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Organic Stories: Wildflight Farm – Secwepemeceulecw, Mara BC

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

A Community Movement Takes Flight

By Brianne Fester

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

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

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

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

Seeding Garlic. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping harvest day interesting. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wildflightfarm.ca


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

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

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

A Summer of Drought, Heat Waves, and Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Coping with Heat Waves & Drought

By Marjorie Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving the Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Evacuation

By Tristan Banwell, Spray Creek Ranch, Lillooet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running on Fumes: Solstedt Organics

By Ashala Daniel, Solstedt Organics, Lytton BC

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image: Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC

Fairness as Migrant Justice

in 2021/Fall 2021/Organic Community/Organic Standards

By Susanna Klassen

The organic sector has many roots, and has been strengthened by a diversity of movements and ideas. Though rarely acknowledged, the sector was given a significant boost in the late 1960’s when hundreds of thousands of Mexican farm workers mobilized millions of consumers in the United States to boycott the conventional grapes and lettuce they were working to produce.(1) The boycotts were organized by the United Farm Workers under the leadership of Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, and others, in collaboration with allies like the Black Panther Party. The protest was a response to the hazardous working conditions caused by unsafe applications of toxic pesticides. This was around the same time that the organic food movement was starting to gain traction among both farmers and consumers, and the boycotts bridged struggles for farm worker justice with the interests of health and social justice-minded consumers—a boon for the organic market in North America.(2)

We often hear about the influence of organic pioneers, such as Sir Albert Howard, and how their commitment to soil health helped shaped the organic sector. However, there are other movements, including the struggles for justice and labour by agricultural workers, without which organic agriculture would not be what it is today. The Canadian organic sector is anchored to some of these social justice roots through the organic principle of “Fairness,” which includes explicit reference to farm workers, and is “characterized by equity, respect, justice, and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings.”(3) But, despite the inclusion of the Fairness principle in the introduction to the Canadian Organic Standards, the standards themselves do not contain a single requirement relating to social fairness, including for workers.

Today, the wellbeing of farm workers has once again been elevated in the public consciousness. The devastating impacts of COVID-19 shone a light on many of the ugliest parts of our food system, including insufficient access to protective equipment, deadly incidence of disease, and xenophobia experienced by essential farm workers, many of whom are racialized migrants.(4) The climate crisis also continues to threaten the health and safety of farm workers—look at the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest—and has already been deadly.(5)

Migrant workers are uniquely vulnerable due to their precarious and temporary status in Canada. Since migrant workers’ ability to work and remain in the country is tied to a single employer, they cannot easily leave unjust, abusive, or dangerous working conditions the way that workers with residency or citizenship status can. Despite regulations that are meant to guarantee minimum standards and conditions of employment, migrant workers’ access to these limited rights and benefits is effectively curbed by the risks associated with exerting them. Meanwhile, poor enforcement and follow up by regulatory bodies means that employers often break rules and cut corners at the expense of workers.

While not all organic farms hire paid workers, increasingly, more labour-intensive organic farms do hire temporary foreign workers through either the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), or the Primary Agriculture stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). While we don’t know how many migrant workers are employed on organic farms, we know that organic farms in Canada use more labour than conventional farms in general. There is not good data specific to migrant labour on organic farms, but preliminary analyses of a survey I conducted of BC vegetable growers and publicly available data suggest that organic farms utilize migrant farm workers at a rate that is similar to conventional farms.

Numbers aside, it is clear that organic farms are not exempt from the structural inequities faced by migrant farm workers. Instances of abuse, neglect and unfair treatment of migrant workers have been documented on organic farms in Canada. These include several complaints of underpaid wages and poor conditions at Golden Eagle Blueberry Farm in BC, or the tragic death of two migrant workers at Filsinger’s Organic Foods & Orchards in Ontario. While these examples may seem extreme, many experts have pointed out that unfair conditions for migrant workers are not the result of a few “bad apples,”(6) but rather a system that disempowers and devalues migrant workers in favour of a flexible and dependable labour force.(7)

In recognition of these realities, and the lack of any requirements in the Canadian organic standards to enact the organic principle of “Fairness,” several organic community members have been asking what can be done to improve fairness in organics as it relates to labour. These efforts have included a petition to the organic standards review process for social fairness standards put forward by Organic BC’s own Anne Macey, in collaboration with Janine Gibson and Marion McBride.(8) While these proposed standards were not voted on by the Technical Committee (which governs the standards revision process) in the 2020 revision process, the committee has committed to discussing it again in 2025.(9) Additionally, several directors of the Organic Federation of Canada are already working on revising the proposed social fairness standards, which include but are not limited to standards relating to farm workers.

