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continuous improvement

The More the Better? Multi-Species vs Single-Species Cover Crops for Carrots

in 2022/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Seeds/Summer 2022/Tools & Techniques

By Frank Larney, Haley Catton, Charles Geddes, Newton Lupway, Tom Forge, Reynald Lemke, and Bobbi Helgason

This article first appeared in Organic Science Canada magazine and is printed here with gratitude.

In recent years, diverse cover crop mixes or ‘cocktails’, which contain as many as 15 different cover crop species, have gained popularity. Are these multi-species cover crop mixes any better than their less sophisticated counterparts (e.g., fall rye or barley/pea)? It’s a complicated system to untangle. Our early data suggests that the multi-species mixes can foster more active soil life, but that they could also have impacts on the following crop: they caused more forked carrots, which decreases profit. We also looked closely at how weeds in the cover crops affected soil fertility. Spoiler alert, they may be helping…

Cover crops can provide many benefits including enhanced soil organic matter and soil health, nitrogen retention, weed suppression, soil moisture conservation and, as a result of these, higher subsequent crop yields. Cover crops can be grown in the main season (replacing a cash crop in rotation) or seeded in fall to protect the soil from wind and water erosion throughout winter and early spring. In our study funded by the Organic Science Cluster, we compared how different cover crops impacted the soil, pests, and the following crop.

The control cover crop treatment which was essentially a fallow predominated by lamb’s quarters, cleavers, and redroot pigweed, July 30, 2018. Maybe weeds are not all that bad? …as long as they don’t go to seed before soil incorporation. Credit: Frank Larney.

Our research team collaborated with Howard and Cornelius Leffers who run an irrigated organic farm near Coaldale, Alberta. They specialize in carrots and red beets for restaurants, farmers’ markets and organic grocery stores, and they also grow alfalfa, winter wheat and dry beans. We evaluated seven cover crop treatments ahead of carrots. We have completed two cycles of the two-year cover crop–carrot rotation (Cycle 1: 2018 & 2019, Cycle 2: 2019 & 2020), with a third cycle (2021 & 2022) currently underway. Cover crops were established in June during the first year of each cycle as follows:

Buckwheat;

  1. Faba bean;
  2. Brassica (white + brown mustard);
  3. Mix*;
  4. Mix* followed by barley which grew until the first killing frost;
  5. Mix* followed by winter wheat which survived the winter, regrew in early spring, then was terminated by tillage; and
  6. Control (no cover crop, weeds allowed to grow).
  7. *Mixture of five legumes, four grasses, two brassicas, flax, phacelia, safflower, and buckwheat (15 species in total)
Fagopyrum esculentum Moench, Polygonum fagopyrum L. Credit: Johann Georg Sturm.

In August, all treatments and the control were incorporated into the soil by disking. The control and treatments 1-4 were left unplanted over the winter; weeds were allowed to grow. Treatments 5 and 6 were seeded to other cover crops. In the second year of each cycle, carrots were planted in June and harvested in the fall. We took cover crop and weed biomass samples just before disking in August of the first year of each cycle. We measured the carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) concentrations of the cover crops, as well as the main weed species. In 2018, the multi-species, brassica, and buckwheat cover crops were more competitive with weeds. The faba bean cover crop was not competitive with weeds and had the same amount of weeds (by weight) as the control treatment.

Weeds can be a troublesome part of organic systems. In this case, we wanted to see if they were redeeming themselves as part of the cover crop, or in the case of the control treatment, by taking the place of a seeded cover crop. Weeds are no different from any other plant: they take up soil nutrients and when they break down, they put carbon (including organic matter), nitrogen, and other nutrients back into the soil. As long as annual weeds don’t go to seed, maybe they are making a useful contribution to soil health, similar to a seeded cover crop.

