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Organic Stories: Grounded Acres, Skwxwú7mesh territory

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Summer 2022

Digging into Community

Darcy Smith

Mel Sylvestre has been farming for almost 20 years, and she’s pretty sure she’ll never run out of lessons learned. From last year’s heat dome, to this year’s cold, wet weather, to figuring out just what type of kale customers want, every farming season brings new challenges—and new opportunities.

She farms with Hannah Lewis, her “partner in life, partner in business,” at Grounded Acres Organic Farm on what is today known as the Sunshine Coast. Of their five-acre property, “about two acres, give or take, is farmed in some way.”

Mel and Hannah grow mixed vegetables and have about 100 laying hens, and they get their food to their community through the Sechelt Farmers’ Market, their farm stand, local restaurants, and a collaborative community box program put together by a local organization.

The vision for Grounded Acres was to open up an acre of land and grow from there. They knew they could make enough revenue out of an acre to keep them going, and build from there wisely. They were also keen to learn what people wanted in their new community. “We did a lot of market research,” Mel says, “Our first year we did a blind shot in the dark—we grew as much and little as we could of everything and let things fly, so we could see what the enthusiasm was for. In one region everyone wants green curly kale, in another people want Lacinato kale, and you don’t know why.”

Grounded Acres apprentice crew working in the fields. Credit: Grounded Acres Organic Farm.

As they get to know their community, Mel and Hannah are also learning the land, which was first opened up over a century ago. First a strawberry farm, then planted in potatoes, it had been 30 to 50 years without having tillage of any sort when they arrived. The land isn’t classified as agricultural soil: it’s class four, or with improvement class 3, loamy sand. Mel says “it’s extremely sandy, and in some parts extremely rocky. In other parts, folks a century ago did the work of removing rocks.”

The good news is Mel is familiar with improving soil. Before moving to the coast, both Mel and Hannah spent almost a decade working at UBC Farm, which has the same soil class. “We came with a shovel when we visited the property. I dug a hole and said, ‘Ah, same soil’.”

Mel originally trained as a musician and sound tech, but when the industry began turning to technology and opportunities dwindled for sound techs, she landed on an organic farm in the outskirts of Montreal teaching children. Despite being raised in the middle of cornfields and dairy cows, she hadn’t been interested in farming until, she says, “I was watching people in the field and thought, ‘Hey, that looks fun’.” One day, they needed help, so Mel “picked up a hoe, went out and helped, and fell in love.” From there, she got another farm job.

Sometimes, Mel says “I wish I had started with an apprenticeship, or working more intentionally on the farm. Things just kept happening, and life brought me from one farm to another.” She ended up in BC in 2005, and farmed with Saanich Organics on the island for six seasons.

Curious hens provide eggs to the Gibson’s community. Credit: Grounded Acres Organic Farm.

Eight years into her farming journey, she had a window where she could return to university, and studied plant and soil science at UBC. That led her to UBC Farm, where she “discovered a new love, teaching and helping other folks getting into farming.” UBC farm is also where Mel had the opportunity to get into seed production.

UBC Farm is where she found a different kind of love. Hannah was already working in the Indigenous garden at UBC Farm when Mel arrived, but it took them a year—and realizing they were neighbours—before they started connecting. “We didn’t overlap much at the farm, our rhythms in the day were quite different, but we discovered we lived a block from each other, and every time I was taking the 99 bus from East Van she was on the bus. We call it a 99 romance—the 99 brought us together.”

Mel knew she didn’t want to stay in the city long-term, but Hannah was an educator by training. While she really liked gardening, Hannah wasn’t sure how she felt about farming—until she took UBC’s farm practicum and discovered she also loved working the land.

But, Mel says, “what Hannah loved even more was the Sunshine Coast. In my head I thought I was going to go back to the island where my community was, but she convinced me.” They started looking for property, and, Mel says, “I started developing my relationship with the land here.”

It took them three years to find the right piece of land, and by then Mel and Hannah had new twins along for the ride. “We have the lucky situation, the privilege, of having family that invested in our land,” which, Mel says, “was a life saver in the start-up of this business.” Hannah’s mother sold her condo in Vancouver and moved with the young family in order to help them buy the property. “Having the grandchildren in the picture helped.”

Mel is “thankful for the years I spent working on other farms. It’s a blessing and curse. I knew what I needed to be successful, but the curse was I knew how much money it would cost.” They started with zero savings, and Mel knew they would need $100 thousand in financing for the first year to even be able to make their loan payments. “That was the barebone minimum. It seems like a lot of money but it was just barely what I knew we needed to be resilient and get through those first few years, as well as be healthy for our family. We’re not 20 anymore,” Mel says. “We have twins and they’re two years old, and we had a lot of infrastructure to put in place: irrigation, greenhouses, washing station, cooler, workshop. There was a lot that needed to come together to make the farm possible.”

With a solid business plan, clear vision, and the confidence that comes from experience, they went in search of funding—and an angel investor from the community “came out of the woodwork, believed in us, and lent us the money that we needed,” Mel says.

Hannah and Chef Johnny Bridge satisfied with cauliflower. Credit: @joshneufeldphoto.

Mid-way through their second season on this piece of land, Mel reflects on how lucky they’ve been, despite a tough year. Crops are three weeks behind, and some have been lost due to weather and pests. “All the things from a cold wet spring,” Mel says. “That’s the name of the game. Every farm has pluses and minuses, and depending on the season, you’ll lose some and gain some.” They have sandy soil, so the heat dome—and accompanying water restrictions—was harder. The sandy soil helped them out this spring, while nearby farms are on clay soil, which never drains. “I feel for the beginners right now. The last two to three seasons were uniquely hard. It’s next-level hardship for farming.”

Mel has the “old equation” in her head, from when she was brought up to be a new farmer. Once upon a time, the first three years were supposed to be tough, and starting in years four to five, “it should be even keel, you should have your system down and understand the land enough to play around.” That magic three-to-five-year number is because “even if you know what you’re doing, there are still things to learn, on the land, in the area, what’s the pattern here, why aren’t the cover crops growing. There’s lots to troubleshoot.” But, Mel says, “that’s not the way it is any more. It could be year 10 before you start to feel like you’re coasting…”

At Grounded Acres, they’re “still really in the deep of it,” learning what their customers want, what ingredients chefs are looking for—there’s lots to figure out. But there’s good news: “one thing people have said even before we moved here, if you grow it, it will fly.” Even before the pandemic, young families were leaving the city and moving to the Sunshine Coast. Between the young families and established residents, there’s high demand for fresh produce. Marketing their product on the coast “has been a fairly easy ride compared to other regions I’ve worked in where there are a lot of other market gardeners per capita,” Mel says.

Mel out on the tractor on a long summer evening.
Credit: Grounded Acres Organic Farm.

As it turns out, on the Sunshine Coast everyone wants curly kale, but that hasn’t stopped Mel and Hannah from planting a variety. “We love the diversity. One will sell more, but there’s going to be a reason why we’re glad we planted the other,” says Mel. “Siberian kale is not my favourite in the summer—pests love it. But I always plant a bit because over the winter it’s going to rock it. We had the worst winter last year, it was so cold for so long, but we were still harvesting Siberian kale.” Mel remembers that the other varieties were skeletons, but the Siberian came roaring back and they were able to sell bags of braising greens. “Fresh kale on the stand in March—people will elbow each other out of the way to get it.”

Mel says they will always keep the diversity in their crop planning. “I think climate change is reinforcing what we’ve known as biodiverse small-scale farmers,” she says, and recommends that even within one crop, don’t plant just one variety, go for a few. “It surprises me every year, that one variety rocked it for four years but this year not so much. I’m always so glad I planted that other one. Climate change is running that message back home heavily about not putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Over the last hard winter five or six years back, Mel remembers people planting more and more overwintering brassicas like purple sprouting broccoli, or planting lots of greens in the spring. The risk there is picking up on that trend and over-committing. One person, at least, planted triple the amount and lost everything. “Mother nature is always like, ‘Oh you’re feeling confident, I’ll take your confidence away’.” Moments like that are there to “remind you not to bank too hard on that income, to have other avenues to make it through the season.”