Another approach to embodying the principle of fairness, however, is to look to migrant workers and migrant advocacy organizations themselves and ask how the organic community could contribute to migrant justice demands in Canada. Together with other experts and advocates, and in light of exacerbated inequities caused by COVID-19, these groups have called on the federal and provincial governments for structural changes to the TFWP, including:

  1. Regularized/resident status for all migrants upon arrival and an end to repatriations;
  2. Granting of open work permits to migrants;
  3. Improved protections and benefits;
  4. Improved procedures to follow-up on complaints from workers;
  5. Stronger mandates and supports for employers;
  6. Improved inspection regimes;
  7. Improved access to information for workers; and,
  8. Improved representation of migrant organizations in planning and implementation of supports.(10), (11)

Another important issue that has been raised by groups like Fuerza Migrante (including during a session about Fairness and Solidarity with Migrants at the 2020 COABC conference) is the lack of worker voices in, and knowledge about, their own employment contracts. It is important to note that the changes that migrants and migrant advocacy organizations are seeking are much broader than the organic sector, and most are focused on structural and systemic changes to the temporary foreign worker programs, including how they are regulated and governed.

The theme and purpose of this fall issue to “harvest wisdom” from beyond the BC organic sector presents a valuable opportunity to contemplate how the organic community fits into a larger landscape of demands for change within and adjacent to the food system. Aided in part by the values-based grounding to the principle of Fairness, it seems that the organic community has made progress towards viewing labour generally, and migrant workers specifically, as inherently part of organic agriculture. But as of yet, migrant justice demands (including improved representation of migrant justice organizations in planning and decision-making) are not yet centred in the sector’s approach to Fairness.

Perhaps the sector can continue to explore what can be done to achieve Fairness through organic standards in addition to considering how they might advance migrant justice priorities. Treating migrant justice as the core of the Fairness principle seems like a good place to start.


Susanna is a PhD Candidate at the University of British Columbia. Her PhD research is about the contributions of organic agriculture to food system sustainability with a focus on labour and agroecological diversification. This article draws from a collaboration with Fuerza Migrante, a migrant worker collective, and a forthcoming publication by Susanna, Fuerza Migrante, and Hannah Wittman called “Sharing the Struggle for Fairness: Exploring the Possibilities for Solidarity & Just Labour in Organic Agriculture.”

Feature image: Credit: Fuerza Migrante

References:

  1. Araiza, L. (2009). “In Common Struggle against a Common Oppression”: The United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party, 1968-1973. The Journal of African American History, 94(2), 200–223. doi.org/10.1086/JAAHv94n2p200
  2. Obach, B. K. (2015). Organic Struggle: The Movement for Sustainable Agriculture in the United States. The MIT Press.
  3. ifoam.bio/why-organic/principles-organ ic-agriculture/principle-fairness
  4. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change. (2020). Unheeded Warnings: COVID-19 & Migrant Workers in Canada.
  5. aljazeera.com/economy/2021/7/15/what-choice-do-we-have-us-farm-workers-battle-deadly-heat-wave
  6. Hennebry, J. (2010). Not just a few Bad Apples: Vulnerability, Health and Temporary Migration in Canada. Canadian Issues / Thèmes Canadiens, Spring, 73–77.
  7. For a more in-depth article about temporary foreign worker programs and the organic sector, see the following piece from the BC Organic Grower by Robyn Bunn, Elise Hjalmarson, and Christine Mettler, collective members of Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA) Okanagan: bcorganicgrower.ca/2017/04/tem porary-migrant-farm-workers-in-bc
  8. Anne Macey wrote an article for the Canadian Organic Grower about Fairness in Organics, which you can find here: cog.ca/article/opin ion-fairness-organic-agriculture
  9. CGSB. (2020). Organic production systems: General principles and management standards (National Standard of Canada CAN/CGSB-32.310-2020). Canadian General Standards Board. publications.gc.ca/site/eng/9.854643/publication.html
  10. Migrant Rights Network. (2020, May 7). Status for All – for a Just Recovery from COVID-19. migrantrights.ca/statusforall
  11. Haley, E., Caxaj, S., George, G., Hennebry, J., Martell, E., & McLaughlin, J. (2020). Migrant Farmworkers Face Heightened Vulnerabilities During COVID-19. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 1–5. doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2020.093.016

Grazing the Way for Small Scale Meat

in 2021/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Livestock/Marketing/Organic Community

By Ava Reeve

Drive down any rural road in this province and you’re sure to pass cattle on the range, a flock of sheep, or mobile pens for pastured poultry. Small-scale livestock production has a long tradition in BC, and has been reinvigorated in recent years with practices such as rotational grazing and regenerative agriculture that allow for significant meat production without industrial practices. Demand also seems to be growing for local and sustainable meats.

