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Organic Stories: Lasser Ranch, Chetwynd BC

in 2020/Climate Change/Current Issue/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/Current Issue/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/Current Issue/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/Current Issue/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/Current Issue/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

Biodynamic Farm Story: Farming Amidst the Pandemic

in 2020/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Summer 2020

Anna Helmer

Biodynamically, there is nothing to be done but carry on. As far as I know, Rudolph Steiner did not articulate any advice on performing the pandemic farm pivot when he envisioned what has become Biodynamic farming. Mind you, he did live through the big flu of the early 20th century, so I think it quite possible that there is resilience to the effects of physical distancing built into his ideas.For evidence, I can tell you that at least one of his Waldorf schools has handled the necessary pivot to online learning with aplomb. The first day back from spring break, a five-day Grade 1 lesson plan plopped into my inbox: the product of an assortment of computer applications and teachers devoted to delivering school to the children. The student has remained engaged and the whole thing is somewhat magical, I have to say, especially given their previous abhorrance of screens.

Our farm has too performed a pivot—but it is too early to tell how it will turn out. It doesn’t look all that different from last year so far. Planting potatoes, planning on selling them. Further details to be decided later. It can’t be sorted out right now, with the information we have. Not to boast or anything, but I feel numb about it.

The thing about COVID is that everyone is affected. I can’t possibly bang on about my own tough situation full in the knowledge that others must have it much tougher. When regular, run-of-the-mill, middle-class tax-payers are facing an uncertain future, one assumes one’s troubles are standard to the point of tediousness.

Suffice it to say, COVID-pression must be a widespread, underlying condition on almost every farm this spring. If you haven’t got it, I think you should. It’s time to slide. You just have to pass through the phase of despair to get to the numb phase, where you just keep plodding along. It’s easy to trigger if you ponder the fact that a lot of your customers don’t have jobs and have no prospect for a job. They have been homeschooling and entertaining their kids for weeks. Many of them have realized that these kids are difficult and have trouble hearing the word “no.”  Most of the things that generally offer happiness, satisfaction, and inspiration aren’t available right now, or possibly even soon: waving kids off to school (in retrospect, a personal favorite), office drama, alone-time (Oh! Oh!), conferences, vacations, etc etc. If this isn’t you, isn’t that nice. It is your customers. Thank goodness the mainstream food system is underperforming, and the people have to eat. They may go local afterall, so get to plodding along.

You’re welcome for bringing the bouyant down a few pegs. Someone had to do it. Nothing worse than perky positive types when one is trying to be resilient. Speaking for myself, I knew I had issues when my rough draft included the following in a list of pandemic upsides:

Cheap gas. Isn’t it fun to fill up? Nevermind the climate. Gas-guzzlers for the win!

Don’t worry. I came to my senses and edited it out.

The conventional food system is creaking and in some cases cracking. Turns out slaughtering and processing tens of thousands of animals a day by a low-paid, disposable —yet irreplaceable—workforce in an industry owned from top to bottom by billionaires keen on profits is a weak model. What could possibly go wrong? COVID. That’s what. Get real.

I am not editing out my scornful tone.

Back to farming. I am writing this May 13th. You are reading well into June or July. I wonder what’s happening now?


Anna Helmer hesitated for so long over writing this sign-off bit that it no longer made sense to put anything here at all.

Bonus: As part of their Growing Pains series, CBC’s On the Coast interviewed BC organic potato farmer Anna Helmer on how COVID-19 has changed the way she’ll sell her crop this year: “It hit like a ton of bricks. Those mid-March markets in Vancouver. All of a sudden, we were doing a quarter of the sales that I’m happy with.” Have a listen!

Photo courtesy of Helmer’s Organic Farm

First Generation Farmers Find Ease with iCertify Renewal

in Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2020/Tools & Techniques

Amy Lobb & Calum Oliver, Makoha Farm

Corinne Impey

Makoha Farm is owned and operated by Amy and Calum, who began their farming journey in 2019 on 0.6 acres of leased land on Cordova Bay Ridge in Saanich, BC.At Makoha Farm, they want their love of good food to come across in what they grow: providing tasty, healthy, and top-quality produce. They grow a diversity of vegetable crops and have quickly fallen in love with growing flowers for cut arrangements.

