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iCertify: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms

in 2021/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2021

Corinne Impey

Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms is a family-run seasonal mushroom farm in Kaslo, BC.

Now in their fifth year of business, and their second year being BC Certified Organic, they specialize in gourmet mushroom varieties such as shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane, among many others. They also produce spawn, grow-at-home kits, and other cultivation supplies.

As a member of the Kootenay Organic Growers Society (KOGS), Robin Mercy of Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms was able to use iCertify for the first time in 2021 to complete their annual certification online.

“Although there were some small redundancies as I moved over from the old system to iCertify, I felt that for the most part the system was intuitive and there wasn’t too much of a learning curve,” says Robin. “There was a bit of work to be done reformatting some of my information to align with new wordings and questions, but I’m hopeful that come 2022, a renewal should be much easier using this system.”

Robin Mercy. Credit: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms.

Robin was one of many operators from KOGS who used iCertify for the 2021 season.

“KOGS was very excited to begin transitioning part of our membership this year to the iCertify platform,” says Emma Sowiak, KOGS chair. This was in part because it meant lightening the load on their certification committee—by moving away from boxes of hefty paper files—and also because it afforded them the opportunity to refresh their current application.

“iCertify has added more scope and detail to the application process, especially for our specialty growers like Robin. For example, this gives both the operator and the certification committee a better understanding of what is involved in growing organic mushrooms!”

For Robin at Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms, a few key features in iCertify stood out.

“I think the way that it’s possible to choose which sections apply to your operation is really important. As a producer of mushrooms that are container-grown in greenhouses, there’s a lot of differences between my application and a typical soil-based crop application, and it’s nice to be able to choose up-front which parts of the application are relevant.”

Reishi mushroom. Credit: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms.

He also used iCertify’s newest feature, a searchable database of input products that have already been approved by each participating certifying body (CB) for use in organic production.

This new feature includes a simplified way for members to request and receive approval for products directly from within the iCertify portal. It also includes the ability for each member to track their own list of approved products and monitor the approval expiry dates.

“Most of my inputs had not been listed yet, but I think it’ll be easy and quick to get input approval in the future once the list is expanded,” says Robin. “And even though individual CBs are still responsible for approving inputs and applications, it’s nice to have some shared information.”

Beyond completing his application and looking forward to using the approved products database, Robin also says iCertify has great value for the industry as a whole.

“I think it’s important to have a standardized application process province-wide, and an online one like iCertify seems like the best choice.”

Now that his online application has been submitted, Robin is looking ahead to what the rest of 2021 has in store for Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, there’s been a big increase in inquiries about growing supplies,” says Robin. “We’re responding to that need by focusing on producing high quality kits and spawn, and creating educational media and courses outlining ways to grow mushrooms at home. We are also working to get more of our products available for online purchase. On the fresh mushroom front, we’re hoping to increase production by around 50%, and expand our Mushroom Box CSA program to Nelson, BC. It’s a lot to keep up with, but should be a very exciting year for us!”

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, under the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program. The program is delivered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC.

Featured image: A selection of certified organic mushrooms. Credit: Mr. Mercy’s Mushrooms

A DIY Approach to Fighting Cherry Fly

in Fall 2017/Grow Organic/Pest Management/Tools & Techniques

How one woman’s journey to worm-free fruit led to the birth of a new business

Marilyn Roberts

In the early 1900s, Kaslo was a major fruit producer in British Columbia, sending boxes of huge cherries as far away as England. Hence, there are many old overgrown orchards in the area. When I bought a place there in 1990, I inherited several old apple trees and even a couple of cherries, which had been planted by a previous owner. They had beautiful fruit, but every one was wormy. I did a little research and discovered cherries had to be sprayed over and over to kill the cherry flies that emerge from under the trees all summer long.

Not too keen on poisoning my backyard every year, I decided to try alternative methods. My first try was to pick all the young cherries before the worms had a chance to mature. The next year, I still had worms. I decided that if the flies emerged from under my trees, I could tarp the ground to keep them there. When that didn’t work, I reasoned that the flies must have seen the light at the edge of the tarp and crawled to it. The next year, I tried clear plastic; but still I had wormy fruit. Apparently, the critters were flying from other trees in the area or being blown in by the wind.

That was when I got mad—and decided I was going to finally get some good cherries without spraying. I cut up some old nylons and made bags to cover a few bunches of fruit—that was the first year I was able to harvest some cherries without worms.

The next year, I bought some old curtain material at the thrift shop and fashioned larger bags to cover whole branches. I was worried that the material might damage the leaves, but it worked perfectly, and I had a lot more good cherries. The foliage inside the bags was even in better shape than the rest of the uncovered tree.