But are there really enough of these small producers to play a serious role in BC’s economy today? And how much potential does this industry have for the future?

Associations representing commercial livestock producers collect data on their own members – those producing over 300 hogs with BC Pork, for example. Commodity producers also enjoy the benefits of their association’s advocacy, and commerce support from marketing boards.

Meanwhile, producers selling directly to consumers, raising multiple livestock species, or simply operating at a smaller scale have lacked a collective voice in provincial conversations about agricultural policies. And little is known about the current scale and potential capacity of these producers.

Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association.

The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association (SSMPA) aims to address both of these issues. In spite of a diversity of livestock types and sizes of operations, the organization says that its members are united by operating without the supports of the existing commodity associations or marketing boards.

SSMPA was established by a group of farmers and ranchers in 2017, and its membership now includes representation from all livestock sectors. “The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association represents British Columbia farmers and ranchers who are raising meat outside of the conventional, industrial system,” reads the SSMPA website home page.

This might include a pork producer raising 200 hogs per year, and all poultry producers who sell direct to consumer. It can also include cow-calf operations that process a few cull cows for sale to friends and neighbours, even if they otherwise primarily sell at auction.

It has also succeeded in becoming recognized in consultations and conversations with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, such as in the development of changes to on-farm slaughter licensing that the province recently announced.

Julia Smith of Blue Sky Ranch near Merritt is the President of SSMPA. “We’re happy with the regulatory changes,” she says of the announcement. But, she notes, “There’s more work to be done to build a thriving small-scale meat industry.”

Including Smith, SSMPA’s founding members were selling their meat products directly to members of their communities, rather than through a marketing board or distributor, and feeding communities in the process. And their experience was that their industry was growing.

Suckling piglets. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association.

Smith raises a rare heritage breed of hog as well as a small herd of cattle on pasture. Selling directly has helped her see better margins than many commercial producers, where processors and retailers realize the lion’s share of the profit.

The demand for her product has been enough to enable Smith to grow her operation, from raising just two pigs in her first year, to running a farrow-to-finish operation with fourteen sows and two boars just four years later. She has supplied meat and other farm products to hundreds of British Columbians and currently has a waitlist for both meat and breeding stock.

Smith says this experience is repeated across the province. “We know that a small-scale operation can contribute to food security and the local economy. What we don’t know is the cumulative potential of producers like this spread all over the province – or their specific barriers to reaching that potential.”

She says information like this hasn’t been available because the right questions weren’t being asked. This summer, SSMPA launched a comprehensive survey of meat producers. She says the resulting information will help the organization define its policies and priorities to support these producers moving forward.

The province seems to agree that the industry has promise; many of the new changes to the slaughter regulations had been advocated for by SSMPA for years. Smith believes the number of producers that could be affected by policies like this is in the thousands. And they should all be giving their two cents to SSMPA.

“Everyone who processes at a provincially-inspected abattoir or on-farm should be participating in this survey,” she says. “Tell us: What is your path to growth? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order to reach your goals?”

At Blue Sky Ranch, Smith’s own goal was to produce just under 300 hogs per year. But the operation met with processing roadblocks at 125 hogs.

“We’re not the only operation that isn’t reaching its full capacity,” says Smith. “SSMPA is using the survey to document this. We want to know what would happen if we could create the conditions for successful operations across the province. For example, how many abattoirs would need to be built before producers could book the slaughter dates they need, with enough reliability to scale their businesses?”

“We’re connecting the dots, but without data to prove our case we won’t get the resources and support to let our industry thrive.”

Smith emphasizes that this survey is an independent project. “SSMPA is a producer-led organization and our mandate is to look out for producers,” she says. “We’ve gone to great lengths to protect the anonymity of survey participants and we will not be sharing survey responses or any other raw data with government, or anyone else.”

For an added incentive SSMPA connected with BC-based fencing company FenceFast, which has offered a $25 discount to every current producer who participates. Smith says FenceFast recognized the potential. “Really, this is just an example of the ripples of impact that can come from growing a locally-based industry like this.”

She adds, “We might be surprised at the opportunities being squandered because of challenges that are within our capacity to address. Even producers might be taken aback. We hope that there will be findings in our report that invigorate and inspire producers with a vision of what could be possible. We have so many people who want to enter this industry. Imagine the impact if these producers will have a fair chance at success.”