Currently at the start of their second year of farming, Mahoka Farm is part of Haliburton Community Organic Farm, a certified organic incubator farm in Saanich, BC.

As they geared up for their 2020 organic renewal with Islands Organic Producers Association earlier this year, they were looking forward to trying iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system.

Amy with a harvest of leeks. Credit: Kristina Coleman

“iCertify was quite simple to use when it came time to do our renewal,” says Amy. “The webinar preview and in-person training sessions were helpful and informative and made the process undaunting. To be honest, I feel that even if I hadn’t done the initial training before starting my renewal I wouldn’t have had any issues.” In particular, Amy found the clear and simple layout easy to follow.

“Also, having the percentage complete bars for each section is a nice touch visually, quickly letting you know if you missed something or giving you peace of mind that you’re almost done.”

Amy looks forward to future renewals where the process will be even more streamlined now that everything lives in iCertify. “It will be interesting to see how everything goes during next year’s renewal,” says Amy. “It should save us time in the future, only needing to update information that may have changed for our operation and uploading our annual forms.”

Time saved doing administration work means more time spent focused on farming. For 2020, Makoha has launched their first flower CSA subscription, which includes a small veggie box add-on option.

“We can’t wait to share this with the community. As the season begins in this world of uncertainty, we’re also happy to be able to still provide the local community with food for their homes. No matter what happens, we will be here growing food and offering it to the public.”


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: Amy and Calum of Makoha Farm. Credit: Amy Lobb

BC Organic Conference 2020 Recap

in 2020/Organic Community/Spring 2020

“This is the moment for food in British Columbia.”

BC’s Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, opened the 2020 BC Organic Conference with a message of hope. In front of a very large crowd of organic growers, producers, and supporters, she spoke of the convergence of the increased demand for local food, a growing interest in where it all comes from, and a renewed interest in producing it. More and more British Columbians are engaged in how their food moves from farm to plate and they’re taking a lot of pride in choosing goods that are grown and made here. “This is the moment for food in British Columbia,” she proclaimed.

This feeling of hope—of support, growth, and optimism—was woven throughout the entire conference weekend. Not just because the conference theme was The Future of Organic, but because, after decades of hard work, the organic sector has consumer confidence and is more connected and ambitious than ever!

Jordan Marr speaking at the opening reception at KPU

BC Organic: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future

Dag Falck, Organic Program Manager at Nature’s Path Foods, gave this year’s keynote address and encouraged everyone to stand together for a peaceful, just, and sustainable world.

He examined some of the current threats and challenges to organic principles, particularly in light of what is happening to erode the organic standards south of the border. He outlined some of the current responses and opportunities globally, such as IFOAM’s Organic 3.0, and the emergence of additional certification labeling such as Regenerative Organic Certification.

But most importantly, he concluded by presenting his ideas of the best steps that can be taken to ensure a bright and growing future for BC Organic:

  • Farm organically as what it originally was created to be
  • Focus on soil health as a foundation for all
  • Focus on what organics is, not what it isn’t
  • Avoid criticizing others and invite participation (don’t demand it)
  • Challenge group thinking and dare to be different
  • Work together to reach common goals

In case you missed the keynote (or want to experience it again), you can view the full presentation here.

Kwantlen Nation Elder Lekeyten with Lana Popham at the opening reception at KPU
Farm tour at KPU

The Future is Here

This year’s conference featured two farm tours (UBC and KPU) plus over 15 sessions and workshops. From emerging technologies, innovative techniques, and new training opportunities to the latest on organic policies, standards, and research, it’s clear BC’s organic sector has one foot firmly planted in the future. As always, the sessions were informative and full of passion, and motivated us all to take action and continue to move things forward.

