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organic 3.0

Organic Stories: Urban Harvest – Syilx Territory, Kelowna BC

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

Many Strands Make a Strong Food Web

Darcy Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Urban Harvest staff team. Credit: Urban Harvest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Ask an Expert: Wealth & Retirement Strategy

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Current Issue/Fall 2020/Marketing/Organic Community/Tools & Techniques

Planning In Your Thirties and Beyond

Karen Fenske

Developing a well-balanced financial strategy at each stage of life promotes peace of mind.  The wealth and retirement planning strategies outlined below are relevant for young farmers, whether you will own property or not. The need for supplemental income component has historically been a reality for many producers, and most likely will continue.

Planning for the future means looking at what you can do now, as well as what you’ll need later, and designing a “bridge” to get you there. As a Financial Coach, I help you work through a planning process to determine what your needs are now, and in the future, and what you’ll have to put in place to meet those needs.

Setting Your Goals

  • First, it’s important to define your goals and priorities. Some areas to explore include:
  • Manage your cash flow: Track your income & spending. With all the apps available today, this can be easy.
  • Build an emergency fund: Know your expenses and “pay yourself first” by automatically putting money into a reserve account that is at arm’s length.
  • Protect your family in case of deaths, disability or critical illness: Insurance is an important risk management component for all family sizes. If one of the adults becomes ill or passes away the family left behind can be cared for financially. In your thirties insurance is fairly cheap and quick to obtain.
  • Make space for travel, vacations, and leisure activities, (travel to see family, skiing, dirt biking, camping, etc.): What, when & how much? If you plan ahead, the tendency to splurge or put it on credit will be reduced. You can manage your expectations and maintain control.
  • Plan for major purchases, such as vehicles, real estate, livestock, etc: What, when & how much? If you plan then you may not splurge and end up in “bad debt”. You can manage your expectations and maintain control.
  • Own your own business: Create a business plan, even a vague one that will highlight income potential and costs.
  • Learn to invest wisely, staying ahead of the cost of living & reducing taxes: You may say I can’t save anything to invest for the future and I always say, “We can find $50 or $100 a month!” to get the habit started. Typically, the saving/investment tool depends on your tax bracket. It often makes sense to save in a TFSA investment where you gain a return on your deposit and the compound earnings grow for your retirement. If you are above a certain income level an RRSP helps reduce your current income tax payable. RRSPs are a “tax deferral program” so a tax refund may be triggered now, but when you go to pull it out later (in retirement) you will pay the tax. Reinvest the refund into the RRSP or TFSA.
  • Plan for your child’s education: If you have children, put aside money into an RESP. You can contribute as little as $25 a month, and the government will also contribute. The investment earns a return and the whole account grows. The funds may be used for trade, college, and university programs. Grandparents can arrange these too. It may not be a lot, but it will help!
  • Stay employable: Continuous learning is part of our culture. We never know when our source of income might change. What skills, courses, and experience will you need?
  • Ensure your money lasts through retirement: Learn about your Retirement Equation: Old Age Security, Canada Pension Plan, etc. Add to your retirement equation via “Supplemental Income.”
  • Preserve your estate: Ensure your loved ones are your beneficiaries in your will, etc.
  • Give to charity: This can satisfy personal values and reduce taxes.
  • Own your farm: What, when & how much?  All of the other pieces can be implemented whether this goal is realized or not. This is a whole other topic which will include succession and estate planning.

Review Reality and Add Peace of Mind

Once you’ve got a sense of your dream, it’s important to review reality—and add peace of mind. To do this, first you need to paint a picture. Review your current situation by pulling together all your financial documents, including bank accounts, insurance, debt, credit card statements, etc. I typically enter all the data into my financial planning software to create a whole financial picture and keep track. Explore your expenses: What does it cost to live? What do you need? Can things be changed, cut out, modified, delayed, achieved in steps, etc.? Also, explore your income sources.