The survey is open until September 10, 2021 and can be accessed at smallscalemeat.ca/survey or it can be completed over the phone by appointment at 250-999-0296. SSMPA can also be reached at info@smallscalemeat.ca.

SSMPA is conducting regional focus groups in mid-September to dig deeper into potential solutions to the problems identified through the survey. By early 2022 they will be releasing a report on their findings, and announce how they will ensure that their own programming is geared to meet the needs of its membership.

Producers – and all supporters of local and sustainable meat production – are invited to join SSMPA by signing up for a membership.


Ava Reeve is the Executive Director of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association, where she gets to pursue her passion for the sustainable practices that result in a high quality of life for both livestock and people.

Featured image: Spray Creek Ranch Cattle. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association.

Harvesting Wisdom: Protecting our Life-Source

in 2021/Climate Change/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Indigenous Food Systems/Land Stewardship/Organic Community

By Abra Brynne

Farmers fulfill a complex set of roles. You grow and raise food that nourishes others—some of whom you may meet and some you will not. You are also entrepreneurs with a vested and real interest in seeing your business survive and, better yet, thrive. When you add organics into this mix, it necessarily introduces additional complexity.

There are those who choose to become certified organic because it is a smart business decision based on what the farm produces and market opportunities. But, as someone who has been an active volunteer in the BC organic community since the mid-1990’s, I am well aware that there are many who farm organically because you truly understand yourselves as stewards of the land you have the privilege to work. It is for this reason that you preserve riparian areas, bushy areas, and trees on the land even if it restricts the land available for cultivation. And many adopt practices to minimize disturbing the soil structures and the lives teeming under the surface, embracing no till practices without falling into the chemical trap that often accompanies no till.

The fact is, organic farmers have long been fully committed practitioners of climate-friendly agriculture for decades before such a term was coined. When I look back over the years of my involvement with Organic BC, alongside the many passionate, knowledgeable and caring volunteers with the organization, myriad examples come to mind that justify this statement:

  • The cyclical and fierce debates on the standards review committee over the inclusion of manure from conventional sources into compost;
  • Andrea Turner, who was adamant that the full life-cycle, including harm at the production stage of pressure treated posts, needed to be understood and incorporated into the deliberations of the standards review committee;
  • Wayne Harris hosting a rotational grazing workshop provided by E Ann Clark, formerly of the University of Guelph, with multiple farmers from the Creston Valley deeply engaged in the conversations about optimizing soil, field, and animal health simultaneously and symbiotically through careful management;
  • The Reid brothers who led the battle to open the Chicken Marketing Board to specialty producers, including organic;
    Linda Edwards’ brilliant guide on organic tree fruit production;
  • Rick and Vicky Llewellyn, who also went toe-to-toe with a marketing board and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in order to enable on-farm production of certified organic cheese;
  • Hermann Bruns’ longstanding practice of sharing the knowledge they have garnered over decades of trial and error on the farm he operates with his partner Louise;
  • Tim and Linda Ewert who operate Wildwood Farm near Pouce Coupe exclusively on bona fide horsepower, including using the horses to grind their own feed;
  • Mary Alice Johnson who over the years has mentored so many young people who have then gone on to have their own successful farm operations;
  • The persistence of volunteer-based regional certifiers that provide accessible certification to area farmers; and
  • The hundreds of certified organic farmers in BC who work year-in and year-out, through the vagaries of market and climate, to grow and raise certified organic foods while working to preserve and improve the land upon which they work.

Recognizing Indigenous Stewards

It is well established that the world’s centres of biodiversity owe their existence to the stewardship of Indigenous peoples. I remember well the 2018 annual conference in Chilliwack at which several Indigenous Food Sovereignty leaders, including Dawn Morrison, spoke to packed rooms. BC organic farmers crowded in to learn more about Indigenous relationships to the land, their stewardship practices, and their work towards food sovereignty. The tensions with settler agriculture were also explored. While organic farmers perpetuate settler agriculture on the landscape, it is clear that there are areas of complementarity in the shared care for the land, the water, and all the species that contribute to the well-being of an ecosystem.

Youth Wisdom, Youth Voices

Scientists have persisted in their warnings about climate change over multiple decades, despite the fact that their words have fallen on uncaring ears for too long. One group that has needed less persuasion is the youth. In communities across our province, county, and around the world, youth are taking action. Many are so young they do not yet have the right to vote. Nevertheless, they are leading awareness campaigns, engaging with political leaders, and using their voices to focus more attention on the urgent need for action.

