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Organic Stories: Wildflight Farm – Secwepemeceulecw, Mara BC

in 2022/Crop Production/Current Issue/Farmers' Markets/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

Biodynamic Farm Story: Convergence & Composting Chaos

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Current Issue/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.

Organic Conversion

in Current Issue/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards

With a booming $8.138 billion in annual sales, Canada is the sixth largest organic market in the world. Yet, despite double digit production growth, demand continuously outpaces supply in Canada. Two thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly, and organic is the fastest growing sector of the Canadian agricultural landscape.

Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) launched the Organic Conversion Support Program in 2019, through the Support Organic Change Fund, to assist producers as they convert their operations to certified organic to meet this global demand. The program is privately funded by sponsors Seeds of Change and Mill Street Brewery.

The program supports producers financially with their incurred transition costs by reimbursing part, or all, of their certification costs as a transition incentive. Since the program’s inception, 94 producers have been supported nationally to convert 8,483 acres.

Since 2019, the program participation numbers have increased steadily by 79%. The number of funded producers by region are: Quebec with 60, BC with 12, the Prairies with 7, the Maritimes with 4, and Ontario with 3. The program covered a staggering 64.18% of the total certification costs for producers across the country.

COTA is thrilled to announce that the program will be continuing into its third year with the proud support of industry sponsors. The Organic Conversion Support Program is accepting applications for the 2021 program which will be accepted until June 30th, 2022.

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis for producers who are in the process of converting, or who become certified in 2021 or 2022. To qualify for the program, farmers must be in their pre-certification phase, or increasing their acreage or livestock on an already certified farm. The program covers organic certification and consultation expenses, up to a maximum reimbursement of $1,000.

Interested in applying? Verify your eligibility, complete an application and return it to info@canada-organic.ca.

Contact cbernard@canada-organic.ca with any questions.

A Summer of Drought, Heat Waves, and Fire

in 2021/Climate Change/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community

It is definitely a topsy-turvy world right now—so much is out of balance as we can see in the wildfires around us, as well as flooding and more fires around the world. We’re feeling for Mother Earth and recognize the shifts that humans (particularly the extractivist, endless-growth mindsets) need to make to start to repair what we have messed with (which is a LOT). We are grateful that things aren’t so out of balance that we can still grow good food for family and farm friends, building relationships, and where we can do better, be better.”
~ Michelle Tsutsumi, Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC

Throughout the province, temperatures reached record highs in late June, with seasonal temperatures fluctuating in the high 30’s for long periods of time in the Interior. Smoke from hundreds of fires choked out the sun and left the earth and plants parched for water and sun scorched. What follows is a collection of stories from organic farmers in their own words and as told to Marjorie Harris. Gratitude to the farmers who shared their harrowing experiences and stories of community coming together.

Farming under red skies in the thick of the fires. Credit: Fresh Valley Farms.

The biggest impact of the fires has been on our own mental and physical (respiratory) health. It wouldn’t even be that bad if it wasn’t on top of this ongoing drought, but as it is, the uncertainty of the situation is a lot to deal with.”
Annelise Grube-Cavers, Fresh Valley Farms, Armstrong

Coping with Heat Waves & Drought

By Marjorie Harris

The cherry crop experienced losses of 30% due to extreme temperatures up to 51 degrees for one or two days, followed by extended days of extreme temperatures. The cherry harvest was just beginning and the cherries were burned up, basically dehydrated and shriveled on the trees. One full block had to be abandoned. Many cherry farmers in the area lost entire blocks of trees to heat and water demands causing orchard abandonments.
~ Jarnail Gill, Blossom River Organics, Keremeos

At the end of June, the Oliver area was hit with two days of 47 degree temperatures, which then stayed over 40 degrees for many days. If the plants were not given enormous amounts of water they would have dried out. Hans used 40% to 50% more water this year than ever in his 40 years on the vineyard. Because of the high heat the evapotranspiration rate is very high and the water is needed by the plant to cool itself. If there is not sufficient water for the plant to do this the stomata on the leaf will close and the plant will completely shut down growth. The plant can burn up if it can’t cool, or take three to four weeks to start again. Also, some winter hardiness could be lost if the plants come back too late in the season. Therefore, the only choice available to save the plants and the vineyard was to water. Pumping from the well does have limited resources and thankfully not as much water is needed now. High temperatures combined with the large amount of water the vines did go into leaf growth. The bunches are very uneven in size and most are smaller berries that will not size up. Harvest season looks like it may be two weeks ahead.
~ Hans Buchler, Park Hill Vineyards, Oliver

In late June, temperatures soared over 40 degrees for five days peaking at 45 degrees. The Sunrise is our first summer apple and the first to be assessed for the damaging effects of the very intense heat that we had so early in the season. While the sun burning to the most exposed fruit is very deep and unsightly, it doesn’t appear to have affected a large percentage of the Sunrise crop. There may also have been some premature ripening in some of the Sunrise but on the whole pressures seem to be holding steady. Harvest dates are about the same as last year. Sunrise apples like most summer apples have relatively short storage life and don’t seem to be affected by internal quality issues as may be the case for some of the later apple varieties which rely on their storability.
~ Sally and Wilfrid Mennell, Sally Mennell’s Orchard, Cawston

Sunrise apples damaged by extreme heat in Cawston. Ranch. Credit: Sally Mennell’s Orchard.

