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2021 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2021/Current Issue/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

Incubating Certified Organic Farmers at Haliburton

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

Erin Bett

Our farm, Fierce Love Farm, is a one-acre vegetable, fruit, and flower farm in Saanich on unceded W̱SÁNEĆ territory. We are part of Haliburton Community Organic Farm, which is a beautiful piece of farmland in the middle of the Victoria suburbs.

Haliburton Farm operates as an incubator farm: new farmers can lease plots between half an acre and one acre for a short-term lease of up to eight years to start their farm business. Our farm, and all the other farmers at Haliburton Farm, are certified organic through the Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA).

While Haliburton Farm operates somewhat differently than other IOPA incubator farms, since it is run by a non-profit society on publicly owned land, it served as part of the inspiration for IOPA’s incubator farm policy. The incubator farm policy aims to expand the opportunities for new farmers to start organic farms with the support of established IOPA farmers.

We started our farm business at Haliburton Farm in 2018, and are entering our fourth season. After both completing the UBC Farm Practicum in Sustainable Agriculture and working for many years on farms throughout the province, we were ready to take the leap and start our own farm. With land prices what they are in BC, and especially on the west coast, we knew our only option was to lease land. When the opportunity to join Haliburton Farm’s incubator model opened up, we jumped at the chance, and have benefited from it greatly.

Jon harvesting leeks. Credit: Fierce Love Farm.

Farming at an incubator farm gave us the head start that leasing a raw piece of land from a private landowner never could have. With the key infrastructure like hoop houses, irrigation, and a walk-in cooler in place, and existing plantings of cane fruits in the ground, we were able to hit the ground running in our first season.

Kevin Allen, who also started Elemental Farm at Haliburton in 2018, adds, “The incubator policy has created the opportunity to start the farm business in a stable and supportive environment. This will be the fourth year of Elemental Farm’s operations and I am grateful this incubator policy exists.” He highlights that the incubator allowed them to start small and build their level of investment over time, as their risk tolerance increased. “For example,” he says, “we didn’t need to invest so heavily in the fixed assets of a cooler.”

Our plot had been farmed by two previous farmers before us, so we were also inheriting years of work building the soil. We were incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work for the farmer whose plot we took over, Northstar Organics, the year prior to starting our farm. Having the mentorship of Shawn Dirksen on the land we would be farming, was invaluable to our business. Hearing his experiences, successes, and cautions gleaned over his time on the land gave us history and knowledge that would have taken years to collect on our own—a true gift to have before even putting pen to paper for our crop and marketing plans. Even three years later, he is only a phone call away to help us troubleshoot.

Being part of an incubator farm also gave us access to existing marketing channels. Our large stall at the local farmers’ market already had name recognition, and over the last three years we have worked hard to expand our dedicated customer base. We also partner with three other Haliburton Farm current and former lessees to collectively market our produce to restaurant and small grocer customers, which is coordinated by a fourth former Haliburton Farm lessee.

This combination of support, infrastructure, and our previous experience has allowed us to focus on the thing we didn’t have experience with—running a business. We have since been working to expand our own CSA, as we have always loved the CSA model and the connection with our community that it brings, and grow our farm to bring on more staff and our systems, while we plan for the future and a more permanent home for our farm.

While for us, the thought of starting over on another piece of land is daunting, and the barriers to land access for farmers are all too real, we are grateful that we have been able to start our farm business at Haliburton Farm.

Kevin’s farm has grown beyond the borders of Haliburton, too. “Starting last year, we were able to find another plot to lease and expand our plantings,” says Kevin. “We’ve now graduated out of the incubator policy and are continuing to search for more land to lease.”

Much needs to be done to make sure we set up the next generation of organic farmers for success, and incubator farms like Haliburton Farm are an important piece of the farm landscape. Haliburton Farm is celebrating its 20th year of operation this year, and as a member of the IOPA certification committee, I’m so excited to see applications from new farmers, who are being mentored by established organic farmers under the incubator farm policy.

If you would like more information about IOPA’s Incubator Policy and you are located within IOPA’s region of Vancouver Island and surrounding islands, reach out to admin@iopa.ca.


Erin Bett farms at Fierce Love Farm, a diverse, small-scale, organic farm located at Haliburton Community Organic Farm in Saanich, BC. Erin and her farm partner Jon are two first-generation farmers growing a variety of high-quality vegetables, berries, and flowers on one acre of leased land.

