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2022 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2022/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

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

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 ( 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.”

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.

Cheung, C. (April 20, 2021). To Ease Housing Crisis, BC is Largely looking to Developers as Partners. The Tyee.
Fawcett-Atkinson, M. (August 12, 2020). Young BC Farmers Can’t Afford Farmland. Canada’s National Observer.

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.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Convergence & Composting Chaos

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Soil/Winter 2022

By Anna Helmer

Well, I am thrilled to discover that the likely theme for this edition of BC Organic Grower magazine is: Composting Chaos. The suggestion that chaos may be composted is encouraging and practical…and it is always a treat to find something compostable that is in such good supply. Further thrills at the possibility of extending the concept to include the composting of lived experiences, especially those whose silver lining is perceived to be absent, invisible, or inadequate. The composting metaphor is very supportive: just stash it all in a heap until a more palatable, useful, and frankly understandable state is revealed.

I am obviously over-thrilled, and I will now tone it down. Composting takes ages, of course. These things don’t happen overnight.

I am certainly not over-thrilled at what I feel was a weak performance this year on the farm, biodynamically speaking. I didn’t accomplish very much of what I set out to do. I had grand plans to make some preparations, attend more zoom lectures, plant the garden according to the Celestial Planting Calendar, and generally advance myself towards being thought of as a wise, middle-aged, biodynamic farmer.

In fact, I didn’t do any of that, and I even took steps backwards. Not in ageing, unfortunately. Still relentlessly marching along that path, sorry to say.

The season started with a good old case of undermining myself: I did not apply BD 500 to the carrot field even though I have always known that a good carrot crop is conditional upon a spring application of BD 500. Other factors contribute of course: a June 1 planting date, into moist soil prepared just so; the crop to be hand-weeded twice, mechanically weeded thrice; judiciously watered but not wantonly; and harvest commencing no earlier than the third Monday in August. All that and very little more often guarantees a successful carrot crop in terms of yield, storability, and most importantly taste.

Early in the spring I improperly mixed BD 500 using assorted batches of stale-dated preparation—just to get rid of the clutter, really. I applied it within flinging distance of the barrel in a non-intentional manner. I didn’t go anywhere near the carrot-field-to-be, assuming I could be relied upon to complete the task closer to the planting date, at a more propitious time indicated by the calendar, and with something a little fresher and properly prepared. I did not do that.

I thought for sure the carrot crop was doomed but that was just the beginning. We proceeded to somehow insert change into just about every other aspect of successful Helmer carrot cropping procedure. Planting dates, seeder set-up, spacing, cultivation plan, mechanical weeding plan, and watering schedule: it was carrot chaos, really.

Jumping to the end of what has become a boring carrot story, we got a big crop of great-tasting carrots that seems to be storing well. It is an absolute mystery of variables, and I must kick myself for failing to properly apply BD 500 because now that doesn’t get to be part of the success calculus.

Hence, I am extra keen to flatter myself that the cull potato compost pile, carefully finished with some lovely compost preparations from our friends at the Biodynamic Association of BC, is quite gloriously successful. In terms of structure and appearance it does indeed look promising: it looks like a heap of rich dark soil and there are no longer potatoes visible.

It did not look at all promising to begin with, and although it reached temperature twice, I think that just encouraged the potatoes to grow more, seeing as they were nice and warm. With great gobs of them merrily sprouting and creating new potatoes it all seemed a bit futile.

My final move was to mix it, pile it nicely, cover it with hay, and apply the compost preparations. Since then, it has been through a heat dome and three heat waves, then three months of solid rain. It sits perched on a bit of high ground in a flooded field. It has basically been abandoned.   

The current plan, then, is to ignore it till next spring. I’ll open it up for a look and decide if it is ready for that most stern test of quality: application to soil. Expectations are managed.

In the meantime, I am building the next cull potato compost pile, adding a few hundred pounds every other week or so as we wash and sort the crop. It looks like more culls than last year. There are whacks of maple and birch leaves layered in, and hay. I’d like to get some seaweed, next time I am at the seashore, and I am considering drenching it from time to time with BD 500, the Biodynamic gateway drug of which I’ve got extra.

