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Regenerative Agriculture is the Way of the Future

in 2021/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2021

Certification is Helping Define Best Practices

Travis Forstbauer

This article first appeared in Country Life in BC and is reprinted here with gratitude.

Soil health is the foundation of any healthy organic farm. While modern agriculture has primarily focused on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, soil health from an organic perspective focuses on the health and diversity of microscopic and macroscopic life in the soil.

The foundation of all life is carbon, so on an organic farm, soil health can often be directly related to soil organic matter (soil carbon). So, it is with cautious optimism that the BC Association for Regenerative Agriculture (BCARA) welcomes the renewed focus on regenerative agriculture.

Use of the term “regenerative agriculture” has exploded over the past few years. However, this is not a new philosophy. In North America, Indigenous peoples had been practicing forms of regenerative agriculture for thousands of years before the Europeans came and settled. In more recent times, during the early 20th century after the industrialization of agriculture, European farmers were noticing significant decreasing crop yields. Rudolf Steiner attributed this in part to depleted soil health and gave instruction that laid the foundation for biodynamic agriculture, a regenerative system of agriculture dedicated to building soil life.

Then through the mid to late 20th century, pioneers like J.I. Rodale, Lady Balfour, Robert Rodale, and the lesser-known Ehrenfried Pfeiffer championed organic agriculture practices that, at their heart, were regenerative. Through the 1980s and 1990s this movement blossomed to what is known as organic agriculture.

In 1986, as part of the early organic agriculture movement, a group of farmers in the Fraser Valley organized themselves to create the BCARA. An early definition of regenerative agriculture that they settled on was:

BCARA went on to become a leader in the early organic movement in BC, where, at the grassroots of organic agriculture, was the belief that every organic farm should strive to be regenerative in its practices. Soil health expressed as life in the soil, has always been the foundation of organic agriculture.

“Regenerative Agriculture is both a philosophy and a farm management system. Philosophically, it says that there is within people, plants, animals and the world itself a way of recovery that both comes from within and carries the recovery process beyond previous levels of well-being. Robert Rodale says, “Regeneration begins with the realization that the natural world around us is continually trying to get better and better.

Over the past 30 years much has changed in both organic and conventional agriculture and over the past few years the term “regenerative agriculture” has been loosely used for a variety of farming systems. There is a general understanding that a regenerative farming system captures carbon and helps to mitigate climate change. There are many organizations that have jumped onto this wave of regenerative agriculture. But the term “regenerative agriculture” is not regulated like the term organic. There is no governing body overseeing the use of this term and as a result it has been loosely used and often misused and this is of concern to BCARA.”

Travis Forstbauer on the farm. Credit: Forstbauer Farm

There are some that believe that no-till agriculture systems are more regenerative than organic systems that perform some tillage. However, we fundamentally disagree with this assertion. Many of these no-till systems still rely on toxic herbicides such as glyphosate, and while we applaud agriculture producers’ actions to build soil life, capture carbon, and mitigate climate change, BCARA holds the position that any form of agriculture with the goal to be regenerative should have a foundation of organic practices.

BCARA believes that the healthiest, cleanest food is produced in a regenerative agricultural system, without the use of herbicides, pesticides, and agrochemicals. Regenerative agriculture strives to be a closed loop system whereas the production of these agrochemicals is CO2 intensive and are often produced long distances from the farm.

In the US, a regenerative agriculture standard has been developed called Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). This certification requires the operation to be certified organic to be designated as regenerative. Certification is on a tiered system of bronze, silver, and gold. The farm is granted certification based on how many regenerative practices they use on their farm as defined in the ROC standard. It is our view that this is the gold standard of regenerative certification.

Currently, there are countless researchers, soil advocates, and organizations doing the much-needed work to shift the collective focus of agriculture towards regenerative practices. These people and organizations include Gabe Brown, Elaine Ingham, Matt Powers, Zach Bush of Farmers Footprint, Maria Rodale and the Rodale Institute, Ryland Engelhart and Finnian Makepeace from the film Kiss the Ground, the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the Canadian Organic Trade Association, and the list goes on and on.

Much like organic agriculture has evolved, the understanding of regenerative agriculture will continue to evolve and BCARA looks forward to being a leading voice for regenerative agriculture in BC.


Travis Forstbauer is president of BCARA, an organic certification body that certifies farms and businesses across the province of BC. He farms alongside his wife and children, his father Hans, his brother Niklaus and his family, sister Rosanna and many other family members throughout the growing season. Together they steward Forstbauer Farm, a multigenerational, certified organic, biodynamic farm located in Chilliwack.

Feature image: Cows in field. Credit: Forstbauer Farm

Organic Stories: Tulaberry Farm – Syilx, Sinixt, and Ktunaxa Territory, Passmore, BC

in 2021/Current Issue/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Spring 2021

The Year the Butterflies Came Back: A Story of Transition at Tulaberry Farm

Hailey Troock

I picked up the phone one cold winter day in 2019 to a request from the owners and operators of Tulaberry Farm in the picturesque riverside community of Passmore, BC. Judi Morton and Alex Berland wanted to find some young and enterprising farmers to continue the legacy of their certified organic farm. After decades of farming in the Slocan Valley, where they raised their family and had become integral members of the local community, they had a beautiful space and knowledge to share.

A little more than a year later, Emily Woody and Nathan Wiebe, two farmers operating Confluence Farms out of Kelowna, BC, were searching for land. They had a dream to relocate their market garden and bakery start-up to the Kootenays, somewhere near Nelson, where they could establish roots for the long-term. In one season they had grown out of the backyard space they had started their farm on, selling through CSA shares and delivery.

All I had to do was introduce the two couples through the BC Land Matching Program (BCLMP), and the rest seemed to fall effortlessly into place—truly a confluence.

As Tulaberry and Confluence start down the path of transition together, it’s worth considering what farm transition is all about.

For me, it’s a million things. Last fall, our team at Young Agrarians released the BC Transition Toolkit for Non-Family Farm Transfer, and the process of researching and creating this resource provided us all with an in-depth understanding of a pretty complex topic: how do we transfer farms from one generation to the next, outside of the family? Something that stuck with me is how the mentorship available within the process of transition can be a fundamental part of the success of the incoming farm business.

New farmers face myriad challenges in today’s agricultural, economic, and climatic landscapes. It can take years to build up clientele, pay off start-up costs, establish secure sales channels for your products, learn the land and soil, mitigate increasing climatic variability, and more. Transitioning into an established farm can ease this learning journey, as the outgoing farmer passes along this critical information to their successors.

Nathan Wiebe and Emily Woody. Credit: Confluence Farm.

Judi came to be the steward of Tulaberry Farm when she purchased the land in 1968. She lived there for a few years before leaving, then coming back for a second stint. This is when Alex came into the picture in 1974. After 12 years together on the land they left to pursue other careers in Vancouver, where they stayed for two decades. Eighteen years ago, they relocated back to Tulaberry for good. Judi went from being an intensive care nurse at the children’s hospital to diving full-time into farming. She says the transition felt natural; though “people think they are unrelated, both are nurturing roles.”

Judi’s most prominent memory from her early years on the farm centre around her second season stewarding the land full-time. She refers to this as “the year the butterflies came back.” The planting of perennials, shrubs, and fruit bushes—food for the beautiful pollinators—breathed new life onto the land. Judi and Alex’s farming philosophy speaks to this. She says we “sought to leave the land better than we found it” and that they, like all of us, are stewards of the land we inhabit. They don’t feel they own the land: “though we bought it, we get the privilege to steward it,” she says.