“We live in a culture where we’re looking for that one book, that one person who’s going to teach us everything,” Mel says. “Farming is not that. I know folks that went to five, six, seven different farms to learn as much as they can. You will still learn until you die. There is no recipe in farming, there’s just a set of skills and knowledge you can keep accumulating.”

Mel highlights the importance of having a “troubleshooting mind” in the absence of a formula: someone can say, do it this way and this will be your result. “Maybe one year out of three that will be true. Other years, you get a cold spring and you have white fly now.” She is adamant that no one person on this planet can teach you—rather, it’s important to have diverse teachers. While there’s lots to be learned from books or online resources, that can be “a dangerous road. It doesn’t give you as much resilience in your toolbelt as just going through a season with one farmer locally in the region you want to farm.”

Grounded Acres Organic Farm Family: Hannah, Mel, Juniper, and River. Credit: Grounded Acres Organic Farm.

Community has been more important to their early success than Mel would ever have dreamed. Between Hannah and Mel, they have an incredible—and complementary—set of skills that are different and complete each other. Mel loves people but describes herself as “a blunt Quebecer who tells it like it is, which doesn’t always fly on the coast,” while she says “Hannah has this incredible way to put things in words. She’s spent a lot of time building who we are for the community.”

They landed in a new place mid-winter with small children. “We only had so much time to go around mingling and meeting people,” Mel says. Hannah spent the winter building the farm’s website and social media, telling their story. Coming from a teaching farm where Hannah was running a volunteer program, they wanted to open up their new farm to folks wanting to connect with the land. Between the pandemic and working from home, people were “aching to get out into nature. Our story spread like wildfire and we got so many volunteers. Our investor came out of that, too.”

A handful of the folks who started coming in that first year are still coming—“they are really committed and became our community,” Mel says. “We call them friends, we know everything about each other from weeding.” Mel has lived in small communities before, and knows that when you’re new somewhere you have to prove yourself. “People have to ask themselves, ‘Am I going to invest energy in building a relationship with this person?’ I think we’re in the book now!”

Overall, they have found that the community has been very welcoming. “Despite the fact that it’s small here, it’s mighty,” Mel says. “The farmers we’ve met have been very supportive. We can borrow from each other when we run out of pint containers, for example.” This kind of collaboration is especially essential because the Sunshine Coast is not in an agricultural area, and there’s a ferry between them and any supplies.

Community extends beyond their neighbours on the Sunshine Coast. Grounded Acres is certified organic. “The community that raised me as a farmer in BC was the certified organic community,” Mel says. “At a really young farmer age, I got into the importance of organic, and the importance of that community in itself.” Mel went to her first BC Organic conference her first year farming in BC. “It’s always a highlight of my year, not necessarily what I’m learning but who I’m connecting with, who I’m getting to rant with, have a beer with. That precious moment that every farmer needs, to feel that you’re not alone.”

Mel and Hannah started out with laying hens right away to respond to the community’s needs. Credit: Grounded Acres Organic Farm.

For Mel, being certified organic is about more than just what organic means. “At the end of the day we can make those practices happen without having certification, but certification is investing in keeping that community alive, that one thing that gives us a voice, makes us visible, makes us not just a trend.” The organic community in BC specifically has been together for many years, and Mel has “so much respect for the folks that put that system together, and the folks keeping it together.”

While there’s no one recipe to farming, Mel and Hannah have certainly pulled together many key ingredients, from their diverse skills to the people who support their farm in many different ways. “Diversity in the field, diversity in skills” is important, Mel says. “The jack-of-all-trades farmer thing is romanticized a lot, but it’s a harsh reality.” Bringing multiple skill sets and interests to the field is so important—even if someone is just looking for a business partner, don’t look for people who like doing the same things you do, Mel recommends.

“That’s one thing I appreciate about our farm every day. Hannah will put time into doing wholesale with chefs and going to market on the weekend. My favourite thing is to be alone on the farm, and she comes back so excited, it feeds her—and that in turn feeds me.” The foundation of Grounded Acres is the relationship between Mel and Hannah, “romantic partners who are good business partner matches as well, how lucky we are!”

groundedacresfarm.ca


Darcy Smith is the editor of the BC Organic Grower, and a huge fan of organic farmers. She also manages the BC Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

Feature image: Queer community setting up tomato tunnels. Credit: Grounded Acres Organic Farm.

Agriculture Policy: What is All the Hoopla About?

in 2022/Climate Change/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2022

Mary Paradis

Most of Canada’s agricultural policy is delivered through five-year policy frameworks, co-developed and co-negotiated by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. Meant to strengthen and grow Canada’s agriculture sector, the framework is agriculture’s primary policy document that guides how government supports farmers and has historically encompassed approximately $3 billion in public spending.

Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) is a national farmer-led coalition advocating to make agriculture part of the solution to climate change. In February, they submitted evidence-based recommendations for the next APF to scale-up the adoption of climate-friendly practices that reduce GHG emissions, increase carbon sequestration, and strengthen resilience on farms across Canada. As a member of Farmers for Climate Solutions, Organic BC has been supporting their efforts to make action on climate change central to the new APF.

The new agreement, called the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership (SCAP), was announced in July. Some of the positive outcomes of SCAP include:

  • $500 million in new funds for cost-share programs, a 25 percent increase from the current framework.
  • A commitment to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by three to five megatonnes over the lifespan of the framework.
  • A commitment to increase funding for Indigenous farmers and food providers, women farmers, and youth farmers.
  • $250 million for the Resilient Agricultural Landscape Program to fund farming practices that support carbon sequestration, adaptation, and other environmental co-benefits.
  • A one-year review period of current Business Risk Management (BRM) Programs to better integrate climate risk.
  • The requirement for large farms to perform an agri-environmental risk assessment or Environmental Farm Plan by 2025 to participate in AgriInvest.
  • A reiteration of the commitment to reduce emissions from nitrogen fertilizer by 30 percent.

Each province and territory will now negotiate specific agreements with the federal government on how the policies and funding will be implemented in their respective regions. Programs and services that are tailored to meet regional needs are cost shared, with the federal government contributing 60 percent and the provincial or territorial government contributing 40 percent.

As the bi-lateral negotiations take place over the coming months, Organic BC will continue to advocate for strong and responsive supports for all scales of farm operations in our province, to help both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

bit.ly/3woAIBx

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca


Feature image: Brassicas bursting with life. Credit: Thomas Buchan.

Footnotes from the Field: Cause and Effect

in 2022/Climate Change/Footnotes from the Field/Summer 2022

The Relationship Between Religions, Agriculture, and Civilizations

Marjorie Harris

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. If a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore…if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological kin, not resources; or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity… then we will treat each other with greater respect. Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.” – David Suzuki

David Suzuki has provided a provocative consideration about how we perceive the world and how that impacts our treatment of the world and each other. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Brian Snyder, a recently retired executive director of Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT) program, to discuss similar ideas about how agriculture impacts the world and ourselves.

Brian has 40 years of experience managing programs having to do with agriculture and food systems, with a business degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a theological degree from Harvard. He is just the expert to expand an understanding on the cause and effect of our world perceptions and the results we are harvesting.

Brian has been observing agricultural systems and their underlying religious philosophies, and he has come to the startling conclusion that all religions emerged to explain and justify cultural systems that run contrary to natural systems, and seek to overcome natural systems. Religion is often a justification for things that are contrary to nature, rather than a set of principles to build one’s life upon—as we have been led to believe by consumerist belief systems embedded into the foundations of the world’s religious systems.