There were also some bittersweet moments: Carmen Wakeling’s term as COABC President ended, and Jen Gamble wrapped up her long-time role as COABC’s Executive Director of Operations. We’d like to thank them both for all the passion they brought to their positions and for all of their work to support organic farming in BC. We wish them both the best!

And, a big welcome to COABC’s new President, Heather Stretch, and Executive Director, Eva-Lena Lang.

Heather Stretch, Lana Popham, Eva-Lena Lang at the opening reception

Award Winners

Congratulations to the 2020 award winners! DeLisa Lewis took home the Brad Reid Award, which honours an innovative leader who has strengthened the organic community by moving the sector forward. Jon and Sher Alcock of Sunshine Farm were the winners of this year’s Bedrock Award, which honours work on the foundations organics.

Learn more about these incredibly deserving recipients!

So…What Does the Future Hold?

Right now, BC is home to over 900 certified organic businesses. COABC will continue to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen the term “organic” and make leaps forward in truth in labeling. COABC will keep striving to reduce one of the biggest barriers to becoming certified organic—that darn paperwork—through the COABC’s new online certification system, iCertify. And, it will focus on emerging issues, such as the organic certification of cannabis in BC.

KPU farm tour inside the geodesic greenhouse

One of the best parts of the BC Organic Conference is the wrap-up session, when everyone gathers together, looks back on the weekend, and shares their hopes and dreams for the organic sector. With so much knowledge, drive, and experience in the room, the ideas were insightful and plentiful—and not out of reach. Well-paid farm workers. More respect for manual labour. Accountability for conventional farmers. Public understanding of the true meaning of organic and all its principles. Relationships with, not ownership of, land. Diverse and bioregional available seeds. More funding for first-generation start-up farms. Social justice. And too many more to list!

How do we achieve these dreams? Together. Express gratitude to those who are moving the sector forward, engage in research, share your knowledge, embrace Indigenous perspectives, attend public meetings, care for those who are struggling, and find common ground with other organizations. Oh, and help out farmers who have kids. Include and involve children whenever possible and babysit them as often as you can!

And above all, have hope! The future is bright. The future is organic.

Thank you!

A huge thanks to Gavin Wright for organizing this fabulous event, KPU’s Elder in Residence, Lekeyten, for opening the event, BC’s Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, and Agriculture Co-Critic, Ian Patton, for their opening remarks, Natalie Forstbauer for putting together another successful silent auction (even though she now lives in Saskatchewan!), MC Jordan Marr for his highly entertaining words, and Ken McCormick for his excellent video of the event. And also to the event sponsors, silent auction donors, food donors, volunteer staff, hotel staff, and KPU staff for all your time and efforts towards another amazing weekend together. We couldn’t have done it without you.

Two of the many volunteers who helped make the conference possible!

 

Rebecca Kneen shares the latest information about the 2020 review of the Canadian Organic Standards
Helmer’s Organic Farm with their seed potatoes at the tradeshow

Changing the Climate Conversation through Agriculture

in 2020/Climate Change/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Spring 2020/Water Management

Julia Zado

Tackling climate change is a daunting task. With each season we see drastic weather events affecting farmers across Canada. The food we eat and how it is grown can and does have a significant impact on climate.  Farmers are on the frontline of the climate crisis and are in a unique position to positively impact climate change.

In 2019 FarmFolk CityFolk released “Climate Change Mitigation Opportunities,” a report researched and written by Shauna MacKinnon. This report aims to change the narrative that climate change cannot be stopped. Although some agricultural practices create significant greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture has the potential to deliver fast and effective climate solutions.

“Our report is eye opening. We want to move the conversation from adapting to climate change, to mitigating and stopping climate change,” says Anita Georgy, Executive Director for FarmFolk CityFolk.

According to MacKinnon, changing the climate conversation is possible and already in motion: “individuals and communities are already shifting energy use and changing land management in ways that can prevent climate change from reaching its worst potential.”

The report demonstrates that in order for Canada to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets, policies and programs must include agriculture and food systems. This will allow for a much larger and inclusive conversation between communities to make necessary changes, “helping shift the climate conversation from abstract to tangible, inadequate to meaningful. Agriculture and food systems are one of the keys to unlocking a lower carbon future and motivating action.”