Since weeds were incorporated into the soil in August along with the seeded cover, the less-competitive faba bean treatment and the weedy control actually returned more total carbon to the soil (average, 2220 kg/ha C) due to greater weed biomass (weed “yield”) than buckwheat, brassica or the multi-species mixture (850–1330 kg/ha C). Moreover, being a nitrogen-fixing legume, the faba bean cover crop (including its weeds) returned the most nitrogen to the soil at 99 kg/ha N. After the carrot harvest, our team rated carrots into Grade A (visually appealing with no deformities: ideal for restaurants, farmers’ markets, and organic grocery stores) and Grade B (downgraded due to wireworm damage, forking, scarring or misshaping: suitable for juicing only). Grade B carrots are worth about one third of Grade A carrots.

Vicia faba. Credit: Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Flora von Deutschland.

Despite the differences we measured in the C and N contributions of the cover crops and the weeds, it wasn’t enough to affect the carrot yields. In 2019, Grade A carrot yield was statistically the same with all the cover crop options. For soil health, the multi-species mixture had more microbial activity than either brassica or buckwheat cover crops (this is based on microbial biomass C – an index of microbial mass – and permanganate oxidizable C – the active or easily-decomposable C). However, a possible downside of the multi-species mix showed up when we looked at the following carrot crop. In 2019, treatments 4, 5 and 6 resulted in a greater proportion of the Grade B category, including forked carrots. Forking and misshaping are caused by many reasons, including soil compaction, weed interference, and insect or nematode feeding on root growing tips.

We also looked at the value of fall-seeded cover crops (Treatments 5 and 6) and their impact on wireworm and nematodes. These pests might actually be helped by cover crops; they appear to have greater survival during the winter season when living roots are present. But having winter cover may lead to better carrot yields, too: in 2020, total carrot yields (Grades A and B) were 10% higher after the fall-seeded cover crops when compared to the spring – seeded brassica cover crop, which led to the lowest yielding carrots. So far, we haven’t seen any effect of the different cover crop treatments on root lesion nematode populations, but the fall-season cover crops led to a small increase in wireworm damage on the carrots (this only showed up in 2019). More soil analyses and the results from the 2021-22 season are still to come. The additional information will help us tease out the pros and cons of multi-species vs single-species cover crops for irrigated organic carrots.

To learn more about OSC3 Activity 8, please visit

dal.ca/oacc/osciii


The Organic Science Cluster 3 is led by the Organic Federation of Canada in collaboration with the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada at Dalhousie University, and is supported by the AgriScience Program under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership (an investment by federal, provincial and territorial governments) and over 70 partners from the agricultural community.

Feature image:  Left to right: Charles Geddes (Weed Ecology & Cropping Systems, AAFC-Lethbridge); Howard Leffers (farmer-collaborator, Coaldale, AB); and James Hawkins (visiting Nuffield scholar, Neuarpurr, Victoria, Australia) in the 15-species cover crop, August 7, 2018. Credit: Frank Larney.

A Canadian Organic Program to Grow Sustainable Agriculture for Canada and the World

in 2022/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2022

Organic Federation of Canada

Canadian farmers are already experiencing serious negative impacts of climate change due to extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, forest fires, and ocean acidification—but resilient agriculture delivers ecological services and sets the path for food security amid climate change turmoil.

In alignment with what the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations proposes in terms of climate-smart agriculture, the Canadian Organic Standards prescribe effective strategies to foster the emergence of a carbon-neutral economy in the food sector.

The Canadian Organic Standards include practices that contribute significantly to reducing our agricultural sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, sequestering atmospheric carbon in soils and increasing biodiversity, while encouraging the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices, increasing agricultural resilience to the effects of climate change (particularly flooding and drought) and increasing farm income.

Canada is considered to be the 6th largest organic market in the world, and organic sales are growing at an impressive rate ($8.1 B in 2020). Despite a steady increase in production, supply is not keeping up with demand, both domestically and internationally. This offers great opportunities for the future.

The Canadian Organic Standards, referenced by law, define ecological agriculture as the basis of the whole industry; the standards need to be maintained and updated. Under the Canada Organic Regime, the Standards Interpretation Committee harmonizes the certification process by providing independent guidance to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on issues related to the standards.