As a farmer, this will likely include both your farm revenue and any supplemental income sources. What can you do off-farm to receive a paycheck, such as working part-time as a teacher, welder, nurse, instructor, snow removal tech, clerk, etc. This kind of employment will also add to your Canada Pension Plan (CPP) amount which pays out as early as 60 years old, and adds to your Employment Insurance (EI), which will help with medical leaves and periods of unemployment. You can arrange to contribute to EI even if you are self-employed. If you find employment with a hospital, school district, regional district, etc.  You may even be entitled to a pension at some point. All these pieces together with your Old Age Security at 65 and your retirement equation may surprise you. I typically provide the potential future value which helps clarify need and strategies.

If working off-farm is not an option, or costs more than you would earn, consider an on-farm opportunity such as doing bookkeeping for others, machine repair, website development, snow removal, breeding dogs or cats, etc. Ensure you are contributing to CPP for your retirement, and maybe EI, too.

Something to keep in mind with these “supplemental income” options is work-life balance. Look at your whole equation. Every situation is going to be a little bit different. Your resources, skills, capacity, energy level, likes, needs, etc. will impact what is optimum for you. It’s easy to stretch yourselves too thin and end up disheartened, cranky, depressed, or divorced because there hasn’t been enough time or energy. Money is important but so is enjoying life and living it together.

It’s also important to look at your on-farm income. Whether you’re running your own farm or working for another farmer will change the picture. If you’re self-employed, your cost of production should account for your time so that you’re paying yourself a wage that supports your lifestyle—and future goals. As an employee, your job title and description determine your role, and can be helpful in figuring out how you’ll be compensated. For example, an Operations Manager and farm hand will have different levels of responsibility, and thus compensation. If you’re working on a farm as part of a succession planning process, whether on the family farm or not, discussions around compensation can get trickier. Using a third-party coach to facilitate this discussion as part of the succession planning process may be helpful. As an employee the owner will contribute to EI & CPP—this isn’t as complicated as it sounds! QuickBooks is cheap and you can get it all done.

Understanding your income and expenses helps you know how much you will have to live on. You can then budget spending and short term and retirement savings, and create a “doable” budget just for you. Build a “zero-based” budget including income from all sources and living expenses, such as gas, groceries, clothing, insurance, and short term and retirement savings. Every situation is different so meet your family’s needs and don’t compare to others.

Evaluate, Adjust, and Enjoy!

Financial planning is an ever-evolving process, and doesn’t stop once you’ve got your budget in place. Evaluate on a monthly basis, at minimum, where your money is going. There are apps and bank programs to help keep track. You can adjust the budget for surprise costs, add extra to your savings, or pay off debt faster.

It is good practice, once or twice a year, to ask your family, “What great things did we do,” “What was new, different or better?”, “Did we have enough or too little?”, “Do we need to make changes & how?”, “What do we want to do this year and next?”

Cast a big picture of realistic potential income and how your family is going to spend it: who needs a bike, clothes, tools, what kind of trips, etc. You can start an envelope for the goal or assign a piece of your savings accounts or TFSA to that goal.

Each of you has your own unique money story that impacts how you save and spend. Choose transparency instead of denial, courage to ask for your needs to be met, respect that you are in this together, and above all, use sound financial planning to help you enjoy life!


Sustainable agriculture is Karen Fenske’s vocation. After providing strategic planning in BC agriculture, and working for COABC & BC4H, Karen transitioned into the financial planning industry to assist with succession and estate planning. Through her business, Fenske Financial Coaching, she facilitates the transition process and provides relevant, useful advice on a fee-for-service basis.

Featured image: Credit Michaela Parks.

Gene Editing: The End of GMOs?

in 2020/Current Issue/Fall 2020/GMO Updates/Organic Standards

Lucy Sharratt

There is a lot of excitement about “gene editing,” or genome editing, in the media and research community. In the farm press, genome editing techniques are being widely described as precise and, in some cases, non-GMO. Neither is correct.

Genome editing techniques can be used to alter the genetic material of plants, animals, and other organisms. They aim to insert, delete, or otherwise change a DNA sequence at a specific, targeted site in the genome. Genome editing techniques are a type of genetic engineering, resulting in the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

The techniques are powerful and could lead to the development of more genetically modified (GM) crop plants, and even GM farm animals. However, the hype surrounding genome editing is similar to what was seen with first-generation genetic engineering. Most news stories about new products are actually about experiments in very early stages, which may never lead to new foods on the market.

