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Organic Stories: Urban Harvest – Syilx Territory, Kelowna BC

in 2020/Current Issue/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/Current Issue/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/Current Issue/Fall 2020/Organic Community

Canadian Organic Trade Association’s 11th Annual Organic Week

Karen Squires

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Participate

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

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

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

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

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


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

Organic Stories: Lasser Ranch, Chetwynd BC

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

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

Jolene Swain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sparkly Eyes, Grit, and Land Access

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

New Organic Farmers on Leased Land

Tessa Wetherill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robin on the tractor. Credit: Loveland Acres.

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

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

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

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

Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

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

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

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

Find Loveland Acres online!

First farmers’ market . Credit: Loveland Acres.

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes from the Field: Fairness in Organic Agriculture

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

Anne Macey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The conversation continues.


Social Standards in Food Production

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

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

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

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

Source: Domestic Fair Trade Association

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

Source: Aquaculture Stewardship Council


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

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

Biodynamic Farm Story: Farming Amidst the Pandemic

in 2020/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Summer 2020

Anna Helmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am not editing out my scornful tone.

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


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

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

Photo courtesy of Helmer’s Organic Farm

Organic Stories: Crannóg Ales, Secwepemculecw (Sorrento) BC

in 2020/Grow Organic/Indigenous Food Systems/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Stories/Spring 2020

Rest is Key to Innovate (and Survive a Pandemic)

Michelle Tsutsumi and Rebecca Kneen

Starting this piece during the onset of COVID-19 in BC created a curious opening for Rebecca and I to delve deeply into what improvement means for organics (both of us speaking from a smaller scale perspective, with the need to hear more from our larger scale colleagues). The presence of a pandemic spotlighted the precarity of our food system, the inequity within it, and the need to shift the system. We had no idea where things would be two weeks later.

Over the span of two weeks, there were significant pivots so that farmers and processors could continue to get their food and beverages to people (with a pinch of panic as the future of farmers’ markets became more uncertain). After several communities closed their farmers’ markets (or contemplated closing them), it was a relief to hear the provincial government declare farmers’ markets as an essential service on March 26.

Throughout the two weeks, I have witnessed the (direct market) organic community coming together to mobilize online platforms, change their CSA delivery methods, and coordinate new distribution channels, all from a foundational value of helping each other in hopes that we will all be okay through this. This deserves acknowledgement as a core part of organics that needs no improvement. The organic movement and community formed from a belief in interconnectivity and this will continue to serve us well as we adapt to a world, a way of being, that could be permanently altered by COVID-19.

Rebecca at market winding yarn onto a drop spindle selling beer and wool. Credit: Crannóg Ales

I am honoured to profile Rebecca Kneen in this issue to discuss how she, Brian MacIsaac, and Crannóg Ales have been improving their practices in ways that “extend deeply rather than extend widely.” Crannóg Ales is celebrating 20 years this year (let’s all raise a glass in congratulations to them!), so there is much to reflect on in terms of where they have been extending deeply. It is important to keep in mind that there is a long history of involvement with the North Okanagan Organic Association, COABC, and the Organic Federation of Canada, so Rebecca can also speak to what she has witnessed in terms of improvements in organics over time.

Crannóg Ales 20th anniversary glassware. Credit: Crannóg Ales

Let’s set the stage. Picture this interview taking place on our front south-facing porch (somewhat socially distanced), warmed by the afternoon sun, with Dropkick Murphys playing a spirit-raising St. Paddy’s Day gig on YouTube in the background. Even with a pandemic looming, it was a dream way to spend an early spring afternoon.

Where have you seen the greatest change in terms of improved processes at Crannóg Ales?

It took the first 10 years to get to know the land, mostly based on theory, and the next 10 years figuring out what that means with practices on the land. Coming to land as an adult means that a lot of observation is occluded, so it was a lot of trying stuff and then trying new stuff. In the beginning, our practices were what was financially viable, which equalled “the hard way.” Twenty years later, we are better rested, which leads to better thinking. One of our key principles has always been to limit our market expansion to fit the ecological carrying capacity of our land. Because of this, we have been forced to extend deeply rather than extend widely.

Sheep doing early season pruning for pest and disease control. Credit: Crannóg Ales

What does extending deeply mean to you?

Finding efficiencies and working in increased harmony with the land, letting permaculture principles guide us and making do with less in all ways. There is a balance point in having a growth cap, because the question remains about what scale the brewery, in particular, needs to be at to make a sufficient amount to take care of and support employees. One way we do this is providing extended health care to employees. Another way is to intermingle the farm with the brewery to supply good food for employees.