Feature image: Erin Bett showing off a bucket full of dahlias. Credit: Fierce Love Farm

Bringing History into Modern Cider-Making at Twin Island Cider

in 2021/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Marketing/Spring 2021/Tools & Techniques

Katie Selbee

“Natural” has always been a concept at the centre of our cider production, and over the past year I have been able to bring that ideal into our most basic equipment: fermentation vessels.

Just over a year ago, we were at a point of deciding whether to invest in more wood barrels or stainless-steel tanks for our production space, when I stumbled upon a documentary about ancient Georgian wine qvevri. Qvevri are large earthenware vessels used for fermenting and storing wine. These huge, hand-built clay pots are still being made today in Georgia just the same as they have been made for thousands of years, even down to the native clay they dig themselves.

This launched me on an investigation into whether our native Gulf Islands clay—Twin Island Cider is based on Pender Island—might be usable for low-fire earthenware, too. Luckily, a few test firings confirmed that it was.

Though I haven’t worked much with clay in the past, I am also lucky to have a professional potter living next door (Nancy Walker of talkingclay.ca). As I learn from her advice as well as footage of Georgian qvevri-building, I have been hand-building pots and gradually scaling up to vessels that hold around 150 litres, measuring about 35 inches tall. When I can problem-solve finding or building a larger sized kiln, I will scale up to larger sizes. For now, we are busy experimenting with fermenting and aging in the earthen clay and learning as much as we can about its effects on the finished cider.

It’s hard to say what impact using qvervi will have on the cider itself at this point as we’ve only made one batch and have been occasionally tasting another that is still aging in the clay. The first batch we made has a wonderfully punchy, tangy character, and we did notice it has a more mature profile than other ciders would be at its young age, likely due to the micro-oxidation effects mellowing the acids faster. We’ll do more comparative batches as we go—aging the same batch in stainless with clay to compare. It is safe to say this is a direction we will wholeheartedly be pursuing and improving on for the long term.

The main reason we are excited about clay is that it imparts less flavour than most wooden barrels, but it still allows some micro-oxidation—unlike stainless steel. And it also adds another layer of “terroir” that makes so much sense for our hyper-local cider: fermenting and aging in the material of its home.

Raw clay is collected from a large pile of clay, unearthed some years ago when our cidery partners/landholders Sandra and Noel had an irrigation pond dug.

 

The clay is mixed with water into a slurry and then poured through a fine mesh to remove any coarse particles and rocks.

 

The clay is then settled-out and allowed to dry until it is elastic and workable.

 

The vessels are hand built without a pottery wheel, in the traditional style of Georgian qvevri. One 3-inch layer is added per day. A 150-litre pot takes about 12 days total.

 

Once dry, the vessels are kiln-fired to 1060 degrees Celsius. Most native, hand-processed clays like this cannot be fired much higher or they will warp and melt. This clay turns a beautiful terracotta colour once fired.

 

After firing, they are re-warmed and lined with melted beeswax, also a traditional Georgian method. The heating opens up the larger pores of the clay, allowing them to absorb the wax while still leaving smaller pores open to allow micro-oxidation and direct clay contact.

 

Katie Selbee and Matthew Vasilev at their clay harvest site.

 


Katie Selbee and her partner Matthew Vasilev are the cider-makers and co-founders of Twin Island Cider on Pender Island, blending hands-on experience and training in cider-making, orcharding, and farming. Twin Island Cider began with making cider on a basket press with family and friends, using apples from old orchards and the Vasilev’s family trees on Pender Island before developing into a land-based cidery in 2016 when they partnered with landholders Sandra MacPherson and Noel Hall. They are immersed in operating the cidery year-round, from pruning and harvesting dozens of island orchards, pressing, blending and bottling, to pouring the cider at the tasting room. They care for and harvest from dozens of century-old settler orchards on North and South Pender Islands to create their fine, low-intervention cider and perry fermented only with native yeasts—cider which seeks to communicate the land, the lost varieties and the stories of the place we live.

Featured image: Katie Selbee putting the finishing touches on two Qvevri.