It is both sad and ironic that our un-enfranchised youth are among the most vocal about the need to save our precious planet. Groups like Fridays for Future can be found in most communities.

They understand that it is their future at risk. The generations before them who have been a part of getting the planet to its present state owe them a debt that can never be fully repaid.

Acting Together

The wildfires that raged across BC again in the summer of 2021 are a stark reminder of how important it is that humanity more fully embrace climate friendly practices in all aspects of life. The August 2021 release of the International Panel on Climate Change report made it abundantly clear that we have run out of time to take real action in the face of the climate crisis.

Farmers for Climate Solutions, of which Organic BC is a member, was instrumental in the August announcement by the federal government of the On-Farm Climate Action Fund. The program promotes the widespread adoption of climate-friendly agricultural practices. It is high time for organic farming to become the dominant—“conventional”—approach to agriculture.

By learning from and uniting the voices and knowledge of organic farmers, Indigenous Peoples, youth, and climate scientists, we can help to shift how humanity lives on this precious planet.


Abra Brynne grew up on a small tree fruit farm in Syilx Territory. She is a former co-chair of the Organic BC Standards Review Committee, a long-time volunteer with Kootenay Organic Growers Society, has sat on the Organic BC board, and was the founding certification committee chair for PACS. She has worked closely with farmers and on food systems for 30 years, with a priority on food value chains and the regulatory regimes that impede or support them. Abra is a founding member of many agriculture and food-related organizations. Since 2016, she has led the Central Kootenay Food Policy Council.

Featured image: Rows of crops at a diversified farm. Credit: Abra Brynne

Let’s Hold Hands

in 2021/Fall 2021/Land Stewardship/Organic Community

By Natalie Forstbauer

The emptiness of the Earth’s desertified soils is palpable.
The insidious poisoning of our water is profound.
The toxic air filling our lungs is suffocating.
The mass extinction of life is alarming.
The dis-ease in human bodies is dominating.

We wonder, “What can we do? What can I do?”
To change the course of the destruction of earth, humanity, and all living creatures.

Is Global Regeneration even possible?

Is it possible to bring life back into soil?
Is it possible for our waterways to run clean?
Is it possible to purify the air we breathe?
Is it possible to reverse the illness and disease raging through humanity, our pets, and wildlife?

I sit in wonder…

And with certainty – I see it is possible.

Now is the time to engage in Global Regeneration.
There has never been a better time to have your hands in the soil working with nature.
Now is the time to deepen into nature’s wisdom and guidance and rise.

It’s time to shine as a farmer, steward of the land, seed saver, gardener, and lightworker in unity for Global Regeneration.

It starts with you.
It starts with me.
It starts with conversations.
It starts with meeting yourself, each other and the Earth where we are, at this very moment in kindness, compassion, and reverence.

Here’s the thing.
Earth does not need us.
We NEED her.
Let’s Hold Hands.

What if we turned towards helping each other?
What if we turned towards what we want to create?
What if we turned towards being intentional in our actions?
What if we turned towards being conscious of our choices?
What if we turned towards being aligned with nature?
What if we turned towards listening to the wisdom of our bodies?
What if we turned towards amplifying the amazing work being done locally and globally in our homes, communities, and countries?

When we go looking, we see Global Regeneration is in manifestation…

Soil has shown us she comes to life with billions of organisms in just one teaspoon of healthy soil when supported with living biology.

Rain has shown us it returns when supported with agroecology and soil health.
Water has shown us it is stored, purified and resourceful in healthy soil.
Air has shown us carbon is naturally stored in soil rich in organic matter with a diverse soil food web.
Our bodies have shown us they are designed to be healthy and heal when fed a plant-based chemical free diet.

Nature has shown us she seeds, nourishes, restores, regenerates, and renews everyday in every way.
When things aren’t working, she deconstructs, composts, harvests and regenerates—in her way.

Will you join her?
Will you hold hands with Mother Nature?
Will you allow her to guide you?
Will you lean in?
Will you listen?
Will you watch and observe?
Will you learn and follow her lead?

Will we join her?

Globally.
In regeneration.
Global Regeneration.

This is an opportunity in history to show up intentionally, consciously, and regeneratively. Let’s be in this conversation because talking can change minds which can transform behaviours which can transform societies.

Local actions make a global impact.

Focus on what you CAN do, rather than on what you cannot do.
Be a champion for yourself advocating for what is important to you.
Focus on compassion for others on this journey.
Be a champion for others with your presence, actions, conversations—we are all learning, growing, and figuring this out together.

Focus on leading with wisdom and grace.
Share what you are learning and discovering and be encouraging towards others on the same path, others who are a few steps behind you and others on a different path altogether.