By then I had good Internet service so I went looking for netting to cover the whole tree. It was expensive! I finally found a store in the US that had brand new bulk netting cheaper than anywhere else, and after doing some calculations I ordered almost $600 worth to cover my 16-foot tree.

I made a pattern, but the weather was rainy that spring so I had to sew it inside on my old treadle machine. Imagine netting to cover a room almost 16 feet square and high, all white with no markings, piled up on a living room floor. It was a challenge, but when I finished and we took the whole pile outside, it was a bag that fit perfectly over the tree. I was astounded that it actually was the right size and shape. That was the first year we got all the fruit with not one worm.

Unfortunately, the material was not UV resistant and started to tear when we took it off. I did some serious searching online looking for better quality, and for a while, if you looked for insect netting online, my post was at the top of the list. I discovered no one in the world seemed to have what I wanted. I couldn’t find anyone in North America that made netting; they just bought it from other places and resold it. The samples I received from China, Russia, India etc. all were poor quality, not what I wanted. Finally, one factory sent me good quality netting, but it wasn’t UV resistant and the holes were way too big.

When I sent them my standard “thanks, but no thanks” letter, they wrote back to say they were a newer factory and could make anything I wanted. We put our heads together and came up with an amazing fabric, perfect for the purpose. They had to re-tool several times to get it just right.

I got ready to order some and look for people in the area who could sew when they told me that whatever I was doing with it, they could do it cheaper, faster, and better. I sent them a pattern and ordered nine bags of two different sizes plus some bulk material for research. Getting them through customs was a real learning experience.

That year I found several people with two cherry trees so I’d have a control tree and sold them the bags at less than my cost in return for a sample from both trees. I also made small bags so I could cover branches on other people’s trees for research. I picked and opened hundreds of cherries that year and recorded the number of worms in each one, where it was picked, and whether it was covered or not. Most of the uncovered cherries were wormy, some with several of the bugs, and none of the covered cherries were wormy except for a couple from a tree that had come open around the trunk to allow a fly or two access to the fruit. In other words, it worked spectacularly. My data is available to anyone—just email me for a copy.

About the same time I heard about a man who had lost his cherry orchard to the bank when wasps moved in just before he harvested, and there are other stories about poor harvest because of birds. Luckily, my netting also keeps out those critters.

The next year I ordered 100 completed tree covers in three sizes and started selling them. For the first year or two I was able to wholesale to other stores, but my costs were very high and I was losing money. I decided to just sell to anyone at the lowest price that would cover my costs and time.

More and more people started finding me online when they looked for an alternative to poison, and those who used the nets told others, so my business grew. I also added two smaller sizes, bulk material, and netting with larger holes that just kept out wasps and birds; this was good for grapes and other crops unaffected by worms.

Since then, I have been selling covers all over North America, and have even covered whole orchards, one with dwarf trees where I made long, wide strips to cover whole rows. I get the most wonderful reports from people who cover their trees with my netting, and that’s the real reason I still make and sell these. I feel it’s important to give people an alternative to spraying.

Marilyn Roberts lives in Kaslo. She recently retired after 38 years teaching ABE (upgrading for adults in all levels of English, math, biology, chemistry, physics and computers) for Selkirk College, and finds herself busier than ever filling orders for Kootenay Covers.

Organic Stories: Bee Greens

in Organic Stories/Summer 2017

Hamsa Eliza Gooderham

A love affair with plants began 30 odd years ago out of Brenda Elder’s basement and grew, literally, into the fine enterprise that it is now; a certified organic wholesaler of bedding plants to the Nelson and Slocan Valley area. We took over the business after a decade of working for Brenda when she was ready to retire and it became Bee Greens Organic Bedding Plants.We already had some infrastructure since we were market gardeners, but we moved her 70’ greenhouse down the road to our farm, and built a new building to house the potting area, soil mixing area. So now there is a beautiful six sided 1000 square foot omni hive for it all with the 2 greenhouses like wings flying off of it! The second story houses the studio of artist friend Tanya Pixie Johnson. Truly a creative hub.

What makes this little operation fairly unique is that we start everything by seed ourselves. We buy a few cuttings from a neighbouring greenhouse to augment in the fancy flower department, but every vegetable, herb and flower is sown and transplanted by hand.

Beginning at the end of January the first seeds are sown; pansies, geraniums, artichokes, parsley, celery, with the first major sowing being the onions beginning of February. Soon follows consecutive sowings every few days of brassicas, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, and a wide variety of flowers and herbs. By the end of February the propagation room is full and the second room begins to fill. By March 1, all the hardier veggies and flowers move into the 70’ greenhouse, which is heated by a huge barrel stove.