Just as with first-generation genetic engineering, genome editing techniques are moving quickly in the lab to create new GM foods, even while our knowledge about how genomes work remains incomplete. The techniques are powerful and speedy, but can be imprecise and lead to unexpected consequences.

The genome is the entire set of genetic material in an organism, including DNA.

What is Genome Editing?

Genome editing most often uses DNA “cutters” that are guided to a location within an organism’s DNA and used to cut the DNA. This cut DNA is then repaired by the cell’s own repair mechanism, which creates changes or “edits” to the organism. The most frequently used genome editing technique is called CRISPR, but other techniques follow similar principles.

First-generation genetic engineering techniques insert genes at random locations. These genes then permanently become part of the host organism’s genome, creating new DNA sequences. In contrast, new genome editing techniques insert genetic material that is then guided to a specific target site to perform “edits.” This means that, with genome editing, the inserted genetic material makes changes to the genome but does not necessarily have to become incorporated into the resulting GMO and can be bred out. This means that not all genome-edited GMOs are transgenic.

This also means that, unlike all first-generation GMOs, not all genome-edited GMOs are transgenic (have foreign DNA). The ability to create non-transgenic organisms is often stressed by the biotechnology industry as an advantage to using genome editing but, as discussed below, whether or not a GMO is transgenic is not the chief concern about genetic engineering.

There is one genome-edited organism on the market in Canada: an herbicide tolerant canola from the company Cibus (Falco brand). This GM canola, like all other GMOs, is prohibited in organic farming and excluded from “Non-GMO Project” verification. However, despite also being regulated as GM in Europe, the company Cibus still sometimes refers to this non-transgenic canola as “non-GMO.” This one example provides a glimpse into how the biotechnology industry would like to shape the regulation and public perception of genome editing to avoid the GMO controversy.

Unexpected and Unpredictable Effects

Genome editing can be imprecise, and cause unexpected and unpredictable effects. Many studies have now shown that genome editing can create genetic errors, such as “off-target” and “on-target” effects:

  • Genome editing techniques, such as the CRISPR-Cas9 system, can create unintended changes to genes that were not the target of the editing system. These are called “off-target effects.”
  • Genome editing can also result in unintended “on-target effects,” which occur when a technique succeeds in making the intended change at the target location, but also leads to other unexpected outcomes.
  • Genome editing can inadvertently cause extensive deletions and complex re-arrangements of DNA.
  • Unwanted DNA can unexpectedly integrate into the host organism during the genome editing process. For example, foreign DNA was unexpectedly found in genome-edited hornless cows.

Despite these many potential impacts, there are no standard protocols yet to detect off-target and on-target effects of genome editing.

Sometimes intended changes that are created by genome editing techniques are described as “mutations,” because only very small parts of DNA are altered and no novel genes have been intentionally introduced. However, even small changes in a DNA sequence can have big effects.

The functioning of genes is coordinated by a complex regulatory network that is still poorly understood. This means that it is not possible to predict the nature and consequences of all the interactions between altered genetic material and other genes within an organism. For example, one small genetic change can impact an organism’s ability to express or suppress other genes.

An End to GMO Regulation?

Despite these risks, a number of researchers and companies are arguing that genome editing should be less regulated than first-generation genetic engineering, or not regulated at all.

It is commonly argued that regulation is an obstacle to innovation. In relation to genome-edited animals, the argument has been made that mandatory government safety assessment “makes no economic sense.”1 Instead, industry argues that the process by which new plants and animals are created should be irrelevant to safety considerations. This is why US government proposals to assess the safety of all genome-edited animals were called “insane” by one of the developers of genome-edited hornless cows2—three years before the cows were found by US government scientists to contain unexpected foreign DNA.

New genome editing techniques will challenge regulators with new traits and processes, with increasing complexity and ongoing uncertainty. Rather than assume their safety, these new technologies need to be met with precaution and increased independent scrutiny.

Even more fundamentally, our government must consider the question of social worth before
approving products of genetic engineering. Without consulting Canadian farmers, for example, companies can commercialize new GM products (such as glyphosate-tolerant alfalfa) that have few benefits but can, on the contrary, pose serious risks to farming systems and the environment.

