was a regular at the Broken Paddle, and could be seen whipping around Metchosin and beyond in his iconic Mini Cooper, the farm delivery vehicle. A point of pride for Bob was to be the first one to plough up his field in the spring, even when he got mired down in the mud.

Above all, Bob loved Sea Bluff Farm. He was so proud to feed the community 12 months of the year from our humble farm stand on Wootton Rd. “Things are really cooking!” he’d say with satisfaction while looking over our loaded farm stand. Bob was rototilling in the greenhouse mere weeks before he died. He would spend hours on the end of a hoe, methodically saving crops from the weeds. He was devoted to soil health and his legacy lives on in our giant beets and Hubbard squash.

Bob was happiest when he was sharing knowledge: helping out new farmers and scheming about local politics. Bob shone when he was the centre of attention, and he could regale you with tales drawing on a huge breadth of knowledge. He was extremely well read, always curious, and had an excellent memory for municipal history.

If you would like to honour Bob, please consider a donation to the Bob Mitchell New Farmer Microloan Fund. Over the past 10 years, Bob has changed the lives of six new farmers who used the loan and were able to pay it back in the same year because of their strong start.

Donations for the the Bob Mitchell New Farmer Microloan Fund can be sent to the following email, with the subject line “Bob Micro loan:” seabluffbox@outlook.com


Feature image: Bob Mitchell pleased with the daikon crop. Credit: Sea Bluff Farm.

2022 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

By Stacey Santos

It really says something about you, the organic community, when you still shine two years into a pandemic, after a hot and fiery summer and a devastatingly wet fall. Even virtually, your leadership, knowledge, and humour are at the forefront—even eclipsing Jordan’s fake beard and eyebrows, à la Tristan.

That’s saying a lot.

We thank you for pushing through a tough year and for coming together for another great BC Organic Conference!

The “Bring Your Own Banquet” Edition

We had originally planned to hold the conference in person at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, but in light of a certain pandemic, we switched to a virtual format on February 27 and March 6. The conference committee had some great brainwaves when it came to creating a new program, including the incredibly popular pre-conference beer and bevvie night (which folks were still talking about weeks after). It was wonderful to be able to laugh together, have breakout discussions, create spontaneous poetry, and kick off our online auction.

This year, the auction had especially fun contributions and we were able to raise over $5,000 in support of the conference!

From Virtual Field Days series, Hutley Acres.

Conference Podcast

Like last year, the conference included all-new podcasts featuring practical tips, regulatory insights, farmer reflections, and more. And, we were lucky to invite back a couple of guests from the podcast for some Q&As. Our podcast listeners voted to learn more about weeding and agritourism, so Kerry McCann and Andrew Budgel of Laughing Crow Organics joined us to share insights on weeding techniques and technology, and on agritourism’s economic opportunities, costs of doing business, labour, set up, and, of course, challenges.

The new podcast episodes will be released to the public at a later date. Find current and future episodes at organicbc.org/podcast

Welcome from Minister Popham

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham joined the conference and shared, as always, her heartfelt thoughts on the state of organics and agriculture in BC, plus an update on things to come.

We learned that the Ministry of Agriculture will soon announce its Regenerative Council/Board, which Organic BC will be a part of. The Ministry is also working to get government funding for equipment that will help farms be more resilient, and is creating a food hub network with shared-use processing facilities. When asked about the possibility of creating a meat processing hub in the province, Minister Popham said it’s definitely possible but will take some time.

If you have ideas on how farms can become more resilient, let the Ministry know! They have solid connections with funding resources and Minister Popham recommended an aggressive approach to get things done more quickly. So, stay connected!

Some familiar faces at the virtual Organic Conference—wait, who is that guy with the beard?

Mental Health in Agriculture

With so much going on right now—in farming and also the world—our conference session with Dr. Briana Hagen was more relevant than ever. Dr. Hagen presented on mental health literacy, touching on some of the struggles and challenges farmers face and how we can maintain and bolster our mental health during crises. A lot of strides have been made when it comes to having conversations around mental health, but there’s a lot more work to be done.

Thanks to Dr. Hagen for presenting on this important topic, and to attendees for their questions, comments, and insights.

Learn more about Dr. Hagen’s work and In the Know, the mental health literacy program for agriculture, at ajbresearch.com/in-the-know.

Reframing the Regenerative Conversation

One of our sessions focused on regenerative agriculture and its strong and long-lasting link to organic. The conversation highlighted the question: What is needed to make organic the key to regenerative certification?