Mark Cormier_ Glorious Organics. Mark with green cover crop which helps reduce evaporation and soil loss. Photo by Michael Marrapese

The agriculture industry produces greenhouse gas emissions; however, it also has the unique ability to absorb carbon and incorporate it into the soil, which in turn improves the health of the soil. Much research is being done about exactly what practices are most effective, and how to store carbon for the long term. Healthy soil with higher carbon levels not only increases crop yields, it also holds more water and can better withstand the extreme weather effects of climate change such as drought or heavy rainfall.

The report details how certain farm-level management practices can increase or deplete organic carbon in the soil, using regenerative methods of farming and grazing that focuses on rebuilding and restoring soil. Without the use of synthetic fertilizers or inputs, restored soil health can improve productivity and carbon drawdown.

“There are a wide range of on-farm practices that can help both reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigate climate change that many BC farmers are already using, and saving money at the same time,” says Georgy.

Glorious Organics, a cooperatively owned and operated farm in Aldergrove, is dedicated to soil conservation techniques including low-till, cover cropping, and intercropping. Committed to climate solutions, Glorious Organics has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by switching to a solar water pump system from a gas system, which has the added benefits of reducing water use, thanks to partial funding from the Environmental Farm Plan.

Drip Tapes in Upper Field at Glorious Organics. Photo credit: Michael Marrapese

With its emphasis on carbon storage to rebuild soil health, regenerative agriculture offers different strategies to manage and reduce reliance on external inputs. “These practices can also provide additional co-benefits, such as improved water holding capacity and increased habitat for biodiversity,” says MacKinnon. “The integration of livestock and annual crop production is an important part of these approaches, diversifying production, breaking up pest cycles, and providing manure to replace synthetic fertilizers.”  For example, Shirlene Cote, of Earth Apple Farm in Glen Valley, rotates her chickens through the fields, both to control pests and provide natural fertilizer.

In the report, MacKinnon recommends prioritizing “agricultural practices that can store carbon, produce nutrient-rich food, improve water management, and provide greater biodiversity.”

The report calls for policymakers at all levels of government—federal, regional, and municipal—to fully engage in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors, agriculture and food systems included. The changes suggested represent a major shift in Canadian agriculture—a shift that requires support from all of us.

MacKinnon concludes, “there is much room for improvement in Canadian agriculture production, from reducing nitrous oxide emissions in the Prairies to reducing livestock methane. Beneficial management practices have already been identified to begin to reduce emissions and reduce the reliance on external inputs, and producers are continuing to push the boundaries in finding more sustainable production methods.”

“Agriculture and food systems contribute less emissions compared to the transport and energy sectors and for that reason have potentially not been a focus of federal and provincial level mitigation strategies as of yet. The time has come for us to join the conversation,” says Georgy.

In February 2020, FarmFolk CityFolk announced its participation in Farmers for Climate Solutions, a new national alliance of farmer organizations and supporters. “The ultimate goal for Farmers for Climate Solutions is to impact policy change,” says Georgy. The alliance is calling for Canadian agricultural policies that help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change, and support the increased use of low-input, low-emissions agricultural systems.

Farmers for Climate Solutions is a collaborative effort led by the National Farmers Union, Canadian Organic Growers, FarmFolk CityFolk, Rural Routes to Climate Solutions, the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, Equiterre, and SeedChange.

This new alliance will give farmers a platform to share stories about climate impacts, practical solutions and policy recommendations, and engage Canadians to support their vision. Farmers for Climate Solutions includes a pledge for both farmers and the general public. Farmers and supporters are encouraged to sign the alliance’s pledge and add their voices towards achieving climate-friendly agriculture while maintaining farm livelihoods.

“Individuals can support change through their everyday food choices. This is an opportunity to strengthen the connection between food products and climate change, and promote further dialogue,” says Georgy.

So far over 600 farmers and engaged citizens have signed the pledge.