Ask an Expert: BC Farmers & Ranchers Learning Together

in 2021/Ask an Expert/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Soil/Spring 2021/Tools & Techniques

Emma Holmes

The Sustainable Agricultural Landscapes (SAL) Lab at UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems is taking a collaborative approach to research that supports producers in making management decisions that are science-based and regionally grounded.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Sean Smukler, DeLisa Lewis, Amy Norgaard, and Raelani Kesler from the SAL Lab to get an update on their Organic Vegetable Nutrient Management and Climate Resilient Vegetable Farming research projects.

Something that stood out to me, and that I feel is especially pertinent to this issue, is the mentorship and collaborative, on-farm approach the SAL Lab is taking. The research design includes two demonstration “mother sites” at UBC Farm in Vancouver and Green Fire Farm on Vancouver Island, as well as 20 “sister sites” on working organic farms in the Fraser Valley, Pemberton Valley, Vancouver Island, and the Kootenays.

The mother sites are controlled and replicated—they allow for the collection of scientifically rigorous data so that the researchers can tease out trends and gain a deeper understanding of how different elements in the system are interacting and impacting each other.

While a rigorous approach is important, it is very difficult to implement one on working farms because farmers are already trying to manage so much complexity in terms of crop rotation, timing, etc. Adding a full-blown research project with rigorous controls can take away from the primary goal of running a profitable business.

The sister sites are simpler experiments, without controls and replicates, that are done on multiple working farms in different regions of the province. They provide insights into regional and site variability, and allow us to see whether trends from the mother sites are true across different regions in BC The regional sister sites also create the opportunity for farmers to participate in the research by pointing SAL researchers to key practical challenges and unanswered questions.

Collecting soil samples with a soil auger; hundreds of soil samples were collected for the regional field trials. Credit: Amy Norgaard.

Organic Vegetable Nutrient Management

The SAL Lab recently shared the results from their two-year Organic Vegetable Nutrient Management Project regional field trials, where they assessed organic nutrient management strategies that are most likely to balance goals of crop production and environmental stewardship.

A key takeaway is the importance of regionally-specific nutrient management recommendations due to the big differences in soil types, availability, and cost of amendments. Taking soil tests and applying nutrients based on a farm-specific soil management strategy is important for land stewardship across all regions, but regional variances due to differing soils, climate, and access to and cost of amendments are important considerations.

For example, the abundance of nutrient-rich animal manures in the Fraser Valley increases the possibility of unintentionally over applying nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). This can result in post-harvest nitrate and phosphorous concentrations that can compromise well water quality and wetland health in the area, and are higher than what is permitted under BC’s new Agricultural Environmental Management Regulation.

There are also cost implications of over-applying nutrients. On Vancouver Island, where amendments are relatively expensive, targeted nutrient applications based on soil testing and matching crop nutrient demand can allow for significant savings compared to applying amendments without that knowledge.

Carmen Wong collects soil samples from research plots on an organic vegetable farm in Pemberton, BC for the UBC nutrient management regional field trial study Credit: Amy Norgaard.

Climate Resilient Vegetable Farming

SAL’s Climate Resilient Vegetable Farming research project is studying the interactions between organic nutrient management and water issues (e.g. too much, too little, wrong timing) on organic farms. Increased fall and spring precipitation shortens the soil workability time window, thus shortening the growing season and increasing the challenge of establishing and incorporating cover crops as part of a nutrient management strategy.

Raelani Kesler, Master of Science student, explained that the Climate Resilient Vegetable Farming research project hopes to quantify the impact of three alternative approaches to soil management: fall application of organic amendments, tile drains, and overwinter tarping. Silage tarps are increasingly being used to cover soil in places where it is difficult to establish or maintain a cover crop. With tarping, the soil is protected from erosion, but there are no inputs from cover crop biomass. Drainage tiles are being used to manage moisture but this too can lead to losses. The project is currently gearing up for its second field season.

Amy Norgaard in the field. Credit: Kira Border.

Knowledge Sharing

The benefit of having the research on-farm extends beyond the access to regional data. Including farmers as partners allows for horizontal learning between both researchers and farmers, as well as supporting farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange.

Amy Norgaard, a Master of Science student in SAL, spoke to the knowledge-sharing elements of the project. “I was able to be physically on farm having conversations with the farmers and learning from them about what they do and why, and was able to incorporate each farm’s unique amendment strategy into the study,” she said. “Farmers were able to see how their ‘business as usual’ compost and fertilizer applications compared to strategies targeting N and P crop demand, and also saw how their strategies compared to other farmers.”