Judi’s experience living in their community has evolved since those early years. “When we were first at Tulaberry before we left for 20 years, we were deeply embedded in our community. When we came back, we picked up much of the same community but also many new friends who had moved there.” Though many of the “old guard from 70s and 80s remain good friends,” she says, referring to her original cohort, “much of my social circle has centered around farming over the years.” Judi is also excited about the young families she has seen moving into the area over the past decade.

The Kootenay Organic Growers Society has played a big part in her farming community specifically. “Farming is a very lonely business,” she says, “and you are working alone a lot. Going to market was my social life; I was always so excited to see other farmers. When it was slow, we would congregate to the centre to share information and talk.”

The market garden at Tulaberry Farm. Credit: Tulaberry Farm

When Judi is 90, she says, “I want friends who are 60 and 70.”  Her strong attachment to the land she stewards and her desire to want to die there are part of the reason they pursued a land match. They had been looking for people to transition into Tulaberry to for more than a decade; aging in place remains important to them but it is “hard to watch fencing fall down on the land when you no longer have the energy to deal with it.”

For Judi and Alex, the BCLMP plays an important role, as “many young farmers need a leg up to get going, and retiring farmers want to age in place.” Working with hands-on support made them think about things that hadn’t come to mind and how to word things. She reflects on it as a great process, getting through negotiations to the point where “everyone was happy.”

Emily and Nathan came into farming at different times in their lives. Nathan was inspired by Emily. After growing up in a big city, he “was feeling burnt out and unhappy and wanted to be closer to nature and work that really mattered to me. The idea of growing food for a living had never crossed his mind until he met her,” he says, meaning Emily (on a dance floor, six years ago, no doubt!). He reflects on how Emily “showed me what was possible through farming and together we made our dreams of starting a farm a reality.”

Emily came to farming for a combination of reasons. “I wanted to do good in the world, felt a strong calling to do something about climate change and the state of the environment, and really liked good food.” She says she “had grown up with a big garden on an acreage and was always involved in growing food throughout my formative years. When I went to college, I began to explore my passion for food and farming more deeply. The work was so nourishing to me, I knew I wanted to be a farmer.”

While Nathan’s formal education is in business, marketing, and holistic nutrition and Emily studied ecological agriculture and community development, some of the soft and hard skills that have helped them in their farming career have surprised them. Nathan notes that “taking the time to really understand marketing, branding, and website design has helped immensely,” and recommended reading How to Build a Story Brand by Donald Miller and anything by Seth Godin.

“Baking skills have really come in handy, surprisingly! I’ve always had a passion for sweets and spent a year working for a small bakery in Edmonton,” says Emily. “I’ve spent a lot of time developing recipes that utilize what we are growing on the farm. Our value-added products have really helped to set us apart and bring a more diversified income stream to the farm.”

Before meeting Emily and Nathan, Judi compared finding compatibility between Tulaberry’s goals and those of new farmers to “waiting for a unicorn.” Over the years, they had lots of great young people out there working with them. She says she “saw a lot of people get into it and then realize how much work it is.” That’s why for her, finding farmers with a couple of years under their belt was important, so that she felt confident this was something they wanted as a long-term lifestyle.

Nathan, Emily, Judi, and Alex. Credit: Tulaberry Farm.

Compared to the idea she had of who she was looking for to transition the farm to, Judi says Emily and Nathan are, in short, “they are everything we ever wanted.” In more detail, she listed out the qualities that have been the most important for them and that Emily and Nathan embody in spades:

Good communication skills: “If you can’t talk together, it’s not going to work. If people harbour feelings and don’t communicate what’s bugging them or what they’re happy about, how do you make a relationship work?”

Experience in farming: They “didn’t want to start from scratch,” and Emily had four years of farming under her belt.

Off-farm income: “It’s hard to make a living on farming here; farms are small. I wasn’t convinced it can’t be done but it can present a huge hurdle if you don’t have something on the side. Nathan has his Level Up business to help support the farm in start-up.”

Being a generous spirit: “When I make dessert, I bring over some for them and they do the same. Their generosity of spirit matches ours.”

Reliability: “If someone says they will feed the chickens, we need to be able to walk away and know they will do it. Emily and Nathan have done everything they say they are going to do and more.”

Enthusiastic and energetic: Self-explanatory!

Judi says that having new farmers on their land has changed the way they experience it. “Like having a kid, you see the world fresh through their eyes. As snow melts and things come up, they are seeing it with fresh eyes and enthusiasm and I feel like my own has increased because of being able to see the farm through their eyes.”

For their first season on the farm, Emily and Nathan are planning on offering 20 different value-added products throughout the season and are particularly excited about having Judi and Alex as their mentors. “Mentorship means having someone to go to for support and guidance who is dedicated to helping us succeed,” Emily says. Having mentors has “really helped boost our confidence and given our farming operation a huge advantage over where we were last year. Judi and Alex have been farming in the Kootenays for so long and have such a great reputation in the community. Just by being associated with Tulaberry Farms we have noticed that people are a lot more receptive to us and are excited to see our new partnership.”

As a mentor, Judi sees her role this season “to work with them when they want me to work with them. It’s important that they don’t feel that they are being micromanaged or I’m looking over their shoulders.” She is confident that they know what they’re doing but not necessarily on this land, and that is where she sees her role in mentorship—though she also knows that on transplanting days, “having three sets of hands can make a big difference!”

Judi is inspired by the idea that “mentorship is something that flows both ways”—Emily has shown Judi how to make sourdough bread and frosting out of maple syrup and butternut squash—and in turn, Emily and Nathan are inspired by Judi and Alex’s “life story and dedication to their land.” “They essentially bought a raw piece of land more than 30 years ago and through sheer hard work and determination they slowly built a home in the woods and a farm, structure by structure, until it became the beautiful property that is it today.” This has shown the new farmers that “even if your dream lifestyle seems daunting to achieve, if you stick with it long enough and don’t give up, you can accomplish almost anything.”

This winter, their first on the farm, they were busy! “We added a bakery section to the online shop so that we can offer more than just vegetables,” says Emily. “We use chicken eggs from the farm, local cream when available, and locally-sourced grain that we mill using our Komo mill. This has helped to differentiate our business as well as increase our sales when we don’t have a lot of vegetables to sell throughout the winter. We’re doing row crops and Judi is teaching us how to do broiler chickens.”

Reflecting on the experience of sharing land with Emily and Nathan so far, Judi says she has been “pleasantly surprised with their generosity of spirit,” while Emily and Nathan spoke to how “easy and seamless it has been. Judi and Alex have been incredibly generous from the very beginning and we could tell they just want to see us succeed.”

Emily and Nathan aspire to one day transition from farmers markets and CSAs to a farm-to-table bakery they plan to call Pantry. “Our dream would be to be able to grow and produce as many ingredients for the bakery as we can to make it a true farm-to-table experience,” Emily says. As for where Judi sees herself and the farm in 20 years, she says, “at the age of 93, I hope to be taking care of chickens, even if I am not farming too much, but I hope the farm remains. I see so many possibilities—instead of withdrawing my energy, this new life on the farm is expanding it.”