Global Regeneration is global healing at the deepest level.
Global Regeneration invites us to pause, to tune in, to observe, to connect, and to be in regeneration with ourselves, each other, and our home on earth.
It starts with awareness. It builds with conversations. It happens with action.

Global Regeneration is inviting you to take your next step in regeneration. What will it be?


Natalie Forstbauer, is the founder and editor-in-chief of Heart & Soil Magazine. She is a TEDx speaker, author, organic/biodynamic farmer and traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. She is passionate about human potential and seeing people live their best lives. Raised on an organic farm, trained in Polarity Therapy, alternative medicine, Neurofeedback and Transformational Leadership she brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience to her audiences.

heartandsoilmagazine.com

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

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

Learning and Sharing at Kloverdalen Farm

Moss Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kira’s incredible cabbages. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Early Farm Mentors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Stop Learning

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

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

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

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

Favourite Crops

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

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

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

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

Mouth-watering CSA box program contents. Credit: zoomphotography

Favourite Tools

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

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

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

Beautiful sunflower bouquets at the farm stand. Credit: zoomphotography

Hot Tips: Farming with Kids

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

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

Growing into the Future

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

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

kloverdalenfarm.com

instagram.com/kloverdalenfarm

facebook.com/kloverdalenfarm


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

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

Organic Leadership

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

Niklaus Forstbauer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get in touch:

info@certifiedorganic.bc.ca


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

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

Why I Joined a Farmer-Led Coalition Advocating for Climate Action

in 2021/Climate Change/Crop Production/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Summer 2021

Arzeena Hamir

My husband Neil and I have been growing organic food for our community in the Comox Valley for nine seasons now. As a farmer, an agronomist, a food security activist, and a mother, ensuring the safety of our planet is really close to my heart. I have always farmed with the goal of giving back to the land and to my community, which has embraced our family farm and supported us in so many ways. This support led me to run for election in local government in 2018 and since then, I have been sitting as the Director of the Comox Valley Regional District. I love being able to advocate for local policies that will ensure the health and prosperity of our community.

I saw what I was able to achieve locally through my political involvement, and recognized the benefits it brought to my work as a farmer. In an effort to grow this impact, I sought out opportunities to reach the wider agricultural sector.

That’s when I found Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) and decided to get involved. FCS is a national coalition of farmers and farmer-supporters who believe that agriculture must be part of the solution to climate change. FCS currently represents over 20,000 farmers and ranchers across Canada, reflecting the vibrant diversity of the agricultural sector in terms of farm size, types of production, and farmers themselves.

The squash field at Amara Farm next to moveable hoophouse. Credit: Michaela Parks.

In just one year of operation, FCS has garnered some serious attention from the media and policy-makers. The coalition was launched in February 2020, marking Canada’s Agriculture Day. Shortly after their exciting launch, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Through the tragedy of countless losses across communities, I felt the weight of this pandemic on top of the growing threat of climate change to my livelihood as a farmer. FCS felt this too, and as our government planned to “build back better,” they asked: what does this mean for agriculture?

A smart, forward-thinking and lasting COVID-19 recovery should prioritize climate resilience on our farms. I was thrilled to see a report recommending five priorities to achieve this, from encouraging the energy transition on farms, providing incentives for climate-friendly practices, investing in farmer-to-farmer training, and supporting new and young farmers. These were priorities that I felt proud to develop even more as I formally joined the efforts of the coalition.

In September 2020, after an unprecedented commitment from the Speech to the Throne to farmers and ranchers, the Canadian government recognized us as key partners in the fight against climate change and pledged to support our efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience. In order to ensure that the government would deliver on their commitment, FCS set out to recruit a farmer-led task force of experts to propose short-term actions that would deliver long-term lasting benefits in emissions reductions and economic well-being. The short list of recommendations was to be advanced for Budget 2021 to inform the next agricultural policy framework in 2023.

Neil Turner and Arzeena Hamir. Credit: Michaela Parks.

I initially signed up as an interested farmer and attended a focus group, and then ultimately took on the role of task force co-chair, where I shared leadership with fellow farmer Ian McCreary, who farms grain and livestock in Saskatchewan. Together, we led a team of members with expertise in agricultural economy, greenhouse gas (GHG) modeling, and domestic and international agricultural policy analysis, to advance six high-impact programs that would reduce on-farm GHG emissions and build resilience. I am also working with fellow British Columbian and long-time friend, Abra Brynne, on an equity analysis of these recommendations to ensure that we do not leave out BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+, and other equity-seeking farmers, and that supports are accessible to all farmers.