My biodynamic journey chugs along, I suppose, although I am refraining from setting biodynamic goals for next season. I am still far too busy composting the last one.

Anna Helmer farms with her family in Pemberton, BC where the current mission is finding the right winter work gloves.

Feature image: Compost in hand. Credit: Thomas Buchan.

What is Agriculture’s Legacy?

in 2022/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Organic Standards/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2022

Book Review: Toxic Legacy by Stephanie Seneff

By Hans Forstbauer

I recently read Toxic Legacy by Stephanie Seneff, a quintessential book on the agricultural chemical glyphosate. Her book has assembled and consolidated decades of research and data giving an in-depth explanation of the devastating impact this chemical has had—and continues to have—on not only human life, but all life on earth.

When glyphosate was patented as an herbicide in 1974, they said it was as safe as drinking water. My first thought was, how could something that kills everything be as safe as drinking water?

I was introduced to this chemical at a horticultural short course in the late ’70s. The instructor of the course was the head of the Federal Research Centre in Saanich, where they tested pesticides for approval for use on agricultural crops for Health Canada.

At the end of his presentation, the instructor said there is one caveat: do not use the chemical glyphosate in your greenhouses because it will take three to four years before anything will grow again. This led me to the conclusion that it doesn’t disappear; in fact, it remains in the environment for many years after use. In a greenhouse setting, water evaporates and condenses on the plastic or glass of the greenhouse and falls back down on the plants. The plants die. The glyphosate doesn’t disappear; it remains in the water and continues to kill. The lie that it disappears was exposed, yet the marketing machine continued even when they knew what they were selling was a lie.

Despite the known dangers of glyphosate, today close to 4.2 billion pounds are being used annually worldwide. Bayer, the chemical company who is now responsible for the use of glyphosate, agreed to pay over 10 billion dollars to end glyphosate-related law suits in the USA. Currently, 32 countries are in the process of fully or partially banning the use of glyphosate. But just this year, Canada and the USA approved the use of glyphosate for another 13 to 15 years! By 2023, Bayer will be withdrawing glyphosate from the retail market; it will only be available for agricultural use. Which leads me to ask: if it isn’t safe for the average person to use, how is it safe for it to be used on the food we eat?

Hans Forstbauer. Credit: Forstbauer Farm

Today as I sit here and try to make sense of the apparent insanity of what seems to be the “zeitgeist” of our time, I feel the sting of smoke-filled air in my nostrils, my mouth, my lungs, and my eyes. Yes, it is 1:30 in the morning and it is 26 degrees outside. This surely must be a record high/low. Earlier it was 38 degrees Celsius and as the sun went across the western sky, it looked like a filtered moon because of all the smoke.

Global warming is really kicking in. There are floods, winds, fires, and a pandemic across the entire globe like never experienced before. The reasons for this seeming catastrophe of global warming is the excessive use of fossil fuels and the way our agriculture and the world food systems are set up. Studies show that chemical farming not only makes us sick, but also makes everything it comes in contact with sick or dead. Furthermore, it stops carbon sequestering. Studies show that organic practices can sequester up to 16 tonnes of carbon per acre per year. One of the deadliest chemicals ever approved for use in agriculture is glyphosate, more commonly known as Round Up. A chemical that kills all living plants and a whole range of bacteria probably isn’t that safe. We were told it disappears rapidly, but because it is water soluble, it only appears that way.

Genetically engineered crops, such as corn, soy, and cotton are modified to be glyphosate-resistant which guarantees the use of glyphosate. More than 65 countries label GMO foods, including the USA (using QR codes). Despite more than 80% of Canadians wanting GMO foods labeled, two free parliamentary votes to label GMO foods in Canada failed to pass both times. What is wrong with our country? Why is glyphosate so bad and why is it still so widely used?