The BC Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Real Estate Foundation of BC, Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

Hailey Troock grew up in the small agricultural community of Oyama, located in the Okanagan. Now based in Nelson, she spends her time connecting farmers, landholders, and allies in the Columbia Basin region as a Land Matcher with the BC Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

Feature image: Tulaberry Farm nestled in the mountains. Credit: Tulaberry Farm

Biodynamic Farm Story: What Steiner Said

in 2021/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Spring 2021

Anna Helmer

I exhibit a strong spring Biodynamic practice. I have all the time in the world for stirring BD 500, tending to compost piles, and dutifully attempting to follow the planting calendar. In the summer things will likely slide, and the fall is very Biodynamically weak for me. Winter comes and at that point it’s out of my hands as that’s when the influence of the distant planets of the cosmos takes effect in the soil. For real.

But that is neither here nor there, for the purposes of spring. Don’t get hung up on that. What’s important now is that this spring I have already vacuumed the farm truck and washed it twice. I am well on my way to cleaning up the shop and tidying the upstairs of the barn. And I have not lost my interest in learning more about Biodynamic farming.

A couple of earnest, active, and idealistic springs have passed since I decided to develop a more learned and deliberate approach to Biodynamic farming. Prior to that, I had been a willing, but not a very wondering, participant in our farm’s practice. I would have happily kept going like that, but my inability to articulate even the basic concepts was undeniably denting my preferred image as a modern, hip organic potato farmer.

Anna, what is Biodynamic farming? Anna of yester-spring: uh, well, you know how the moon and planets and stuff are there…and the soil is important…you have to look after the soil…and make good soil in compost. It’s sort of homeopathy for the soil. Beyond organics.

You see the problem.

Biodynamically-woke Anna: agriculture involves taking crops off the land and is therefore inherently exploitive. A Biodynamic grower knows this and works to replenish and strengthen the life and energy of the soil so that the crops continue to be imbued with taste and vitality.

Oh well, then. That explains that.

I did not make this up, of course. It is in the lectures, buried deep in Lecture 5. Finally, after countless readings, I have picked up on what Steiner was putting down. If you ask me, he should have led with this idea, rather than launching Lecture 1 with a description of the relative effects of cosmic energy on plants, animals, and humans.

The thing is, though, he didn’t. He died only a year after delivering these lectures and he may have known he was mortally ill at the conference. There may in fact have been a sense of urgency to his delivery. So, he probably started exactly where he meant to start and finding a powerful mission statement in Lecture 5 does not absolve me from figuring out what he is talking about leading up to that point. For now, however, I am agog with dawning comprehension.

Now. You will point out to me that regenerative farming is all about replacing in the soil what has been used, and what’s so special about Steiner saying it? Well, I guess that would be the compost preparations he describes. They are special.

Steiner is not insisting that farmers stop regenerating soil in whatever way they are doing it, from cover cropping to (just short of) using synthetic chemical fertilizers, and the massive number of options in between. He is, however, suggesting that these are not adequate measures. They are driven by science, which is not enough.

The biodynamic method is driven by observation, experience, and a belief in the existence of forces that cannot be immediately seen or measured, but whose presence is proven in the resulting product. It is these cosmic influences, collected in the soil and taken up into the plant, that are removed along with the crop and therefore must be replaced. He is not denying the efficacies and even necessities of science in agriculture but rather saying that it stops short of completing the regeneration necessary to maintain the production of healthy, tasty food.

Steiner’s Lecture 5 describes the Biodynamic Compost Preparations, which when applied in very small doses, enliven and provide stimulus for the soil to again be able to collect the streams of cosmic force. They consist of common and recognizable plants variously treated and applied to compost heaps, the soil of which is then applied to the field or garden. There was no scientific underpinning then, or even now; he expected that the science would catch up eventually.

Look, it is a scientific fact that the moon causes the tides of the ocean and that the sun warms our atmosphere. These influences are easily perceived of course, and science is there to confirm the obvious and fill in the details. Can we propose that other planets and cosmic bodies take effect on earth too, although not in a way we can easily see, feel, touch, or smell? Can we do this ahead of science telling us it is so?

Heavens above, it has taken me a long time to write this article. I had to go back into the lectures quite a bit to see if I was on the right track. I even read a bit of Steiner poetry. I wrote long, meandering paragraphs about the contrasting yet inseparable dualities of matter and spirit, of science and spirituality. I did a lot of deleting.

I’ll have to leave it here. I must go outside and get giddy over spring.


Anna Helmer farms with her family in Pemberton and would like to scientifically prove that the hundred-pound sacks of seed potatoes are getting heavier all the time. helmersorganic.com

Feature image credit: Helmers Organic Farm

Organic Stories: Urban Harvest – Syilx Territory, Kelowna BC

in 2020/Fall 2020/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Stories

Many Strands Make a Strong Food Web

Darcy Smith

Farm-to-fork has come to embody the eating ethos of people seeking a deeper connection to healthy, local food—and Urban Harvest has been putting the “to” in farm-to-fork for the last 20 years. Lisa McIntosh co-founded the Okanagan-based organic home delivery service with her partner at the time, David Nelson, in 2000.

For Lisa, “logistics are the part that makes the local food system work.” For the farmers who supply Urban Harvest, there’s no doubt she’s right. Lisa’s goal, and Urban Harvest’s slogan, has always been “bringing the farm to your doorstep.”

Lisa McIntosh, Urban Harvest Co-Founder Credit: Katie Nugent Photography.

Urban Harvest was born out of “a read desire to support sustainable agriculture,” Lisa says. When Lisa and David started Urban Harvest, she was just coming out of a degree in sociology and anthropology, with a focus in community economic development. She’d been interested in the sustainable agriculture field for years, and when David put the idea of an urban delivery business on the table, Lisa “loved the fact that we could be connected to farmers but not be farming ourselves, that we could help get the food to customers wherever they are.”

“People can’t always make it to the Farmers’ Market,” Lisa points out. “There’s a carbon efficiency to home delivery as well. Rather than 60 people trucking down to the market, we can cover that same route, and reduce waste because you don’t have to have everything packed and labeled in the same way.”

Lisa, and Urban Harvest, quickly built relationships with growers in the region. From WWOOFing at Sudoa Farm in the Shuswap, where she learned about growing and packing produce from Sue Moore, to getting involved with the North Okanagan Organics Association, to meeting Hermann Bruns at Wildflight Farm, word about Lisa and Urban Harvest got around fast.

Lisa meets up with South Okanogan growers in Penticton for peaches, nectarines, plums, tomatoes, eggplant, and apples. Credit: Urban Harvest.

Urban Harvest now supplies between 400 to 600 families with local, organic produce each week. Lisa sources food from growers around the Okanagan as a priority, and from further afield when necessary to ensure a wide selection throughout the year. Urban Harvest offers standard regular and family-size produce boxes year-round. Each week, Lisa plans out the boxes based on what’s seasonally available—and what the good deals are—which is “a bit of an art.” Then, customers can see what’s on the docket for that week and customize or add to their orders, providing them with a flexible and convenient way to access local food. They place their orders, and Lisa communicates to the farmers, who harvest on Monday and get their product to Urban Harvest.

She drives down to the South Okanagan weekly to pick up from several farms. “There’s a jumble every time, figuring out,” she says. “The beautiful part is I get to see the farmers every week. It’s a little more legwork—and arm work—for sure.”