Reframing History

For the bulk of human history people have been hunter-gatherers subject to the cycles of nature, whether they be feast or famine. With the archeological discovery of the Gobekli Tepe, the entire understanding modern scholars had about the origin of agriculture in relationship to religion was flipped upside down. The Gobekli Tepe temple structures are located in the Cappadocia region of northern Turkey and have been dated to 15,000 years old. They are now identified as the world’s oldest and first temples. The Gobekli Tepe temple complex was built before the beginning of agriculture, as agriculture is thought to have been established about 10,000 years ago. No evidence of domestic grains or livestock are present at the Gobekli Tepe site, only wild animal bones.

Until Gobekli Tepe’s discovery, it was thought that religion had been developed in response to the rise of agriculture. That theory has now been challenged, with an alternative interpretation being that agriculture developed in response to a religious presence—the rise of agriculture is coincident with the rise of religion. As Brian explains, religions can function to justify the use of agriculture to grow human populations beyond the natural carrying capacity of the land. The intentional raising of crops through tillage in an organized way created an abundance of food, providing more than was needed for the population.

From a cultural standpoint, this was an inflection point: the abundance of food led people to take the false belief that they were in control; yet nature is still, and always will be, beyond human control with regard to climate and the geological and celestial movements that control the growing seasons.

Brian observes that there is some sort of inherent divine presence that looks after all these things in the world. As depicted in the Christian Garden of Eden creation story, humanity started in the garden where nature took care of itself and provided for the people. At the point where people started to grow gardens and livestock for themselves, they seized governance for themselves, from nature. This is recorded in Genesis as the Fall of Man—human beings taking control of this natural process, with the idea of growing the population beyond what the land could naturally support.

The Cain and Abel story is an explicit struggle between livestock and crops over famine, water quality, and food security. Humanity hasn’t moved beyond these basic struggles, which have existed since the beginning of agriculture. In other religions, reincarnation offers a way to survive current problems and come back, without ever questioning what there will be to come back to if there is extinction?

Losing Ourselves to “Feed the World”

Today’s agricultural rhetoric is that we have to feed the world. We must be ready to feed people who are not here yet, have not been born yet—under the industrial corporate agriculture system the population will continue to grow unabated. The result of this rhetoric will be a further reduction in ecosystem biodiversity and biodiversity of crop-types, through the direct corporate control and ownership over the genetic materials for seeds and livestock.

Here is the challenge for humanity. It is both spiritual and scientific. What was divine was biodiversity propagating itself and creating ecosystem abundance in response to the natural environments. The population has grown beyond the carrying capacity of the earth already and reduction of species has been dramatic in recent decades. These events are playing out in the final Fall of Man—in the Christian mythos, as humankind’s punishment the ground will produce only thistles and weeds.

The sixth extinction is on the horizon.

There is controversy around humanity’s immense control over the quantity of food varieties, which have been radically reduced in number. In Pre-Columbian times in Peru there were over 3,000 varieties of potatoes growing in unique ecosystems. The Indigenous peoples would have considered each variety of potato to be a completely different type of crop. Over the past 500 years, with selective breeding programs and the spread of the potato worldwide, the global food system now depends on less than 30 varieties. Reliance on just three varieties of potato helped to precipitate the great Irish potato famine of the mid 19th century. Our ever-increasing dependence on soybeans and corn with reduced genetic diversity places humankind on the brink of the most tragic circumstance—that is, a worldwide catastrophe.

The organic agriculture ideal is to take spent land and regenerate it, to create sustainable agriculture systems. This highlights one of the challenges we face, the challenge of changing how we see the world.

Food companies are designed to maximize resources and monetary returns, rather than the methods used to regenerate the land and diversity of species. Corporate interests funnel genetics into a reduced sphere of diversity. Industrial farming with artificial commercially-produced inputs is all about farming as a necessity to continue to expand the population. From the Brazilian Amazon rainforest to the northern Boreal forests of Canada, generally accepted farming methods are to cut and burn the forest for land, strip the soils of nutrients by cropping, and then moving on to cut and burn more forests for more crop land.

At this point, there is no meaningful pushback from end consumers and farmers. The vast majority of people do not feel a strong inclination to turn the system around. Humans continue to consume unabated without concern. The consumer rhetoric is for the population to grow.

Expanding Our Approach

Hunters and gatherers were adapted to what nature provides. What was the trigger that catapulted humans into religion and agriculture? Perhaps there were evolutionary stressors that led humans to think that they could move beyond dependence on natural systems.

Genesis speaks of the knowledge of Good and Evil, where human beings think that they understand how things work, and then turn things to around to what they think most benefits humans. Bending nature to produce more than it naturally would, and then worshipping the human capacity to overcome natural processes.

Once you have the ears to hear the reductionist approach, it echoes in every news cycle. People are concerned about financial inflation first, then climate change and food security as afterthoughts. A shift is required in the way we see the world and each other. The solution is both spiritual and scientific.

“Thus is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.” – David Suzuki


Marjorie Harris, IOIA VO and concerned organophyte.

Feature image: Göbekli Tepe detail. Credit: (CC) Davide Mauro.

Dispatches from the Future

in 2022/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Summer 2022

Our Best Case for a Climate-Changed Food System

Brian MacIsaac and Rebecca Kneen

Fifty years ago, the combination of climate crisis, income inequality, and environmental toxification led to a massive change in North America. The polar ice melt raised the ocean by several feet, drowning cities all over the coast, including all the coastal agricultural regions of BC. Wildfires burned the uplands of the province, and heavy rains fell on the destabilized landscape, changing waterways and flooding river valleys. Survivors of the death of cities to flood and heat moved inland, putting pressure on the remaining livable areas and forcing a dramatic social restructuring. While other regions fell into enclaves of military rule and oligarchs controlling resources and food production in an almost feudal manner, BC’s social history led it down a different path.

Settlements now are within a narrow zone of uplands, with dense communities surrounded by food and forest land under communal management. Land, Seed, Water, Community and Forest Stewards are trained from youth, and guided by Indigenous leadership and principles of reciprocity and responsibility. There is no private land ownership as we know it: people tend to work in the same area of land and skill for generations, but are free to move into a different region or skill to suit their personal needs. New forms of science have arisen, using the skills of the before-times in the context of over-riding ecosystem health, as people have learned that human health is utterly dependent on ecosystem health.

While ocean desalination has killed a lot of ocean life, plants and creatures evolved for living in brackish water are thriving, and there is evidence that some species are rebuilding populations and ecosystems. The oceans remain out of bounds for most, however, in an attempt to let them regenerate. Lakes and rivers have become the primary source of fish, with strict protections over watersheds and waterways in place to support this vital food supply. There are no petro-powered motors allowed on any waterway, and fishing is strictly regulated to prioritize the needs of the water-life systems rather than human consumption.

Lettuce transplanted in summer heat. Credit: Moss Dance.

Centralized mass power production failed completely during the “Spasm,” as wildfire, flood, and mudslides tore the distribution system apart and showed its essential weakness. Electricity is created by steam, solar, wind, and tidal power, in local systems with local distribution. Petrochemicals are almost non-existent, saved for lubrication, gaskets, and bushings, and parts for solar panels. Solar panels themselves are rare, made mostly from reclaimed materials mined from dumpsites all over the province. Steam, wind, and run of the river hydro are the most common forms of power after human and horse power.

Forest replant programs, already beginning to change when the Spasm happened, now focus on planting a wide diversity of species. Watersheds and stream banks are always replanted first, but all replants go in cycles of succession to first stabilize the land and build soil, then adding species that would naturally follow to build canopy and long-term stable systems. Mycorrhizae are planted along with the trees to encourage living soil. Stable slopes, protected watersheds, and vibrant ecosystems are the primary goal, and many species are nurtured which have no direct human use. Forests are harvested for food and timber, but with selective logging only for wood which will be turned into finished products within the local region. Food harvesting is done under the supervision of Indigenous ecosystems managers.