Chris Bodnar, a project farm partner, said “The on-farm research and collaborative sharing of results was incredible for us to be part of”.

Although not a direct goal of the program, Norgaard shared that getting out and having conversations with partner farmers allowed her to gain useful information that she was then able to share across the community. “I really enjoyed the relationship building and knowledge sharing aspects of the program and wish I could continue doing it even though my two-year research project has come to an end. I think there is a lot of value there.”

In the Kootenays, SAL was able to partner with Rachael Roussin of the Kootenay Boundary Farm Advisors (KBFA) program. KBFA has been providing extension services for farmers for several years, and Kesler said the established relationships and close contact Rachael had with growers made it much more feasible to conduct regional field trials in the Kootenays. For example, Rachael was able to reach out to her network to recruit farm research partners. Her existing relationships and proximity to the growers made it easier to check in about details, such as when they were planning on removing their tarps so she could get to the farm to take a soil sample. Coordinating on this level would be very difficult to do from UBC and so having a partner like KBFA opens up regional on-farm research possibilities that wouldn’t exist otherwise. Kesler hopes to see more regions across BC adopt similar extension programs that would allow for these forms of university-farm partnerships to become more widespread.

Similar Approaches Happening Across Canada

The topic of collaborative on-farm research with mother-sister sites, and the many benefits of approaching agricultural research this way, also came up at a recent meeting I attended for provincial and federal organic specialists. The Quebec organic specialists spoke highly of the mother-daughter model to ensure a constant exchange and mutual learning between farmers and researchers.

In 2019 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada announced a new Living Laboratory Initiative. Similar to UBC’s SAL lab, it will use mother-sister sites as part of a “collaborative approach to research that will bring stakeholders together on working farms to develop, test and adopt new practices and technologies that will tackle important environmental issues.”

You can find more details about this announcement here.

Further reading:

Organic Vegetable Nutrient Management Project

BC’s New Agricultural Environmental Management Regulation

The Organic Vegetable Nutrient Management Project and the Climate Resilient Vegetable Farming Project were funded in part by 1) the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program (FAIP), a program through the BC Climate Action Initiative and funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial; and 2) the Organic Science Cluster 3 under the AgriScience program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.


Emma Holmes is the Organics Industry Specialist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Fisheries. She studied Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Science at UBC, and then farmed on Salt Spring and worked on a permaculture homestead on Orcas Island. She now lives in Vernon with her partner and toddler, and loves spending time in the garden. She can be reached at: Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca

Feature image: Carmen Wong weighing amendments (compost and organic fertilizer) to apply to research plots on an organic vegetable farm in the lower Fraser Valley for the UBC nutrient management regional field trial study. Credit: Amy Norgaard.

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

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

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

Hailey Troock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nathan Wiebe and Emily Woody. Credit: Confluence Farm.

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

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

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

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

The market garden at Tulaberry Farm. Credit: Tulaberry Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enthusiastic and energetic: Self-explanatory!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Biodynamic Farm Story: Coping Without Cows

in 2021/Grow Organic/Marketing/Winter 2021

Anna Helmer

Lament: No in-person farming conferences and meetings this winter. No chance encounters in the Trade Show, no delightful perusal and purchase at the silent auction, and no (insert acute pang of nostalgia here) food and drink. I regret all the ongoing unfinished conversations with people I see only annually but think about all year—friendships that are continually enriched with shared stories of farming. All this seems lost to me online.

Solace: The online versions will quite likely result in luxuriously languid hours spent sprawled in a chair with tea
and cookies enjoying edification by interesting presenters. That experience, I believe, can be replicated. And there will likely be benefits yet unrecognized—easier to attend? Less driving? Certain efficiencies achieved?

Admission: Farming conferences can be quite boring; by which I mean, nice and boring. Being bored is an aspirational state for me, and farming conferences often deliver. I find it very relaxing. I hope they don’t get too efficient.

Get on with it: I am avoiding talking about what I intend to write about. The theme for this edition of the BC Organic Grower is: Seeding Wisdom: Collaboration & Relationships. Suitable seed beds are necessary for successful seeding and blah blah blah extend the metaphor yourself.
Uncomfortably for me, certain sage seeds are right now being deliberately picked out and set aside and the chickens have come home to roost in the form of cull potatoes.