Wildflight Farm in the North Okanagan has been dropping off produce from Wildflight and other farmers in the area to Lisa for years, which has been a huge advantage to both Urban Harvest and the half-dozen farms who make use of the service. Other producers have different arrangements, with products getting shipped to, or dropped off at, the warehouse, and some growers piggybacking on each other’s shipments, so that someone’s 100 pounds of plums, which might not be worth it on their own, can go with someone else’s 800 pounds of apples. Whatever it takes to get the product from the farm to Lisa, and then to the customer’s front door.

Loading up for weekly box delivery. Credit: Katie Nugent Photography.

All that flexibility no doubt caters to the consumer, but Lisa is careful to ensure she’s meeting the needs of farmers, too—it’s a constant juggling act, and one she loves. She does an annual planning session with growers, she says, “to reduce overlap and maximize supply, so farmers are planting with us in mind. We know we have a supply we can count on and they have a market they can count on.”

Like any healthy ecosystem, Urban Harvest is part of a web of interdependencies—relationships based on trust and community. For Rebecca Kneen of Crannóg Ales and Left Fields, “Lisa’s produce buying policies have made a huge difference in the viability of organic vegetable farms in the North Okanagan.”

From the annual planning meetings to Lisa’s ability to look at what’s available locally that week and use as much of it as possible, farmers are benefitting from Urban Harvest’s approach. “That kind of flexibility is invaluable for small-scale farmers,” Rebecca says. “Lisa McIntosh always has the interests of her farm suppliers close at heart.” The organic community recognized Lisa’s many contributions by presenting her with the Brad Reid award in 2019.

Urban Harvest at the UBCO orientation fair in 2017. Credit: Urban Harvest

It’s no surprise that farmers value Urban Harvest so deeply: the feeling is mutual. “I feel so privileged to have these relationships with farmers—such talented, dedicated farmers—and with customers who deeply care as well, and staff who have given so many of their years,” Lisa says.

Urban Harvest has evolved over two decades in business, but remains true to the values it was built on. They’ve experimented with Saturday markets, donated a ton of food, and, in 2016, a partnership became a sole proprietorship. With all that change, “our little business has trucked along all these years with things coming and going, we just seem to have found our niche,” Lisa says. “And customer number one is still a customer!”

When Lisa took the leap of faith and moved into running Urban Harvest solo, she found herself facing a big learning curve, especially, she says, on “all the things on the physical side, which I’d missed out on over the years.” She’s been able to grow into the new roles, and was heartened at “finding the support of staff and customers who believed in the business, and the farmers—there was a lot of interest from the farmers that we keep it going.” That support showed up in all sorts of ways, right down to one particular farmer showing Lisa how to use the hand truck. Lisa also sings the praises of her team, several of whom have been with Urban Harvest for anywhere between seven and twelve years. “It’s been great to be able to rely on my staff,” she says.

The Urban Harvest staff team. Credit: Urban Harvest.

“Lisa has quietly and rigorously implemented her philosophy of supporting the local organic farming community year after year,” Rebecca says. And that’s never been more important. Not only did customers flock to delivery when COVID-19 hit, so did growers. All of a sudden, farmers were dealing with the uncertainty of how they would get their produce to market.

The global pandemic impacted many farmers who relied on Farmers’ Markets and direct marketing relationships with consumers, leading some to find ways to do more online direct marketing, through taking pre-orders for pick-up or even trying home delivery themselves.

“The market was always there,” Lisa says, “and it was interesting to see how quick people were to look for that.” Delivery is a great option to reach out to customers. Some farmers love it, while others find it hard, with all the logistical challenges.

“Home delivery is on the uptick,” Lisa says. “With things like the red onion scare recently, people like having a product they can put a face on. Home delivery helps put a face on the supply.”

And while COVID-19 has meant extra steps in terms of sanitation, and some anxiety around keeping everyone healthy and safe, business-wise, Lisa has found the positive in these strange times. Weekly orders are selling out quickly—once in just 12 minutes!—and she hasn’t been able to sign up new customers since March. She’s had hundreds of new inquiries that she’s been able to direct to similar businesses, like Farmbound in Vernon. It’s felt good to have somewhere to send interested customers. “One of the beautiful things about a healthy food system is to have lots of options,” Lisa says. “Many strands make a strong web.”

In the end, of course, it all comes back to the food: “We have such an abundance of quality in the region, it’s such a joyful thing,” Lisa says. “I think we’re moving forward with a strong organic sector.” There’s no shortage of consumer support for organic, she says, but “on the supply side, can we keep up, and bring the next generation into farming? Is there a future for them?”

With businesses like Urban Harvest out there, at the centre of a web of connections that makes it all happen, it’s easy to take an optimistic view of the future.


Darcy Smith is the editor of the BC Organic Grower, and a huge fan of organic food systems, from farm to plate and everything in between. She also manages the BC Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

Featured image: The Urban Harvest team takes a break. Credit: Katie Nugent Photography.

11th Annual Organic Week Celebrations!

in 2020/Fall 2020/Organic Community

Canadian Organic Trade Association’s 11th Annual Organic Week

Karen Squires

Canada’s National Organic Week is the largest annual celebration of organic food, farming, and products across the country, and this year marks the 11th anniversary!

The celebration is a collaboration between the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) and its members and partners to grow awareness of organic across Canada.

The organic market represents almost 6.4 billion dollars in sales annually and continues to grow as two thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly. During COVID 19, survey results show Canadians are focusing more on healthy food and grocery shopping selection has become more important than ever.

The goal of Organic Week, happening September 7 to 13 this year, is to increase awareness of all organic products and to ensure consumers understand why it’s important to support organic, which promotes better overall health of people, animals, soil, and the planet. The theme of the campaign this year is “I Choose Organic,” which captures the essence of the importance of consumer choice and how it affects the planet, especially in relation to climate change. We are very pleased to see so much support and collaboration from members this year, especially with so many other competing priorities. As well, COTA has evolved the creative messaging to tell the Organic Story in a simple but compelling way through multiple media platforms.
The Organic Week campaign has multiple elements, including a national advertising campaign supported by The Globe and Mail and regional publications such as Now Magazine, The Georgia Straight and Montreal En Santé.

This year, for the first time, COTA is creating videos directly by farmers, sharing their story on why they grow organic. These videos are personal, engaging, informative, represent multiple sectors, and will be shared through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.

The social media campaign will feature several contests with which consumers can engage to share their recipes and knowledge of organic, and win great prizes! In creating these contests, we also hope to spread more understanding on why choosing organic is an important decision and what it means to choose organic.

Ways to Participate

  • The Recipe contest is a simple and fun way to participate in Organic Week. Simply take a photo of your favourite organic recipe and post it on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest using the hashtag #OrganicWeek. We will also have a multitude of prizes from our sponsors so stay tuned.
  • Test your knowledge on organic with our IQ Quiz contest. The quiz consists of 10 questions that will test your knowledge on organic and upon completing the quiz you will be entered to win some prizes.
  • Our third contest is the Spot Canada Organic Contest, which highlights an interactive way for our contestants to be on the lookout for organic products. To participate, if you see the Canada Organic logo take a picture and share using the hashtag #OrganicWeek on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

All three contests open September 1st, 2020 at 12am EST / 9pm PST and end September 30th, 2020 at 11:59pm EST / 8:59pm PST. The winners will be selected based off creativity and presentation and will be announced on Facebook and Instagram on October 10th, 2020. This year we are also continuing with our #OrganicChat campaign.