Julia Zado is the Engagement Manager for FarmFolk CityFolk and is passionate about supporting local farmers and small scale producers. farmfolkcityfolk.ca

Feature image: Shirlene Cote, operates Earth Apple Organic Farm and is one of the Western Canada spokespeople for Farmers for Climate Solutions. Photo by Brian Harris

Why Nature’s Path Embraces Real Organic & Regenerative Organic

in 2020/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Soil/Spring 2020

Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path Founder, and Dag Falck, Nature’s Path Organic Programs Manager

Pioneer organic farmers were the visionaries of their age. Like many other inspired thinkers born before their time, they viewed the ordinary in extraordinary new ways, working quietly and diligently towards an alternate approach, often years or even decades before the general population awaken to the same realizations.

Consider the doctor who was fired from his job in 1847 for suggesting that surgeons wash their hands before operating on a patient. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis and his new “idea” of practicing basic sanitary procedures has saved millions and millions of lives.

At the center and core of Nature’s Path Foods is the goal of creating an agricultural system that aims towards healing the soil, land, water, air and all of us who rely on these essential and natural elements.

All around the world, people are waking up to the direct connection between how we farm locally and the massive collective impact this has on the stability of the global climate. This awareness has led to a will to do something about it. And we welcome the conversation on how we better reach that goal.

Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, humanity was excited with a “new form” of agriculture that increased yields and reduced backbreaking labor. It was clear that the invention of mechanical tools and chemicals that lent themselves to mass agricultural production of food and fiber was welcomed and celebrated worldwide.

At the same time, there was a handful of visionary individuals spread around the globe who had an awareness of a different sort. They observed how traditional agricultural practices had developed over thousands of years, being vital in support not only to people, but to all living things.

They saw the tiny organisms in the soil, the animals and people living above ground, all working together in cooperation in a way that provided calories and nourishment through the plants growing in the soil. This whole-system-approach is now recognized as having an intrinsic capacity for maintaining and perpetuating a complex balance where all parts co-exist in balance.

We call this system “nature,” which includes supporting the modulated climate on planet earth that makes our existence possible.

As if by some divine decree, this diverse core of individuals across the globe were awakening to this insight about the same time, being mostly unaware that others like themselves were all having the same revelations. The individuals and small groups inspired by this idea often felt isolated, and their efforts to reconnect with Nature as their role-model and teacher was certainly considered as going against the tide. In their experience, the system of cultivating the soil was not seen as having value, and these visionaries were often ridiculed as wanting to return to harsh and barbaric methods.

This was a key period in history where the concept of being “alternative” took hold. Carrying the torch for an idea not embraced by the mainstream society is a hard path with much struggle and little recognition. Especially in the early stages, visionaries are often exposed to ridicule and direct opposition from the mainstream way of doing things.

Imagine the frustration of Dr. Semmelweis, when he met resistance to something as simple as washing hands before surgical procedures. He clearly saw the death toll resulting from not doing so.
Fortunately for us, the visionaries who came before our time were provided with an extra dose of resiliency and energy that allowed them to keep going against all odds. They never gave up and they often did not receive any recognition in their own lifetimes. And the issues that they fought for didn’t see the light of day until generations later.

Organic farming is one of these alternatives.

The early organic farming pioneers bravely blazed the way forward. They lived and died believing in their vision, but never saw any real uptake on any large scale. Years later, organic agriculture started to grow as a movement, and with it, organic food and fiber became available around the world.

Even if organic agriculture is just a drop in the bucket compared to the growth of chemical and industrial monoculture, we have arrived at a moment where the pioneers of the organic movement and their vision for a healthy and truly sustainable way of agriculture are becoming recognized by an ever-growing segment of society. It can no longer be denied that our very survival as a species depends on shifting our current conventional agriculture model towards the kinds of organic practices that nurture and support nature’s wholistic system health. This is the birthing room that today’s Regenerative Agriculture movements have been born in.

Is Nature’s Path excited about regenerating agriculture? You bet!