The answers came from a variety of perspectives, including what the Ministry’s goals for regenerative agriculture are, what’s happening at the federal level, how Regenerative Organic Certification is being put into practice already, what sort of policy frameworks are needed to support regenerative (e.g. organic) agriculture, and more.

The Ministry of Agriculture highlighted the importance of collaborative groups, including the Regenerative Agriculture and Agritech Network, and also mentioned that the Environmental Farm Plan program offers funding towards creative regenerative solutions. They encouraged everyone to reach out to the Ministry to learn more about how the program can support your goals.

And, we were able to welcome Alison Squires from Upland Organics in Saskatchewan who walked us through the Regenerative Organic Certification process and shared tips on how to incorporate regenerative practices onto your farm. Her biggest game changer? Livestock integration.

Organic BC’s Regenerative Ag Committee will keep the conversation going, and we encourage you all to join the Organic BC listserv if you haven’t already (organicbc.org/listserv) to carry on discussions of your own.

From Virtual Field Days series, Molly Thurston at Claremont Organic Ranch.

Virtual Field Days

Thanks to public health orders and the fact that BC is a really big place, we were lucky to bring field days to the conference with the launch of our Soil Health Series. These videos included farm tours and conversations with:

Hutley Acres (dairy): Owner Mike Broersma gave an in-depth look at weed management, crop rotations, and key machinery, as well as keeping a healthy herd, overcoming obstacles, and the importance of trying new things.

Claremont Ranch Organics (tree fruit): With a focus on soil health, owner Molly Thurston walked us through the optimal soil for growing tree fruits, the benefits (and best combinations) of cover crops, tips for weed control during planting, and so much more.

Wild Flight Farm (vegetables): Owner Hermann Bruns gave tips on inexpensive and effective green manures that suppress weeds and give soil more structure, plus countless other ways to build nutrient-rich, healthy soil.

We were lucky to have some of the farmers in attendance at the conference, so folks were able to ask questions about the videos and get answers right from the source!

If you missed the virtual tours or want to have another watch, you can find the videos on our YouTube channel (@thisisorganicbc).

Organic BC gratefully acknowledges funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a joint funding agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

Save the Dates

Looking ahead to 2023, the venue and hotel are already booked. We’re crossing our fingers for an in-person conference at TRU in Kamloops on February 24 to 26. The plan is to have a single-track program with an emphasis on providing opportunities for conversation both in and outside of the sessions.

And, because we had a lot of comments about roller crimpers during this conference, we’re also considering bringing some equipment to the in-person tradeshow, and inviting attendees to bring in theirs for an equipment show and tell.

Thank you

A huge thanks to our conference coordinator, Michelle Tsutusmi, and to our incredible and creative volunteers, including our conference committee and our witty and oh-so-entertaining hosts, Tristan Banwell and Jordan Marr. Also, thanks to our conference sponsors (Farm Credit Canada, Institute for Community Engaged Research, BC Coop Association, Gambrinus Malting) and to our tradeshow exhibitors (AgSafe BC, BC Agriculture Council, FarmFolk CityFolk, Frankia Fertilizers, Organic Crop Improvement Association, Osborne Quality Seed, and TerraLink).

Until next year!


Feature image: From Virtual Field Days series, Hermann Bruns at Wild Flight Farm.

All images: Credit: Organic BC.

Organic Stories: Wildflight Farm – Secwepemeceulecw, Mara BC

in 2022/Crop Production/Farmers' Markets/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Winter 2022

A Community Movement Takes Flight

By Brianne Fester

Wild Flight Farm was never really part of the plan. In fact, Hermann Bruns grew up just down the road from the Wild Flight farmstead, and actually worked very diligently for 10 years to ensure he was on track to do quite the opposite of farming. But fate had other plans!

After their respective studies of geography and biology, Louise and Hermann met in Tumbler Ridge while working for a mining company. Both passionate about being active outdoors, exploring nature, and living as environmentally-conscious as possible, they began to recognize a disappointing lack of options for local and organic produce.

For Louise, switching gears and becoming a farmer was a clear choice. Deciding to grow the food that they themselves were unable to find was a way they could “walk the talk.”

Becoming organic growers was not only a way to advocate for living with less environmental impact, but it would provide a tangible way for others to make that choice as well.