Another important component of this campaign is the engagement of retailers across Canada. Retailers selling and promoting organic products will be highlighting organic and offering incentives during Organic Week. As such, COTA provides these retailers with display materials that are used to celebrate Organic Week and educate consumers. Stay tuned as many retailers across the country look at new and innovative ways to help consumers discover organic products during the month of September. Two thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly, a number which continues to grow—and we want to help consumers make informed healthy lifestyle decisions.

Outside of the campaign, COTA also provides a series of new research through data reports and surveys. We have found that during the pandemic many people are still choosing organic, even with the challenges they are facing. This newfound information has showcased to us and our members how significant organic is, especially when society is faced with new challenges. COTA features a multitude of resources outlining the significance of the sector and what COTA, along with our members, does on our website.

COTA would like to thank COABC and everyone in BC’s organic sector for their ongoing support and collaboration. To learn more about COTA and membership with COTA, find information about research reports, and to receive ongoing communications and support, please visit canada-organic.ca


Organic Week is coordinated by The Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) with the help and support of their sponsors and members who make it possible. COTA’s mission is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public, and the economy.

Organic Stories: Lasser Ranch, Chetwynd BC

in 2020/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Organic Community/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

The Lasser Legacy: Raising Healthy, Nutritious, Environmentally-Friendly Cattle

Jolene Swain

Charlie Lasser’s plan was to retire at 100. Just three weeks short of his 89th birthday, he’s been considering extending that to 110—there’s so much to learn and so much knowledge to share when it comes to raising cattle, and he’s just not quite finished.Farming is part of Charlie’s DNA. Coming from a long line of Swiss ranchers, he finished up with school in grade nine and bought his first work horse when he was 14. “I never went to school long enough to learn that there are things you can’t do,” says Charlie. Running a team of horses by the time he was a young teen, he earned money mowing, ploughing, raking, and hauling hay to make the next investments towards having his own land to farm.

Over the past 70 plus years of farming, Charlie has had his share of side hustles in local politics and public service. “You have to get out there and help people, that’s what life is all about,” says Charlie. From the longest-serving mayor of Chetwynd (22 years), to founding or serving on numerous boards and councils, including BC Hydro, Northern Lights College, Lower Mainland Municipal Association, the University of British Columbia, the Chetwynd Communications Society, and even the local thrift store, it seems he’s done a little of everything. But his true calling and passion has always been farming, and it was important that anyone he dated understood that.

When he met his life partner Edith, she not only understood Charlie’s draw to the land, but came from a ranching background herself, and knew just as much about cattle as he did. Together, they made a great team—too busy farming and surviving to argue: “We used to laugh, we could never remember when we had an argument. It was hard work starting out, and we had to work together to survive.”

Edith passed in 2016, after 62 years and three days of marriage, and it is clear that she is dearly missed. After many years working at the family dairy in Pitt Meadows, Charlie and Edith brought Lasser Ranch in Chetwynd in 1971, and moved the family up in 1974.

Dream team: Charlie and Edith of Lasser Range. Credit: Rod Crawford

Charlie is known as one of the early pioneers of the organic industry in BC. “When I was young, everything was organic, that’s how we farmed,” he says. When commercial fertilizers came to market in the ‘50s, he sprayed once on their farm in Pitt Meadows, and didn’t like it. He’s been setting the standard for organic cattle ranching ever since.
“The land and earth is like a bank account, when you build it up, it will produce and you can live off the interest,” says Charlie. “If you use fertilizer, your land becomes a drug addict, it has to have that commercial fertilizer or it will not grow.” According to Charlie, it might take a bit more time at first to build up your land, but the returns are fantastic. Fellow organic pioneer in the fruit industry and good friend Linda Edwards knows Charlie as someone always eager to try something new. “He made money as a cattle farmer, and more importantly, he had a good time doing it,” says Linda.

Of course, farming has changed a lot since Charlie’s ancestors ran cattle in the 1400s, and even since Lasser Range was established back in 1971. Antibiotics were discovered, a game changer for the dairy industry. Horses, once relied upon to round-up cattle, have been replaced by smaller and more numerous pastures in a practice and a grazing style now known as management-intensive grazing. And finally, amongst organic, grass-fed, and animal welfare certifications to name a few, it seems that Charlie might be on a mission to grow what he suspects will be the world’s most environmentally-friendly and nutritious cattle with his latest new feed ingredient. Call it a hunch.

Actually, it’s more than a hunch. Dr. John Church and his team at Thompson Rivers University discovered that organic grass-fed can supply an extra 30-40 mg of healthy omega-3 fatty acids per serving than conventional or ‘natural’ grain-finished beef.1 In this study, over 160 sources of beef were sampled from grocery stores on Vancouver Island, and one sample stood out from the rest when it came to healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The source of that beef? You guessed it: bred and raised on Lasser ranch. But there’s more to the story. These cattle had been grass-finished at Edgar Smith’s Beaver Meadows Farm near Comox, BC. Upon further investigation, Dr. Church found that there was another interesting component of the nutrient rich beef: storm cast seaweed. Now, in collaboration with farmers like Charlie and Edgar, they are digging deeper into the nutritional differences of meat from cattle fed seaweed from an early age.

Feeding seaweed to cattle may not only lead to beef that is more nutritious, but also better for the planet. Cow burps and flatulence are well known for adding methane, a greenhouse gas that traps considerably more heat than carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere. While the number of cows on the planet is a contentious topic these days, reducing the methane production in individual cows might be a step in the right direction.

Charlie Lasser (right) with Ron Reid on the COABC Vanguard of Organics panel in 2018. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

Not all seaweed is created equal. It turns out that certain strains can reduce methane output by up to 60% in live animals. And that’s not all. According to Charlie, who has started feeding Smith’s seaweed to a select group of weaned calves on his ranch, not only are methane levels reduced, but the calves getting seaweed snacks appear to be putting on more weight than their gassy siblings.

Dr. Church and his team at TRU are working on a detailed microbial community analysis of the rumen to demonstrate that the seaweed product is able to shift activity away from methanogenic bacterial species found in the digestive tract, towards those that benefit from excess hydrogen, resulting not only in reduced methane, but an increase in production. This could confirm Charlie’s observations that adding seaweed to the diet results not only in a reduction in methane but also, an increase in beef production. But is the market ready for a low carbon footprint ‘Sea Beef’?

Feeding seaweed to cattle is not new. Coastal ranchers in places like Japan and Scotland have historically fed seaweed to their livestock. Conveniently, Charlie’s cows appear to be big fans of the variety of invasive red seaweed, Mazzaella japonica, harvested and baled by Edgar. “Once they get used to that seaweed, boy they go for it,” says Charlie. Other species studied down in California are not quite so palatable and require grinding and mixing with molasses to convince the cows to eat. Mazzaella japonica shows a lot of potential, but Charlie says “there’s a whole plethora of other seaweeds” that Dr. Church and his team are eager to try.

While we’re just now adjusting to what the global Sars-CoV-2 pandemic means for our food system, farming strategies that tackle climate change and food security have always been important to Charlie. “I want people to remember that we worked the land, and took care of the land, we didn’t abuse it,” says Charlie. “With this virus, everything that happened before will be changing, our whole way of life will be changing. As a result, you’re going to see more people concerned about organics, and more people concerned about where their food comes from and how it is raised.” By the time you read this, he may have already celebrated his 89th birthday. On that day, and the days to follow, you’ll find him out checking on the cattle, experimenting, and learning—willing and eager to pass his lifetime of knowledge on to the next generation.