Since 2017, the Government of Canada has drastically reduced its support for organic agriculture:

  • The Canada Organic Office, created in 2009 by the CFIA to address regulatory issues, was dissolved in 2017.
  • The Organic Value Chain Round Table, mandated to analyze the Canadian organic sector’s competitive position and improve its performance and profitability, was dissolved in 2019 by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).
  • The Standards Interpretation Committee, created by the CFIA in 2009 and funded by CFIA to provide independent guidance to the industry on issues related to the standards, will see its funding ended in 2023 (reduced by 54% in 21-22 and in 22-23).
  • The Canadian Organic Standards are referenced in the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations. The Canadian General Standards Board, which owns the Standards, requires a mandatory review every five years. But the federal government has not budgeted for future revisions. AAFC clearly states that they will not fund any future review.

The organic industry needs a Canada Organic Program to increase the sustainability of Canadian agriculture, assure access to markets and continue to ensure competitiveness. Other jurisdictions have implemented such programs to support their respective organic industries. The USDA and EU fund the maintenance of their organic standards.1 The USDA funds the Organic Cost Share Certification Program which provides cost share assistance to producers and handlers, and has created the USDA Organic Integrity Database to promote the growth of agricultural ecological practices and prevent fraud. The European Commission has set a target of at least 25% of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming and a significant increase in organic aquaculture by 2030. In Europe, many countries offer direct support to their organic producers with an annual subsidy per hectare, with the objective of encouraging the maintenance of organic management practices over the long term.

Michelle Tsutsumi in the fields at Golden Ears Farm. Credit: Thomas Buchan.

What a Canada Organic Program will Accomplish

Different support measures are needed to increase Canadian agriculture’s sustainability, assure access to organic markets, and continue to ensure the competitiveness of our organic industry through a Canada Organic Program. An effective Canada Organic Program should include support measures addressing four elements:

  • Market access through a sound regulatory framework
  • Growth in capacity
  • Increased funding for organic research and knowledge transfer
  • Recognition of the organic sector’s contribution to sustainability
  • Market Access Through A Sound Regulatory Framework

The Canadian Organic Standards are owned by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) and establish the requirements that agricultural producers and food processors must meet to ensure the legitimacy of Canadian organic products. This allows Canadian businesses to access markets, both in Canada and internationally, by ensuring that their organic claims are true. The Standards, put in place by the Safe Food for Canadians Regulation are thus the basis of the entire regulatory and certification system surrounding organic products, both for products sold outside their province of origin and for imported and exported products.

The CGSB Policy and Procedures Manual states that every standard shall be reviewed every five years. An unrevised standard is no longer relevant and a standard that has been published for more than five years cannot be amended (CGSB Manual clause 6.11.9). The CGSB may withdraw a standard if there are insufficient funds to update it (6.12.1), or if maintenance of the standard no longer meets CGSB requirements (6.12.2.3).

Canada establishes organic equivalency arrangements with other countries only if the signatories determine that the two regulatory systems involved, including their standards, assure that equivalent principles and outcomes are achieved in both jurisdictions.2 The Canadian organic industry cannot remain competitive if the Standards are not reviewed periodically to remain comparable to the standards of other countries, and equivalency agreements could be withdrawn. This would compromise access to international markets for Canadian organic products.

Funding for Five-Year Reviews of the Standards

The Canadian Organic Standards have been reviewed twice, once in 2015 and a second time in 2020.

For the first review in 2015, the Assurance Systems Stream under the AgriMarketing Program through AAFC contributed $297,414 to the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) to cover part of the cost. Fundraising to industry stakeholders led by the OFC contributed $83,490 in cash, while stakeholders’ in-kind contributions amounted to a total of $16,062. The costs incurred by the CGSB were covered by the Standards Council of Canada.

For the 2020 Standards review process, AAFC’s Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program, a program that has since been terminated, funded a total of $292,554 to the OFC. Industry cash contributions amounted to $59,000 and in-kind contributions were $39,000. AAFC also covered CGSB costs, a budget of over $200,000.

Government funding of the Standards review through ad hoc programs is not viable in the long-term. In 2022, the federal government is asking industry to pay for the costs of future Standards review work itself. However, industry funding of the Standards review is seen as a threat to the independence and integrity of the process. Also, there is no funding mechanism, such as a check-off program, that allows all operators and industry stakeholders to contribute equitably to the funding of the review work.