For if there is one bit of wisdom a Biodynamic (or any) farmer would share, it would quite possibly be: keep cows. Cows process things like grass and cull potatoes into valuable usefulness. Grass and cull potatoes might otherwise be useless clutter. Cull potatoes, for example, claim valuable space, bins, and effort, and on a seed potato farm they need to be disposed of so thoroughly that they won’t regrow. Cows excel at this task, daily devouring large volumes in slobbery bliss. Well, we don’t have cows right now and we aren’t getting cows anytime soon. Ergo, wisdom kicked to the curb, problem still exists and getting bigger.

Now I have to build a compost heap that will digest potatoes. The plan is to layer potatoes, old hay, and dirt all winter long. The potatoes will, I think, freeze and thaw a few times in there and turn to mush. I hope the hay will create some pathways through that muck before it totally rots too, which will allow air, worms, microbes, and fungi to spread through and decompose everything. This is not a scientific explanation of what will happen.

No one is coming to me for scientific wisdom, right? Just checking.
I have some other things to throw in there: eggshells that I have been accumulating all summer, and, of course, Biodynamic Preparations 502-507. In the spring, once the root-houses are cleared of potatoes, perhaps the nettles will be up and I’ll cover the pile with all I can get. Finally, in a nod to the wise Biodynamic practice of a million farmers in India, I’ll cap it with a layer of fresh cow dung.

This is the step I am most excited about. I just miss so much the smell of fresh, happy cow manure and I am poised to poach the poop of a few local herds. One of them grazes on an airy grassy knoll with a stupendous view of the local massif, Mount Currie. Surely cows with that perspective will produce some very energizing manure. Another is the herd of a valued mentor. She is the one who taught me that if you don’t want to get behind in farming, you have to do a farming job every day. Even when you don’t want to. Even when there is a thunder-snow rainstorm going on. Especially then.

I am going to spread this manure by hand. That’s how it’s done.


Anna Helmer is going into winter in the Pemberton Valley with no lack of plans.

Feature image credit: Helmers Organic Farm.

Organic Stories: Urban Harvest – Syilx Territory, Kelowna BC

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

Many Strands Make a Strong Food Web

Darcy Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Urban Harvest staff team. Credit: Urban Harvest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A City Boy Goes to Work on the Farm

in 2020/Fall 2020/Marketing/Organic Community

Devon Cooke

On April 15th, I uprooted myself from my Burnaby basement suite, packed as much as I could into my hatchback, and hit the road. Pandemic lockdown plan: go to where the food is. Destination: Amara Farm in the Comox Valley. I had negotiated what I thought was a pretty sweet deal. Amara Farm would provide me with room and board, and I would offer my labour on the farm. And one more thing: while I was there, I’d be filming my documentary, The Hands that Feed Us, about how farmers are coping with COVID-19.

I’m a city boy, with no farm experience and no particular desire to be a labourer, but Arzeena was thrilled to have me on the farm. Usually, she relies on interns for labour, and with travel shut down for COVID, she was wondering how she was going to get through planting season when I called. For myself, I saw a selfish opportunity to make my film, but also a safety net. The apocalyptic part of my mind could see the possibility of a Great Depression, and I wanted to be at the front of the breadlines. I might not make any money on the farm, but I wouldn’t starve, and I’d be learning how to grow food to feed myself, if it came to that.

Filmmaker Devon Cooke. Credit: Derek Gray.

I’ve had back problems for almost 20 years, and the legendary farmer work ethic made me a little nervous about how my body would stand up. I was envisioning working the fields sun-up to sun-down, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the farm’s work hours were 8:30-4:30, with a full hour break for lunch. Those are better hours than I’ve ever worked, and certainly much better than the 12-plus hour days that are standard in the film industry.

The last hour of the first day turned out to be the hardest on my body. My assigned job was to mark holes for onions that would be planted: three rows per bed, spaced 12 inches apart. Doing this efficiently meant squatting down, marking a few holes, standing up, shifting down the row, and squatting down again. Squatting was especially bad for my back, and with three beds left, I couldn’t stand straight. At that point, the farm manager, Kate, took pity on me and took over. I felt defeated. Kate’s comment: “That’s farm life. Sometimes it defeats you.”