David is a third-generation apple farmer in the BX area of Vernon, where temperatures reached over 44 degrees. The cider apple orchard is on a metered municipal treated water system. The trees needed more water than ever before, but a balance had to be made between keeping the trees alive and the economics of paying more for metered water than the business can afford. David admits to running on gut instinct to keep the orchard going all around. Far less scab sprays were applied. The apples are smaller across the whole orchard.

David explained that once temperature goes above 30 degrees, the trees shut down growth and the apples stay small. David shows me how on the hottest days the sun scorched the south facing fruit, baked to apple sauce on the trees, and now the hardened skins have split. The Gala and the Ambrosia hold the sun-damaged fruit and these have to be hand removed. As a third-generation farm, some blocks still have very low-density plantings; the large leafy canopies on these trees helped to protect the fruit. Overall, David says it looked like the orchard was starting to recover from the first heat wave and now with the second heat wave upon the orchard the growth is definitely slowing, “but who knows how the season will turn out,” David says, grinning a big smile.
~ David Dobernigg, The BX Press, Vernon

Saving the Farm

By Marjorie Harris with story from Rob Vanderlip: Zaparango Organic Farm, Westwold

The farm was blanketed with thick smoke for weeks before the fire arrived. The last planting of potatoes was struggling and lanky with the sun for photosynthesis. After the fires, the potatoes grew like crazy with steady fire prevention irrigation, hot weather and lots of carbon dioxide, green growth for weeds and crops vigorously filling out the plants.

On Aug 5th Robert Vanderlip, his son Chelan and everyone else in Westwold were ordered to evacuate from the approaching out-of-control fire that had just left Monte Lake as scorched earth. Rob, 69 years old, and Chelan, 32, opted to stay and try to save the family farm by fighting the fires.

An eerie orange sky at Fresh Valley Farm. Credit: Fresh Valley Farm.

In Rob’s own words he said “On Thursday, August 5th at 5pm the fire came over the forested mountain from Monte Lake like a locomotive engine barreling down his dried out native grass hayfield, then stopping at the green alfalfa and corn fields, to split east and west back into the forest and down the railway tracks heading into the town of Westwold. The flock of 70 sheep, free ranging ducks and chickens crowded into the green pastures.”

Rob and Chelan sprung into action pulling the 200 gal Turbo-mist sprayer tank with the Massey 35 diesel tractor to hose-down the understory along the railway tracks and put out fires in the circuit around the farm. One hour into the firefight electric power was lost to pump water from the wells to fill the sprayer tank. Fortunately, one of the wells was located high enough upslope to gravity feed fill the sprayer tank and keep the livestock troughs constantly full with water. Fire crews from Alexis Creek arrived in two hours and the Kelowna fire department also responded by 10pm but there was no power to fill the fire crew tanks. Rob and Chelan had set up sprinklers, and by 4am they had succeeded in preventing fire from entering Westwold.

The Zaparango family farm lost a hydro pole, two tool sheds and thousands of dollars in tools on day one of the fire. The fire battle on the homefront lasted another seven or eight days. Rob and Chelan volunteered and then were hired on by BC Wildfire service as guides for the roads and terrain of the fire suppression area.

Rob highly recommends that everyone keep gas generators with fuel on hand for emergency power. His 120-volt generator kept five freezers, three fridges and the fuel pump going throughout. A 240-volt generator was brought in on August 7th to power pumps for the two domestic wells to fill fire fighting water tanks.

Fire Evacuation

By Tristan Banwell, Spray Creek Ranch, Lillooet

As I steered my tractor through the corners on my biggest hayfield, the thermometer was showing temperatures in the high 40s and humidity below 10%. I watched an enormous pyrocumulus cloud form to the north as the McKay Creek Fire took hold. The following afternoon, smoke rapidly plumed to the south as our sister town of Lytton was devastated. The days that followed feel like weeks in my memory. The whole team shifted to fire preparations—ensuring livestock were in safer locations, setting out water lines to protect structures, and clearing away flammable items. The farm crew displaced from Solstedt Organics in Lytton showed up the next night. (The Standard requires that organic farm evacuees relocate to another organic farm… Just kidding.) After just 36 hours came the 3am evacuation order—text alerts and officers knocking at the door. By 9am, 11 farm residents and several recently arrived evacuees were dispersing with beloved possessions to other safe locations, and I was left to plan, prepare and take care of the livestock.