Seeding Garlic. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

The farm lies on a beautiful 20-acre slice of fertile land in unceded Secwepemc territory, along the Shuswap River. Wild Flight Farm was named in reverence for the river and the numerous migrating bird species that make a home there. It is from that deep place of appreciation and respect for their environment that Hermann and Louise have been dedicated stewards of the land they farm.

What began as Louise’s quaint notion of a small-scale farm, run by the two of them, transformed when Hermann really sank his teeth into the idea of making a concerted effort to feed their community. Where Louise imagined “small is beautiful,” Hermann saw “expand to meet demand,” and the fusion of these two ideologies is the essence of Wild Flight Farm.

Through thoughtful growth of their business, customers from Kelowna to Revelstoke have been nourished, inspired, and gathered by the dedication to—and consistency of—the produce that Wild Flight Farm has brought to their lives and wider communities.

Louise and Hermann in the greenhouse. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

One thing that has really set the farm apart from other local growers is that they grow, store, and sell produce year-round. “Deciding to expand our infrastructure—building a bigger packing shed and additional cooler rooms—was really driven by customer demand,” reflects Hermann. The “big build” at the farm took place about 10 years into the growth of their business and was an integral step in the evolution of the farm, as it secured a supply of organic produce throughout the winter months for customers.

Direct to consumer sales, especially farmers markets, have been central to the business model of Wild Flight. In the early years they tried various markets throughout the region but eventually focused on serving two communities: Salmon Arm and Revelstoke. Their delivery methods have evolved over time and they have experimented with a Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program, in addition to attending both summer and winter markets. Over the years, “we’ve actually been all over Revelstoke,” recalls Hermann. “We’ve parked at people’s houses, industrial sites, the community centre, and centennial park.”

Continuous communication has been a real strength of Wild Flight over the years. Currently, over 2,300 people receive a weekly e-news publication, drawing recipients into the on-farm experience through bright photos and the anticipated ‘featured vegetable,’ the in-season veggie of the moment. The newsletter originated as a humble, word-processed piece of paper, authored and printed by Louise during the farm’s second year. It was a way to stay connected to their customers and offer recipe suggestions for some of the more obscure vegetables found in their CSA box.

Through its evolution, the newsletter has served many purposes: a means to convey moment to moment farm struggles and excitement and a platform for political engagement, community announcements, general farmers market news, but also a way to create a network responsive to the unexpected changes that occur between field and market. Its efficacy has been tested on several occasions, and regardless of delivery delays, weather issues, or COVID-related challenges, the newsletter has demonstrated a consistent and rapid ability to reach farm customers when plans change.

Keeping harvest day interesting. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

This attentive and thoughtful way of aligning with customers is also echoed in how Hermann and Louise connect with their employees. I worked at the farm over four non-consecutive years in a variety of roles. There were two constant threads woven into all my experiences of working with them: the authentic and genuine care for their employees, and their keen desire to share with, and support, interested young farmers.

The simple act of sitting with their employees at lunch each day spoke volumes to me; we were all working together to achieve the same goals and our efforts as employees were respected and valued. Their appreciation was also undoubtedly clear on Fridays when Louise would create an extraordinary dessert for us to share. Definitely a weekly highlight!

Both Hermann and Louise were always available to chat about any and all things farming—or life—and on several occasions the crew arranged to have post-workday Q&A sessions, where we could pepper them with our extensive farming queries. To this day, they make me feel like there is never a question too silly or a moment too busy to reach out.

Whether nurturing aspiring farmers or building relationships with existing farmers, Wild Flight has been integral in maintaining a strong farmer network in the region. At the very onset of their farm business, Hermann and Louise were warmly welcomed into the realm of organic growing by Rob and Kathryn Hettler of Pilgrims’ Produce. They generously offered insights and experience and even gifted Hermann and Louise their first hoop house!

Wild Flight farmers’ market spread. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

This sentiment of reciprocity has remained a top priority as Wild Flight has grown over the years, whether through co-marketing, exchanging insights and info, coordinating with other growers to share shipping to Urban Harvest or Farmbound, or joining forces to save costs by splitting a pallet (or more!) worth of goods between several growers.

Nearing the end of their third decade, Wild Flight continues to have the same dedication to providing organic produce to as many folks as possible. Farming still requires them to navigate new challenges with unique and innovative solutions and it appears that traversing their next steps of farm succession will be no different. “Our hope is that the farm will continue in a similar direction,” says Hermann when asked about their idea of Wild Flight in the future. But, Louise adds, “our kids definitely don’t want to farm.”