The USDA and EU publicly fund the review of their organic standards without any financial contributions from industry. If the Canadian organic sector were to attempt to cover the cost of reviewing the Canadian Organic Standards, Canada will be at a competitive disadvantage with stakeholders in competing countries.

Considering all these factors, the Canadian government needs to implement a Canada Organic Program that assures the independence of the review process by instituting permanent government funding for the mandatory five-year reviews of the Standards imposed by CGSB.

 

The Regulatory Role of the Standards Interpretation Committee

The Standards Interpretation Committee harmonizes the certification process by providing clarification to the CFIA when certified operators and Certification Bodies ask questions about the standards.

The Standards Interpretation Committee must be an independent, credible and impartial entity. The Committee must be funded by the CFIA, not by industry. Rather than abolishing the funding provided to the Standards Interpretation Committee since 2009, the Canadian government should maintain and even increase funding. This support is important to harmonize the certification process, maintain its independence, and accelerate the work of the Committee so questions can be answered in a timely fashion.

A Canada Organic Regime Integrity Database

Listing the certified organic operators under the Canada Organic Regime on a national database comparable to the USDA Organic Integrity Database will promote the growth of agricultural ecological practices and prevent fraud. This can only be accomplished by government.

Growth in Capacity

The government of Canada invests in organic businesses through various programs that are not specifically targeted towards organic production and processing. However, businesses producing organic products may have specific needs. Investing in organic processing and distribution capacity is essential to guarantee the supply to meet a growing demand for organic products, both in Canada and internationally.

Also, AAFC’s AgriMarketing Program provides funds to facilitate market connections between farmers and buyers and increase international market development. This type of funding needs to be increased through the Canada Organic Program to focus on organic market connections and development.

Increased Funding for Research and Knowledge Transfer

Organic agriculture should be recognized as a driving force in developing agricultural practices designed to conserve soil, water, and biodiversity. To support the adoption of such practices by the greater farming community, the government of Canada needs to aim long-term resilience of agroecosystems to climate change and to share the risk between farm businesses and society. This involves substantial support for research and knowledge transfer in organic practices.

Offering more government funding for research that seeks a greater understanding of agroecosystems, looks to develop alternatives to fossil fuel-based inputs, and increases on-farm technical assistance for organic practices, through a Canada Organic Program, is thus more than justified.

Recognition of the Organic Sector’s Contribution to Sustainability

The European Commission’s “Farm to Fork” strategy for a fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly food system aims to allocate at least 25% of EU farmland to organic farming by 2030. To achieve this, an action plan includes direct support for organic production, on the basis of an annual payment per hectare, to encourage the maintenance of practices associated with organic farming, ensuring their implementation over the long term. This type of measure applies significant leverage on the rate of conversion to organic agriculture. Very often, the payments per hectare are justified by the reward for positive externalities and partly financed by the deployment of taxes on pesticides.

A Canada Organic Program needs to include the recognition of, and financial compensation for, ecological goods and services and health and societal benefits associated with organic farm management practices.

In North America, although there is more support focused on investment assistance and relatively less action in favour of environmental payments, the USDA funds the Organic Cost Share Certification Program, which provides cost share assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products who are obtaining or renewing their certification. Certified operations may be reimbursed for up to 50% of their certification costs paid during the program year. Because this program is based on recurrent assistance, not just support for transitional growers, it supports the practice of keeping land certified for years to come.

In order for Canadian organic businesses to remain competitive, a Canada Organic Program needs to implement a certification cost-share program to organic operators, offering, at minimum, the same benefits as those in the equivalent Farm Bill program.

Towards an Organic Future

In all countries with a structured organic sector, the budget devoted directly or indirectly to the development of organic agriculture is increasing. In general, assistance programs in favour of maintaining good practices are multiplying to sustain a form of agriculture that meets the challenges of sustainable development and climate change.

A Canada Organic Program is a must: organic agriculture maintains soil health, prevents climate change and promotes biodiversity. This is the responsibility of our federal government as this affects organic consumers, processors, and the thousands of farmers who grow organic food and feed.