Jolene Swain farms at WoodGrain Farm, a wilderness farmstead in the Kispiox Valley north of Hazelton in the unceded lands of the Gitxsan First Nation. Here she has spent the last five seasons growing organic vegetables for two local farmers’ markets and an increasing array of seed crops available through the B.C. Eco Seed Co-op, as well as helping get the hay in for the milk cow and small flock of sheep. Jolene works off-farm as an organic verification officer and consultant, and is the Central & Northern BC Land Matcher for the B.C. Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

Feature image: Cattle on Pasture at Lasser Range. Credit: Rod Crawford.

References:
1. Canadian Journal of Animal Science, 2015, 95(1): 49-58, doi.org/10.4141/cjas-2014-113

Sparkly Eyes, Grit, and Land Access

in 2020/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Marketing/Organic Community/Summer 2020

New Organic Farmers on Leased Land

Tessa Wetherill

Spring on an organic produce farm looks like baby greens, tiny radishes, overflowing seedling greenhouses, and freshly turned soil. Everything feels precious and new and brimming with possibility. Touring around Loveland Acres in Salmon Arm with farmers Robin and Maylene, those feelings were especially palpable and poignant since it’s their first season on the land. They’ve had a long journey getting here, one filled with familiar challenges and dreams. The other familiar things these farmers have are sparkly eyes and grit, ineffable qualities that go a long way in agriculture.As a farm business, Loveland Acres’ main goal is to provide high quality organic food for as many months of the year as possible. Robin and Maylene have been personally committed to eating as locally and seasonally as possible for many years and have identified a gap, often referred to as the hunger gap, in the availability of local produce in the region.

Crop rows in gorgeous soil under row cover. Credit: Tessa Wetherill.

“We want to help promote the Eat Local message all year round,” says Maylene. Which is why their next big project is to purchase and convert a shipping container into a commercial kitchen, an investment that will give them a place to process their produce, dry peppers, can tomatoes, and make pickles.

In discussing this next step in their business plan, Maylene points out that “no one talks about the money when starting a small farm.” She makes a good point. Even with all their sweat labour, these new farmers have invested a huge amount of money that they saved over a long time of working two jobs each into infrastructure, systems, and set up. They have poly tunnels, seedling greenhouses, storage spaces, and a very impressive irrigation system—all necessary to launch into marketing their products this season. The next step in building towards their goal of providing local food 12 months a year will take more capital than they have available right now, but seeing what these farmers have done in a couple years, I have no doubt they will make it happen.

In 2014, Robin and Maylene both left their professional careers in publishing and printing to pursue a siren song towards sustainable organic agriculture and a better quality of life. In her former life in Toronto, Maylene describes her experience with insomnia and a feeling of unease with the constant race and pace of the city and industry she worked in. When Maylene is asked what she loves most about farming, the answer is easy: mental space. Thinking about whatever she chooses all day long, rather than the 300 emails in her inbox. Contemplative, diverse, connected labour. That said, they both admit to having the occasional nightmare about their greenhouse flying away and that time they missed the window on flame weeding carrots!

Robin in the high tunnel hoop house. Below: Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

Robin and Maylene met interning on an organic farm in Ontario. They fell in love with each other and the land and made a life-altering decision. Being in that environment and working in sync with the processes of nature, they both immediately began feeling healthier and sleeping better. They were learning that this was the life they were called to. They spent the next four years working and volunteering on farms across Canada and eventually found full-time employment working on a third-generation family-owned orchard in the Okanagan.

“For any aspiring farmer, working in agriculture is essential. It is the best way to learn and get hands-on experience. The only catch is that wages in agriculture are prohibitively low, which makes the prospect of land ownership, especially in the Okanagan, pretty unrealistic,” says Maylene. “With the average agricultural wage hovering around $14 an hour and the average price per acre of land in the Okanagan sitting at about $100,000, it’s not hard to see that land ownership is essentially out of the question for most agricultural workers.”

The high cost of land was the biggest hurdle they faced. Starting their new farm business on leased land was the only viable option for them, which is how they ended up connecting with the B.C. Land Matching Program (BCLMP) and with me, the land matcher for the Okanagan region.

Robin on the tractor. Credit: Loveland Acres.

Loveland Acres is one of 78 matches the BCLMP has supported on over 4,600 acres across the province since launching in Metro Vancouver in 2016 and expanding province-wide in 2018. The BCLMP provides land matching and business support services to new and established farmers looking for land to start or grow their farm business, as well as landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. The benefits of land matching are hands-on support services to help new farmers and landowners evaluate opportunities, access resources, and ultimately find a land match partner. The program aims to address a lack of affordable farmland as a significant barrier for farmers entering the agricultural industry. The BCLMP is delivered by Young Agrarians, a farmer to farmer resource network, and is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

After registering for the BCLMP, we worked together to refine their focus on what attributes Robin and Maylene were looking for in a piece of land, taking the guesswork out of the leasing process and then connecting them with interested landowners.

“The BCLMP is so much more than a program that links landowners and land seekers. They helped us negotiate a stable and secure land lease, provided advice and access to a lawyer to look over our agreement, and connected us with their business mentorship program,” says Maylene. “If Tessa hadn’t reached out to us, we’d probably still be unsuccessfully trying to convince bankers and mortgage brokers that we weren’t crazy, and that, yes, you could make a living growing vegetables on two acres of land, with only a walk-behind tractor and a few simple pieces of equipment.”

Robin and Maylene knew from the beginning that organic certification was a priority for them, so when they were introduced to landowners Dag and Elina Falck, who own the land on which Loveland Acres has made their home, there was an instant spark of connection through their shared values.

Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

Besides wanting to give their customers a guarantee that the food they produced was being done in a way that met the highest criteria for environmental sustainability, they have also felt the support of a community of fellow organic growers in the region. The pair emphasized the importance of being connected to a group of people who understand what they are going through, are available to answer questions, and generally help alleviate the feeling of being alone in a tough industry. On one particularly bad week, filled with unfortunate life events, including a car breaking down and other irritations, they recalled attending the annual general meeting for the North Okanagan Organic Association (NOOA). Just being in a room with other organic growers gave them the encouragement they needed to push through and keep going.

The willingness these farmers have in engaging with the community and accessing all possible resources to support their dreams has been instrumental in moving them into the exciting place of possibility they are at now. When I asked, what’s the most exciting thing for you right now, they responded by loading me up with freshly-harvested arugula and French Breakfast radishes, which I ate in handfuls on the way home.

Land matchers love being able to help farmers achieve secure access to land to start or expand their businesses, and to help farmland owners enjoy the benefits of agriculture of all kinds on their land. Farmers, get in touch to start a conversation about leasing land for your operation! Landowners, reach out to the BCLMP to help a farmer access land, whether you have hundreds of acres of farmland, or a small urban plot. There are so many growers looking for spaces to produce food across the province, and your land might just be the perfect fit.

Find Loveland Acres online!

First farmers’ market . Credit: Loveland Acres.

Send an email to land@youngagrarians.org and a land matcher will get in touch to learn more about your needs and vision and help you get on your way to making a match.