Polyculture farming in small fields has replaced large scale agriculture, as the giant monocrop farms all drowned along with the large flatland areas of the province. All farming is based on organic principles and techniques developed and proven over the last century to have the most regenerative value. Organic farms using mixed or polyculture systems along with cover crops and extensive mulch systems were the only farms to have survived the Spasm relatively intact, as their lively soils were covered to protect from erosion and their many species provided weather, pest, and disease resilience. The knowledge inherited from these regenerative farms provides the basis for new farming techniques.

Farms are organized and managed for each local community in a mix of food, fodder, fibre, and trade crops. The village model keeps housing on rocky land, saving deeper soil for growing crops, and everyone participates in farming—some year-round, some seasonally while their main tasks take them into other areas of expertise—unemployment is not a problem, as every hand is needed to ensure survival. Co-operative farming also means that farm machinery is used efficiently, with new technology constantly being invented by workers to suit the needs of small, diversified farms. Crop patterns and cycles meet community needs, with centralized storage and processing, all of which allow for plenty of labour, skills development, and efficiencies of scale and technology. Food storage makes use of passive systems, from canning and drying to underground cold storage which needs no electricity whatsoever.

Wild bee on phacelia. Credit: Moss Dance.

Polyculture farms make use of terracing for field crops in hilly areas and slopes, as well as involving goats, sheep, and cattle in small flocks and herds. Communities keep only a few cows or goats for meat and milk, depending on their ability to grow the needed winter fodder. Heritage breeds have been selected for their hardiness and heat tolerance, and ability to thrive on pasture and forage only. Sheep are kept in other highland areas, valued for their milk, meat, and wool, as well as their use in grazing cover crops while leaving trees intact. Livestock are highly valued for their concentrated protein, fibre, and manure, so necessary in small-lot agriculture. Pigs and chickens are raised by most households, living on scraps and integrated into crop rotation systems, turning food waste and harvest detritus into precious food and fertilizer, while breaking pest and disease cycles. Meat is a much smaller part of the daily diet, with legumes, eggs, and vegetables taking over, but dairy and meat are cherished for their ability to provide sustenance when the now-common wild shifts in weather devastate field crops.

The expense and waste of shipping fresh foods out of season has shifted everyone’s diets to focus on local, seasonal foods, with a great reliance on preserved foods for cold seasons, and a lot of investment in low-tech season extension techniques. Coffee and chocolate have become the longest-distance trade goods, and are saved for special occasions, while other foods once considered staples of specialized “earth-friendly” diets are unheard of: coconuts are traded whole only, and very rare, cashews are never seen, and almonds’ high water consumption killed most of them during the repeating droughts.

As economies have become more locally focused, so have diets. Trade begins with neighbouring areas, focusing on goods and foods which cannot be produced locally—wild rice, grains, bison meat and robes, and materials mined from scrap in other regions are all high value, as well as high-tech items and finished goods like cloth. Southern BC’s wool is traded for linen from the Peace and prairies.

Fibre for clothing comes primarily from wool, with hemp and linen being grown only in limited areas due to their extensive space and nutrient requirements, but they are always included in long cycle crop rotations. Local craftspeople and mills provide the needed processing, while excess cloth, thread, and yarn are valued trade goods.

Pole beans adorn the southern and eastern walls of any house not covered in espaliered fruit trees, as legumes become the workhorse of everyone’s diet, and provide both shade and food. Long cycle crop rotations include grains, legumes, fodder, fibre, and vegetable crops, with zero use of toxic pesticides and herbicides. The mass die-off of pollinators and 80% of insect life due to the use of agrotoxins also killed off many tree and plant species, but new insects are starting to fill in the ecosystem gaps, and Land Stewards are learning to adapt to reduced and changed insect life.

Beekeeping is a critical new profession, as the death of insects and use of agrotoxins devastated both honeybees and native bees. Beekeepers breed both honeybees and solitary bees, and are venerated for their social teachings as well as the vital pollination and, of course, honey. Groups of children help with pollination, being encouraged to run through flowering crops to spread pollen while they play.

Seed Stewards are constantly adapting varieties, but everyone grows several crops for seed, as so many varieties are needed to create the genetic variations for constant adaptation. GMO traits and terminator genes keep surfacing, requiring constant attention and rogueing out of affected varieties, while always trading seed and breeding from those varieties that show the most local resilience and adaptation. Seeds provide another valuable source of trade goods, sharing crop resources, genetic variation, and skills.

Shorter and more violent winters have changed diets as well. Hydroponics and indoor “farms,” once touted as the saviour technologies, were far too dependent on electric power and petrochemicals for everything from irrigation to fertilizers to lighting and other infrastructure. Instead, every family grows sprouts to provide the bulk of winter greens, as well as hardy crops like kale, chard, spinach, and corn salad raised over winter in cold frames. Cold storage keeps a multitude of root vegetables, fruit, and cabbage fresh all winter, while meat provides any missing vitamins, and canned, fermented, and dried food create lots of variety. High-tech, energy intensive systems have failed over and over again, while passive systems of cold storage have proven value.

In many ways, this is a change back to a much earlier lifestyle, without many of the modern conveniences we take for granted. In other ways, we have managed to bring with us the best of contemporary technology and scientific advancement. Medicine has changed, as the vast array of pharmaceuticals is not accessible, but specialized production is supported by groups of communities, with pharmaceuticals being a highly valued trade commodity. Many other modern technologies (washing machines, for example) have been adapted to human power, and are being built for long-term use rather than planned obsolescence. Dumpsite mining, while dangerous due to the high levels of toxins, provides an unbelievable resource for otherwise scarce chemicals and materials.

What has really changed is our attitude: life is no longer disposable, and we live in the constant awareness of the value of the ecosystems in which we live.


Brian MacIsaac creates art and beer and instigates revolution at Crannog Ales, on unceded Secwepemc Territory. He spent years as a social worker and on the front lines of anti-fascist and anti-poverty work, actively working against British colonialism and for the re-unification of Ireland.

Rebecca’s parents led her down the sheep track to food sovereignty and food systems analysis through their Ram’s Horn magazine and Brewster’s many books. She farms and brews in Secwepemc Territory at Left Fields/Crannóg Ales and is Organic BC’s representative to the Organic Federation of Canada.

Feature image: Sunflowers at Burgoyne Valley Community Garden. Credit: Moss Dance.

Organic Stories: Discovery Organics

in Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Stories

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

By Brody Irvine

The organic movement is one based on the concept of collaboration. At a basic level, it is an agreement between nature and farmers to work together towards common goals of mutual benefit—nature provides nourishing food, while farmers work within the boundaries nature provides to nurture the growth of that food. This is an arrangement that is in constant fluidity, and one where creativity and communication are essential for long-term success. With that in mind, it is important to understand how valuable collaboration is to every scope of the organic movement, or dare I say ‘industry,’ that now exists.

Fundamentally, collaboration is at the heart of everything. It is the foundation of community, allows us to interconnect, and provides the network for how great ideas spread. As the Farmers’ Market provides a space for growers and artisans to sell their products, local eaters come to know and trust where their food comes from. Eaters take that knowledge to their neighbourhood grocers and the demand for local, organically-grown produce and products expands beyond the market tent.

Now we are at the stage where organically-grown produce is available at nearly every supermarket in North America, and the market for organics is growing worldwide. Setting aside the realities (or unrealities) of large-scale economics associated with conventional business models…we need to recognize this as a win! Everyone should be able to have access to food grown with the utmost care for ourselves and the planet, and we are closer to that goal now than ever before.

Randy Hooper (Discovery Organics), Rafael Rodriguez Valdivia (Red Adobe Organics), and Dylan Edmiston (Community Natural Foods) inspecting some of the open field corn trials in Atotonilco Alto, Mexico.

From the start, Annie Moss and Randy Hooper knew how important working together was going to be when launching Discovery Organics. Upon witnessing the tragic returns many local organic growers were getting within the local wholesale markets in BC, and the limits many growers faced to accessing those markets, they knew that something had to be done.

