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Organic Stories: Discovery Organics

in Current Issue/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Stories

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

By Brody Irvine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kabocha squash available in February 2022.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

discoveryorganics.ca


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

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

All images: Credit: Discovery Organics.

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

All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Go

in 2022/Current Issue/Livestock/Spring 2022/Standards Updates

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

By Julia Smith

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

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

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

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

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

Chickens at UBC Farm. Credit: Hannah Lewis.

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

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

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

Happy pigs. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association

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

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

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

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

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


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

Feature image: Turkeys on pasture. Credit: SSMPA.

Your Land, Your Legacy

in 2022/Current Issue/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Spring 2022

A Farm and Foodlands Owner’s Guide

By Michael Marrapese

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

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

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

North of town. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

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

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

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

Cows make great neighbours. Credit: Michael Marrapese.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Reflections on the History of Organic BC

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

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

Robert Hettler – Pilgrim’s Produce

Board member from 1993 to 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paddy Doherty – West Enderby Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenn Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 1997-2001

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

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

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

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

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

Deb Foote – The Organic Grocer

Board member 2004-2008

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

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

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

Hermann Bruns – Wild Flight Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work everyone!


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

In Memory of Dave McCandless

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

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

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

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Dave McCandless (1934 – 2021)

By Medwyn McConachy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

In Memory of Bob Mitchell

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

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

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

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Bob Mitchell (1939-2022)

By Robin Tunnicliffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

2022 BC Organic Conference Recap

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

By Stacey Santos

It really says something about you, the organic community, when you still shine two years into a pandemic, after a hot and fiery summer and a devastatingly wet fall. Even virtually, your leadership, knowledge, and humour are at the forefront—even eclipsing Jordan’s fake beard and eyebrows, à la Tristan.

That’s saying a lot.

We thank you for pushing through a tough year and for coming together for another great BC Organic Conference!

The “Bring Your Own Banquet” Edition

We had originally planned to hold the conference in person at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, but in light of a certain pandemic, we switched to a virtual format on February 27 and March 6. The conference committee had some great brainwaves when it came to creating a new program, including the incredibly popular pre-conference beer and bevvie night (which folks were still talking about weeks after). It was wonderful to be able to laugh together, have breakout discussions, create spontaneous poetry, and kick off our online auction.

This year, the auction had especially fun contributions and we were able to raise over $5,000 in support of the conference!

From Virtual Field Days series, Hutley Acres.

Conference Podcast

Like last year, the conference included all-new podcasts featuring practical tips, regulatory insights, farmer reflections, and more. And, we were lucky to invite back a couple of guests from the podcast for some Q&As. Our podcast listeners voted to learn more about weeding and agritourism, so Kerry McCann and Andrew Budgel of Laughing Crow Organics joined us to share insights on weeding techniques and technology, and on agritourism’s economic opportunities, costs of doing business, labour, set up, and, of course, challenges.

The new podcast episodes will be released to the public at a later date. Find current and future episodes at organicbc.org/podcast

Welcome from Minister Popham

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham joined the conference and shared, as always, her heartfelt thoughts on the state of organics and agriculture in BC, plus an update on things to come.

We learned that the Ministry of Agriculture will soon announce its Regenerative Council/Board, which Organic BC will be a part of. The Ministry is also working to get government funding for equipment that will help farms be more resilient, and is creating a food hub network with shared-use processing facilities. When asked about the possibility of creating a meat processing hub in the province, Minister Popham said it’s definitely possible but will take some time.

If you have ideas on how farms can become more resilient, let the Ministry know! They have solid connections with funding resources and Minister Popham recommended an aggressive approach to get things done more quickly. So, stay connected!

Some familiar faces at the virtual Organic Conference—wait, who is that guy with the beard?

Mental Health in Agriculture

With so much going on right now—in farming and also the world—our conference session with Dr. Briana Hagen was more relevant than ever. Dr. Hagen presented on mental health literacy, touching on some of the struggles and challenges farmers face and how we can maintain and bolster our mental health during crises. A lot of strides have been made when it comes to having conversations around mental health, but there’s a lot more work to be done.

Thanks to Dr. Hagen for presenting on this important topic, and to attendees for their questions, comments, and insights.

Learn more about Dr. Hagen’s work and In the Know, the mental health literacy program for agriculture, at ajbresearch.com/in-the-know.