Yet in the last few decades of false starts and opportunistic profiteering muddying the waters of the soil health movements, we’ve observed label claims like “natural” that have no proper definition, with no standards and no certification or oversight. This has confused consumers and provided a mockery of the soil health movements with deeply authentic goals to improve conditions for all life on earth. The organic movement has always been in front and center of this conversation.

Our highest hopes for the latest movement to hit the scene is that it will drive a sincere and intensely practical revolution for how we care for the thin crust around the earth that feeds all life here. Our thin layer of top soil, and the new movement recognizing its paramount importance has taken on the name of Regenerative Agriculture.

The three key concepts that gave rise to the recent iteration of the regenerative agriculture movement are that:

  • Soil which is nurtured to support a largely unseen microbial network will grow healthier plants,
  • The plants grown in healthy soil provide healthier nutrition for people and animals, and
  • The big “Aha!” realization is that this very same healthy soil actually sequesters enough carbon from the atmosphere to heal our catastrophic global climate disruption.

Nature’s Path Foods is deeply concerned over the disastrous effects of climatic change felt by people in most parts of the world, and vocal with our message that the problem of climate change must be recognized as the most critical issue of our age.

How amazing is our discovery that organic farmers indeed hold the knowledge to reverse a climate calamity? Nature’s perfect mechanism of photosynthesis can draw carbon down out of thin air, and lock it into living soil. By simply taking better care of the soil and nurturing the life that lives below our feet, we can contribute so importantly to the most existential crisis humanity has yet faced.

The life in our soil can hold much more carbon if we only treat it well and allow it to flourish instead of constantly applying practices that diminish its fertility and vitality.

At this point please allow us to make an introduction. Dear regenerative movement: Meet the organic movement.

We have a lot in common and could benefit from sharing ideas and best approaches. The organic movement brings decades of hands-on experience in carrying an unpopular torch and what it takes to keep it burning despite opposition from powerful vested interests.

Our common bond is capturing carbon to reverse climate crisis. Where the divergence happens is in the details of the plan to accomplish this.

There are two main challenges: One is that according to the latest science, there is very little time to make enough of an impact to actually affect the climate— so we need to be in a hurry by necessity. The other is that if the scale of adoption is not massive, then the outcomes won’t be big enough to make a difference.

Reaching large scales of adaption in a hurry is undeniably the key to success. We will even venture to guess that most people with a stake in one or more of the myriads of today’s regenerative initiatives are with us on this assessment so far—that we need to scale up in a hurry.

Here is the point where we face a wide divergence of approaches. Two key strategies to help reverse the climate crisis. If we are to rise above our respective positions in this massive puzzle to save soil, environment, climate and humanity, we will need to find ways to synchronize our efforts. The first logical step in addressing both speed and scale is to tap into everyone’s efforts at the same time.

Our conflict centers around these two opposing theories:

A) That carbon intensifying farming can be achieved by adding practices to any existing form of agricultural system today, including “conventional.” Versus;
B) That even with the best added practices, success cannot be achieved without also addressing the removal of those practices that have the most grievously detrimental effect on the life in the soil.

A is the conventional regenerative movement’s belief, and B is the organic belief. We have to be clear about this and not settle for a compromise where we say we promote carbon capture, while also allowing use of the methods that basically make that intent ineffective.

“Regenerative Agriculture” is easily co-opted and used as a form of greenwash and duplicity. Regenerative Organic agriculture does not employ fossil fuel-based synthetic fertilizer, toxic pesticides or GMOs, and agricultural practices cannot be labeled as Regenerative if they are harming people and polluting our planet.

We simply and clearly cannot call it Regenerative Agriculture by introducing a few time-honoured organic practices such as crop rotations, compost and ruminant pasturing into any practice that allows the use of toxic chemicals and GMOs.

Reaching scale quickly cannot be done with clever wording alone. The practices actually must have a positive effect on carbon capture.