Protecting the family home with irrigation. Credit: Spray Creek Ranch.

Thankfully for us, the evacuation order was premature (better than late!) and the crew and family returned days later. I learned a lot from the experience. We went into this somewhat prepared—the buildings are fire-resistant, fuels in the forest are managed, most tools we need are around here…somewhere… But, all those wildfire plans are in my own head, depending on me to direct implementation. The farmstead looks different under threat of fire than it did the day prior, and we realized a lot more can be accomplished in advance. The tools need to be staged, the preparations need to be completed before the emergency, and the plans need to be on paper. We need backup power in case the grid goes down.

I learned that there is a network of support out there, but when you need those extra hands, it could be too late or unsafe. I also learned that although friends and family were concerned that I would be in danger from the fire itself, the risks I faced were familiar. Working alone. Operating machinery. Making decisions and taking action while affected by fatigue and stress. It is crucial to take time to rest and recover, even when it feels that every moment counts.

In so many ways, we have been fortunate thus far through the difficult summer of 2021. Our creek-fed irrigation water is holding up. The wildfires throughout the Interior have not yet raged through our farmstead, pastures and range. The systems we have in place to protect our livestock from the intense heat have worked. Some of this is luck, some is good planning and preparation. Even as we build diversity and resilience into our agroecological systems and businesses, we always rely on a little bit of grace from Mother Nature. This season has been a good reminder that we must also prepare for moments when there may be none.”

Smoke billows over a nearby mountain range at Solstedt Organics. Credit: Solstedt Organics.

Running on Fumes: Solstedt Organics

By Ashala Daniel, Solstedt Organics, Lytton BC

On June 30th, a CN train sparked just outside the town of Lytton, the closest town to my farm. Within half an hour, the town had burned to the ground. My land partner’s son had a place in town and raced to see if he could save anything but couldn’t even make it into town as there were propane tanks exploding and the whole town was on fire. That night, I sat in my pond and cried. For the town and for fear of that fire jumping the river and coming towards us.

We were evacuated from the west side on Thursday and I travelled to the city to deliver to restaurants and sell at the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market. It was surreal being in the city, crying a lot, putting out a donation jar for Lytton, while back at the farm, the fire had indeed jumped the Fraser river and was burning just five miles south of the farm.

My husband travelled back to the farm on Sunday with me as locals had been fighting the fire for three nights and needed relief. BC Forestry had only just started to show up. A friend joined us and they joined the local crew fighting the fire at night while Forestry fought it during the day. I made food, irrigated my and my neighbour’s farm and harvested. Again, it felt so pointless, but it was all I could do. A crew from New Brunswick showed up and were stationed at our fire for 14 days, evacuation orders were lifted and people started to return to the farm.

Since then, it has been a struggle with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District to travel roads to the highway, making our journey seven hours instead of four. The fire continues to burn and now First Nation communities south of us have been evacuated. The Fraser Canyon is closed as I write this as the fire was getting very close to the highway and now, with torrential rain last night, a mudslide has made the highway unpassable. I may be forced to travel up to Lillooet and down the Sea-to-Sky highway when I go to the city this week. The Duffey Lake road is horrible and scary with a big cube van and most trips involve groups of people in their fast cars cutting me off in dangerous spots all the way.

I was talking to my neighbours this morning and we all agreed that we are running on fumes. Which isn’t uncommon for farmers in the summer, but the added element of threat of fire for six weeks has really shattered all of us. It’s hard being in the city and hearing people say “Oh, you’re famous,” when they know my farm is in Lytton. I know people don’t know what to say around tragedy. But it’s very hard to keep a smile on my face and make that person feel welcome in my booth at the farmer’s market. I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m exhausted, I’m on edge, and I’m also so deeply grateful to still have my farm, my livelihood, and my home.


Featured image: Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC

Federal Government Set to Abandon Organic Agriculture

in 2021/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Organic Standards/Standards Updates

By Jim Robbins

The Canadian government is dropping funding for the review and interpretation of the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). The Standards must be updated every five years in order to remain relevant to evolving organic practice and in order to be useful in organic equivalency agreements with other countries.

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) did contribute significantly to the 2015 and 2020 reviews of the COS, but it has alerted the organic sector that it will not fund any future reviews and will insist that the organic industry pay for this mandatory process, a budget of over $1M every five years. Moreover, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has confirmed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will drop funding of the Standards Interpretation Committee, which has been funded since 2009 by the CFIA. This committee resolves disputes between certification bodies and organic operators, and prevents fraud and misinterpretation of organic practices.