Einstein said, “Don’t do anything that goes against your conscience even if your government says so.” Many world governments, including our own, say the use of glyphosate is safe, but there is overwhelming evidence that it is not. To change the world, we have to become more active, more organized, more passionate, and more vocal about how our life is directly impacted by the life around us and in us. It is not good enough to just farm organically and regeneratively when the overwhelming majority of agribusiness which is so closely linked to the fossil fuel industry is making our earth, us included, sick.

Become educated, become aware. Read Toxic Legacy by Stephanie Seneff and as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Just thoughts,

Hans Forstbauer, the natural earth farmer.

Feature image: Spraying pesticides in California. Credit: USDA Photo by Charles O’Rear.

Extension in BC?

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Land Stewardship/Soil/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2022

The Untapped Potential for Agriculture

By Chris Bodnar

At the end of a recent visit to my colleague Lydia Ryall’s farm in Delta, we agreed that having the opportunity to visit each other’s farms and talk shop is an incredibly valuable practice. But in reality, it’s tricky to fit into a busy schedule. It was the first time I had made it back to Cropthorne Farm for a visit in a decade.

“I mean, it takes time to plan and organize. Being able to get together as larger groups is more efficient and offers more opportunities to network,” Lydia says. “Whose job is that? Really, that’s what extension would be for, but we don’t have that.”

The Big Gap in BC Agriculture

What Lydia referred to that day had me thinking about the missed opportunities we have in agriculture. Being able to share knowledge through on-farm field days, practical research participation, and collective problem solving is invaluable. But it’s all too rare that these opportunities come about.

Extension services in BC are rare, but not far from the minds of many in the sector. A decade ago, the organic sector had a provincially-funded extension agent for a short period. Certain sectors and regions have examples of excellent extension services.

Recent research by Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems shows a clear desire for extension services amongst organic growers in the province, but also a gap in understanding the potential services that could be provided. Only 52% of respondents to the survey had previously heard of agricultural extension, but 80% saw a clear benefit to the organic sector of having a province-wide, coordinated extension service.

The main areas of need growers identified were around soil health stewardship, pest management, and vegetable production. Those who see a benefit to extension identify three primary barriers that limit access: lack of available services, cost, and distance from services.

In a province as vast as BC with significant climactic differences and geographic barriers, now facing rapid climate change, the need for networking and sharing knowledge might be the key to developing resilience in the sector.

Orchard demonstration. Credit: Molly Thurston.

Boots on the Ground: It’s About Connection

When Molly Thurston talks about doing extension work, her enthusiasm is obvious. And after working for 13 years doing extension work with BC Tree Fruits Cooperative, Molly has enjoyed the hands-on experience of working with farmers.

“Extension is really boots on the ground, connection between what’s happening in the research community and what’s happening on the farm level,” she explains. “It often bridges the gap between the farm level and the industry itself.”

During her time with BC Tree Fruits Cooperative and now as a farmer and horticultural consultant, Molly appreciates the relationships extension services can build amongst farmers. The value of extension services is having local experts supporting growers with problem-solving and information-sharing.

“I’ve always been attracted to extension because it’s science, it’s communication, it’s understanding the needs of the growers and being able to communicate those needs up to researchers and industry to advocate for that work to be done,” says Molly. “And it’s then taking the information that comes out of the research and policy realms and breaking it into pieces that are manageable at the farm scale. I would call that technology transfer—growing techniques, growing practices, policy changes, economics that are applied by the farmer.”

What are Agricultural Extension Services?

Kwantlen’s 2020 report outlined how extension services could benefit the organic sector in BC. The report explains that the concept of extension originated in Europe in the 1850s. The term “extension” comes from the idea of extending or disseminating useful information from universities to the greater population.

In Canada, extension services were funded by the federal government and delivered by provincial governments until cutbacks in the 1980s reduced and eventually eliminated extension services. Extension programs continue in many parts of the US through over 100 land-grant colleges and universities.

The Kwantlen report describes extension as “strategic applied research, information transfer and communication, and knowledge/method/tool adoption programming,” where “sector and community development is the primary purpose.”

