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Organic Standards: The Process and the Principles

in 2020/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

Rebecca Kneen, BC board representative to the Organic Federation of Canada

Once upon a time, we in BC wrote our own organic standards. Those of us with the inclination got together regularly to figure out the problems and decide how best to address them while staying true to our principles. Every year, at the COABC conference, we’d debate all the proposed changes to the standards. Some of us will never forget the epic eight-hour discussions we had about treated posts, and the many-year discussions on poultry standards!

It was a tremendous group effort, and a huge amount of thought and work went into it—and it created the bonds which still hold COABC together. 

In 2009, after long discussion throughout the organic community, we collectively decided that a national organic standard was necessary. More and more products labelled as “organic” were coming into Canada, with no verification as to their actual quality or how it would compare to our own standards. Even within Canada, most provinces lacked their own certification regulations. The goal was to create a robust, thoughtful, and ethical standard which could be used to improve the quality and scope of organic production within Canada, and a measurement to accept or reject incoming goods as equivalent organic quality. The BC and Quebec standards formed the basis of the current rules—and the system has been evolving ever since, as techniques, resources, and markets have changed.

Most of us are concerned about the standards themselves—the rules about what, how much, how often. We refer to them when we are looking at such things as a new process, crop input, sanitizer or cleaner, or when we are designing a new livestock barn. We check them right after our annual inspection, when the Verification Officer (VO) references a particular section and we need to understand it. Sometimes we read the Q&A when the E-News comes out and we realize that there might be something that affects our farm. What we mostly DON’T do is think about how these standards are created and who’s involved—unless we think a new decision is wrong. In order to understand why certain decisions are made, we need to understand the structure, membership, and pressures in the organic system.

So, who is it that is looking after the standards? What pressures do they operate under, who’s the boss, and how do we make sure that our standards embody the ethics and values that created the organic idea in the first place? This is where we get to play the acronym game.

The Canada Organic Regime (COR) is the system of organic certification. It has two parts: enforcement and regulation. The entire system is part of the “Safe Food for Canadians” act, and is enforced by (in descending order): the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the Conformity Verification Bodies (CVB) like COABC’s Accreditation Board, and finally Certifying Bodies (members of COABC such as NOOA, FVOPA or the for-profit CBs such as Eco-Cert). The regulations apply to any product that moves between provinces or internationally that carries the COR logo.

The Canadian Organic Standards themselves are owned by the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) which makes the rules about how frequently the standards must be updated and the process used. The CFIA establishes organic equivalency agreements with other countries (Japan, USA, EU, Switzerland, Costa Rica). The Standards are owned by a government agency but reviewed every five years in collaboration with the organic industry. CGSB staff are not knowledgeable about organic agriculture; they only verify the review process and have nothing to do with the content.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road for most of us: the standards writing and review process. The top level of this process is the Standards Interpretation Committee (SIC). 

The CFIA created the SIC to resolve conflicts between CBs and producers. The SIC is made up of appointed members from across the organic sector and is managed by the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC). You will have seen the many lists of questions put to the SIC: the answers published on the OFC website are legally enforceable. CBs and producers have to comply with SIC decisions, as per the CFIA Operating Manual. The OFC ensures that SIC members have the required expertise and deep knowledge of a variety of areas of organic agriculture and processing, and provides guidance to the SIC.

The CGSB appoints its own Technical Committee, also made up of industry experts, but in this case,  they are selected by the CGSB not by the OFC. This committee has the power to modify the standards, whereas the SIC can only clarify the meaning of the standards. The Technical Committee analyzes recommendations from the SIC and the OFC Working Groups or the public when an amendment or a full review of the standards is launched.

The OFC working groups are made up of volunteers from across the country with expertise in specific areas. There are working groups for livestock, specific crops, and so on. Petitions for changes to the standards are received by the OFC, then brought to the various working groups for discussion, research, and recommendation. The working groups have up to 20 members, all participating in the entire process of reviewing questions and petitions for changes. They are able to do their own research and to share information widely. This is not a secret process!

In previous standards reviews, proposals have been received on a huge range of issues. As an example of how the working group works, one proposal received in the last round requested that the use of non-organic manure be prohibited, another that manure from non-organic sources including confined livestock or stock kept in the dark be permitted. In the first case, the proposal was rejected because there is a large deficit in the supply of organic manure, and such a restriction would create a huge barrier to organic production. In the second case, the proposal was also rejected on the grounds that the petition would weaken the standards and erode public confidence.

There are many areas where this process can be influenced in any direction. The membership of the working groups, technical committee, and SIC itself can be manipulated (intentionally or not). How questions are grouped for presentation to the working groups, and which resources are used will influence the outcome. 