The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

Tessa Wetherill farmed full-time and with all her heart for 11 years, first in Vancouver and then the North Okanagan, before joining the Young Agrarians team as the BCLMP’s Okanagan Land Matcher. She loves all things that grow—plants, people, and communities—and what really lights her up are relationships and collaborations that form strong, diverse human ecosystems.

Feature image: Robin and Maylene with starts. Credit: Tessa Wetherill

Maylene with low tunnel row cover hoops. Credit: Tessa Wetherill

Certification Coordinator Welcomes New Online System With Open Arms!

in 2020/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

Corinne Impey

When it comes to growing, organic certification, and supporting local operators, Cara Nunn could be considered an expert. She has also seen many changes over her 20-year career in the organic industry.

Cara is the Certification Coordinator for the North Okanagan Organics Association (NOOA) and the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association (SOOPA).

“My interest in growing began at a very young age as a child raised on a market garden in the Lake District of the Okanagan,” says Cara, who has a professional background in biogeography and experience working as a Managing Agrologist in the ginseng industry.

Cara started working with NOOA in 1997 and later expanded her work to include SOOPA. Now, nearly 23 years later, Cara continues to support organic growers and operators. Most recently, Cara has been helping her operators with the switch to iCertify, COABC’s newly launched online organic certification and renewal system. At the same time, she has been learning new skills and processes related to the administration of the online program.

“The system has come together better than I could have asked for,” says Cara. Having participated in the initial system development as well as many system demos, feedback gathering sessions, and testing, Cara played an active role in the project. “I really appreciate the input we had in developing the questions and format,” she says.

“The system is very robust and extremely capable,” says Cara. She acknowledges that at times, it can be a bit daunting, but “the iCertify Technical Advisor has been invaluable in getting answers and finding how to navigate the system.”

Regardless of any challenges related to learning a new system, she says the move to online certification is important. “I see the biggest benefit being an integrated location for all operator information: files, emails, communications, uploads, reports. Everything—chronological and orderly!”

“Record management has been heading this way for decades,” says Cara. “And the benefits go beyond the certification bodies.”

“The ability to provide details about our industry to government and funding bodies will provide a stronger voice for organics. It is also important for ourselves to have an integrated, clear system to verify integrity of organics to our own members and within our industry.”

Looking ahead, Cara is anticipating the launch of a new feature in iCertify: a database of approved inputs that will become available this summer. This database will be managed under the COABC umbrella of certification bodies and will be accessible to COABC members.

“To be able to offer an ongoing list of approved inputs and products throughout the community and have it accessible to our producers will keep the knowledge flowing,” says Cara. “It will also streamline the time involved in verifying products that may have already been looked at by another certification body.”

“Pooling resources and building community is a strength of the BC Certified Organic Program that I am happy to support.”


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: Cara Nunn building her new greenhouse. Credit: Maia Nunn

Ask an Expert: COVID-19 Supports for the Organic Sector

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Organic Community/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

A Network of Support for BC’s Ag Industry in COVID-19

Karina Sakalauskas

I know the past two months have been a challenge to all. I hope your families and workers are staying healthy and safe at your farms.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and to respect physical distancing measures, Ministry staff are working remotely but are still available to assist you. We continue to support the sector’s needs by providing services via email, phone, and through virtual meetings whenever possible. As we move on to the next stage of BC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are attempting to regain a sense of normalcy.

During these last two months, the Sector Development Branch at the Ministry, to which regional agrologists and industry specialists such as myself belong, has been reaching out to industry stakeholders and reporting to executives on the impacts experienced by the agriculture sector with regards to COVID-19 containment efforts.

I am in constant contact with COABC and representatives specific to their commodity portfolio such as organic farmers from different areas and from different food and beverage categories (poultry, livestock, dairy, veggies, fruit), organic processors and distributors, the accreditation board of COABC, certification bodies, and inspectors among others.

Some of the current impacts on the organic sector, identified through outreach efforts, are as follows:

  • Revenue losses from closed farmers’ markets, restaurants, and other sales outlets and difficulties in finding new supply routes.
  • Lack of support for small-scale diversified farmers (lack of qualification for support and insurance programs).
  • Lack of capacity for non-profit industry associations to address issues without stable revenues.
  • Delays in audits and inspections, including for organic certification. New growers or those in transition to be certified organic will be most impacted by cancellations or delays.
  • Information technology challenges in conducting remote inspections as well as in the transition to e-commerce by farmers.
  • Labour concerns and difficulty in productivity due to physical distancing measures.
  • Loss of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) impacts organic farmers, farmers’ markets, and small-scale diversified producers.
  • Shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other supplies.

Throughout the last week of April and first week of May, the Ministry of Agriculture planned a series of meetings for Minister Lana Popham to engage directly with industries of varying commodities and food system groups over a phone call (Phase 1). COABC’s executive director, Eva-Lena Lang, members of the COABC board, and organic farmers were invited to participate in a roundtable on April 30th, 2020.

Some highlights of the topics discussed include: support for certification bodies and COABC, support for small farms and market gardeners, collaboration between the organic sector and the Ministry, access to slaughter and processing capacity, alternative food supply chains, seed production shortages, and infrastructure and postharvest storage facilities for the organic sector. I have followed up with COABC, providing resources and initiatives related to the topics discussed. The Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham is planning to engage with the industry again around June (Phase 2).

During this time of uncertainty, there is an overwhelming amount of information to digest. Here is a summary of the latest activities that the Ministry is conducting in response to COVID-19:

Funding Opportunities

BC Agri-Business Planning Program

The BC Agri-Business Planning Program is now open to support producers and food processors through two streams:

  • COVID-19 Business Recovery Planning to help BC producers and processors develop and implement an immediate and long-term recovery plan.
  • Specialized Business Planning to enable BC producers and processors to make more informed decisions and strengthen their business.

BC Food and Beverage (BCFB) Protecting our People: PPE Access Program

BCFB announced a program to procure and offer PPE for the exclusive benefit of the food production, seafood, and agriculture sectors in BC. Companies needing PPE can purchase through this initiative. BCFB’s goal is to order in large enough quantities to make them more affordable for industry to purchase them.

On-Farm and Post-Farm Food Safety Program (OFFS): COVID-19 funding now available

OFFS is offering funding for protective and safety equipment for the April 2020 to March 2021 fiscal year. Eligible companies can seek funding to acquire PPE and other approved safety supplies for use at their facilities in order to maintain a safe workplace and mitigate the risk of COVID-19. With applications for personal protective equipment funding only, the usually mandatory Good Agricultural Practices assessment requirement is waived.

Funding Updates

Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)

CEBA has decreased the requirements for a payroll of $20k to make the funds more eligible for sole proprietors (i.e. owner/operators of small farms).

Resources and More

Recommendations for U-Pick, Farm Stands and Agri-tourism

These new documents outline information for U-pick, farm stands, and agri-tourism operators to meet Provincial Health Officer (PHO) orders, notices, and guidance. The information in these documents is meant to complement PHO recommendations.

BC Food Product Notification and Tracking Tool

The Ministry Food Service and Distribution working group has developed a tool to track existing overages and shortages of BC products due to COVID-19, sharing this information with potential markets. If you are experiencing difficulty in finding sales channels for your products or are lacking in inventory, please email me at karina.sakalauskas@gov.bc.ca

BC’s Restart Plan and the Agriculture and Seafood Sector – Important Information

Many sectors, including Agriculture, are encouraged to make plans and establish protocols on how they can operate safely in line with Public Health and Safety Guidelines. WorkSafeBC and the Ministry of Agriculture will work with industry associations to ensure the direction and guidance they provide to their members meets the requirements set out by the Provincial Health Officer. Individual businesses will need to ensure their own plans align with these sectoral plans.