It all began back in 1998, when Annie and Randy found a small network of organic pioneers in British Columbia who could provide the volume needed for the wholesale market and were willing to learn and invest in standards around product grading, packaging, labeling, and branding. They then connected those growers with small, independent retailers, buying groups, and health food stores from Tofino, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser Valley, and all the way to the Prairies. It certainly took time and enormous effort, but it was all based on love, community, and working together for a greater purpose—from early morning drives out to Cawston to help Trevor and Debbie at Sundance Farm pack apples for last minute orders, to brainstorming with Bruce at Across The Creek on branding strategy for Sieglinde potatoes, to working with Choices Markets on marketing tools to raise consumer awareness around where their food is coming from and how it is produced.

From those early days of working with local growers to establish a wholesale market for BC-grown organic produce, Discovery Organics has looked beyond the borders of BC to find year-round sources of organic produce that are grown ethically and with integrity. Collaboration has been key to securing a consistent source of Fair Trade organic bananas, ginger, turmeric, and avocados, among many other produce items—and proving that eaters in Western Canada not only wanted access to all this deliciously-grown and harvested food but were craving it! Open and honest communication was the key to unlocking it.

Kabocha squash available in February 2022.

Working collectively is essential for progressing our mission of a future where we all eat organically, especially when adversity arises and times become challenging. We lean on each other for support, advice, and guidance. We help each other overcome what can feel like insurmountable obstacles. In 2007 one of our dearest friends and colleagues, Esteban Martinez, was met with such a problem and the collective action of our community helped get him through it. After working with Esteban for 17 years, he was Discovery Organic’s most important California strawberry grower.

“In the winter of 2007 there was a bank crash in the US—the great recession. The banks had lent far more money than they should have, and needed cash back and fast to restore their liquidity. In Watsonville, the strawberry capital of the US, at $15,000 an acre, banks had hundreds of millions tied up in loans to growers.” Randy says. “Esteban called us on a Friday night, crying. His bank had called his loan with no notice, and told him if he didn’t repay the $125,000 by Monday they would seize all his equipment. He wouldn’t even have started his season for months and had no income. We didn’t have any money and didn’t know anyone who could help.”

Randy goes on to recount that “the next morning, we were unloading a California truck, which happened to be driven by the driver who usually did our strawberry pickups at Esteban’s farm.” They told him the story, because he knew Esteban. “The driver liked Esteban—he would always come down to his cooler to load them, even at midnight. Later that afternoon Sukdeep and his trucking partner Sonny came to our yard, and then they handed us a bank draft for $125,000 for Esteban—money they had raised that very day amongst their Punjabi community in Surrey.”

Dave Wilson (Choices Markets), Andrew Vogler (Crisp Organics), and Carter Selmes-Blythe (Discovery Organics) touring the fall/winter crops in the Sumas Prairie in the fall of 2019.

At every turn, Discovery Organics works to build lasting relationships with growers, sellers, and transporters that have real tangible meaning, because working with friends is a lot more fun than working with strangers, and community has no borders. That spirit is evident within the greater organic movement, one where finding common ground is essential. It is sharing farm equipment in exchange for helping harvest apples in September (just make sure you wash the tractor before returning it!). It is sharing knowledge on integrated pest management in exchange for some cabbage needed to fill a weekly CSA order. It is learning about new weeding or harvest techniques over a six pack of beer or kombucha during a summer sunset. It is taking the time to call in on a neighbour during the height of harvest season and sharing a laugh, or a cry.

I’ll say it again, finding common ground is essential.

As we know it today, organic agriculture has its roots in the counterculture movements of the 1960s. Susanna Klassen wrote about this in the Fall 2021 issue of the BC Organic Grower, noting how the collaboration between the United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party raised awareness of the horrifying conditions and inequities that exist in our food system and inspired farmers and consumers to demand an ethical, holistic food production model.1 One that would nurture Mother Earth with care, and treat those working her soil with respect. That message still rings true, and still needs constant telling.

Doing the telling, putting in the work, communicating together to create a better world—that is our vocation and we have so much more to learn. Indigenous land values need a larger voice within the organic movement. The dignity and rights of farm workers need more attention and action through government support, and can start with farm owner integrity. Regenerative agriculture conversations need to include organic principles, and the climate solutions provided by these methods need to be championed and shared amongst all food production models. Collaborative efforts amongst growers, processors, educators, wholesalers, retailers, government, consumers, and more will help us include those issues in our future food system models.

We have come a long way and have a long way to go, and that is kind of the whole point. Communication begets collaboration which begets progress. We are all part of a greater food web, that starts with the soil and transcends into sharing a glass together (virtual or real)—and as much as we need to be there for each other during the hard times we must celebrate together too.

discoveryorganics.ca


Brody is a purchaser at Discovery Organics and specializes in grower relations and development. Starting in 2011 working for a small organic home delivery company in Edmonton Alberta, Brody was bit by the produce bug and has been enthralled with the organic food movement ever since.

Feature image: Employees of Discovery Organics getting a field tour from Bruce Miller at Across The Creek Organics in Pemberton, BC.

All images: Credit: Discovery Organics.

1Read Susanna’s article here: bcorganicgrower.ca/2021/09/fairness-as-migrant-justice

All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Go

in 2022/Livestock/Spring 2022/Standards Updates

Ready for Growth, Small-Scale Meat Producers are Limited by Access to Processing

By Julia Smith

The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association recently completed a province-wide survey of the small-scale meat producing sector in which we heard from 708 operations representing 2,110 producers across all 27 regional districts of the province. Eighteen respondents reported being certified organic, and 15 of these were located in the Okanagan.

The survey identified that small-scale meat producers in BC tend to have very diverse operations, and are practicing a range of land management techniques. Of the respondents, 97% reported using at least one of the following practices to steward their land:

  • multiple species grazing (43%)
  • intensive grazing (38%)
  • regenerative agriculture (38%)
  • no-till farming (36%)
  • diversified forage (36%)

It will be interesting to see if these types of land management techniques become even more popular given the rising costs and supply chain issues associated with more conventional methods and inputs.

Not surprisingly, the biggest obstacle preventing the growth of the small-scale meat industry in BC was access to slaughter and butchery services. While this has proven to all but stop the industry as a whole in its tracks, it hits certified organic producers even harder, as there are very few, if any, certified organic abattoirs or butcher shops offering custom services to small-scale producers.

Chickens at UBC Farm. Credit: Hannah Lewis.

There is a little wiggle room: it is possible for a processor whose facility is not certified organic to complete an “Organic Compliance Declaration” in which they agree to uphold the certification requirements for a producer. However, it is unlikely that most processors would be willing to accommodate this. Processors are completely booked up months (often over a year) in advance without having to jump through any additional hoops.

At a time when it is extremely difficult for anyone to book slaughter and butcher dates for their livestock, organic producers are faced with the added burden of needing their processing facilities to comply with their organic certification standards. Survey respondents reported that they often can’t even reach their abattoir on the phone. It seems unlikely that a business that doesn’t even have time to answer their phone would be willing to entertain the extra steps and paperwork required to serve the certified organic market.

Even if the butcher is willing to take these steps, they are only allowed to cut into basic raw cuts if the product is to remain certified organic. Products of further processing, such as sausage making or smoking, are not able to remain certified organic unless the facility itself is also certified organic. Furthermore, not even the raw cuts can be labeled as certified organic by the butcher unless their facility is also certified organic. The producer themselves must take that meat home, unpack it and label everything to remain in compliance.

Happy pigs. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association

It seems unfair that a producer who complies with the necessary production and animal welfare standards to achieve organic certification should not be able to market that product as certified organic due to insurmountable obstacles in the final step of the process. It may take three years to finish a certified organic steer and a matter of hours to process it.