Being part of this team was incredible. Meeting farmers from across Canada who were equally committed to climate action was so heartening. Having access to Canada’s best GHG modellers and scientists was fascinating and I was able to expose myself to a whole area of lobbying and policy development at a federal level that I had never been involved in. I got to meet the federal Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau! Ultimately, with this team, we were able to make the case for how agriculture could really be a powerhouse for climate mitigation and that message was heard.

Over the course of several months, FCS held over 20 meetings to engage with representatives from the federal government to promote and refine our budget recommendations. We often heard positive and hopeful feedback from these meetings, commending the evidence-based and detailed research our group had brought forward. Essentially, we were championing climate-friendly farming practices that have been proven to reduce emissions and are cost-effective for both farmers and the government.

An Amara Farm worker harvesting field cucumbers. Credit: Amara Farm.

We launched our budget recommendation report on February 23rd 2021, once again marking Canada’s Agriculture Day with a national media tour to help amplify the voices of farmers who are already implementing these practices on their farms and who have seen the benefits on their business and the environment. This really reinforced the most important potential that I see for Farmers for Climate Solutions: we are shifting the viewpoint that farmers are solely the victims of climate change, and recognizing that we are also valuable actors in moving the agriculture sector forward.

Our team waited for the announcement of the budget with bated breath. In a year where the government had to prioritize funding immense gaps left by the pandemic, we were hoping that a climate-focused budget for agriculture would also make the cut, and it did. This historic win for our sector showed us that the government is committing to supporting farmers directly to scale up adoption of climate-friendly farming. Because we can no longer wait to act. With only nine growing seasons left to achieve Canada’s target under the 2030 Paris Agreement, and our agricultural emissions projected to rise, we urgently needed this kind of meaningful support to lead the climate transition in our sector.

Farmers are already leading the way, and have shown their innovation and resilience in the face of many challenges, and climate change is no different. There is a growing movement of farmers who are inspiring change, from fence post to fence post, and now we have concrete support to ensure we can harness the positive impact that our sector can have on the environment. I feel incredibly proud to be part of seeing this change happen across millions of acres of farmland in Canada.

Read more:

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/recovery-from-covid19

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/budget-2021-recommendation

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/news-and-stories/budget-2021-represents-historical-win-for-canadian-agriculture


Arzeena Hamir is the owner of Amara Farm in Courtenay, BC and a Director of the Comox Valley Regional District.

Feature image: Arzeena Hamir harvesting beans in the field at Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks.

2021 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2021/Organic Community/Spring 2021

Stacey Santos

You’ve heard it a thousand times, but I’m going to say it again. This past year was a year like no other. The pandemic affected—and continues to affect—every aspect of our lives: our health, our social lives, our businesses. It’s been a year of humbling learning experiences, pivoting to new directions, and figuring out that it really doesn’t matter if your naked toddler interrupts your Zoom call to ask you for help with her dragon costume.

Throughout all of this, we’ve watched the organic community come together under pressure and become stronger and more supportive than ever. And while the ride isn’t over yet, we were so happy to be able to take a moment and reconnect with many of you at the 2021 BC Organic Conference.

This year’s conference took place on February 28, 2021 and was entirely virtual (we hoped we would be able to carry out some socially distanced farm tours, but alas). Conference attendees had early access to 40-plus podcasts spanning all aspects of food systems and organic farming in BC as well as a chance to bid on some fantastically creative items in the silent auction.

The live event was a giant Zoom call with opening remarks from Heather Stretch (COABC president), Eva-Lena Lang (COABC executive director), Ian Paton (opposition critic for agriculture) and the Honourable Lana Popham (Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries), who hinted at big announcements coming from the provincial government on food hubs, support for local seed production, and changes to meat regulations!

Farmers Take the Lead

Next up was the conference keynote from Darrin Qualman, Director of Climate Crisis Policy & Action at the National Farmers Union. Darrin spoke about emission problems and organic agriculture solutions, and wrapped up with a Q&A session with conference attendees. In case you missed it, or want to relive the conference magic, you can watch Darrin’s presentation on our YouTube channel.

COABC Awards…with a Virtual Twist

Normally, our annual COABC awards are presented at the conference’s closing banquet. This year, we obviously couldn’t do that—so our conference coordinator, Jordan Marr, got creative.

In our conference podcast, we surprised the award recipients with the news, and at our live conference session, we gave them a chance to say a few words in front of their peers. And, gave their peers a chance to say a few words about them!