AAFC claims that they support maintenance of assurance systems related to sustainability as they look to make industry more resilient and competitive, and that there is much to be drawn from the organic sector. They argue that they have funded projects submitted by organic organizations for market development, strengthening of organic supply chains, development of the National Organic Ingredient Strategy, and a few other projects over the past ten years.

However, without the COS, which is the skeleton of the whole organic industry, these contributions will have no future impact. A lapsed Standard will not convince consumers to buy Canadian organic food, nor will it convince importers of organic food in other countries to buy Canadian; in fact, it will make it impossible.

American and European organic operators do not have to lobby their respective governments every five years for funding of the maintenance and enforcement of their organic standards. On the contrary, the United States Department of Agriculture directly funds the administration of their National Organic Program. The European Commission has a Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, which is responsible for developing and managing the European Union organic production framework, including an expert group for technical advice.

Organic agriculture is recognized as an efficient tool for reducing greenhouse gases, building soils, and enhancing biodiversity. Amid a summer of drought and fires threatening food production in many Canadian provinces, organic systems offer a method of reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment while sustainably producing high quality food.

However, without an ongoing organic standard defining what organic production systems are, and without a fair enforcement mechanism protecting organic integrity, organic agriculture lacks the tools that it needs to maintain growth and provide the ecological services it is capable of producing.


Jim is an organic producer from Delisle, Saskatchewan, growing field crops and raising cattle. He has been President of the Organic Federation of Canada since 2016.

Feature image: Photo: Seedlings at Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks

Welcome to Organic BC

in 2021/Fall 2021/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards

By Stacey Santos

The Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) is now officially Organic BC! In early July, we launched our new website and brand, and along with it, new opportunities for growth, collaboration, and inclusivity.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about the journey and why we decided to undertake such a massive project—one that unexpectedly coincided with the onset of COVID-19 in our province, making it an exceptionally busy and challenging year!

The driving force behind the major change was the fact that our brand and website no longer accurately represented our organization. We outgrew them. They remained securely in place while we expanded, adapted, and continued to accomplish so many excellent things for our members and the organic sector.

And so, the journey began to create a fresh, revitalized, and inviting presence that truly reflects our community and our organization. In the spirit of COABC’s grassroots origins, the Organic BC project was a team effort that brought together staff, members, and volunteers. It’s not easy to build a new website from scratch along with a new brand, but our team really came together to navigate the challenges with experience, creativity, and a much-needed sense of humour.

Deciding on a name was perhaps the easiest part of this project. Organic BC is a reflection of our vision, toward an organic British Columbia, and invites everyone, from organic farmers and farmers-to-be, to consumers and government, to be a part of our community. We worked with an amazing designer, Sandra Hanson, to bring our vision to life. Our logo font is vintage, a nod to our roots, and brings visual interest and a natural, earthy feel.

A lush farmers market display at UBC Farm. Credit: Hannah Lewis.

An important note on our new name: Organic BC is our public-facing brand. Currently, all accreditation activities, internal documentation from the Accreditation Board, and certification body documentation will remain as is and does not need to be updated from COABC to Organic BC. That said, if there are any references to COABC in logos, text, or links on your website/materials, please update those!

The new website, built by a Vernon-based web company, was created with community in mind, and features new tools for organic farmers, prospective organic farmers, consumers, and anyone looking to learn more about what it means to be organic. It connects users to educational events and job postings and offers the latest information and resources on organic agriculture, certification, and opportunities to get involved and help shape the sector.

We’ve spent the last couple of months settling into our new brand and website and are now focused on unleashing the potential of our hard work. We thank everyone for your support during this journey and we can’t wait to take Organic BC to new heights!

We invite you to explore our website, get involved in the #thisisorganicbc community on social media, and celebrate with us as we continue to champion and advocate for a healthy, diverse and resilient food system.

Instagram: @thisisorganicbc
Facebook: @thisisorganicbc
Twitter: @thisisorganicbc
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Funding for Organic BC’s website and online tools has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

Featured image: Erin at Fierce Love Farm with carrot harvest. Credit: Fierce Love Farm.

Organic Stories: Kloverdalen Farm – K’ómoks Territory, Courtenay, BC

in 2021/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Summer 2021

Learning and Sharing at Kloverdalen Farm

Moss Dance

Kloverdalen Farm is a beautiful patch of great farmland in the Comox Valley producing mixed organic veggies. It is owned and operated by Kira Kotilla and Ingemar Dalen, along with their two adorable kids, Eilif and Olin.

I met Kira Kotilla in the Comox Valley. My five-acre farm was just down the road from where she grew up in Merville, BC. We both learned and apprenticed in the early- to mid-2000’s with some of the same mentors on southern Vancouver Island.