The OFC is serious about upholding organic values and principles. In soliciting members for the working groups, we aim for skilful, balanced representation with people whose interests go beyond short-term financial gain. We try to balance technical expertise with breadth of experience, large and small producers, cross-country representation, and commitment to organic principles. 

There is a lot of pressure on all parts of the organic industry to allow more money to be made, to loosen regulations so that they are “more accessible”, and to allow foreign influence on our standards. The recent move by the USA to push for Canada to include hydroponics in the organic standards is one example. In this case, the OFC, Canada Organic Growers (COG) and the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) collectively repudiated this move (see the excerpted letter in this issue of the BCOG). We’re also seeing livestock standards pressured to allow more confinement and less outdoor access, and crop standards pushed to allow indoor growing without natural sunlight.

The three national industry groups (OFC, COG, and COTA) are working together to find more ways to inextricably embed our principles into the entire regulation and the processes for amendment. 

What this really needs is support from our membership: from you. We need more people to volunteer for the working groups and the CGSB Technical Committees. We need you to put your expertise and ethics to work for the whole community. You don’t need to be a world-renowned expert, you just need to want to work, learn and do a lot of reading and talking. Most of all, you need to want to support the community that supports you. 

Contact Nicole at the Organic Federation of Canada to find out how to volunteer for any of these committees: nicole.boudreau@organicfederation.ca

Read more:

Organic Federation of Canada

Canadian Organic Growers

Canada Organic Trade Association

Rebecca’s parents led her down the sheep track to food sovereignty and food systems analysis through their Ram’s Horn magazine and Brewster’s many books. She farms and brews in Secwepemc Territory at Left Fields/Crannóg Ales and is COABC’s representative to the Organic Federation of Canada.

Re: Official position of the Canadian Organic sector on Hydroponics being considered in organic 

Excerpts from the full letter:

“We stand united and unequivocally reject the allowance of hydroponics by the Canada Organic Regime (COR) for sale in Canada and for export to other trading partners. The very notion of being asked to articulate why hydroponics is banned from COR is similar to being asked why we would ban synthetic pesticides, genetically engineered seeds and have built humane treatment of animals into the organic standards.

The global definition of organic (despite the USA’s National Organic Program recent ruling permitting hydroponics) prohibits hydroponics. In fact, there is a court hearing challenging the NOP’s permittance of hydroponics currently in the US court system as the USDA’s allowance of hydroponics is a fundamental shift away from the global norms of what is defined as organic. We fully support and stand behind the organic sector in the USA who is challenging the NOP/USDA for allowing this egregious act. 

The organic sector is a $5.4 billion market in Canada, with over a billion in export sales worldwide. The USA’s NOP hydroponic products are banned from all export sales due to not meeting international standards. We stand united in that we do not want any US hydroponically produced products entering Canada and lowering the public trust that we have worked to establish in Canada. We also do not accept or support the Canadian Horticulture Canada (CHC) and the Ontario Greenhouse Growers position that there is a trade harmonization concern. 

Our Canadian organic standards and US-Canada Equivalency Arrangement is absolutely clear that operators must adhere to Canadian standards and respect the details of the equivalency arrangement. The system has been set up banning hydroponics since 2009, calling out critical variances in our US- Canada Equivalency arrangement. It is of utmost concern if the Government of Canada wishes to alter the established organic standards and trade arrangement details that the organic sector has been functioning under (and strongly support). Amending the Canadian organic standard (or other mechanisms available to government) to permit organics to be produced through hydroponic methods would not only damage the trust and reputation of the Canadian organic label, but also override the research and decision reached by the Organic Agriculture Technical Committee. Any changes to current practises made without the consensus of the Technical Committee would be a breach of the consensual principles embedded in the policies and procedures of the Canadian General Standard Board. 

Our concern is that we risk retaining our respected global position in the organic marketplace and that significant trading partners, such as EU, Japan, Switzerland, would need to alter the equivalency arrangements we have with these markets should hydroponics in the organic system be permitted under any circumstances in Canada. With the court case ongoing in the USA, we certainly feel it would be detrimental to our sector to allow CHC’s argument of not being able to access the US market opportunity as a worthwhile argument to alter the standards/trade arrangement or create any policies which would change the current practise of banning all hydroponics under the COR. We support the horticulture sector accessing the US market with their conventionally grown produce but we diametrically oppose their position of trying to drag the Canadian organic sectors reputation down to the US’s “lowest common denominator” which is globally rejected and may be overturned through a court process. There is no other country in the world that permits hydroponics in their organic programs and it would be a fatal error to move in this direction for the sake of an opportunistic market opportunity.”