At the edge of one of the fields, behind the alley of hoop houses stands a proud new house, ready for its first occupants. “Building it is definitely a gamble,” Hermann shares, but they recognize that having on-farm housing is a necessity. The intention with the build is that the house will attract potential successors, and the entering farmers will have a comfortable place to live with the space to raise a family, if they chose to. With the price of land increasing at such an alarming rate, it remains one of the largest barriers for aspiring farmers, not to mention the widespread trouble accessing affordable housing. (1, 2)

Several years ago, The Bruns’ decided to incorporate Wild Flight Farm, but keep the land and infrastructure that the farm uses under their private ownership. “The idea is that because the farm doesn’t actually own any of the land itself, it is more affordable for someone to buy into the business,” explains Hermann. “The farm would continue to operate, they would make their salary and then be able to use the profit, or some of the profit, to invest back into further ownership of the business, while continuing to lease the land and buildings.”

Looking forward, Louise and Hermann see exciting potential. They envision a sense of gusto brought to the farm by folks who, as Louise imagines, “can use the infrastructure to make it their own.”

wildflightfarm.ca


Brianne Fester is grateful to have been involved in organic growing in various capacities since taking a job with Wild Flight Farm in 2013. Brianne is passionate about all things food and is particularly interested in how we can work to create a more just and equitable food system.

Feature image: Bringing in the harvest. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

References:
Cheung, C. (April 20, 2021). To Ease Housing Crisis, BC is Largely looking to Developers as Partners. The Tyee. thetyee.ca/News/2021/04/20/Housing-Crisis-Developers-Partners/
Fawcett-Atkinson, M. (August 12, 2020). Young BC Farmers Can’t Afford Farmland. Canada’s National Observer. nationalobserver.com/2020/08/12/news/young-bc-farmers-cant-afford-farmland

Water, Water Everywhere: Surviving the Floods

in 2022/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Winter 2022

Atmospheric Rivers

Niklaus Forstbauer – Forstbauer Farm, Chilliwack

How do I even begin to describe the month of November for those of us who live in the path of catastrophic weather systems that unleashed flooding, landslides, and washouts throughout our region?

It is difficult to express the dread: the rain falling, water rising around houses and barns, flowing across roadways… Trying to steal a few hours of sleep with the rain pounding hard and no end in sight (and when the rain finally did stop, the flood waters kept rising!). It’s something that has to be experienced to really be understood.

The majority of our farm was under water and machinery had to be pulled to high ground. Livestock had to be moved—keeping them safe, dry, and fed proved to be the most difficult challenge to farmers in this situation. The horrendous toll to animals in BC weighs heavy on the heart of every farmer.

Then we were hit by strong winds. One of our 200-foot cold frame greenhouses (which also serves as a shelter for our chickens) was pulled out of the saturated ground by the strong winds. We waded through three-foot deep water to cut the poly from several of our other cold frames that still had crops in as the wind began to lift them also. On our way in from this devastation I caught a photo of Travis fielding a call from the media (the first of many) seeking comment on the rainstorm, unaware of the fact that we were literally in the midst of it… And that was just the first of several systems to roll through!

One has to step back and wonder “What is going on?” This summer we experienced several weeks of record-breaking temperatures leading to catastrophic fires during the ‘heat dome,’ and this fall British Columbians were introduced to another new term as we experienced several ‘atmospheric rivers’ causing more devastation—and of course there is the global pandemic that still lingers after two years of lockdown. Nature is full of rhythms and cycles, destruction and regeneration. As farmers we see it all around us every day. I’ve recently noticed that when folks ask Travis about an issue on their farm (pests, drought) he’ll point out that the answer is usually there: Nature is trying to tell them something.

Anyway, it’s worth pondering, what is Nature trying to tell us?

Lacinato kale weathering the floods. Credit: Forstbauer Farm.

“We’re one of the the lucky ones”

Corry Spitters – Oranya Farm, Abbotsford

We had no notice. When it hit that morning, I was out at our feed mill. It was raining cats and dogs. We never thought it was going to get worse than what it was, but that was before the Nooksack breached. When the Nooksack broke, it happened in less than an hour, and by then we couldn’t go up and down the road anymore. There was no time to react.

We had no warning, no preparation for something like this. This has happened before, and we’ve come very close in the last few years with rainfalls and flooding where the water was almost breaching the road. If we had some notice, we could have salvaged a lot of equipment to higher ground. Our organic farm is inside of what is the Sumas lake, on the southern beach. We would have been safe except for the Sumas river dike breaking and then flooding the eastern portion of Sumas Prairie, the lakebed.