When she saw what I was up to with small-scale mixed organic veggies, she generously offered to come over and help out a few days a week. She taught me all kinds of things about soil and plant science, got a lot of work done, and she was really good with the tractor. She says one of the things she gleaned from that time on my farm was experience creating real hardpan! Oops.

Luckily for me, I sold the tractor and bought a walk-behind rototiller, and those early days of her volunteering on my farm ended up creating a lot of collaboration, learning, and fun. We ended up becoming co-founding members of Merville Organics Growers’ Cooperative with Arzeena Hamir, Neil Turner, Russell Heitzmann, Calliope Gazetas, and Robin Sturley.

By the time we met in 2013, Kira was well into her explorations of profitable small-scale farming. And her interest in techniques and tools that increase farm profitability was a huge boon for Merville Organics. Like many of us, she was originally drawn to farming by the ideals and the way of life it could offer. “I was inspired by my love of plants,” she says, “I wanted to work outside, and being very independent, I wanted to work on my own.”

So she did her homework. Kira wasn’t content to pursue her dreams without doing the research first to make sure it was a life path that could support her well.

Kira’s incredible cabbages. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Early Farm Mentors

It’s amazing to think about the ways in which we all, as organic farmers, come from various tributaries into this river of organic agriculture, finding mentors along the way who lead us into pockets of communities across the country.

Kira first became interested in farming in the mid-2000’s, and found her way to Nova Scotia Agricultural College. She remembers thinking, “I hope there are organic farming courses there.” Once she was settled in at school, she realized that the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) was headquartered there, and many of her professors were a part of the OACC! These early mentors in organic agriculture lead to Kira’s first apprenticeship in Nova Scotia. Ever practical, Kira knew her dreams needed to be tested. During her school and apprenticeship years, she watched her mentors carefully to see if farming would be financially viable and worth trying in her own life.

She had a revelatory moment at a workshop by Crop Planning for Organic Farmers author and Ferme Coopérative Tourne-Sol farmer Daniel Brisebois. “Daniel inspired me at an ACORN conference back in 2008. He was one of the first speakers I’d ever heard who made me think being a small-scale organic farmer was a viable option.”

From there, she had to decide where to dig in and start her own farm. “I had a really great time at school in Nova Scotia and was really tempted to stay out there and buy land,” she says, “but I came back to BC.”

Kira’s encounter with Daniel Brisebois and the organic agriculture community in Nova Scotia had piqued her interest in co-operatives, so when she returned to BC, she was drawn to working with Rachel Fisher at Three Oaks Farm, one of the co-founding members of Saanich Organics. She spent the 2011 season in a Stewards Of Irreplaceable Land (SOIL) apprenticeship with Rachel, and learned about collaborative farming with the other farmers at Saanich Organics, Heather Stretch and Robin Tunnicliffe. During her apprenticeship, she mentions that the “educational field trips with SOIL connected me to many other mentors as well.”

By the time Kira ended up back in the Comox Valley, she was well-educated, and keen to get started on her own projects.

Ingemar Dalen shares Kira’s passion for sizeable brassicas. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Never Stop Learning

Kira and Ingemar purchased their farm in 2014, a sweet 4.25-acre parcel right on a rural highway for excellent exposure and farm stand potential. She planted a garlic patch, and was planning to go back to camp cooking for one more season to save up money when Arzeena Hamir called her up and invited her to join Merville Organics Growers’ Cooperative. Kira decided to abandon her camp cooking plans and dive in that season, growing some staple crops for the co-op.

Once the co-op ball started rolling, the learning curve drew her in again, and of course, many new mentors appeared along the way. In that first year of farm operation, Kira and two other Merville Organics farmers had an opportunity to join the Business Mentorship Program via Young Agrarians with John and Katy Ehrlich at Alderlea Farm. Kira and I also took part in the Young Agrarians Business Mentorship Program and were matched with Frédéric Thériault at Ferme Coopérative Tourne-Sol, who helped to guide us in developing our cooperative business structures, financial goals, and principles of operation.

Kira continues to pursue educational opportunities wherever she can. Recently she had a chance to participate in the B.C. Agri-Business Planning Program and was matched with Chris Bodnar of Close to Home Organics.

Little Olin keeping busy on the farm. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Favourite Crops

“People keep calling me the cabbage queen and I keep forgetting that I have this unsquashable drive to grow cabbage,” quips Kira. “But I’m trying really hard to grow less cabbage all the time. I try to find smaller varieties but they keep turning out twice as large as the seed catalogue says!”

The fact that Kira can’t grow a small cabbage is a testament to her excellent farming skills. That low-tillage approach is really working for her—the soil biology at Kloverdalen is off the charts.