We must directly address the applications of agrichemicals that are working counter to actual carbon capture and diligently weed out these practices, while requiring agricultural producers to add regenerative practices. Carbon intensifying farming cannot be achieved by adding practices to today’s conventional systems of heavy reliance on synthetic fossil fuel-based agrichemical inputs that kill the life in the soil, which is responsible for the capturing of carbon.

To meet the goal of scaling-up solutions to the climate crisis, we must evaluate which of two critical practices have the most detrimental effects on the life in the soil:

  1. Is it the practice of using agrichemicals on the soil to control weeds, disease, and fertility, with the consequences of negatively affecting soil life, or
  2. Is it the practice of tillage, which addresses weeds, disease, and fertility, but which may expose the soil to baking in the sun, eroding in rains, and the resulting loss of soil life?

We agree that tillage needs to be reduced and be carefully practiced with discretion. But even in its most extreme form, it is not thought to be anywhere near as detrimental as agrichemicals.

The fork in the road where we are standing today looks like this: The south fork is going along without confronting the status quo of industrial agriculture, while adding carbon-capturing practices. The north fork is confronting the status quo, and adding carbon-capturing practices.

As part of our commitment to continue raising food on a compromised planet, we all have to wrestle with these issues and decide which fork in the road we will follow. All we can offer is the suggestion that we all look clearly and dispassionately at the issues. For Nature’s Path, the north fork is the one we choose to take. In our assessment, chemicals have a strong detrimental effect on the ability of our topsoils to capture carbon and do not belong in a food production system in the first place.

Tillage can be moderated. Before agrichemicals, there was no alternative to tillage, and we refuse to believe we’re stuck with putting poisons on our food and fiber-producing fields in order to save our climate. Organic farmers have long proven that food can be produced without chemicals, using some tillage as a tool.

Our hope is that the diverse regenerative agricultural movements will seek to find existing systems that already embody the solutions we disparately need to implement, and deeply study the successes and challenges in these systems to see how they can be scaled up quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at historical examples where sustainable, regenerative practices have been employed over the ages. In Asian wet rice farming, abundant soil fertility has been consistently maintained, producing bountiful harvests on the same plots for over 2,000 years. The greatest input we can add to our farmlands is the wisdom of cultures around the world who have been growing organically for hundreds of generations before chemical agriculture was introduced in the 20th century.

Since the recent invention of “conventional agriculture”, we have been steadily eroding soil fertility and rapidly increasing the destruction of our natural environment— while decreasing the nutritional content of our food.

We should view and treat our soil as a bank containing the present and future wealth of nations. Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s utilize the momentum already built by the worldwide organic agriculture movement. It has not yet reached the scale we need to solve the climate crisis, but there is no comparable system of agriculture that is as well defined and that has as much success to show.

Let us all join ranks with organic and make it the kind of movement that can change the world on a large scale. With your help, we can get past the tipping point and make the kinds of changes in our food system that we need to survive.

In the end, organic agriculture is really just good farming. It treats natural soil life, insects, animals, people, air, water and earth with integrity. Our support of the Real Organic Project is not a radical move— it’s simply a clear statement for the preservation of integrity in organic.

Together we offer the strong voice needed to stand up against the practices now tearing the fabric of the planet apart. And as the Real Organic Project continues to raise this voice in support of integrity in the face of well-entrenched and well-financed opposition, Nature’s Path hopes that it won’t stand down or give in.

Organic knows what it’s like to be a threat to the world economy’s largest interests. If healthy soil is the solution we need, then the chemicals that kill the life in the soil must be prohibited.

That’s doing, versus promising.


Pioneer, entrepreneur, artist and visionary, Arran Stephen’s organic legacy sprouted more than 50 years ago with just $7, a $1,500 loan and a dream. After opening the first vegetarian restaurant in Canada and the first organic cereal manufacturing facility, he is now leading future generations down a path of organic food and agriculture practices so we may all leave the Earth better than we found it. naturespath.com

Recognized as an expert in the organic industry, Dag Falck has served as Organic Program Manager for Nature’s Path Organic Foods since 2003. Prior to joining the company, he was an organic inspector for 14 years.

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