Oranya Farms is one of the lucky ones. Where our farms are located, the depth of destruction was less. There were guys with eight or nine feet of water, where we had only two or three. Fortunately, we didn’t lose a lot in the service side of things. All of our generators and electrical systems were compromised. We have our own water system, and we are one of the few who didn’t lose power. We are big enough that we have some resiliency and spare equipment. We had some outside help. The army came in—our farm was the one you saw on the news with the military moving birds.

It was more than two weeks before we could start clean up. When we could, we were able to get to work, first removing the mortalities and manure in the flooded floors. Clean-up was a mess, with every manure pit flooded out, every septic flooded out, three inches of sludge. We’re still working on fixing the barns, where we need to replace the insulation, disinfect the walls, and replace damaged wall sections. We also had three houses compromised with flood water, two which could be condemned—we are waiting for the adjuster’s opinions.

Physically, we will get through this.

Some people, like Dave Maartens, another conventional broiler farmer, have to rebuild their whole barns. He was underwater up to the second floor for three weeks. He has to redo all his wiring, and has a month or more wait for a new generator. Legally, you can’t run a chicken farm without a standby generator—the minute you lose power, you have a very short window where those birds will survive. We are completely at the mercy of our control computers for heating, cooling, managing the environment.

Fortunately for dairy and chicken, we do 24-7 yearly production—we’re not all in or all out, we have a return of our cashflow quickly. Vegetable producers who planted fall crops may have lost 50 percent or more of their annual revenue. Most field crop people don’t have the same luxury of resources we do. The turf farm next to us has at least 3 inches of sludge on his turf, vegetable farmers the same. Most of it is manure, but we don’t know what else is in there. There is a question of what that means for organic producers, for soil health and remediation.

Dairy recovery is not going to be as bad, but again, if you don’t have power, you can’t milk cows. It’s the weakest link in the chain that can stop your production.

The flood has been devastating. We are still waiting to see the full financial impact of the losses, but it will be substantial. We lost almost 200,000 birds, most which were within three weeks of shipping. We’re now fully back in production, after getting our first new set of chicks at the beginning of December.

We were completely taken off guard and totally unprepared. We could have mitigated a lot of the trouble that farmers had out there if we had been given better warning, and possibly had a plan in place for just such an event. We will be doing one on our own for our farms in the flood plain for possible future events, God help us!
If you talk to farmers in Sumas Prairie, they all say this shouldn’t have happened. The government has known for 30 years that the dikes needed fixing, since the last flood in the early ‘90s. There was a complete lack of oversight on the US side, where they have known for a long time that the Nooksack needs to be addressed. The people living in Sumas Prairie would like to see something said about what was known—what could have been done, what should have been done.

The municipality did nothing physically to assist farmers with the evacuation—if anything, they hindered farmers getting their livestock out of harm’s way. The policy is to appease where the population is and the farmer doesn’t even get the short end of the stick. But they are starting to realize it’s about more than the farmer. Maybe now they will take these things more seriously.

The community, on the other hand, did a tremendous service in assisting each other.

Greenhouse carnage in the floods. Credit: Forstbauer Farm.

Supporting Our Small-Scale Food Heroes

Brodie Irvine – Discovery Organics

Supply chain and distribution capabilities have been drastically affected by road closures, infrastructure damage, and flooding. Moving produce around our province and outside of our province is now very difficult.

Customers east and north of Hope are having their produce orders routinely delayed and what used to be a one-day ship for delivery is now a minimum of two to three days and in some cases delayed up to six days. That is for produce being shipped from our Vancouver distribution warehouse.

This is making it extremely difficult for our customers to accurately order their produce needs. With multiple suppliers it has meant that with the delays, customers are going days without fresh produce arrivals and then getting multiple orders arriving at the same time. They are then overstocked with aged product that took too long to get to them.

Most of our customer base are independent small retailers and natural food stores that already have a hard time competing with large national retail grocery stores in their communities. The economic and business impact this disruption is having on them cannot be understated. They are essential food hubs supporting local agriculture in their communities, and without them food security within our province is even weaker. We need to do all we can to help them survive this and perhaps even support them more to ensure their success for years to come.

Thankfully, Discovery Organics has opened up a second distribution warehouse in Calgary, Alberta to increase our resiliency and food security, especially through the challenging winter months when freight disruptions and temperature issues often plague the quality and success of moving produce around Western Canada. We turned on the coolers to this warehouse days after the disaster on November 16th.