Kira has had to diversify for this coming season, since Merville Organics Growers’ Cooperative recently dissolved. As it turned out, all the current farmer members found themselves outgrowing the need for a marketing co-operative, so they all struck out on their own. Despite Kira’s penchant for cabbage, she now has to grow the full spectrum of crops, including crops she used to rely on other Merville Organics farmers to grow for the collectively-planned CSA program and farmers markets.

Now that she’s running a one-farm show, Kira has pared her markets down to her popular farm gate stand and a CSA program. These markets are more limited and specific than the cooperative’s variety of market options, meaning she now has to crop plan carefully. Kira spent a lot of time learning new crop planning techniques this past winter. “It’s harder to grow for CSA as a single farm than with a co-op,” she says. Cooperative CSA planning has built in redundancy from multiple farms, so there’s less risk of being short on CSA box options from week-to-week. But the downside of that redundancy are the occasional gluts of certain crops—the hustle to find markets for fresh produce on the spot can be a real challenge.

Mouth-watering CSA box program contents. Credit: zoomphotography

Favourite Tools

Kira tries to minimize tillage at the farm to encourage diverse soil biology. That’s why one of her most treasured tools is her broadfork. Luckily, she enjoys the action of digging with the broadfork. Kloverdalen employs one local person full-time each season, and they work hard to reduce their fossil fuel use through hand labour. They also aim to minimize plastic use at every level of production.

Kira and I share a love of the humble Ho-Mi, an ancient Korean gardening tool. I got my first Ho-Mi when I was a farm apprentice with Mary Alice Johnson at ALM Farm in Sooke, so when Kira was spending time working with me at my farm, I gave her one too. I like to imagine all these farmers, connected by our time in the fields together, digging with our Ho-Mis—our little iron spear-shaped diggers remaining a familiar constant throughout all the changes of life. Kira said I should mention she has both the short- and long-handled Ho-Mi, and she loves them both.

Her most modern tool acquisition is the Jang Seeder, and she says she loves it, despite (or maybe because of) the learning curve. See, I told you—she just loves a good challenge.

Beautiful sunflower bouquets at the farm stand. Credit: zoomphotography

Hot Tips: Farming with Kids

I’ve always been curious about how Kira gets all that farming done with two young kids in tow, so I asked if she had any hot tips for farming parents. “Don’t be shy about using daycare!” she laughs. “And just abandon perfectionism—you have to accept a certain amount of destruction if you’re going to have them tagging along with you.”

Kira copes by allowing a certain amount of chaos with the kids in the field: “I let them dig holes right in the garden beds just to keep them entertained while I’m working.” Kira also suggests wasting a little water to keep your sanity. Let the kids play with the hose.

Growing into the Future

In the past seven years, Kira and Ingemar have managed to grow a vacant field with a dilapidated farmhouse and decaying shed into a thriving small farm with excellent infrastructure, soil fertility, and markets to sell their produce. And it all started with a quarter-acre garlic patch and an invitation to join a co-op. Since then, Kira and Ingemar have expanded to a full acre in production with new infrastructure, including a greenhouse and barn with a farm stand.

I’ve been enjoying watching her story unfold, gathering up seeds of knowledge from her experiences and seeing her develop into a leader in her field, both literally and figuratively. I know Kloverdalen Farm is just going to keep growing and adapting, even in these unpredictable times—and I am grateful for their example of resilience, curiosity and innovation.

kloverdalenfarm.com

instagram.com/kloverdalenfarm

facebook.com/kloverdalenfarm


Moss Dance (she/they) is an organic gardener on Territories of Hul’qumi’num and SENĆOŦEN speaking peoples (Salt Spring Island), and works with the BC Organic Grower as layout editor. Moss spent a decade farming and organizing in K’ómoks Territory as a founding member of Merville Organics. She is currently completing her Diploma of Acupuncture in Victoria, BC, and hopes to have a market garden again someday.

Feature image: Kira Kotilla holding beautiful beets. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Organic Leadership

in 2021/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Summer 2021

Niklaus Forstbauer

When I was asked what it means to be on the Organic BC (Certified Organic Associations of BC) board and executive, and the importance of engagement and being an advocate and ambassador for organics in the agriculture sector I immediately took a step back to think. It brought me way back in time.

The first organic board meeting that I remember attending was back in January of 1991. The reason I remember this is because, as a special treat on my birthday, I got to tag along with my mom to a BC Association of Regenerative Agriculture (BCARA) meeting. For my birthday that year I got my own little transistor radio, and with it I sat under the table at Mom’s feet flipping through the stations quietly listening to whatever music I could find—and news of the start of the first Iraq war. I was 12.