The new Farmgate Plus slaughter license has the potential to offer some hope. 41% of survey respondents indicated that they are interested in pursuing a license which would allow them to slaughter up to 25 animal units (AU – 1,000 pounds of live weight = 1 AU) per year on their farm or ranch. This license is for slaughter only, and the carcass needs to be butchered at a licensed cut and wrap facility. Unfortunately, 25 AU isn’t likely to be enough volume for one operation to justify the expense of setting up a certified organic cut and wrap facility, but perhaps if there were enough organic livestock producers in a community, they could come together to solve this piece of the puzzle.

Profitability was another challenge identified by the survey and one where organic producers will certainly be feeling the pinch with rising costs and limited availability of everything from feed, to fuel, to fertilizer.

Overall, producers reported that they would like to grow their businesses and that market demand far exceeds their current production capacity given processing challenges. There is tremendous potential for this industry to make a significant contribution to food security and the economy. Given the undeniable need to move toward more environmentally sustainable production methods, the need for growth in the organic sector has never been greater.

To find the survey report, learn more about SSMPA and join as a Producer Member for $35 or as a Supporter Member for free, visit smallscalemeat.ca


Julia is a founding member and currently serving as Vice-President of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association. She farms and ranches in the Nicola Valley where she raises critically endangered Red Wattle hogs and beef cattle.

Feature image: Turkeys on pasture. Credit: SSMPA.

Your Land, Your Legacy

in 2022/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Spring 2022

A Farm and Foodlands Owner’s Guide

By Michael Marrapese

The Foodlands Cooperative of BC has a bold vision—to secure farmland for farming for future generations. While the Agricultural Land Reserve offers some protection by restricting the allowable activities on farmland, it has had only a modest effect on the selling price and accessibility of farmland in BC. Our primary activity is to facilitate the acquisition of land by cooperatives, non-profit groups and charities, municipalities, or Indigenous communities.

In the summer of 2021 we published Your Land, Your Legacy: A Farm and Foodlands Owner’s Guide. The Guide is expressly designed for owners of farm and food-provisioning lands who wish to create a legacy by preserving their land for generations to come.

Written by Ava Reeve, the guide is a culmination of a two-year research project made possible by funding from the Law Foundation of BC and the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC. It focuses on two particular processes to secure land for agriculture. One is to donate land to a community organization. Another approach is to register a covenant on a property. The guide covers both of these processes in detail.

North of town. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

For many farmers, selling the farm is a major part of their financial and retirement planning. However, selling their property often means it will not be used primarily for farming. In much of BC, farmland is being bought up and converted into recreational acreages, vacation homes, or rural estates—or for future real estate development.

Over the last five years the Foodlands Cooperative of BC has met with dozens of landowners who want to ensure their properties continue to be farmed and used for the benefit of their communities. We found that lawyers and estate planners are often unfamiliar with the unique legal and taxation statutes that apply to these situations, not only because it is unfamiliar but also because the process can be very nuanced and specific to each property and situation.

While many farmers are sympathetic to the plight of aspiring young farmers, transferring land by any other method than direct sale is a daunting process. As Chad Hershler, Executive Director of Deer Crossing the Art Farm observes, “transferring land ownership, legacy planning, formalizing a vision—these are all emotionally fraught, extremely challenging things to do, no matter the context. When it comes to food provisioning (and, in our case, culture-making), this is even harder.”

Cows make great neighbours. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

We engaged a team of legal experts to review existing legislation, and possible approaches to transfer land out of the speculative market, and present it in terms accessible to the layperson. “There is a gravitational pull towards doing what everyone else is doing, doing what comes easiest,” continues Hershler. “Every bit of help to move against this is crucial—and this guide is more than a bit of help. It clearly outlines steps we need to take, people we need to talk to, documents we need to draft. It takes something massive and breaks it down into simple achievable steps.”

The Foodlands Cooperative is exploring several avenues towards returning land to the public commons and out of the speculative market. While registered charities are one kind of qualified donee, the CRA recognizes a number of others. Under the Canadian Income Tax Act, qualified donees can often issue official donation receipts. Qualified donees can include the Crown at federal and provincial levels, municipal governments and other public bodies, and, interestingly, the United Nations. Many Indigenous governing bodies are also now registered as qualified donees.

When we began this project three years ago, there was an obvious need for clarity around the various options, processes, and costs of having land transferred to a land trust, either via donation or through other transfer mechanisms. In creating a plan for their estate and a succession plan for their farm operation, a landowner will want to understand the tax benefits or policies that will apply to their situation. The guide has an extensive section on Canadian tax law that explains the considerations when making a donation of land and the implications of various types of land transfer. It also lays out some practical examples of how tax law might be applied. There is a complete glossary of all the legal and financial terms to help make the material more useful and approachable.

The final section of the Guide lays out very specific steps for due diligence when a landowner is considering donating their property. Some seem quite obvious—engaging professionals such as lawyers and appraisers. Less obvious may be the need to have the property surveyed to confirm boundaries, to document encroachments and Right-of-Ways, and the existence of any environmentally sensitive or protected areas.

We are keen to pass this knowledge on to the general public through our our lawyer-reviewed guide. The guide will undoubtedly help to alleviate many of the challenges of planning farm and foodland trusts, lead to greater community access to foodlands, and to foster sustainable farming.

We see this as a first step in opening up possibilities for landowners to create a lasting legacy with their farmland.

Your Land, Your Legacy, A Farm and Foodland Owner’s Guide is available for free at foodlands.org/a-farm-and-foodland-owners-guide


Michael Marrapese lives and works at Fraser Common Farm Cooperative in the Fraser Valley on the unceded territory of the Kwantlen and Katzie peoples. An avid photographer, writer and musician he loves working on the farm and marvels at the beauty of nature. Though recently retired, he continues to be involved in various interesting projects and seems to be willing to travel at the slightest provocation.

Feature image: Tilling at Sunset. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

Reflections on the History of Organic BC

in 2022/Grow Organic/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2022

We asked past presidents and board members of Organic BC to share memories from their time on the board—so many people have contributed so much over the years. These reflections are snapshots from the past 30 years, as we grew from small group of dedicated farmers, ranchers, and processors to the incredible community we have today. Here’s to many more decades of cultivating a resilient organic movement in BC!

Robert Hettler – Pilgrim’s Produce

Board member from 1993 to 1995

I was chosen by the North Okanagan Organic Association in the early 1990’s to be their representative on the board of what is now Organic BC.

I have many memories from the era of being on the board. The strongest is the commitment of all the board members of the time to get the job done, no matter the distance travelled, the time spent reviewing the few other standards written at the time, and the long hours spent thrashing out our first versions and then revisions after revisions.

Beginning with the travel, most of the board members came from the interior, Hans Buchler from Oliver, but more so Paddy Doherty and Lee Taylor from the Cariboo (an eight-hour drive), and especially Bill Smith from the Peace and his overnight drives of 12 or 16 hours. If I felt like whining over my four to six hours of winter driving, the guys from the north had us beat by a long shot. Sure, there was Fred Reid just half an hour down the road in Abbotsford, and Harvey Snow, who at the time worked for the BC Ministry of Agriculture, who also had little travel. Harvey Snow had a small office in Cloverdale, where we would all pile in and get to work.

Many a time I would arrive at Harvey’s Ministry of Agriculture office before 8 am to find Hans asleep in the cab of his Datsun pickup.

I remember reviewing the organic regulations from California and Oregon especially, but also some from Europe. None of us had experience writing regulations like many do now, so there were hours and hours of working out the principles we wished to convey, and then the tough job of choosing the right words and phrases with which to express our ideas. There seemed to be endless revisions made in those early days.

Since we met one day per month in the winter, in most cases we would work all day on regulations, and then usually it meant a drive back home at the end of the day, at least for me.

At the time the Apple 11e computer was the latest aid in doing regulations, which Harvey used to record our meetings, as were fax machines, which aided greatly in sending documents to each other. No cell phones back then and selfies had not been invented, so no pictures even contemplated —but we had Tim Hortons coffee and doughnuts to keep us going.