For references and for more information and discussion about genome editing, read CBAN’s new report, “Genome Editing in Food and Farming: Risks and Unexpected Consequences.” The report and an introductory factsheet are available online.

For updates or to find out more, visit CBAN online.


Lucy Sharratt is the Coordinator of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN). CBAN brings together 16 groups (cban.ca/about-us/members/) to research, monitor and raise awareness about issues relating to genetic engineering in food and farming. CBAN members include farmer associations, environmental and social justice organizations, and regional coalitions of grassroots groups. CBAN is a project on MakeWay’s shared platform.

Featured image: Canola in bloom. Credit: Bellingen2454 (CC)

References
See CBAN’s report at cban.ca/GenomeEditingReport2020
Maxmen, A. (2017). Gene-edited animals face US regulatory crackdown. Nature (News).

A City Boy Goes to Work on the Farm

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

Devon Cooke

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

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

Filmmaker Devon Cooke. Credit: Derek Gray.

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

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

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

Amara Farm salad fields. Credit: Michaela Parks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Green bean harvest. Credit: Michaela Parks.

Footnotes from the Field: Waste Not, Want Not

in 2020/Current Issue/Fall 2020/Footnotes from the Field/Livestock/Preparation/Soil

Empowering the Human Micronutrient Supply Chain from the Soil Up

Marjorie Harris

I have long accepted that the saying “Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy people” fully explained the human nutrient supply chain. Turns out, this is not entirely accurate. In fact, the mineral requirements for healthy plants, animals, and people are quite different.

During organic farm inspection tours, I met a BC farm family diagnosed with selenium deficiency syndromes. The local health unit had identified the conditions. One person suffered from a significant fused spinal curvature from a skeletal muscle disease caused by selenium deficiency.

The farm’s soil tests confirmed that the garden soils were indeed deficient in selenium. The farmer was aware that his newborn livestock required selenium shots to prevent white muscle disease and that his livestock were fed selenium-fortified commercial organic livestock feed.

That BC farmer’s “Aha!” moment came when he made the connection between his garden soils’ lack of selenium and his family’s health problems. My curiosity was piqued. What was going on here—what is selenium and where do we find it?

Selenium is recognized as an essential trace mineral for healthy livestock and it is standard best practice to give selenium shots shortly after birth. In the year 2000, the Canadian government, along with the rest of North America, mandated the addition of selenium minerals to commercial livestock feeds (poultry, swine, beef/dairy, goat, and sheep) as a way to increase animal health and fortify the human food supply in dairy, meat, and eggs. Canadian wildlife surveys have determined that wild creatures also suffer from selenium deficiency diseases. Chronic and subclinical selenium deficiency could be a contributing factor to recent wildlife population declines, as other causes have not been identified.

I was surprised to learn from the government of Alberta’s Agri-Fax sheet that plants do not use selenium and do not show deficiency symptoms from its lack in the soil. At the same time, there are a few plants, such as locoweeds, that can hyperaccumulate selenium to levels that are toxic to livestock when selenium concentrations are high in the soil.

It was only relatively recently that we realized selenium was essential for human health. In 1979, Chinese scientists made the discovery while investigating the deaths of thousands of young women and children in the Keshan County of North Eastern China. The condition associated with these deaths was named Keshan disease, after the county where it was first recognized. The Chinese scientists discovered that selenium supplementation could correct the disorder. Since then, much has been learned about how selenium acts as a mineral in the human body in conjunction with other trace minerals such as chromium and iodine, which are also not used by plants.

Selenium deficiency is regarded as a major worldwide health problem with estimates of between 500 million to 1 billion people living with selenium deficiency diseases. Even larger numbers of people are consuming less then what is needed for optimal protection against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and infectious diseases.

Researchers have found that selenium is widely distributed throughout the body’s tissues and of high importance for many regulatory and metabolic functions. Selenium is very much like a “Goldilocks” micronutrient: you need just the right amount. Too much or too little can lead to serious health consequences. The Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) in Canada for adults and children 14 and up is 55 micrograms per day. Our dietary selenium is taken up in the gut and becomes incorporated into more than 30 selenoproteins and selenoenzymes that play critical roles in human biological processes. Selenium is considered a cornerstone of the body’s antioxidant defense system as an integral component required for glutathione peroxidase (GPx) activity. The GPx enzyme family plays a major role in protection against oxidative stress.