That was normal for us growing up. When my parents began farming in the 1970’s they began to meet with other like-minded farmers who had the same calling and passion for organic agriculture. Through their meetings they began to lay the foundation for the strong organic sector that we have in our province today.

Travis and Forstbauer kids doing farm chores on the tractor. Credit: Niklaus Forstbauer.

The organic standards that were eventually developed were important for consumer confidence and best practices, but the reason they did it is because they knew it was the right thing to do for the planet, for the soil, and for our health. And it wasn’t easy: every expert, the government, and the universities all advocated, endorsed, and promoted chemical agriculture with the promise of it being safe and profitable. Organic was definitely counter-culture.

Fast forward to this past winter. While rummaging through our barn we came across a pile of old papers and documents from years gone by. Included in it were some old BCARA and Organic BC newsletters and meeting notes. We even came across an old flyer from Harvey Snow, at the time a young contractor offering his expertise to help folks get started in organic agriculture. The forgotten history, often taken for granted, is an incredible tale. Beginning with several dozen folks with conviction, growing to hundreds with a vision, and now numbering thousands. A movement, all because of a few farmers who started volunteering their time to get organized.

So here we are today—we’ve come a long way. We have a strong and growing organic sector. It’s great and all the hard work is done, right? Not quite! Though organics has become mainstream, we are facing some pretty serious global challenges directly related to agriculture—climate change, increased use of pesticides, GMO, depletion of soil, health crises… The list is long.

Generations of Forstbauers harvesting in the greenhouse. Credit: Niklaus Forstbauer.

I’m sure as farmers we can all relate to the age old saying, “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” We’ve all been there! When it comes to the work that the organic sector is doing, both in the province and beyond, I think that this saying certainly strikes a chord. We still have strong and courageous people who year after year work hard to advocate for the earth through organic agriculture, and we would love to have more people get involved!

So what does it mean to be involved as an advocate for organics? It’s rewarding to contribute alongside amazing and passionate people at Organic BC. The earth can be healed by working with nature through organics; we simply need people who are willing to do the work.

I was fortunate to be brought up around people, my parents included, who put in a lot of work to build what we have today. Now it’s our turn to build on their foundation to leave a thriving system for the next generation. Your unique talents and voice are needed to ensure the vitality of the organic movement in BC! Let us know how you can help!

Get in touch:

info@certifiedorganic.bc.ca


Niklaus Forstbauer farms at Forstbauer Family Farm with his wife Lindsey and other members of his family. Established in 1977, Forstbauer Farm uses biodynamic farming principles, a method of farming that focuses on soil health and a holistic approach. Niklaus is the Co-President of COABC, and sits on the board of BCARA.

Featured image: Forstbauer kids leading the way with rhubarb placards. Credit: Niklaus Forstbauer.

iCertify Supports the Organic Movement: Umi Nami Farm

in 2021/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Summer 2021

Originally started in Iwaki, Japan, Umi Nami Farm moved to Metchosin on southern Vancouver Island in 1996. The farm has been certified organic for more than 20 years.

Umi Nami Farm specializes in year-round production of Japanese vegetables and some Asian and Western produce. They use both unheated greenhouses (high tunnels) and outdoor fields to achieve year-round growing, and their small orchard supplies apples, pears, and plums.

As they prepared to do their 2020 organic certification renewal, Heather Ramsay from Umi Nami Farm says they were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to use iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system.

“We weren’t so enthusiastic about the switch to an online system at first, but after seeing how easy it is to use, we’re liking it,” says Heather. “It serves as both an upload platform and a checklist for what we need to provide. It was nice having standardized premade records to make it easy to know what we do and don’t need to report.”

According to Heather, one of the biggest benefits of iCertify is that by helping growers to standardize their reporting, the work of reviewing all the applications—whether renewal or first-time—gets easier for the certifying body. This, in turn, helps keep costs low.

“As a grower, I also find it easier not having to wonder how much detail to go into,” says Heather. “The online system asks the questions I need to answer and provides forms to capture the information we need to record. I like that we have the option of photographing or scanning hand-written records and then uploading the electronic image.”

From Heather’s point of view as an organic farmer and organic farming advocate, iCertify also plays a larger role in the organic movement.

“Shifting to the online system makes sense to keep up with the times and to take ourselves seriously as a movement and as business owners,” says Heather.

“The organic movement has really grown. We expect more of our farms now than in the earlier years of the organic movement. And since BC’s mandatory organic regulations came into effect in 2018, we need to step up to the plate with documentation and traceability. A standardized online system is only one small part of the bigger picture, but it helps us in our efforts to efficiently function as the growing movement and robust businesses that we are.”