Receiving Temporary Foreign Workers – Provincial Inspections for COVID-19

All temporary foreign workers arriving in BC for seasonal farm work are required to self-isolate in government-managed accommodations for 14 days before being transported to their farm. Host farm operators must ensure a safe workplace and demonstrate proof of an inspection control plan with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Guidelines for Protecting BC Farmers and Farm Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

On-Farm Food Safety and Good Agriculture Practices: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Small Lot Pork Producer Management & Production

BC AGRI, in collaboration with BC Pork, have released a new resource manual titled Small Lot Pork Producer Management & Production. While not related to COVID specifically, it is of special interest as many people are starting to raise their own animals and would like to learn more about best management and recommended animal husbandry practices.

To keep up-to-date on how we are supporting you, I would recommend signing up for our AgriService BC bulletin. Sign up here.

The Ministry of Agriculture maintains a list of resources for businesses, including support for businesses on our website.

As we continue to adjust to the ever-changing social landscape in the face of COVID-19, I would like to say thank you to everyone continuing to work on your farms to support the local organic food sector.

Please feel free to send me your comments, ideas, and questions at karina.sakalauskas@gov.bc.ca


Karina is the Organic Specialist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

Feature image credit: Gabriel Jimenez

Footnotes from the Field: Fairness in Organic Agriculture

in 2020/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2020

Anne Macey

Originally published in The Canadian Organic Grower, Spring 2018, and updated by the author in May 2020, with thanks.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has established its Principles of Organic Agriculture. Within those, IFOAM includes a Principle of Fairness, which states “Organic agriculture should be built on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.” The IFOAM text elaborates further, saying this principle “emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties—farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders, and consumers.”

Many of us have always thought of organic agriculture as a food system that includes social values, yet nothing in our standards speaks to social issues. The focus is very much on agronomic practices and permitted substances. Animal welfare is addressed, but when it comes to people and relationships, North Americans have resisted any suggestion that social justice standards are needed. The argument is that those kinds of standards are written for the global South where exploitation of the work force and poor working conditions are more common. The US and Canada have labour laws to protect farm workers.

I am not so sure, and in any case, fairness in the food system is about much more than treatment of farm workers. Fairness and basic rights include fair trade, fair pricing for the farmer, and fair access to land and seeds. It means fair wages for workers, decent farmworker housing, and more. I agree that incorporating social issues into standards could be problematic, but it is time we had a serious discussion about whether they are needed—and, if not, whether there is an alternative approach. How we can create trust and demonstrate that organic farmers respect their workers as much as the critters in the soil? How can we ensure farmers get a fair price for the quality food they produce?

Colleagues in the US (Michael Sligh, Elizabeth Henderson, and others) worked on these issues with the Agricultural Justice Project (see sidebar on Social Standards in Food Production), developing social stewardship standards for fair and just treatment of people who work in organic and sustainable agriculture. These standards currently fall into the realm of “beyond organic” with the stated purpose:

  • To allow everyone involved in organic and sustainable production and processing a quality of life that meets their basic needs and allows an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment.
  • To progress toward an entire production, processing and distribution chain that is both socially just and ecologically responsible.1

Here in Canada, two things got me thinking more about the need to introduce something on the topic of fairness in the Canadian Standard. The first was hearing about the poor housing with no potable water for migrant workers on a fruit farm in the Okanagan (not an organic farm), despite laws being in place to protect those workers.

The second is the debate about farm interns and apprentice rights on organic farms. With high labour requirements, many organic farms depend on WWOOFers and other short-term interns for their work force. But sometimes the relationship sours and the workers end up feeling exploited. While many farmers commit to providing a rich and rewarding experience for their interns, in other cases conditions are less than ideal. An intern’s expectation will likely include learning what it takes to become a farmer, not just how to weed carrots.

Maybe we don’t need to spell out lots of specific requirements in the standards, but we could at least make some principled statements about the need for organic agriculture to provide fair working and living conditions for farmers and their workers, whatever their status. For years this type of approach was used in the livestock standards, without the need to spell out exactly what was needed for compliance. We only articulated more specific rules when consumers became unsure about the ability of organic agriculture to address animal welfare issues and started looking for other labels. We could also include statements about fair prices and financial returns for farmers or buyers’ rights to a good quality product.

Unfortunately, since writing this article not much has changed. To bring the discussion to the table, I made some proposals for the 2018 standards revision process. The Organic Technical Committee set up a task force on the topic but no agreement was reached, although it might end up as an informative appendix to facilitate the review in 2025. In the meantime, following a discussion at the 2020 COABC conference we wondered if COABC should conduct a pilot project which, if successful, could be brought forward to the 2025 standards review. Perhaps a first step might be for organic operators to have a “letter of agreement” or similar in the first language of their employees and interns committing the operator to uphold the principles of social fairness regardless of any other formal labour contract that might exist.

The conversation continues.


Social Standards in Food Production

Domestic Fair Trade: The Agricultural Justice Project is a member of the Domestic Fair Trade Association along with a wide range of farmworker and farmer groups, retailers, processors and NGOs from across North America. These groups are united in their mission to promote and protect the integrity of domestic fair trade.

Farmer Direct Co-op, a 100% farmer-owned, organic co-op based in Saskatchewan, was a leader in domestic fair trade, as the first business in North America to earn that certification. Its membership includes more than 60 family farms producing organic small grains and pulse crops in the Prairie region.

Domestic fair-trade certification is based on a set of 16 principles, encompassing health, justice, and sustainability:

  • Family scale farming
  • Capacity building for producers and workers
  • Democratic and participatory ownership and control
  • Rights of labor
  • Equality and opportunity
  • Direct trade
  • Fair and stable pricing
  • Shared risk & affordable credit
  • Long-term trade relationships
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Appropriate technology
  • Indigenous Peoples’ rights
  • Transparency & accountability
  • Education & advocacy
  • Responsible certification and marketing
  • Animal welfare

Source: Domestic Fair Trade Association

Aquaculture: The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) includes social requirements in its standards certifying responsibly farmed seafood. “ASC certification imposes strict requirements based on the core principles of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), these include prohibiting the use of child labour or any form of forced labour. All ASC certified farms are safe and equitable working environments where employees earn a decent wage and have regulated working hours. Regular consultation with surrounding communities about potential social impacts from the farm and proper processing of complaints are also required by certified farms.”

Source: Aquaculture Stewardship Council


Anne Macey is a long-time advocate for organic agriculture at local, provincial, national and international levels. She has served on the CGSB technical committee on organic agriculture, the ECOA Animal Welfare Task Force, the COABC Accreditation Board and on the Accreditation Committee for the International Organic Accreditation Service, as well as her local COG chapter. She is a writer/editor of COG’s Organic Livestock Handbook, a retired sheep farmer, and a past president of COG.

References:
1. Agricultural Justice Project. 2012. Social Stewardship Standards in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: Standards Document. agriculturaljusticeproject.org/media/uploads/2016/08/02/AJP_Standards_Document_9412.pdf

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