Since then, I’ve had days where my back was sore, but my body has toughened up as I’ve gotten used to farm work, and now I don’t worry about my back. For the first time in years, I’m not paying $120 a month to have someone “fix” my back. Who knew that all I really needed was some actual work!

Amara Farm salad fields. Credit: Michaela Parks.

One day, I wanted to film customers, so I needed to stay close to the farm gate where I could intercept them before they picked up their orders. I couldn’t be in the fields while I waited, so I asked if there was any work I could be doing between customers. There was! The wash station was right where I would be waiting, so I was assigned to wash produce tubs.

After a few hours and a half dozen customers, I thought, “Gee, I wish I could be doing something more useful with my time.” Cleaning tubs didn’t feel like “real” farm work—real farm work was planting, or seeding, or weeding. But, as I ruminated a bit more, I became aware of the prejudice in my thought. Cleaning tubs is just as much a part of farm work as seeding or weeding. If I didn’t clean them, someone else would have to do it later. Cleaning tubs is useful work; it was only the mundane nature of the task which made me feel like I wasn’t contributing to the farm.

Arzeena Hamir and Neil Turner of Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks.

My realization contains a bigger lesson. We don’t tend to place much value in the mundane. We like cleanliness, but cleaning tubs is a job for somebody else, and often we want to pay the absolute minimum to get the job done. Food has the same problem. What could be more mundane and routine than eating a meal? We eat three times a day—and we do it quickly and thoughtlessly so we can spend our time on “more important things.” Is it any wonder that our culture spends so little on food?

This cultural attitude was illuminated for me enroute to my next farm. I stopped in Vancouver for a day or two, which meant that for the first time in two months I had to buy my food at a store instead of just raiding the seconds bin.

Walking into Whole Foods, I was overwhelmed. Any food I could imagine was on a shelf somewhere, enticingly displayed and picture perfect. For a moment, I had no idea what to do. At Amara, I cooked whatever was growing at the farm; the idea that I could simply buy a pair of artichokes and a lemon for dinner didn’t make sense. Are artichokes in season? How long ago was the lemon picked? I couldn’t answer these questions, and that disturbed me because, at Amara, I would have known the answers intimately. I had helped grow it!

COVID-19 protocols at a Whole Foods Vancouver store. Credit: Devon Cooke.

Allow me to use Whole Foods as a symbol. In our culture, Whole Foods is a shrine to food; it represents the best of our cultural ideals around food: organic, wholesome, healthy, and plentiful. It’s more expensive, but people shop there anyway because they care about the quality of their food. Before I set out on this journey, I was a worshiper at the shrine of Whole Foods. And, indeed, the values behind Whole Foods are good values, ones that I still hold dear.

Nonetheless, my time on the farm has taught me that Whole Foods is a false idol. The ubiquitous bounty on the shelves, the fact that I can buy mangoes from the Philippines at any time of year, all that encourages me to treat food as mundane, as something I can obtain on a whim if I’m willing to part with a sufficient amount of cash. Because it is so easily available, I’m discouraged from knowing where the food was grown, who picked it, and what growing conditions were like. I can’t know these things even if I want to; I simply trust that Whole Foods has taken care of that for me. I pay a bit more to Whole Foods because I believe they are better priests of food than the ones at Superstore, but the bottom line is that I’m still delegating control of my food to someone else. In doing so, I treat food in the same way I was thinking about cleaning tubs: a job for someone else.

Farm interns working at Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks.

I’m now on my third farm and fifth month of this journey. I’ve had many lessons since I left Amara Farm, with many more to come in the coming months. I expect that once winter comes, I’ll stop working on the farm and focus on completing my documentary. I can’t say what I’ll be doing for food at that point, but I can say that I won’t be satisfied shopping at the supermarket. Now that I’ve spent time learning how to grow food, I don’t think I can simply put food in my mouth without asking where it came from or how it was grown.


Devon Cooke is making The Hands that Feed Us, a documentary about how farmers make a living during COVID-19. You can follow his journey as a farmhand online.

Feature image: Basil harvest at Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks.

Green bean harvest. Credit: Michaela Parks.

11th Annual Organic Week Celebrations!

in 2020/Fall 2020/Organic Community

Canadian Organic Trade Association’s 11th Annual Organic Week

Karen Squires

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Participate

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

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

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

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

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


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

Organic Stories: Lasser Ranch, Chetwynd BC

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

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

Jolene Swain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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