Feature image: Arzeena Hamir cleaning Annie Jackson beans. Credit: Thomas Buchan.

References
1. Union des producteurs agricoles (2021). Benchmarking of support measures for organic farming in Quebec to other jurisdictions. upa.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/filebase/Benchmarking_support_measures_organic_farming_Quebec_to_other_jurisdictions_2021-04.pdf
2. Organic equivalency arrangements with other countries (CFIA, 2021) inspection.canada.ca/organic-products/equivalence-arrangements/eng/1311987562418/1311987760268

Reflections on the History of Organic BC

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

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

Robert Hettler – Pilgrim’s Produce

Board member from 1993 to 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paddy Doherty – West Enderby Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenn Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 1997-2001

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

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

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

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

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

Deb Foote – The Organic Grocer

Board member 2004-2008

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

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

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

Hermann Bruns – Wild Flight Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work everyone!


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

Biodynamic Farm Story: Convergence & Composting Chaos

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Soil/Winter 2022

By Anna Helmer

Well, I am thrilled to discover that the likely theme for this edition of BC Organic Grower magazine is: Composting Chaos. The suggestion that chaos may be composted is encouraging and practical…and it is always a treat to find something compostable that is in such good supply. Further thrills at the possibility of extending the concept to include the composting of lived experiences, especially those whose silver lining is perceived to be absent, invisible, or inadequate. The composting metaphor is very supportive: just stash it all in a heap until a more palatable, useful, and frankly understandable state is revealed.

I am obviously over-thrilled, and I will now tone it down. Composting takes ages, of course. These things don’t happen overnight.

I am certainly not over-thrilled at what I feel was a weak performance this year on the farm, biodynamically speaking. I didn’t accomplish very much of what I set out to do. I had grand plans to make some preparations, attend more zoom lectures, plant the garden according to the Celestial Planting Calendar, and generally advance myself towards being thought of as a wise, middle-aged, biodynamic farmer.

In fact, I didn’t do any of that, and I even took steps backwards. Not in ageing, unfortunately. Still relentlessly marching along that path, sorry to say.

The season started with a good old case of undermining myself: I did not apply BD 500 to the carrot field even though I have always known that a good carrot crop is conditional upon a spring application of BD 500. Other factors contribute of course: a June 1 planting date, into moist soil prepared just so; the crop to be hand-weeded twice, mechanically weeded thrice; judiciously watered but not wantonly; and harvest commencing no earlier than the third Monday in August. All that and very little more often guarantees a successful carrot crop in terms of yield, storability, and most importantly taste.

Early in the spring I improperly mixed BD 500 using assorted batches of stale-dated preparation—just to get rid of the clutter, really. I applied it within flinging distance of the barrel in a non-intentional manner. I didn’t go anywhere near the carrot-field-to-be, assuming I could be relied upon to complete the task closer to the planting date, at a more propitious time indicated by the calendar, and with something a little fresher and properly prepared. I did not do that.

I thought for sure the carrot crop was doomed but that was just the beginning. We proceeded to somehow insert change into just about every other aspect of successful Helmer carrot cropping procedure. Planting dates, seeder set-up, spacing, cultivation plan, mechanical weeding plan, and watering schedule: it was carrot chaos, really.

Jumping to the end of what has become a boring carrot story, we got a big crop of great-tasting carrots that seems to be storing well. It is an absolute mystery of variables, and I must kick myself for failing to properly apply BD 500 because now that doesn’t get to be part of the success calculus.

Hence, I am extra keen to flatter myself that the cull potato compost pile, carefully finished with some lovely compost preparations from our friends at the Biodynamic Association of BC, is quite gloriously successful. In terms of structure and appearance it does indeed look promising: it looks like a heap of rich dark soil and there are no longer potatoes visible.

It did not look at all promising to begin with, and although it reached temperature twice, I think that just encouraged the potatoes to grow more, seeing as they were nice and warm. With great gobs of them merrily sprouting and creating new potatoes it all seemed a bit futile.

My final move was to mix it, pile it nicely, cover it with hay, and apply the compost preparations. Since then, it has been through a heat dome and three heat waves, then three months of solid rain. It sits perched on a bit of high ground in a flooded field. It has basically been abandoned.   