As the snows are melting and the daylight grows, the wee plants thrive in the greenhouse, and the team here spells each other off for who gets to do the 2 a.m. stoke to keep everyone toasty. It’s an old school system but it works great and we’re crazy enough to do it. Through March we sow more and more of the above mentioned and soon come the cukes, winter squash, summer squash and melons.

By now, the heated greenhouse is full with approximately 5,000 tomatoes and peppers and tens of thousands of broccoli, kale, lettuce and so many other green babies! The flower department is our smallest, accounting for only about 25% of sales. These plants gradually move out of the first greenhouse to the sales area on the farm or are wholesaled to Nelson. We deliver the wholesale orders in 2000 Mitsubishi Delica with custom shelving just for plants. Our driver is quite a sight as he powers off in the right hand drive 4×4 moon bus busting with plants.

In Nelson we sell to the Kootenay Co-Op and Nelson Farmers Supply. Both of these outlets provide us with the bulk of our sales. They have been such supporters over the years, especially when we first took over from Brenda abd were still figuring out what we were doing!

Closer to home in the Slocan Valley, we wholesale to Evergreen Natural Foods and most recently Silverton Building Supplies is developing a little plant sales project. Our retail sales from the farm are a smaller percentage, but we really enjoy the interface with our community.

Visitors to the farm seeking plants find themselves in a greenhouse filled with a beautiful array of flowers and hanging baskets, lush tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and squash. On a warm late April day the sweet basil and herbs are reminiscent of the promise of summer harvests and culinary delights. The vibrant green hues are a visual delight, emanating the health and vitality of the love and organic nutrients they have received during their formative eight weeks. This is a special place indeed. Folk love to gather here to exchange gardening tidbits, news of favourite varieties, and predictions about the coming Kootenay growing season.

We buy our seeds from several different suppliers. This year we tried to keep the buying within Canada, because of the value of the dollar, however, seed prices all across the board are increasing at such a rapid rate, as most farmers know, its still quite a struggle to budget in this area. In Canada we buy from William Dam in Ontario, West Coast here in BC, Richters, and in the US; Johnnys, High Mowing, Seed Savers, and Osbourne.

We do our best to purchase all organic, however some of the longtime favourites we cannot find organically grown. We save a lot of our own seeds, but need help in this department. We are working on setting up a local seed saving co-op. Heirloom and open-pollinated seed diversity is an important aspect of our business.

Our vision is to continue on this wave of prosperity and abundance and supply our customers with healthy vital plants for the home garden.

Learn more: beegreensplants.com

Hamsa Eliza Gooderham farms in the Slocan Valley with Pete Slevin and the team at Bee Greens. Eliza is especially passionate about flowers. Bee Greens sells mostly wholesale to the Kootenay Co-Op and Farmers Supply in Nelson, with two smaller contracts in the Slocan Valley, Silverton Building Supplies and Evergreen Natural Foods. The greenhouses are open to public sales on the farm from April to June.

Photo Credit: Bee Greens

Intentional Peasantry at Tipiland Organic Produce

in Farmer Focus/Organic Stories

Marjorie Harris

The Way of the Past is Hope for the Future

What a magical adventure it was to visit Tipiland Organic Produce in Argenta, BC!

The ideals of the Aquarian Age generation are manifest in every aspect of Tipiland’s success, demonstrating how the dreams of social interconnectedness, collective action and co-operative systems can become a positive and sustainable reality.

Tipiland celebrated their 25th year of operation in 2014, another milestone in their success story which is rooted in the back-to-nature, counter culture movement of the 1970s. The journey has been a fulfilling one for lifelong gardeners Inanna Judd, Gary Diers, and Sarah Ross. Their collective commitment has been to provide the purest, freshest, most nutrient dense, and beautiful certified organic produce possible from their market garden.

To reach Tipiland I headed to to the northern head of Kootenay Lake and then turned south, driving along the base of Mount Willet’s evergreen covered slopes that rise up out of the steel blue waters of the lake and climb high into the sky to form a brilliant white peak. The gravel road only got me as far as Tipiland’s upper level garlic patch. From there I embarked on a 15-minute hike downhill through an enchanting forest, enjoying the aromatic scents and the springy soil underfoot that creates gentle earth music, like drum beats in your walking. As I lifted my eyes way, way up, 150 feet through the trees to the sky above, I was in awe of such a forest and such a location for this very special organic garden patch. I could sense the meditative pace of daily living here, even during the feverish work of the growing season: the forest calms the soul.