In addition, selenoproteins regulate many physiological processes, including the immune system response, brain neurotransmitter functioning, male and female reproductive fertility, thyroid hormone functioning, DNA synthesis, cardiovascular health, mental health, and heavy metal chelation. Selenoproteins have a protective effect against some forms of cancer, possess chemo-preventive properties, and regulate the inflammatory mediators in asthma.

Many chronic diseases have been linked to selenium deficiency. A short list includes: diabetes, Alzheimer’s, lupus, autoimmune disease, arthritis, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disease, degenerative muscle diseases, neurological diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. The selenium GPX-1 immune defense system has demonstrated antiviral capability. GPx-1 is found in most body cells, including red blood cells.

Some lipid-enveloped viruses pirate host selenium resources as a strategy to outmaneuver the host immune selenium-activated GPX-1 antioxidant system. If a host is selenium-deficient the virus can overwhelm the host GPX-1 immune response. In selenium-competent individuals the GPX-1 initiates an immune response cascade which inhibits viral replication and clears the virus from host. Selenium’s antiviral defense ability has been documented for Ebola, coronavirus, SARS-2003, influenza viruses (swine and bird flus), HIV, herpes viruses, cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B and C, Newcastle disease virus, rubella (German measles), varicella (chicken pox), smallpox, swine fever, and West Nile virus. There are a number of studies showing that selenium deficiency negatively impacts the course of HIV, and that selenium supplementation may delay the onset of full-blown AIDS.

While the research is still unfolding and it is too early to make determinative conclusions about COVID-19 and potential treatments, preliminary research indicates several interesting lines of inquiry. COVD-19 researchers in China published new data on April 28, 2020 making an association the COVID-19 “cure rates and death rates” and the soil selenium status of the region. Higher deaths rates were observed in populations living inside soil selenium-poor regions such as Hubei Province. Regional population selenium status was measured through hair samples. Samples were collected and compared from 17 different Chinese cities: “Results show an association between the reported cure rates for COVID-19 and selenium status. These data are consistent with the evidence of the antiviral effects of selenium from previous studies.”

By now, you’ve probably figured out that we can’t live without selenium. The evidence is clear: human and animal health is dependent on selenium, and yet it is the rarest micronutrient element in the Earth’s crust. Selenium is classed as a non-renewable resource because there are no ore deposits from which Selenium can be mined as the primary product. Most selenium is extracted as a by-product of copper mining.

Selenium has many industrial applications because of its unique properties as a semi-conductor. The most outstanding physical property of crystalline selenium is its photoconductivity. In sunlight electrical conductivity increases more than 1,000-fold, making it prized for use in solar energy panels and many other industrial uses that ultimately draw selenium out of the food chain, potentially permanently.

Selenium is very unevenly dispersed on land masses worldwide, ranging from deficient to toxic concentrations, with 70% to 80% of global agricultural lands considered to be deficient. Countries dominated by selenium-poor soils include Canada, Western and Eastern European, China, Russia, and New Zealand. Worldwide selenium-deficient soils are widespread, and increasing.

Naturally selenium-rich soils are primarily associated with marine environments. Ancient oceans leave behind dehydrated selenium salts as they recede. Here in Canada the receding salt waters of the Western Interior and Hudson seaways left mineral deposits from the Badlands of Alberta, following along the southern borders of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Some countries, including Finland and New Zealand, have added selenium (selenite) to fertilizer programs to fortify the soils with some success. Results show that only a small proportion of the selenium is taken up by plants and much of the remainder becomes bound up in non-bioavailable complexes out of reach for future plant utilization. On this basis, it is thought that large scale selenium biofortification with commercial fertilizers would be too wasteful for application to large areas of our planet. The geographic variability of selenium content, environmental conditions, and agricultural practices all have a profound influence on the final selenium content of our foods. Iodine, which works hand-in-hand with selenium, is even more randomly variable in soils and food crops.