More reading: 



Protecting Organic Integrity

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Marketing/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

Karina Sakalauskas

We, as organic producers, retailers, stakeholders, academia, and government bodies, among others, will shape the future of the organic sector. We must be informed, connected, and vocal about our concerns and suggestions to maintain the integrity of the industry.

How are we working towards an improved future?

We might begin with a discussion of the new Organic Certification Regulation that came into effect in British Columbia on September 1, 2018. This regulation requires all producers and processors selling food and beverage products marketed in British Columbia as “organic” to be certified through an accredited federal or provincial program. The term “organic” is now a protected label within B.C. The aim of this regulation is to clarify the term “organic” for consumers, stakeholders, producers, and growers.

Previously, BC had a voluntary organic program, meaning operators could get organic certification but were not required to have it in order to make an organic claim. In 2009, the Federal Government adopted Organic Certification for any organic products crossing provincial or international borders. Other provinces, such as Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Alberta later adopted regulations that protected the use of the term organic for products produced, processed, and marketed within provincial boundaries.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture announced the Organic Certification Regulation in 2015 and provided three years of transition for the sector to come into compliance. During this time, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture worked closely with the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) on education and outreach about organics and the new regulation to support the sector.

What does this new regulation entail?

Producers and processors must have organic certification from an accredited certification body if they want to make any sort of organic claim on a product, including “grown following organic principles,” or “made with organic ingredients” Claims such as “uncertified organic” or “more than organic” are not permitted. Organic producers, processors, and others in the supply chain who use the ‘organic” protected label are expected to be able to provide proof of up-to-date certification upon request by a Ministry of Agriculture enforcement officer. Violations under the regulation will result in legal repercussions that could include tickets being issued ($350 fine) or court prosecutions against the seller.

What does this mean for the industry?

Greater clarity around what organic means is something consumers in B.C. have been requesting, and the Organic Certification Regulation is significantly contributing to promote and protect consumer confidence in B.C. organic products.

How do we contribute to the strength of the B.C. Organic sector?

One way we can protect the reputation of the BC Organic label is to ensure we follow the principles of organic integrity. Organic integrity is what separates organic food from non-organic food, referring to the adherence to organic standards at the production level, which must be maintained through handling to the point of final sale, for the final product to be labeled and/or marketed as organic.

What role does retail play?

Maintaining organic integrity through to retail sale is important. BC and Canada’s organic regulations require that the organic integrity of a product is not compromised in any stage of preparation or handling, which includes storing, grading, packing, shipping, marketing, and labelling. Retailer certification improves consumer trust and strengthens the organic label. The Ministry of Agriculture has published guidelines to provide clarity to operators, manufacturers, and retailers in BC on how to be compliant with BC’s Organic Certification Regulation.

How can we sustain this progress?

As an industry, we must continue to work together, learn from our experiences and be open to new perspectives. We must encourage communication between parties in the BC Organic Sector to ensure all groups, small or large, are well represented and have their needs addressed. This industry-wide collaboration helps to maintain organic integrity along the production chain.

You can find out more about BC’s amendments to current provincial regulation on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website.

If you have concerns of a business marketing agricultural products using the organic label, without organic certification, please contact AgriServiceBC at 1-888-221-7141 or AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca.

Karina is the Organic Specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at Karina.Sakalauskas@gov.bc.ca

All photos: Taken at a KPU event on July 5, 2019. Credit: Karina Sakalauskas.

Footnotes from the Field: Organic Supply Chain

in 2020/Crop Production/Footnotes from the Field/Organic Standards/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Integrity from Field to Fork

Marjorie Harris

COR Section 8: Maintaining organic integrity during cleaning, preparation and transportation

Operators are responsible for maintaining organic integrity at all points of the market supply chain, from production through point of sale to the final consumer.

Organic product integrity, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s fork, is maintained through an organic product supply chain that identifies critical control points where preventive and protective measures are taken to prevent co-mingling or contamination of the organic product. The organic supply chain’s integrity control points are often designated with signage as a prevention and control measure that follows the organic product through production and handling to the consumer. The organic supply chain is verified for integrity and compliance during the organic inspection.

What are the attributes of organic products whose integrity are being protected throughout the supply chain?

IFOAM’s Four Principles of Organic Production provides a vision of organic production as a sociologically and ecologically integrated food production system for a healthy planet:

  • Principle of Health: Healthy soil, plants, animals, and humans equal a healthy planet;
  • Principle of Fairness: Equity, respect, and justice for all living things;
  • Principle of Ecology: Emulating and sustaining natural systems; and
  • Principle of Care: For the generations to come.