This year, Mary Alice Johnson and Rod Reid received the Bedrock Award, and Arzeena Hamir took home the Brad Reid Award. There isn’t enough room here to say all that needs to be said, so please head over to our blog to learn more about the winners and why they’re so incredibly deserving of their awards.

Conference photo contest winner – category: Fail.
Credit: Spray Creek Ranch

And so Much More

Conference attendees also took part in three Q&A sessions with podcast guests and voted on their favourite images in the photo contest. The live session wrapped up with a small group visioning discussion, to take the pulse of the COABC community and make sure the organization knows what’s going on and what’s important to everyone. It was a great discussion with some big ideas, and as always, we thank you for sharing your thoughts so honestly and generously.

A big part of what made this conference so special (other than seeing so many of your shining faces, of course), was all the planning and work that went into it. This was a brand-new format for us, and it took many folks wearing many different hats to make it happen!

For some final insights into the conference and some thoughts on what’s next, I caught up with Jordan, this year’s conference coordinator and podcast producer for Q&A:

The 2021 BC Organic Conference was a radical change from past conferences. How did it all come about?

The first question for the conference committee was to decide whether we’d have a conference at all, and in what format. As a committee we collectively decided it was worth having something for continuity, and because we could produce something of value. We knew we couldn’t reproduce the social component, but could reproduce the networking and education components in some way. We decided to have a virtual conference and started brainstorming!

I suggested that we consider making an audio series rather than webinars, which tie attendees to a screen. A podcast is a great way to consume information and would be more accommodating to people’s busy lives. The committee briefly talked about it and ultimately agreed it was a good idea. That was the first major decision and from there we came up the rest of the details.

The podcast really was the centrepiece of the conference in terms of the amount of content it involved. How did you pull it off?

I had produced a hobby podcast for years and I’m super comfortable with the basic technology and the audio software. No question marks there.

But, this was the first time I oversaw a team of interviewers. The volunteer interviewers were really great! In some ways, organizing the interviews wasn’t all that different from organizing speakers at the conference. But, it’s cheaper and easier to get people involved. It was a really busy November and December when the podcast got recorded and produced.

From a coordinator’s perspective, how did the conference go?

I think the most positive way to look at it is that we had to start from scratch and figure out what to do. If someone from the future told us we’d have almost 200 people participating, and a podcast with almost 40 episodes, not including the tradeshow episodes…

Overall the conference was fairly well received, and so was the podcast. One special thing about the podcast is that it very much turned into a podcast about the BC organic community, by the BC organic community. Not many farming and food podcasts are so focused on British Columbia. That’s something worth keeping in the future.

And the live session—I underestimated how special it would feel. I was skeptical of the online communication space. And after the year we’ve all had, it was really cool. If I had to do it all over again, I would have created a few more opportunities for small group interaction. The day was weighted too heavily towards large groups.

There’s talk of carrying the podcast into future years, even if we’re able to hold an in-person conference. Is there anything you would change?

For this year’s podcast, I took a light touch to editing. Next year I would consider having fewer episodes, with more time invested in each one.

An ongoing challenge, even in prior years, is choosing the right topics for the education sessions. That can only come from good participation. It’s hard for a small committee—even one like ours with good representation—to create a lineup of topics that would please a wide group of people. There’s a bias towards small to medium scale farmers, and with a committee, there’s also a bias towards the members’ own interests. And I can’t stress enough—I represent those biases.

When it comes to decision making, I had great support from the committee. But when the rubber hit the road, I made the decisions and I take responsibility for that. The podcast could have seen more representation as far as identity politics, gender perspectives, and people of colour. Also glaringly absent was enough content from BC-based Indigenous peoples.

It doesn’t hurt to try harder to get more perspectives presented, whether it’s the size of the farms or the perspective of different groups in the province.

Any parting thoughts?

It’s really great that so many people embraced this new idea. And if we have to do it again in this format, we’ll improve. We’ll miss the social elements though!

And, as a coordinator, I really had a lot of help with great support from the office. I had a lot of fun getting to know all the people. I also noticed more people signing up to play a small role in next year’s conference committee. The committee is mainly comprised of people on the COABC board or the board of a certifying body, but anyone’s welcome to join. On the conference evaluation, if you want to put your name forward, please do!

A big thanks to everyone who made the 2021 BC Organic Conference possible: Jordan Marr, volunteer interviewers, podcast guests, conference committee members, COABC staff & contractors, event sponsors, silent auction donors and the Institute for Community Engaged Research at UBC Okanagan for offering technical expertise, tools, and a physical space for broadcasting the online event. Until next year!

Feature image: Conference photo contest winner – category: closeup. Credit: Big Rock Ranch

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