Reframing the Regenerative Conversation

One of our sessions focused on regenerative agriculture and its strong and long-lasting link to organic. The conversation highlighted the question: What is needed to make organic the key to regenerative certification?

The answers came from a variety of perspectives, including what the Ministry’s goals for regenerative agriculture are, what’s happening at the federal level, how Regenerative Organic Certification is being put into practice already, what sort of policy frameworks are needed to support regenerative (e.g. organic) agriculture, and more.

The Ministry of Agriculture highlighted the importance of collaborative groups, including the Regenerative Agriculture and Agritech Network, and also mentioned that the Environmental Farm Plan program offers funding towards creative regenerative solutions. They encouraged everyone to reach out to the Ministry to learn more about how the program can support your goals.

And, we were able to welcome Alison Squires from Upland Organics in Saskatchewan who walked us through the Regenerative Organic Certification process and shared tips on how to incorporate regenerative practices onto your farm. Her biggest game changer? Livestock integration.

Organic BC’s Regenerative Ag Committee will keep the conversation going, and we encourage you all to join the Organic BC listserv if you haven’t already (organicbc.org/listserv) to carry on discussions of your own.

From Virtual Field Days series, Molly Thurston at Claremont Organic Ranch.

Virtual Field Days

Thanks to public health orders and the fact that BC is a really big place, we were lucky to bring field days to the conference with the launch of our Soil Health Series. These videos included farm tours and conversations with:

Hutley Acres (dairy): Owner Mike Broersma gave an in-depth look at weed management, crop rotations, and key machinery, as well as keeping a healthy herd, overcoming obstacles, and the importance of trying new things.

Claremont Ranch Organics (tree fruit): With a focus on soil health, owner Molly Thurston walked us through the optimal soil for growing tree fruits, the benefits (and best combinations) of cover crops, tips for weed control during planting, and so much more.

Wild Flight Farm (vegetables): Owner Hermann Bruns gave tips on inexpensive and effective green manures that suppress weeds and give soil more structure, plus countless other ways to build nutrient-rich, healthy soil.

We were lucky to have some of the farmers in attendance at the conference, so folks were able to ask questions about the videos and get answers right from the source!

If you missed the virtual tours or want to have another watch, you can find the videos on our YouTube channel (@thisisorganicbc).

Organic BC gratefully acknowledges funding from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a joint funding agreement between the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

Save the Dates

Looking ahead to 2023, the venue and hotel are already booked. We’re crossing our fingers for an in-person conference at TRU in Kamloops on February 24 to 26. The plan is to have a single-track program with an emphasis on providing opportunities for conversation both in and outside of the sessions.

And, because we had a lot of comments about roller crimpers during this conference, we’re also considering bringing some equipment to the in-person tradeshow, and inviting attendees to bring in theirs for an equipment show and tell.

Thank you

A huge thanks to our conference coordinator, Michelle Tsutusmi, and to our incredible and creative volunteers, including our conference committee and our witty and oh-so-entertaining hosts, Tristan Banwell and Jordan Marr. Also, thanks to our conference sponsors (Farm Credit Canada, Institute for Community Engaged Research, BC Coop Association, Gambrinus Malting) and to our tradeshow exhibitors (AgSafe BC, BC Agriculture Council, FarmFolk CityFolk, Frankia Fertilizers, Organic Crop Improvement Association, Osborne Quality Seed, and TerraLink).

Until next year!


Feature image: From Virtual Field Days series, Hermann Bruns at Wild Flight Farm.

All images: Credit: Organic BC.

Organic Stories: Wildflight Farm – Secwepemeceulecw, Mara BC

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

A Community Movement Takes Flight

By Brianne Fester

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

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

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

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

Seeding Garlic. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping harvest day interesting. Credit: Wild Flight Farm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wildflightfarm.ca


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

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

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

A Summer of Drought, Heat Waves, and Fire

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

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

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

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

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

Coping with Heat Waves & Drought

By Marjorie Harris

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saving the Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Evacuation

By Tristan Banwell, Spray Creek Ranch, Lillooet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running on Fumes: Solstedt Organics

By Ashala Daniel, Solstedt Organics, Lytton BC

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

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

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

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

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


Featured image: Golden Ears Farm, Chase BC

Fairness as Migrant Justice

in 2021/Fall 2021/Organic Community/Organic Standards

By Susanna Klassen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Feature image: Credit: Fuerza Migrante

References:

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