Certified organic foods produced following these principles gain these intrinsic philosophical attributes as well as measurable characteristics. The consumer’s confidence in the ability of organic production to provide premium quality foods is directly linked to the consumers positive perception of organic integrity being maintained in all aspects of the organic supply chain.

Here in BC, the 2018 implementation of enforceable provincial regulations governing the use of the label “organic” in the marketplace reinforces positive public perception and confidence in organic foods as premium products. Nationally, the Canadian organic industry has won a strong ally and partner with skills and tools for oversight and monitoring the organic supply chain—as of Jan 15th, 2019, the Canada Organic Regime (COR) regulations are in force as Part 13 of Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
CFIA is responsible for the compliance verification and enforcement of Part 13 of SFCR COR regulations. Oversight and management mechanisms include:

  • Organic Certification Bodies (CBs) are accredited by Conformity Verification Bodies (CVBs). COABC is a CVB.
  • CVBs are designated and audited by CFIA.
  • As per Directive 14-01 (see sidebar), organic products are selected at random or by cause for chemical residue testing as part of CFIA’s chemical residue monitoring and surveillance programs.
  • All pesticide violations in excess of Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs) are investigated by CFIA.

Directive 14-01 specifies the criteria and timelines for reporting that a CB shall follow when CFIA delivers positive chemical residue results from an organic product. CFIA has set the actionable range for CBs from below < 0.01 ppm to above 5% of an applicable MRL for the specified pesticide.

Continued growth in the organic sector relies in part on consumer confidence in the delivery of a chemical residue free organic product. Chemical residue testing and monitoring of the organic supply chain has intensified as the organic industry has grown and become regulated. Chemical residue testing has become the go-to tool for verifying that organic products are not contaminated. In the global marketplace organic producers are also dealing with the challenges of meeting additional chemical residue rules for private and off-shore organic certification regimes that are operating surveillance and testing programs within Canada.

Signage designating organic production is an important tool that provides risk reduction measures for preventing co-mingling and chemical contamination at critical control points. Here are a few anecdotal examples to illustrate key control points in organic market supply chain from field to fork:

  • The buffer zone is a critical control point, providing a “clearly defined and identifiable boundary area that separates an organic production unit from adjacent non-organic areas.” Signage along roadway buffers indicating “No Spray” and “Organic Farm” is often an effective method to alert local weed spray programs not to spray, although mistakes do still occur. One incident involved a well-signed buffer fence for organic livestock pasture. The livestock farmer had posted signs at each field corner post and in between as needed. The district Invasive Weed Program staff somehow sprayed through the buffer zone and a fair distance over the fence into the organic pasture. The farmer’s pregnant livestock were grazing in the pasture at the time and were exposed to the sprays. Unfortunately, this meant the herd had to be decertified and could not be sold as organic. The farmer had an avenue of legal recourse available for financial compensation because the signage was clearly visible on the pasture fence.
  • Chemical spray drifts are more likely to deposit residues onto organic fields that are not adequately protected by leafy hedgerows growing in the buffer zone. Some off-shore organic certification regimes hold more restrictive limits on chemical residues and send surveillance teams to take test samples of soil and plant tissues on crops destined for export markets. One farmer learned the hard way that planting thick vegetated buffers are worthwhile for preventing, or at least reducing, spray drift—when his crop tested positive for chemical residues, his contract was nullified.
  • Contamination can occur with packaging materials. COR Section 8.1.6 states that “organic product packaging shall: a) maintain organic product quality and integrity.” In one situation, imported berries became contaminated after being packed in conventional cardboard boxes for shipping. The country from which the berries were being imported sprays all cardboard boxes with fungicides as a common agricultural packing procedure. The trace amounts of fungicide left in the box transferred to the berries at detectable levels. Organic packaging needs to be clearly segregated and labeled as organic to prevent packaging mistakes.
  • COR speaks to the need for temporary signage to be attached to wagons or trucks to visibly identify a load when at-risk organic crops are being moved between bulk storage bins. A producer who had all of his organic documentation in order was able to be compensated full price for his organic crop when it was discovered to have residues from being comingled at the seed cleaning plant.
  • Contamination by chemical residues or plant-derived toxins can occur through a variety of mechanical primary and secondary processes such as cleaning, dehulling, scouring, polishing, pearling, milling, puffing, grinding, and splitting. Even though conventional equipment is cleaned or purged before the organic product is processed, CFIA has found that detectable residues are often transferred to the organic product. It is important for the organic industry to secure dedicated organic equipment to prevent theses residue transfers during processing.
  • Organic products shall be accompanied by the information specified in COR Section 8.4.2., including the product’s organic status and traceability information. The organic certificate establishes the product’s organic status and is an essential supply chain document. While conducting random surveillance, CFIA purchased imported grain from a grocery store and tested for residues—a shocker, almost two dozen pesticides were detected! Further investigations by the CB revealed that the bulk product had been purchased with solely an invoice stating “organic”. The supporting organic certificate did not accompany the sale. The product was not traceable and was very likely a case of fraudulent product.
  • The organic market supply chain depends on risk reduction measures to be implemented and actively monitored to prevent contamination and comingling. Everyone benefits when organic integrity is maintained, from the farmer to the final consumer, who can have full confidence in their choice of a premium organic product.