The current plan, then, is to ignore it till next spring. I’ll open it up for a look and decide if it is ready for that most stern test of quality: application to soil. Expectations are managed.

In the meantime, I am building the next cull potato compost pile, adding a few hundred pounds every other week or so as we wash and sort the crop. It looks like more culls than last year. There are whacks of maple and birch leaves layered in, and hay. I’d like to get some seaweed, next time I am at the seashore, and I am considering drenching it from time to time with BD 500, the Biodynamic gateway drug of which I’ve got extra.

My biodynamic journey chugs along, I suppose, although I am refraining from setting biodynamic goals for next season. I am still far too busy composting the last one.


Anna Helmer farms with her family in Pemberton, BC where the current mission is finding the right winter work gloves.

Feature image: Compost in hand. Credit: Thomas Buchan.

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

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

Learning and Sharing at Kloverdalen Farm

Moss Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kira’s incredible cabbages. Credit: zoomphotography.ca

Early Farm Mentors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Stop Learning

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

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

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

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

Favourite Crops

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

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

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

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

Mouth-watering CSA box program contents. Credit: zoomphotography

Favourite Tools

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

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

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

Beautiful sunflower bouquets at the farm stand. Credit: zoomphotography

Hot Tips: Farming with Kids

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

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

Growing into the Future

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

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

kloverdalenfarm.com

instagram.com/kloverdalenfarm

facebook.com/kloverdalenfarm


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

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

Organic Leadership

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

Niklaus Forstbauer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get in touch:

info@certifiedorganic.bc.ca


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

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

Organic Stories: Lasser Ranch, Chetwynd BC

in 2020/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Livestock/Organic Community/Organic Stories/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

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.

First Generation Farmers Find Ease with iCertify Renewal

in Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2020/Tools & Techniques

Amy Lobb & Calum Oliver, Makoha Farm

Corinne Impey

Makoha Farm is owned and operated by Amy and Calum, who began their farming journey in 2019 on 0.6 acres of leased land on Cordova Bay Ridge in Saanich, BC.At Makoha Farm, they want their love of good food to come across in what they grow: providing tasty, healthy, and top-quality produce. They grow a diversity of vegetable crops and have quickly fallen in love with growing flowers for cut arrangements.

Currently at the start of their second year of farming, Mahoka Farm is part of Haliburton Community Organic Farm, a certified organic incubator farm in Saanich, BC.

As they geared up for their 2020 organic renewal with Islands Organic Producers Association earlier this year, they were looking forward to trying iCertify, COABC’s new online organic certification system.

Amy with a harvest of leeks. Credit: Kristina Coleman

“iCertify was quite simple to use when it came time to do our renewal,” says Amy. “The webinar preview and in-person training sessions were helpful and informative and made the process undaunting. To be honest, I feel that even if I hadn’t done the initial training before starting my renewal I wouldn’t have had any issues.” In particular, Amy found the clear and simple layout easy to follow.

“Also, having the percentage complete bars for each section is a nice touch visually, quickly letting you know if you missed something or giving you peace of mind that you’re almost done.”

Amy looks forward to future renewals where the process will be even more streamlined now that everything lives in iCertify. “It will be interesting to see how everything goes during next year’s renewal,” says Amy. “It should save us time in the future, only needing to update information that may have changed for our operation and uploading our annual forms.”

Time saved doing administration work means more time spent focused on farming. For 2020, Makoha has launched their first flower CSA subscription, which includes a small veggie box add-on option.

“We can’t wait to share this with the community. As the season begins in this world of uncertainty, we’re also happy to be able to still provide the local community with food for their homes. No matter what happens, we will be here growing food and offering it to the public.”


Funding for this project has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Feature image: Amy and Calum of Makoha Farm. Credit: Amy Lobb

A New Conservation Model for Pollinators from Southern Alberta

in 2020/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Seeds/Spring 2020

S.K. Basu

Pollinators have an important ecological role in securing the stability of all natural ecosystems, through ensuring cross pollination and reproduction across a wide diversity of higher plants. This unique pollinator-plant relationship is a key aspect of maintaining the dynamics of both our ecology as well as our economy.