Extending deeply also interconnects with the way we are being in, and understanding, our relationships to land, water, workers, wild things, the whole around us. Are our relationships exploitative or mutually beneficial? We have been deepening relationships in terms of responsible stewardship, which sees (non-hierarchical) interrelationships rather than partaking in caretaking behaviours, which can involve power dynamics or someone making decisions for someone else.

How else does seeing things as being interrelated play a role in how you have deepened your way of being in the world?

Looking at things in terms of relationships has helped us to see a responsibility to, rather than for, employees. Interrelationships also seem to be part of organics as a movement, which, 20 years ago, focused on social and agricultural change. Making a living was a given, it wasn’t the goal. A shift in emphasis from an organic movement to an organic industry means that we are losing our ethical and ecological focus, which threatens the ability of our robust standards to withstand a strong push from industry toward non-organic practices (similar to mission drift in the nonprofit world, shifting to an organic industry could lead to practice drift).

Snake napping on a compost pile. Credit: Crannóg Ales

The way we manage certification is also being lost as the organic movement shifts to that of an industry. This has a large impact on regional or community-based certification (which is still an unusual model, but with increasing membership, interestingly enough), because they are seen as being less valid and less valuable than Canada Organic Regime (COR) certification bodies. In my view, farmer-to-farmer certification review leads to deeper relationships, better understanding and communication, and is just as strict as third-party certification. That being said, people are craving community, which is something the regional certification bodies do well (and also aligns with organics as a movement).

How do you see reconnecting with social change as part of organics extending deeply?

The organic community has long been taking responsibility, where other sectors have been outsourcing or offloading responsibilities. For example, organics has been a leader in terms of traceability standards, responsible packaging and reducing packaging waste, and emphasizing the need for social justice. Social justice becomes an issue of scale when looking at employment. If employment potential is increased, so does the potential for exploitation. Our identity as stewards, as well as values of social justice and fairness, have been grounded in the organic standards, and we are working on deepening these areas nationally right now. With most of BC being on unceded territories, there is an opportunity to deepen our organic perspective on social justice in terms of land and land ownership.

What are ‘next steps’ that you see as being important for social justice in organics?

Listening. And trust. These both entail a worldview or paradigm shift that is reliant on relationships. Reflecting on organics with a social justice lens will challenge our notions of ownership and relations to land. It will be an uncomfortable (but necessary) exercise in questioning our understanding of security and access to tenure. It will require us to work through assumptions and tensions, and let new ideas percolate. Here is an interesting thought exercise: if you hold debt or a mortgage, you don’t truly own the land. Do you really care if the owner is the bank or your Indigenous neighbour? If you do care, this is an opportunity to delve more deeply into the reasons why this matters (and to examine the paradigms of individualism, capitalism, and systemic racism which live in our brains).

Sheep eating hops vines after harvest. Credit: Crannóg Ales

After allowing this conversation to percolate and settle, it was interesting to note that what was being named as innovative and improving practices at Crannóg Ales are ancient practices that have been, and continue to be, carried out by Indigenous people and traditional sustainable farmers. These practices are seen in subsistence living through hunting, fishing, gardening, and harvesting medicines. Principled practices of observing and knowing the land, not seeing oneself as an owner of the land, tending to relationships, recognizing interconnectivity, being mindful of scale, and stewardship have been part of Indigenous ways of knowing and being for millenia.

Identifying social justice as being important to organics ties in with the need to stop erasing Indigenous ways of being from the land where we grow and prepare food, including access to this land. If any group or community can do it, it is the organic movement that can start to see the areas where Indigenous food sovereignty and organic agriculture align. In the face of uncertain, and changing, times due to COVID-19, we will need to recognize interconnectivity and help each other more than ever. It is easy enough to remember that what joins us together is the soil, so we can start there as our common ground.

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” ~ Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture.

Resources to Explore Further:
Indigenous Principles of Just Transition
Opinion: Fairness in Organic Agriculture by Anne Macey (2018)
Reviving Social Justice in Sustainable and Organic Agriculture by Elizabeth Henderson (2012)
Food Sovereignty: Indigenous Food, Land and Heritage by Dawn Morrison
Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty


Michelle Tsutsumi is a mid-life switcher to organic farming. She is grateful to have learned from the Hettler’s at Pilgrims’ Produce in Armstrong and has been at Golden Ears Farm in Secwepemculecw (Chase) since 2014. Michelle is also an organizer and communicator, with an eye for process and a passion for systems thinking.

BC Organic Conference 2020 Recap

in 2020/Organic Community/Spring 2020

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

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

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

Jordan Marr speaking at the opening reception at KPU

BC Organic: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future is Here

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

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

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

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

Award Winners

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

Learn more about these incredibly deserving recipients!

So…What Does the Future Hold?

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

KPU farm tour inside the geodesic greenhouse

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

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

 

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

Changing the Climate Conversation through Agriculture

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

Julia Zado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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