Directive 14-01 in Brief:

When a product contains chemical residues in excess of the Maximum Residue Limit, CFIA will follow-up on the non-compliance in addition to the CB. 

4.1 When chemical residues are detected below < 0.01 ppm:

  • the CB shall inform the operator that chemical residues are present
  • at the next scheduled inspection, the CB will assess why chemical residues were present and may sample for chemical residues
  • deliberate use of prohibited chemicals by an operator shall result in the CB initiating the suspension/cancellation process as per Part 13 of the SFCR

4.2 CB actions when chemical residues are detected:

1. Between 0.01 ppm and 5% of an applicable MRL (inclusive); or 

2. Between 0.01 ppm and 0.1 ppm if no MRL is specified (inclusive),

  • the CB shall inform the operator that chemical residues are present;
  • the CB shall assess why chemical residues were present and shall sample products currently available at the operation or production site for chemical residues no later than the next scheduled inspection. If the affected lot is not available, a different lot should be sampled. If the affected product is not available, a similar product should be sampled;
  • if the inspection and sampling indicate continued presence of prohibited chemicals which is not due to deliberate use, the CB shall issue a non-conformity (NC) and request corrective action within a specified time frame;
  • if the inspection and sampling indicate deliberate use of prohibited chemicals by an operator, the CB shall initiate suspension/cancellation of the operation as per Part 13 of the SFCR; and 
  • the CB shall report findings to the CFIA through their CVB by using the CFIA standardized reporting template within 60 working days from the inspection.

4.3 CB actions when chemical residues are detected:

1. Above 5% of an applicable MRL; or

2. Above 0.1 ppm if no MRL is specified,

  • the CB shall immediately schedule an inspection and initiate an investigation to determine why chemical residues are present;
  • the CB shall conduct additional sampling of products currently available at the operation or production site as part of the investigation. If the affected lot is not available, a different lot should be sampled. If the affected product is not available, a similar product should be sampled; and
  • if the inspection and sampling indicate continued presence of prohibited chemicals which is not due to deliberate use, the CB shall issue a non-conformity (NC) and request corrective action within a specified time frame. Products shall lose their organic certification status as per section 7.11.1 (b) of ISO/IEC 17065 if chemical residues are detected above 5% of an applicable MRL OR above 0.1 ppm if no MRL is specified.

Further reading:
inspection.gc.ca/food/requirements- and-guidance/organic-products/ guidance-documents/directive-14-01/eng/1398462727461/1398462789113
inspection.gc.ca/food/requirements- and-guidance/organic-products/operating- manual/eng/1389199079075/1554143470958?chap=2

Marjorie Harris, BSc, IOIA VO and Organophyte.

Record Keeping: The Secret to Farm Business Success?

in 2020/Crop Production/Marketing/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Andrew Adams

As I sit here in my slightly chilly office typing away on the computer, analyzing data from the past year and comparing other years of similar climatic conditions, all I can think is, “How would I be able to make the important business decisions I make each year without the data and evidence to support my hypothesis?”

Aside from the importance of having impeccable records for our organic inspection (Hey, you have to pay your inspector so it’s best to have good records!), the benefits of keeping good records far outweighs the challenges of staying on top of them, especially during the peak of the season in late July early August when the days are as long as are the list of chores.

Organic certification is not just a marketing tool (though some may use it as such). Think of it as a best practices guideline. By adhering to organic record keeping requirements you can make decisions to be proactive instead of reactive in situations that may arise on your operation, whether you’re hit with a pest outbreak or working out nutrient management for a new crop.

This year was a heck of a rainy year across good portions of British Columbia. Thanks to our record keeping, we have data from wet years and years of incredible drought. When the weather man says get your slickers out for the season, we know which crops will thrive in which fields, who can handle wet feet and who can’t—and we plant crops accordingly. Because we know which varieties do best in the varying conditions on our farm, the records lead us through the storm. This ability comes only with time, observational skills and record keeping. Data not only allows us to be more profitable, but also to tread lightly on the land that provides us with so much, which in the end is the most important factor.
In the early years of our farm, I kept a journal with tons of notes of damn near everyday throughout the season. I want to preface this with We’ve been on our property since October of 2011, certified since 2013, and farming full-time for nearly five years. It was a long road to get where we are now and we are still evolving and adapting as all farms should if they are too become or stay viable businesses. In the beginning, our notes were small, choppy details about what was going on, from weather to purchases, etc. I believe this is common for most farmers getting started, and even some seasoned vets.