From an ecological perspective, pollination is important because it helps achieve reproduction in plants. This includes not just wild plants, but a significant array of plant species that are important to humans as food and industrial crops, numerous ornamentals, forage and vegetable crops, and forest species. According to one estimate, over 80% of global plant species are dependent on pollination for reproduction and survival. One can appreciate that this fact has an impact on our economy too. Pollinators have a significant role in three industries, namely: agriculture, forestry, and apiculture. Thus, pollination and pollinators have important stake in our life by integrating the stability of our ecosystem with the dynamics of our economy.

Wild radish flowering Credit: S.K. Basu

While insects perform the most significant role of natural pollinators in our ecosystem, other animal species that also help in the process of pollination are often overlooked. These include some species of snails and slugs, birds (such as humming birds) and mammals (like bats). Insects such as bees (honey bees and native bees), moths and butterflies, some species of flies, beetles, wasps, and ants all play a highly significant roles in our natural ecosystem, without a doubt. But unfortunately, the insect pollinators, predominantly bees and more specifically, native wild bees or indigenous bees, are showing alarming decline in their natural populations due to the synergistic or cumulative impacts of several overlapping anthropogenic factors.

Some of these include excessive use of agricultural chemicals and aggressive agroindustrial approaches in rapid land transformation, rise of resistant parasitic diseases, colony collapse disorder, high level of pollution in the environment, lack of suitable foraging plants to supply bees with adequate nectar and pollens to sustain them throughout the year, and climate change, to mention only a handful factors. Hence, it is important that we develop comprehensive sustainable, ecosystem, and farmer-friendly, and affordable conservation strategies to help secure the survival of insect pollinators to directly and indirectly secure our own future.

Balansa clover in full bloom. Credit: S.K. Basu

Farming Smarter, an applied research organization from Southern Alberta, has come up with a simple, sustainable, and nature-based solution for this grave crisis. They have successfully established experimental pollinator sanctuary plots using local crop-based annual and/or perennial pollinator mixes with different and overlapping flowering periods to extend the bee foraging period across the seasons.

The major objectives of this unique and innovative research work has been to identify specific crop combinations with different flowering periods adapted to the local agro-climatic regime and their potential in attracting insect pollinators. Furthermore, various agronomic parameters such as seeding dates and seeding rates, crop establishment and weed competition under rain-fed conditions, identifying the floral cycles and biodiversity of local pollinator insect populations attracted and visiting the pollinator sanctuary experimental plots across the growing season are being also monitored and evaluated. This unique pollinator sanctuary project has been funded by the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) program.

A drone fly pollinating alfalfa. Credit: S.K. Basu

The results have been promising. The experimental plots have been attracting insect pollinators in large numbers and the crops have been well established and performed well against local weed competition. The implications of this study could be far reaching as Pollinator Sanctuaries can not only cater to pollination services; but also help in acting as cover crops, preventing soil erosion, contributing to soil reclamation, and, since they are predominantly crop-based, can be used in grazing. Thus, the benefits of this innovative and sustainable method are not restricted to pollinator conservation alone, and could cater to multiple users.

Such low-cost and low-maintenance pollinator sanctuaries could easily be established in non-agricultural and marginal lands, hard to access areas of the farm, around pivot stand and farm perimeters, shelter belts, along water bodies and irrigational canals, low lying areas, salinity impacted areas, unused spaces in both rural and urban areas, in boulevards parks, gardens, and golf courses, to mention only a handful of potential application sites. Locally adapted crop-based pollinator mixes could fill a vacuum in the market and serve as viable alternatives to exclusive use of wildflower mixes, since they are relatively cheaper, easy to establish, and do not run the risk of becoming a weed or invasive species.

A pollinator insect visiting flax flower. Credit: S.K. Basu

Saikat Kumar Basu has a Masters in Plant Sciences and Agricultural Studies. He loves writing, traveling, and photography during his leisure and is passionate about nature and conservation.

Feature image: A bumble bee pollinating Phacelia flowers. Credit: S.K. Basu

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