The Globe and Mail ran the following January 2, 2020 headline: “Canadian researchers combat arsenic poisoning with Saskatchewan-grown lentils.” In 2012, it was estimated by the WHO that 39 million Bangladeshis were exposed to high levels of arsenic in their drinking water, and the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed Bangladesh’s arsenic poisoned groundwater crisis the “largest mass poisoning of a population in history.” As it turns out, the lentils from southern Saskatchewan accumulate enough selenium that they could be used as a “food-medicine” in Bangladesh as a cure for arsenic poisoning. Clinical trials conducted from 2015 to 2016 found that participants eating selenium-rich lentils had a breakthrough moment when urine samples confirmed that arsenic was being flushed from their bodies. Other studies have also shown that selenium binds to mercury to remove it from the body.

Now that we are finally wrapping our minds around the fact that our personal health depends on just the right amount of selenium, we find out that the health of future generations may depend on it even more. It takes more than one parent’s generation to produce a single child. While a female fetus is growing in the womb, the eggs of the gestating mother’s grandchildren are also being formed in the ovaries of the fetus. The viability of the grandchildren’s DNA is protected from oxidative stress damage by antioxidant selenium. Oxidative stress on the new DNA could potentially result in epigenetic changes for future generations. The selenium intake of the grandparent directly affects the grandchildren. From this point of view, it is seen as imperative that all childbearing people have access to sufficient selenium. Selenium is essential for healthy spermatogenesis and for female reproductive health, as well as the brain formation of the fetus. In short, humanity is dependent on selenium for health—now and forever.

The world’s selenium resources are scarce and need to be carefully managed for future generations. Since both the human and livestock food chains are being fortified with this scarce resource, the manures from these sources are worth more then their weight in gold. The natural cycles of returning resources dictates that livestock manures need to be guided back into the soil for crop production. Human biosolids can be guided into fiber crops or forest production. Over time, livestock manures will fortify the soils with all of the micronutrients passing through their systems. Human manures passing through fiber crops can eventually be composted and recycled into crop production, returning selenium continually to the human micronutrient supply chain.

Waste not, want not.


Marjorie Harris, IOIA VO and concerned organophyte.

References:
Evans, I., Solberg, E. (1998). Minerals for Plants, Animals and Man, Agri-Fax Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development: agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex789/$file/531-3.pdf?OpenElement
Haug, A., et al. (2007). How to use the world’s scarce selenium resources efficiently to increase the selenium concentration in food, Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease: Dec 19: 209 – 228. DOI: 10.1080/08910600701698986
Jagoda, K. W., Power, R., Toborek, M. (2016). Biological activity of
selenium: Revisited, IUBMB Life – Review: Feb;68(2):97-105. DOI: 10.1002/iub.1466
Brown, K.M., Arthur, J.R. (2001). Selenium, Selenoproteins and human health: a review, Public Health Nutrition: Volume 4, Issue 2b pp. 593-599. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1079/PHN2001143
Harthill M., (2011). Review: Micronutrient Selenium Deficiency Influences Evolution of Some Viral Infectious Diseases, Biol Trace Elem Res. 143:1325–1336. DOI: doi.org/10.1007/s12011-011-8977-1
Zhang, J. et al. (2020). Association between regional selenium status and reported outcome of COVID-19 cases in China, Am J Clin Nutr. doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa095.
Carbert, M., (2020). Canadian researchers combat arsenic poisoning with Saskatchewan-grown lentils, The Globe and Mail: theglobeandmail.com/canada/alberta/article-canadian-researchers-combat-arsenic-poisoning-with-saskatchewan-grown/
Sears, M.E. (2013). Chelation: Harnessing and Enhancing Heavy Metal Detoxification—A Review, The Scientific World Journal. doi.org/10.1155/2013/219840

11th Annual Organic Week Celebrations!

in 2020/Current Issue/Fall 2020/Organic Community

Canadian Organic Trade Association’s 11th Annual Organic Week

Karen Squires

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to Participate

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

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

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

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

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


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

Organic Stories: Lasser Ranch, Chetwynd BC

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

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

Jolene Swain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Changing the Climate Conversation through Agriculture

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

Julia Zado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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