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

Feature image: An aerial view of Umi Nami Farm in Metchosin. Credit: Umi Nami Farm

Support Organic Farmers, Support Organic Change

in 2021/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2021

Sydney Franc

Two thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly, and organic is the fastest growing part of the Canadian agriculture landscape. With a booming $6.9 billion in annual sales, Canada is the sixth largest organic market in the world. Yet, despite double digit production growth, demand continuously outpaces supply. Given this impressive and sustained growth, it is crucial to continue supporting Canada’s organic industry. Farms are the keystone component. Without sustained efforts to provide training in organic techniques and support Canadian farmers to transition to organic, Canada may find itself trailing behind in the global movement towards bettering agricultural systems.

As a response to growing domestic and international demand for Canadian organic products, the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) sought to support farms as they convert to certified organic. COTA launched the Organic Conversion Support Program in 2019, through the Support Organic Change Fund. The program assists converting and future organic producers financially with their added costs incurred while transitioning to organic farming by reimbursing producers for paid certification costs up to $1,000. The fund has proven to be a key piece by the organic industry in supporting and growing our supply chain through an incredibly difficult year for farmers.

Grapes on the vine. Credit: Scorched Earth Winery.

Seeds of Change has returned as a primary sponsor of the program, joined this year by Mill Street Brewery, as a way to give back to the organic community in recognition of their 20th Anniversary. Thanks to these generous funders, the 2019 edition of the Organic Conversion Support Program funded 41 farmers and contributed 6,167 new organic hectares nationwide.

“Our association is dedicated to strengthening the expansion of organic farming in Canada, and through COTA’s organic transition fund, more farmers won’t be left alone to bear the costs of certification on their own,” says Tia Loftsgard, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association. Tia adds, “Seeds of Change and Mill Street Brewery’s contributions to the program encourage more farmers to adopt organic practises on their land. Not only is this ensuring long term viability and sustainability of the Canadian landscape but also protecting the health and wellbeing of the farmers as they adopt more organic practises.”

Sunset lighting up the vineyard. Credit: Scorched Earth Winery.

The program has done a great deal in assisting farmers during the transition to organic farming. Converting to organic is no small feat for a farm. It requires a significant dedication of time and resources, something Canadian farmers often find lacking. And yet, year after year, farmers make the decision to join the movement.

Scorched Earth Winery in Kelowna, BC was one such farm supported by the Organic Conversion Support Program.  General manager Anita Pazdernik rationalises the choice her family made to convert the winery to organic farming practices: “After purchasing our vineyard, we submitted numerous soil test samples to determine how healthy the vineyard was. The lab results came back to show that we had ZERO organic matter and ZERO nutrients in the vineyard.” As she explains, the family “immediately chose to convert to organic after learning that the soil had been completely stripped of any nutrients whatsoever, after 30 years of conventional farming. We chose to grow organic because we strive for a sustainable future for our children, their children, and our pets.”

Coco assisting in the vineyard.Credit: Scorched Earth Winery.

In a year that has seen difficulties throughout the organic supply chain, the Organic Conversion Support Program has proven to be key to supporting and growing the organic supply chain at its most fundamental level. Building capacity and resiliency within Canada’s organic systems ensure a better future for all.

COTA is thrilled to announce that the program will be continuing on into a third year of funding. The Organic Conversion Support Program is continuing to support farmers, and applications for the 2020 reimbursement program will be open until June 30th, 2021. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis for producers who are in the process of converting, or who become certified in 2020 or 2021. In order to qualify for the program, farmers must be in their first, second, or third year of pre-certification, or already certified organic and increasing their organic acreage. Eligible costs are certification and consultation expenses, up to a maximum reimbursement of $1,000.

Want to learn more about our program guidelines? Find more information about the Organic Conversion Support program here:

canada-organic.ca/sites/default/files/2020_fund_overview_guidelines_eng_v2.pdf

Do you meet our Organic Conversion Support Program guidelines and want to apply? Get in touch with Caroline Bernard, Member Relations and Executive Coordinator at cbernard@canada-organic.ca.

Have a funding project you’d like to propose for COTA’s Support Organic Change Fund? Contact Kim De Lallo, Member Relations and Business Development Manager at kdelallo@canada-organic.ca.

canada-organic.ca


The Canada Organic Trade Association is a membership-based association for the organic industry in Canada: representing growers, processors, certifiers, provincial farmers’ associations, importers, exporters, retailers, and others throughout the organic value chain. COTA’s mission is to envision organic products becoming a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people’s lives and the environment. Through our leadership and collaboration, COTA provides a strong voice for organic in Canada. COTA brings together the diversity of Canada’s organic sector: from farmer and processor to retail, including food products, fibre and textiles, personal care, and emerging sectors such as organic aquaculture.

Feature image: overlooking the vineyards at Scorched Earth Winery. Credit: Scorched Earth Winery.

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