Seeing my methods from an outside perspective, my beautiful wife (and my biggest cheerleader) suggested I check out the e-book Record Keeping for Organic Growers by Canadian Organic Growers (COG)—upon investigating, I found that COG provides free spreadsheets for record keeping. With a little editing, I was able to customize the spreadsheets to my liking and needs. My scattered notes and receipts now became organized, my thoughts and actions became more linear. In the words of Ben Hartman, “I straightened my spaghetti noodle,” thus reducing wasted time.


Taking a lean approach to making record keeping efficient and easy is essential, or you can end up spending more time going over data than you spend pulling weeds from the carrot patch. Reluctantly, I took a stab at looking at how much time I spend writing data down (we used to do in on paper spreadsheets) in our pack station during any “field operation” then in the fall transfering it to an excel spreadsheet. It was several days of simply punching keys—which is not the most glorious part of farming. I also still carried my notebook everywhere just in case. After balancing the time I was spending with paying myself a modest wage for that time, it made sense for me to purchase a tablet, incorporate all the spreadsheets on the tablet, and have it saved in real time to the cloud. We also bought a big fancy WiFi router to get internet across most of the farm so that everyone on the farm could enter data directly.
If something is difficult or abrasive, we don’t like to do it. Data collection and records need to be made easy if they are going to happen. Like recycling, if it’s a difficult chore, it won’t get done. The investment paid for itself that first season in the number of hours I saved transcribing data. With these extra hours, I can place myself in more valuable tasks on the farm—or simply have more family time.

Another great time saver has been Square, the software that we use to take debit, credit and generally do market sales. In the past we would hand tally all products sold at the market and we didn’t have the ability to take credit or debit. After seeing how many customers wanted to pay with plastic, and the lost sales due to our inability to accept, we started using Square on our tablet. Not only can we now take plastic payments but Square sets up a cash register and tracks all product sales and what times they sell. Square also allows us to make and send invoice to restaurants that they can pay online, and even reminds them when they are late on payment. All of these sales records are important so that organic inspectors have traceability of all your products, and Square does it for you easy peasy.

If you want to get even more efficient, and spend less time on tracking input purchases, Quickbooks can be synced to your credit or debit card. After you categorize certain purchases, the algorithm will start placing your purchases in categories automatically and can spit out a report at any time. This helps with tax time come end of the season, and tracks your crops profitability in real time. I’ve yet to use Quickbooks but I will be moving in that direction—every time I save myself the hassle of doing paperwork I can then spend it with my family or doing more valuable tasks on the farm.

I know some records don’t really change from year to year but…they might, and your inspector needs to ensure you are being diligent. So, wherever you can, save time, and when you can’t, ensure it is time you have allocated as part of your business expense. Keeping diligent records is not something only organic farm businesses have to do, it’s what all business must do to be successful. Without good record keeping you are just guessing when it comes to business decisions. Guessing is what weather forecasters do, not successful businesses. Farming is difficult enough of a profession, so give yourself an edge, invest in easy ways to keep records, and make good decisions based on sound logic and not emotion.

Andrew Adams farms at Hope Farm Organics with his wife Janie. Andrew has a BSc in Agriculture from Kansas State University and Janie has a BEd. After seeing the state of food security and agriculture in the north the two felt obligated to make real change in the form of organic food production and thus created Hope Farm in 2011.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Peeking Behind the Wall

in 2020/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Past Issues/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Anna Helmer

Before I get rolling on this, the fourth installment of Biodynamic Farm Story, I need to remind anyone still reading that I am pushing this farming method because I believe in it. It works for the plants, the soil, the farm, the people, and the world. I think it should be in the very thick of the mix at any conversation about the future of farming. Just so we are clear.

In this article, I will approach the odder, less willingly grasped aspects of Biodynamics. I am doing so because you can’t write about Biodynamic farming without talking about things like stars, planets, and esoteric life force theories. It’s like calling yourself a potato farmer but not growing a red potato. Further elaboration on this metaphor will not be provided.