The ideals of the Aquarian Age generation are manifest in every aspect of Tipiland’s success, demonstrating how the dreams of social interconnectedness, collective action and co-operative systems can become a positive and sustainable reality.

In 1989, Tipiland’s founding farmer — the young and brave Sarah Ross, then in her mid-twenties — had a vision to start a market garden. She set about very carefully selecting a 2-acre garden plot near the middle of the 200-acre virgin forest held in common by the members of the Kootenay Co-operative Land Settlement Society. The land co-op was established in Argenta in 1972, emerging out of the back-to-the-land movement and locating itself next door to a Quaker Intentional Community. Both communities shared common goals to live more locally, consume less energy, and make positive changes while having fun.

One of Tipiland’s current farmers Gary Diers, explains how without Kootenay Co-op, Tipiland would simply not be Tipiland: “We have grown together hand-in-hand,” says Gary. “A farm on a land co-op, selling to a food co-op: what a great fit!”

Thus began their long relationship. “Kootenay Co-op clearly lead the way,” remembers Gary. ‘Local’ is natural for the Co-op, it is an organization embedded in the community. The members are the Co-op. So when Sarah approached the Co-op about selling them local organic produce they quite naturally said, “Yes!”

Gary continues, “the management of the Kootenay Co-op didn’t stop there. They decided to make what was then a radical commitment to sell only organic produce. They were listening to their members, and I think that they, like Sarah, sensed the blossoming of the organic movement.”

By the mid 1990’s Inanna and Gary took over operating Tipiland Produce fulltime, finally realizing their dreams of farming. This coincided with the time when Kootenay Co-op was instrumental in getting the Kootenay Organic Growers Society (KOGS) started. Gary recalls how every winter local organic farmers would meet with the produce team of the Kootenay Co-op to decide who would grow what in the following year. “They certainly didn’t enjoy the task of trying to filter out just who was really organic, or who wasn’t — a ridiculous task for a store. So KOGS was born.” Tipiland was one of the founding members of KOGS, which was kind enough to issue them with the certification number #00l, which remains with them to this day.

Gary enthusiastically remembers how Tipiland helped develop the market and has grown with the market. “Every single year Tipiland has sold more vegetables than the year before. We now sell 15 times more produce than when Inanna and I first took over the reins of Tipiland and we still have more capacity.”

When Inanna first suggested growing kale, the Co-op manager was skeptical, since kale had never been seen in local stores before — but was willing to give it a try. The rest is history. Kale is now Tipiland’s second largest crop, with 10 varieties planted this year. They still sell their kale to the Co-op, and to eight other businesses.

Tipiland also has a flourishing business in certified organic flowers. Again, the Kootenay Co-op was their first buyer, and continues to retail their bouquets. Inanna has trialed hundreds of varieties of vegetables and flowers and saves seeds of over a hundred varieties. Gary says with a smile, “ Inanna can run circles around anyone with a wheel hoe!”

In Gary’s estimation, in order for a farm to truly be sustainable it must employ farm workers from its local community. And for farm work to be viewed as an honourable occupation in our society, the workers must receive all the same rights and pay as other workers in Canada. Early every Wednesday and Thursday morning a crew of locals, ranging in age from 18 to 72 years old, from Argenta to the Lardeau Valley, assembles to fill farm orders. Gary proudly notes that Tipiland has not missed one delivery from May to November in all these years.

In Gary’s estimation, in order for a farm to truly be sustainable it must employ farm workers from its local community.

Farming at Tipiland is mostly unmechanized. As Gary says, “We have always enjoyed working with our hands and believe it is not only the way of the past, but the hope for the future. One might call us intentional peasants. The beauty of all this for us at Tipiland is that this model works. With our low capitalization we have never needed to secure a loan. We pay our farm workers above average agricultural wages, providing jobs in our community. The bottom line is definitely working.”

Tipiland uses almost no electricity in its operation. Their home and farm are completely off the grid. They do not need a cooler as all produce is picked, then hydrocooled and delivered to stores within 24 hours. Tipiland is labour intensive, not energy or capital intensive. Everyone walks or bicycles to work.

But as Gary is quick to point out, “We’re not purists. We do have an Italian rototiller and a truck. Our rototiller has a diesel engine and last year we used almost 40 litres of fuel for our entire operation. Our Japanese import delivery truck is also diesel with a 4 cylinder engine and we can deliver almost one and half tons of produce all the way to Nelson and back for about $40 in fuel.”

Gary’s final take home message is a quote from Wendell Berry, “Never farm more than you can garden!

Marjorie Harris, BSc, IOIA V.O., P. Ag. Email: marjorieharris@telus.net 

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” – attributed to Hippocrates

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