Paddy Doherty (centre) washing carrots at West Enderby Farm. Credit: West Enderby Farm.

Paddy Doherty – West Enderby Farm

Board member 1993-2000; 2012-2020; Staff 2001-2005

I remember particularly the friends I made. There were so many, and so many are still close friends. Gunta Vitins was working at the Ministry of Agriculture in the early 1990’s. She was assigned to the fledgling Certified Organic Association of BC (COABC) to help us get the organization off the ground. She found the funding somewhere and got us started on our first strategic plan.

I must admit I didn’t know what a strategic plan was. Bill Smith, Rob Hettler, Fred Reid, Harvey Snow, Brian Mennell, Brian Hughes, and I all worked on this plan, but Gunta made it happen. It was a great plan. We’ve accomplished most of the aspirations described in it—I don’t have a copy anymore.

I recall Bill Smith saying, “We have a great organization on paper, but we don’t have anything on the ground.” The COABC was the administrator of the Organic Agricultural Product Certification Regulations under the Food Choice and Disclosure Act. We were in charge of administering an act of the BC legislature but we had no office, no money, and no employees.

The economic development official in Quesnel happened to be a friend. He told me, “You need a secretariat. Ask the government for a secretariat for your organization until you can get on your feet.” A friend and I went to visit David Zirnhelt, then the Minister of Agriculture, who coincidentally owned a ranch in the next valley over from our place. We brought a proposal—this was another thing I had no experience with, but luckily had help from people who did.

People in the Ministry said it was irregular to approach the Minister in such an informal fashion, but it worked. We were provided with $275,000 in seed money to get us started, as well as a ministry staff person (and office) for three years. The next week I received a cheque in the mail for $80,000. We didn’t even have a bank account so I opened one at the Quesnel Credit Union.

The Ministry was holding an agriculture standing committee—in the summer, which was awkward. I was haying, but I really felt it was important to attend. After I finished baling, I drove all night to catch the first ferry to Victoria. I met Brian Hughes and Mary Alice Johnson outside the legislature, and they accompanied me. Somehow, I had managed to draft a speech for the standing committee. I don’t have it anymore, but I recall the opening: “I’m here to give you some good news about organic farming in BC.” I didn’t ask for anything, I just told them how great we were and what great things we were going to do. I also told them about the incredible market for organic food, and how fast it was growing. I could see the committee’s eyes light-up.

That was the first of many meetings where I was one of a group representing agriculture in BC. I was hanging out with the commodity groups like the chicken farmers, cattlemen, etc. Once the BC Agriculture Council was formed, I spent many hours attending meetings—often not doing much, but just being there.

Carmen and Glen Wakeling in the sunflower shoot house at Eatmore Sprouts. Credit: Eatmore Sprouts.

Glenn Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 1997-2001

I first attended a COABC AGM as a board representative from the Comox Region. I was thirty-something at the time and in the first decade of operating Eatmore Sprouts with three business partners. One of them, Carmen, was the whole reason I was here—a Kiwi growing sprouts in BC.

At the time, Hans Buchler was wrapping up his presidency. Paddy Doherty was coaxed in as president with a cell phone provided by COABC, and later a computer provided by Cathleen Kneen. Somehow, I ended up on the executive and became president several years later (the world is run by those who show up!).

The big issues of the day were recognition of the Standard (e.g. getting BC organic apples into Europe) and marketing boards (chickens and eggs). The Ministry was engaged. As is still the case, many farmers wanted little or no governance, with a handful who wanted everything, both federally and provincially.

Both of my parents in rural New Zealand did a lot of community time on boards. I felt it was important to participate. I jumped in deep, learning lots. We were still using dial up internet and basic computers. This kept the beginners mind active—looking back I was in way over my head!

I met a lot of amazing people, and we had a lot of good times.

Deb Foote – The Organic Grocer

Board member 2004-2008

I think I was the first non-producer coming from the world of distribution, retail, and marketing.

The mid-2000s were a time of big growth for COABC and organics. Just some of the issues that the sector faced during that time were:

  • West Nile virus and the potential impacts of use of malathion on organic farmers. The Province asked COABC for input
  • Plant Breeder Rights and seed severity
  • Marketing board accommodations for organic and specialty producers
  • National Standards development and implementation
  • Discussion of aquaculture certification
  • Collaboration with BC Ministry of Agriculture and Ag Canada
  • Introduction of the Environmental Farm Plan program
  • Abattoir regulations
  • GMO contamination
  • Organic Harvest Awards
  • BC’s adoption of the Canadian Organic Standards
  • An Organic Extension Officer position was created
  • Buy Local and the 100-mile diet took off

Hermann Bruns – Wild Flight Farm

Board member 1998-99; 2004-2006; 2011-2013

I was the NOOA rep on the COABC board over 20 years ago now. The world was a lot simpler back then, and we were all making it up somewhat as we went along.

My strongest memories are of getting an office set up for COABC. NOOA also needed an office space. At that time the Ministry of Agriculture was downsizing a lot, so one of the NOOA board members was bold enough to ask the Minister at the time, Corky Evans, if we could take up one of the empty offices in their Vernon building—and he agreed! Not all of the Ministry staff were pleased, however, so they created an outside entrance to the office.

NOOA moved in first and COABC followed soon after. The NOOA part-time administrator, Shelly Chvala, was also tasked with some of the COABC administrative work. Prior to that time, all the work was being done by board members from their homes, with regular meetings to get the organization up and running.

When that office space become too small, NOOA and COABC moved to a second office down on Kalamalka Lake Road for a number of years, then to a small house downtown that was also shared with PACS. In 2008, COABC moved to its own office at the current location.

Accreditation in the early years was being done by a committee of a few board members, with a government representative funded by the Ministry acting as Chair. At first it was about trying to get the certification bodies to work together, and then eventually our own standards came over time.

The first COABC website was created by Tim Jackson, son of a local organic fruit grower and university student who knew a little bit about html. I had to convince the board that a website would be a good thing; I thought it was important to have information more easily available for the organic community—as a kind of ‘open filing cabinet.’ Right from the beginning we envisioned a directory of all the certified operations, and we created the listserv which was very active at the time.

Carmen Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 2003-04; 2009-10; 2014-2019; 2021

I stepped into the role of president of COABC right when mandatory organic labelling in BC was announced in 2015. If I had known what that meant I may not have taken the job! So much work but a definite strengthening of organics. We worked with ministry, consumers, producers, and everyone in between to develop a staged approach to achieving this outcome. I remember one moment particularly well, when we were given a bit of an ultimatum: “If you want this, you must…” I felt my heart hit the floor—and then we figured out how to get through it. When I walk around the grocery stores now, I can see that our work on this has helped so much in giving consumers a clearer way to purchase certified organic products. This makes me very happy!

The current strategic plan was developed during my time as president. I feel very pleased that we were able to take the organization’s ability to work together and to identify gaps so solutions could be found to overcome challenges and build on opportunities. It was through this strategic plan that “iCertify” and the core review were undertaken. I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for Organic BC, as I know that many of the identified gaps will be addressed in the short- and medium-term.

It was so great to be supporting the work of the generations of leaders before me, and building opportunity for generations of leaders to come. It was an honor and a privilege to hold this position and contribute the important work of making the world a better place through organic agriculture. Step by step, bit by bit, building stronger communities and building stronger bridges is essential to humanity currently.

Keep up the good work everyone!


Feature image: Hermann Bruns with early spring greens in his moveable greenhouse at Wild Flight Farm as part of the Organic BC Virutal Field Tours 2022. Credit: Organic BC.

In Memory of Dave McCandless

in 2022/Organic Community/Spring 2022

Over the past year, the Organic BC community lost two very special people, Dave McCandless and Bob Mitchell.

We remember them here with sadness for their passing, and with gratitude for the legacy of their knowledge, skills, rich soils, stories, passions, and contributions.