There is an upside. While I cringe trying to seriously relate certain aspects of Biodynamic practice to skeptical farmers, I absolutely love that there is a farming method such as this one to hold in contrast to mainstream farming practices and the cheap, processed and ubiquitous food that emanates from them. For arguments sake, consider a Biodynamic can of pop. It would cost around $7,000, there would only be six produced per year, and probably it would be served in an earthenware bowl. The calculation is suspect. I had to account for all the Biodynamic Preparations and the years of using Biodynamic methods that would have to be applied to heal the earth from the assault of the chemicals necessary to make the high-fructose corn syrup. I have no idea. I know for certain, however, that the farms from which spring grocery store pop would struggle to produce even close to six other vegetables that could be eaten without processing.

The point, and I think I have one, is that Biodynamic farming offers a charming counterpoint. For every bit of nano-chemical, crop protection, and data science gobbledygook, Biodynamics has planetary conjunctions, compost preparations, and etheric formative forces. Both systems feed people but one is making them fat and sick, the other is not.

Digging up the horns containing BD 500.

I therefore insist that Biodynamic farming is totally legit, notwithstanding the fact that engaging in it requires leaps of faith, suspension of beliefs, and cognitive dissonance. It’s as easy as changing your mind. Those devoted to the cycle of soil testing and amending are not expected to cease those activities; they are merely asked to accept that they need to do more to enable their plants to access the infinite energies contained in the universe.

It’s secretly super easy to be a Biodynamic farmer. To start the transition, accept that lots of stuff goes on that you don’t know about and wouldn’t understand anyways. That done, move on to the idea that your plants probably understand the Biodynamic system better than you. Next steps: use the preparations, plan farming activities using the handy calendar provided, fill out your certification application papers, and provide the small fee in a timely fashion. That’s all there really is to becoming a Biodynamic farmer.

There is more, and some may wish to do more, and for them there is limitless scope and material available. Speaking for myself, I really have to admit that I find Biodynamic farming fun as long as I don’t have to think too hard about it.

As I expected would happen when I began this journey to acquire an understanding of how Biodynamics works, I have crashed hard into a wall of resistance around certain aspects of the practice. This is the same wall that most practical farmers, knowing it is there, avoid by avoiding Biodynamics entirely. I privately thought of it as the Wall of Woo-Woo. This was in error. I bungled through the Wall of Woo-Woo some time ago, right around the time I accepted as fact that the regular application of BD preparation 500 works both on the plants (allowing them to access the infinite energies of the universe) and also me (allowing me to understand that it’s been working all along whether I believed it or not).

The Wall of Woo-Woo was nothing compared to this one I find myself at right now. I might call this one the Wall of Wacko if I was in private. This is a different wall. It’s thicker, taller, and I have not found a way in.

I am not certain I want in.

I question whether I need in.

Really, I just don’t understand the concepts.

Behind this wall I find the advanced elements of Biodynamics. There are references to other, non-agricultural lectures given by Dr. Steiner in which I have not one whit of interest due to the fact I can’t follow the thread of the argument and potatoes are not mentioned once. There is elaborate reference to astrology and astronomy. There are practitioners who seem judgmental and vehemently devoted to doctrine. At least part of the strength of the wall lies in my strongly held pre-conceived notion that it would be impossible to be business-like once through the wall.

But the other day my dad said something that reminded me that there has already been a slight breach. Long story short, visitors to the farm had commented on the good feeling they experienced when walking the fields. Later on, Dad said that it was probably Grandma Anne (his mom, dead these 36 years) communicating from beyond. Huh? He was laughing as he said it, yet quite serious. It reminded me of why we have never cleared that perfectly farmable piece of land in the middle of the field: the same Grandma Anne said there were fairies there.

So. I have a direct relation who probably was totally in to all the stuff I can’t get my head around. Perhaps she is behind the wall. A spy, as it were. I might leave it at that.

Anna Helmer farms with her friends and family in the Pemberton Valley and continues to resist change and shy away from controversy.

Feature image: This is where the fairies live on this cut-throat business-like Biodynamic farm. All photos: Anna Helmer

Growing into the Future of Organics

in 2020/Organic Community/Tools & Techniques/Winter 2020

Administrative Director, Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA)

The future of organic is on everyone’s mind these days, and many conversations have circled around change. Recently, organic growers have been presented with several changes, from organic becoming a protected label to new online tools, which means we’ve all had to find time to grow (farm pun intended).

The regulation of the organic label last year has moved BC’s organic sector from a grassroots movement firmly into the realm of regulations, paper trail transparency, and auditing. Organic Certification has definitely evolved over the last 40 years. While full of positive changes, including a bigger organic sector, consumer demand for organic, and, most importantly, an ever-growing community of organic and food producers, this type of transition can be difficult for people who are conditioned to the founding philosophy of BC’s organic grassroots movement.