From our Calgary warehouse we were able to reinstate one-day delivery service to the Prairies, as well as large sections of the Interior of BC (the Okanagan, Golden, Revelstoke) and two-day delivery service to the Kootenays. This has been a herculean effort of freight partners, customers, and Discovery Organics staff all pulling together and being agile and creative.

Above all, the supply chain fallout from the floods exemplifies the importance of food security and supply chains, and that that comes most strongly from small independent organizations that are diverse, creative, and willing to take tremendous risks. They are the ones that we need to support. Folks like Hope Farm in Newlands. Wild Flight Farms in Armstrong, Farmer Cam in Terrace.

Those folks bailed out their communities with a plethora of produce. If the small-scale farmers aren’t the heroes of this story then I don’t know who is.

Getting around by canoe at flooded Forstbauer Farm. Credit: Forstbauer Farm.

Climate Refugees

Michael, Brandie, and Luna – Monkey in the Garden, Spences Bridge

We are terribly heartbroken. We have just come out from total devastation and carnage. Our farm has been completely destroyed.

We were relaxing in the evening when we noticed that the river was rising. In the morning the water was still rising—higher than in the spring when the thaw would happen.

After morning milking, we noticed that the river was coming up into the yard where our bees and two chicken coops were. Next, the water was running between the raised beds of our garlic crop. We joked about flood irrigation working in this system. After a while the garlic beds with 55 planted pounds of our beautiful garlic were all under water. “What a loss,” we thought.

We watched as our few huge evergreens along the river toppled and washed away. A short while later Brandie let me know that the first chicken coop was gone—vanished. It was shortly followed by the second coop. Soon the water was running through our lower orchard.

Meanwhile, the water was rising and rising up towards the house on high—an incredible never before rising of the water. “Chocolate syrup from hell,” said Luna, as it crested our banks frothily.

In the late afternoon milking was happening. The water at that time was moving into the goat and cow barn. I decided to open up the electric fence so that they could jump out if they needed. At that point, the water breached the bank up at our house.

We hurried up to the house to open the door with a foot of water in our kitchen and sunporch. We moved a bunch of stuff up off the ground, moved our vehicles to the top of the driveway, grabbed our valuables and blankets, and spent a cold wet miserable night sleeping in our vehicles, listening to the sounds plop plop plop crash, which was the land eroding and buildings disappearing. Brandie and I were barely sleeping, expecting that our house was going to fall into the river.

Late in the night we both headed out into the moonlight and were relieved to see the light reflecting off of our metal roof on the house. The house was and is safe and secure, though there is a lot of water trapped in the sunporch.

In the morning the devastation was realized. Eight chicken coops and barns, our wellhouse (with our glorious pure cold water), the greenhouse, our shop, 300 fruit trees, 60 chickens and turkeys, our glorious gardens with the many years of soil building—all gone, including the very land that they sat upon. About four acres has completely vanished into the river leaving steep, eroding cliffs 20 feet down to the water. Never in our wildest imaginings could we dream of such devastation.

We had to make the tough choice to leave. We packed as much of our most valuable foods and some clothes. We took hundreds of pounds of the produce that we had grown all season and dumped it outside for our animals, as we knew that the food would be wrecked with the cold weather. All the fresh milk, dumped out for the chickens in buckets.

That night we had a little sleep and got to it again through the morning preparing for a helicopter which might land. We said our goodbyes to our cozy home, knowing it might be a long while until we saw it again. Tearful goodbyes and apologies to our animal friends for not being able to take them along with us.

In the early afternoon the helicopter landed. It was extremely frantic as the rush was on for us to haul our supplies to the helicopter… We had packed heavily 16 wheels of hard aged cheese that Brandie had laboured over the last year, sacks of garlic, onions, carrots, beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, dried fruits, tea herbs—whatever we could grab that would give us a feeling of home during our exodus.

Now we’re refugees with no chance to return home for at least a year or two. We’ll be taking this opportunity to visit friends and family and see the ocean (which Luna hasn’t visited since she was a baby). Once the highway is repaired we’ll be heading back to rebuild the farm. In this time, we’ll be raising funds in any way possible to make it happen as quickly as possible. We have a well to dig, concrete retaining wall to build in front of the house to protect against future floods, a barn and coop to build, fencing to put up, trees to plant, soil to build, and our life to put back together.

Feature image: Oranya Farms on Nicomen Island devastated by flood. Credit: Oranya Farms.

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