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Dave McCandless (1934 – 2021)

By Medwyn McConachy

In the fall of 2021, the organic community lost one of its early pioneers and advocates, Dave McCandless. As a long-term member of the BC Association of Regenerative Agriculture Dave’s focus was always on creating positive solutions for farmers working towards organic standards.

Dave was determined to eliminate fossil fuels. When he left us he was still engaged in pursuing a fossil-free future for organic farms. His partner Susan Davidson tells the story: “his passion for getting OFF fossil fuels was paramount, I remember helping him to write a letter to the president of Kubota tractors, urging them to develop a kit for converting diesel tractors to electric.”

Dave walked his talk by driving one of the early hybrid Prius cars. Susan recalls the time she was driving a car full of recyclables to the end of the driveway and when she rolled down the window, she saw a sticky note on the mirror that said, “is this trip really necessary?”

Dave influenced our Organic BC community widely. As Rochelle Eisen noted in a correspondence with Susan “…once again Dave has raised my consciousness. The gist of Dave’s message was organic farms should not be allowed to use fossil fuels. And as we know ….. the logistics of even reducing our dependence is daunting. But I agree with Dave’s underlying thoughts as it is true: organic farmers are deluding themselves if they think they are making a difference practicing replacement agriculture.”

Dave’s journey to find his passion for organic agriculture was rich and varied. As the firstborn son of Stella and George McCandless, he began his working years with his father on the MV Uchuck, plying the waters from Port Alberni to Bamfield. The ship carried freight and passengers to remote communities. Dave left his sea legs and found his footing on land when he started a career in urban landscaping, discovering his love of fruit tree propagation and pruning. He carried this passion with him to Fraser Common Farm in Aldergrove in the 1980’s.

Dave was committed to cooperative living and working. He was an early member of Community Alternatives Society living in their Kitsilano cooperative housing community. With his partners in the Glorious Garnish and Seasonal Salad Company—the farming enterprise that grew out of the fertile soils of Fraser Common Farm—he co-created a workers’ cooperative now known as Glorious Organics.

In the late 1990’s Dave and Susan were instrumental in gathering the necessary shareholder energy, finances, and enthusiasm to create the cooperative that purchased Glen Valley Organic Farm, a 50-acre certified organic farm in danger of becoming just another cranberry bog in the Glen Valley. Reminiscing about Dave’s contribution, Paige Dampier, one of the current farmers at Glen Valley, recalls “Dave will be remembered for his enthusiastic participation at farm work parties in the early days of the co-op, his valuable time as a member of the Stewards, his passionate input and regular attendance at all of our meetings, and his sincere concern for the planet.”

Dave demonstrated this concern in so many ways. At Fraser Common Farm Dave restored an almost-invisible trickle of water running through the small forest beside the driveway into a viable salmon habitat, and was rewarded with the salmon returning to spawn in the stream. His determination to improve organic soils led him to experiment with Biochar—learning to make and use it on crops for Glorious Organics. Dave worked with UBC Farm to evaluate the benefits of biochar. He said, “as a soil amendment, it acts like a coral reef for soil organisms, helping to house beneficial micro-organisms, creating air pockets, holding moisture, and it lasts for a VERY long time.”1

Recognizing the importance of crop planning and land management, and before having access to sophisticated technology tools such as GIS and Google maps, Dave took the initiative to create land use maps for both Fraser Common and Glen Valley farms. Starting with a simple sketch, the data he collected was then enlarged and copied onto mylar, which was then used to support walkabouts on the land to gather more details. The end result was an accurate record of built and natural features on both farms.

Committed to the planet from the smallest worm on his fishing hook, to the mysteries of the night sky, it seemed no accident that the day of Dave’s birth, April 22, was declared Earth Day and is celebrated by more than 1 billion people in 193 countries every year.


1 Gary Jones, Inside View, Greenhouse Canada, 09/25/2012, greenhousecanada.com/in side-view-3314

Feature image: Dave McCandless in the field. Credit: Glorious Organics.

In Memory of Bob Mitchell

in 2022/Organic Community/Spring 2022

Over the past year, the Organic BC community lost two very special people, Dave McCandless and Bob Mitchell.

We remember them here with sadness for their passing, and with gratitude for the legacy of their knowledge, skills, rich soils, stories, passions, and contributions.

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Bob Mitchell (1939-2022)

By Robin Tunnicliffe

Metchosin just got a little quieter, a little more docile, and definitely less colourful. A library of local history has burned. On February 13, Bob Mitchell passed away at Victoria Hospice at the age of 83. Farmer, politician, thinker, and International Man of Mystery, the tales of Bob’s adventures will live on in the many lives he touched.

I met Bob because he got a copy of our book, All the Dirt: Reflections on Organic Farming. He wanted to meet, because he had gone through three farm managers in five years. He thought I sounded serious, so he called me. At the time, I didn’t want to leave Saanich, but I have a soft spot for older farmers, so I went out to meet him.

I took one look at the soil, and I was hooked! He and his dad had been building beautiful soil there for decades, and evenly fertile crops flourished on class A ag land. Woah! Bob promised me a farm succession plan as bait, and the deal was sealed. We were there for nine years to the month when he died. Bob thrived, surrounded by younger farmers, and he loved talking politics and most anything during our daily communal lunches. As a tribute to his legacy, Sea Bluff Farm will be farmed in perpetuity to feed the surrounding community.

Bob was born in Saskatchewan but came to Metchosin as a young boy. He fondly recounted a rich childhood spent blowing up stumps with dynamite and tossing hay bales with his father. Bob’s wild years were enlivened by running after-hours nightclubs in Arizona and Seattle. He recalled these years as the best of his life. He met and married Jackie Slater and fathered his only son, Geoff. He wasn’t one for domestic life, and soon ended up in jail after getting busted for turning his agricultural gifts to the cultivation of marijuana. We guessed that Bob’s short stint in jail was the thrill of his life, for we heard many a soliloquy about his time behind bars. He continued to advocate for youth detainees and for prisoners at William Head for many decades.

Bob’s adventures spanned some years up at Clo’ose on the West Coast trail. He loved recounting tales of incoming storms into the beach, and having to sail out to anchor his boat, and then swim to shore to keep his rig from getting tossed into the rocks. He continued to visit the site, and was there last fall and had to hike out because of a misadventure.

Bob served on the Metchosin council for three terms. His slogan? “I’m the only one running that has a conviction!” The folks of Metchosin will be familiar with the sight (and smell) of the tractor and trailer loaded with seaweed coming up from Weir’s Beach. He was a regular at the Broken Paddle, and could be seen whipping around Metchosin and beyond in his iconic Mini Cooper, the farm delivery vehicle. A point of pride for Bob was to be the first one to plough up his field in the spring, even when he got mired down in the mud.

Above all, Bob loved Sea Bluff Farm. He was so proud to feed the community 12 months of the year from our humble farm stand on Wootton Rd. “Things are really cooking!” he’d say with satisfaction while looking over our loaded farm stand. Bob was rototilling in the greenhouse mere weeks before he died. He would spend hours on the end of a hoe, methodically saving crops from the weeds. He was devoted to soil health and his legacy lives on in our giant beets and Hubbard squash.

Bob was happiest when he was sharing knowledge: helping out new farmers and scheming about local politics. Bob shone when he was the centre of attention, and he could regale you with tales drawing on a huge breadth of knowledge. He was extremely well read, always curious, and had an excellent memory for municipal history.

If you would like to honour Bob, please consider a donation to the Bob Mitchell New Farmer Microloan Fund. Over the past 10 years, Bob has changed the lives of six new farmers who used the loan and were able to pay it back in the same year because of their strong start.

Donations for the the Bob Mitchell New Farmer Microloan Fund can be sent to the following email, with the subject line “Bob Micro loan:” seabluffbox@outlook.com


Feature image: Bob Mitchell pleased with the daikon crop. Credit: Sea Bluff Farm.

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