Although the requirement to follow these regulatory documents in detail can seem daunting and bureaucratic, we should view it as a communal commitment to do our best to identify potential areas where organic integrity may be at risk. The idea is that as an organic community, we want to continually improve our skills and products. But many changes all at once can cause ‘change fatigue,’ a sense of resignation people feel when faced with too much change, and thus result in decreased commitment.

In addition to the regulation of organic, record keeping skills have been pushed into the spotlight as the transition to digital means it is possible for every last detail to be captured and stored. Operators are being pushed to step up their game and ensure their records contain all the detail required by the regulations to ensure full transparency and accountability.

The introduction of pre-made templates for record keeping is an essential and valuable move to support producers with the demands of record keeping. These helpful, ready-to-use templates are being promoted for use by all Certifying Bodies (CBs) under the COABC umbrella.

If we can all use the same record keeping documents, it will increase consistency amongst BC’s organic producers and make the job of Certification Committees (CCs) and Verification Officers (VOs) more efficient, as they will not have to sift through various record keeping methods and formats. They will become familiar with the specific set of forms and where the information they are trying to find is located. This will also assist members if they need to transfer to a different CB, as the record trail will be the same for both CBs. Above all, record templates will help new members understand which information they are required to keep, and it means they don’t have to worry about developing their own records, while simultaneously developing their farming skills.

The online portal (iCertify) is a big change from days of handwritten documents being mailed in to CBs. Many folks have already transitioned to electronic documents over the last few years. Sending multiple files via sometimes-multiple, size-restricted emails can be time consuming and the risk is that file attachments and notes in email messages may not make it into an enterprise’s digital files. iCertify will eliminate lost files, as each document uploaded by an operator will be instantly stored securely and indefinitely on COABC’s own dedicated server, ready for retrieval by their CB administrator, CC, or VO. It means operators will also have access to all their current and previous application and renewal answers and all previously uploaded documents anytime with the click of a button. This is a future change that will initially require some training and new skills development, but in short order it is bound to make certification easier for everyone involved in the process.

With many changes in the organic sector, we must keep in our minds that our goal, as a community, is to continue to improve organics and make our processes more efficient. We cannot allow change fatigue to hold us back. Instead, we should strive to be adaptive and view future changes in organics as a continual evolution.

We want to maintain the feeling of community with our fellow organic growers, and not allow that connection to get lost in regulatory documents and feelings of scrutiny. We need to hold on to some of our past as we evolve into the future. We cannot forget that people choose to grow organically, not only as a profit seeking initiative, but because they share a belief in the values and philosophies of organic, for the health of ourselves and the world.

The beauty we must remember is that we all get to have our say in the ongoing development of the organic standards via the standards review process.

We are still a community. We are just bigger.

Stay tuned for iCertify updates!

Islands Organic Producers Association (IOPA): certifying farms on Vancouver Island and Surrounding Islands since 1990.

Funding for iCertify 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.

Organic Summit 2019

in COABC Blog

COABC’s Executive Director, Jen Gamble, was in Ottawa on Nov. 18 and 19 for the Canada Organic Trade Association’s Organic Summit. This annual two-day event offers an opportunity to learn what’s going on in Canada’s organic sector and network with industry members via presentations, roundtable discussions and workshops.

This year’s theme was “Organic is part of the Solution,” which delved into the United Nations’ sustainable development goals and the link to organic. To bring the theme to life, COTA partnered with Dutch organic specialist Eosta to dig deeper into the new report, Organic Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Here are a few highlights from the event:

  • Dag Falck, President of COTA, spoke about Organic 3.0 and the need for clarity and balance in the messaging. The organic sector is in a position to share the learnings of 30+ years experience to widen the impact of organic practices and encourage those not yet certified to adopt sustainable practices
  • Andy Hammermeister from the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada (OACC) made the connection between organic agriculture and Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water
  • Stats Canada representatives presented the new data they’ve been able to collect on the organic fruit and vegetable sector and how these numbers can help the organic sector leverage government funding
Dag Falck, President of COTA

One of the most memorable sessions was the discussion on how to bring Social Fairness into the Organic Standard. At the moment it is an information piece attached to the standard but the hope is that with further discussion, it will become embedded in the standard itself.

This has its roots at the COABC conference session when Raul Gatica of the Migrant Workers’ Dignity Association gave the participants insight into the plight of the migrant workers. From there, Anne Macey wrote a late submission to the standards review process, which we believe is an addendum now.  The discussion is continuing and our hope is that the organic sector will become leaders in agriculture on this issue.

Thanks to COTA for putting on such an important event. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Feature image: Tobias Blandel, Keynote Speaker


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