Extension can address any number of topics, ranging from soil fertility management through to economic factors to develop the sector. The focus of extension can include technical, social, environmental, economic, and other aspects of the food and agriculture sector.

Extension agents become a key link between growers and researchers.  They develop strategies to share applied research and techniques with and amongst growers. They also provide feedback from growers to researchers and policy experts to help them understand the needs of the agricultural sector.

What this looks like in a practical setting is informal education methods, such as on-farm research and demonstration, field days, technical publications, workshops, conferences, seminars, and short courses. In many instances, extension agents help coordinate farmer-to-farmer information sharing.

Orchard inspection. Credit: Molly Thurston

The Kootenays and Current Extension Programming

Although extension services are no longer provided through the province, there is an example of extension happening right now that has demonstrated a number of benefits.

Rachael Roussin has been a program coordinator for the Kootenay & Boundary Farm Advisors (KBFA) for over five years. The KBFA delivers extension services to growers throughout the Kootenays.

“The extension priorities were established by our funders,” says Rachael. “The emphasis was one-on-one technical support for commercial producers in all sectors. Boots on the ground was a big priority and we took it from there.”

The program is supported financially by the Columbia Basin Trust along with three regional districts.

Rachael explains that the experimental nature of problem-solving and innovation can be supported by extension.

“There is so much need to demonstrate what works on the ground for folks to adopt new methods. Producers are very curious and they are always trying new things but there is very little margin for error as profits are slim. For example, we cannot expect a small-scale organic farmer to invest $500 into a new type of cover crop that might not yield the desired results,” Rachael says.

“Every farm that I know is a living lab with continuous experimentation. We could speed up adoption and help producers avoid mistakes if we could share success stories. It includes sharing producer’s experiences in their region for their market and growing conditions.”

In Rachael’s work she has witnessed the improved communication in the agricultural sector between farmers as well as with provincial agencies, experts, and researchers. “There is a greater sense about who is doing what, the challenges, opportunities, and what farmers are interested in working on and what supports they require.”

For Rachael, their program has been able to meet the needs of growers in the Kootenays and offer opportunities that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

“We are bringing producers together and talking about the things that they are interested in through field days, workshops, and events. Networking is crucial in agriculture and farmers don’t usually have the time to self-organize. We have also been able to tailor extension services specifically to the topics and goals of our region’s farmers by talking with them and asking them what they want to hear about. Producers show up because they asked for it. It’s a collaborative approach to extension and support.”

The Need for Extension In BC

Andrew Adams of Hope Farm Organics near Prince George recognizes the need for extension services tailored to bioregions throughout BC. As a farmer and proponent of agriculture in the North, he has worked with other growers in the region to identify the opportunities for farming at higher latitudes.

“If we are to increase the agricultural production of BC and create a more resilient system, surely extension and research will be a bottleneck that will become necessary to open,” Andrew says. “With the lack of educational opportunities in university to train new farmers up here, there are no new farmers created here in this specific region with its specific needs.”

During his time in the North, Andrew has identified the need for on-the-ground regional expertise to support resilience in agriculture and the food system. This is the result of differences in everything from culture and geography to geology and climate.

“A gleysol in the Lower Mainland is not the same as a gleysol in the Omineca in its origin parent material. Its chemistry is different, which can affect methods of soil amending,” Andrew says. “Most labs and qualified individuals deal largely with soils of major agriculture centres and thus specific soil series.”

In the absence of provincial funding, whether extension services are developed going forward will be up to regional governments to decide whether they have the desire to support agricultural development. Alternatively, the organic sector could work with private donors, universities, and public agencies to gather resources to attempt extension services again.

Whether or not this happens, it’s clear that the province is losing out on developing the full potential of its agricultural sector without greater on-the-ground support.

Chris Bodnar co-owns and operates Close to Home Organics with his wife, Paige, at Glen Valley Organic Farm in Abbotsford.

Feature image: Molly Thurston inspects a cherry tree with a colleague Credit: Molly Thurston.

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