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organic standards

Reflections on the History of Organic BC

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

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

Robert Hettler – Pilgrim’s Produce

Board member from 1993 to 1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paddy Doherty – West Enderby Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenn Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

Board member 1997-2001

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

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

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

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

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

Deb Foote – The Organic Grocer

Board member 2004-2008

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

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

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

Hermann Bruns – Wild Flight Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carmen Wakeling – Eatmore Sprouts

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

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

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

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

Keep up the good work everyone!


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

In Memory of Dave McCandless

in 2022/Current Issue/Organic Community/Spring 2022

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

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

They are remembered, and live on in our work.

Dave McCandless (1934 – 2021)

By Medwyn McConachy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Federal Government Set to Abandon Organic Agriculture

in 2021/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Organic Standards/Standards Updates

By Jim Robbins

The Canadian government is dropping funding for the review and interpretation of the Canadian Organic Standards (COS). The Standards must be updated every five years in order to remain relevant to evolving organic practice and in order to be useful in organic equivalency agreements with other countries.

Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC) did contribute significantly to the 2015 and 2020 reviews of the COS, but it has alerted the organic sector that it will not fund any future reviews and will insist that the organic industry pay for this mandatory process, a budget of over $1M every five years. Moreover, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau has confirmed that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will drop funding of the Standards Interpretation Committee, which has been funded since 2009 by the CFIA. This committee resolves disputes between certification bodies and organic operators, and prevents fraud and misinterpretation of organic practices.

AAFC claims that they support maintenance of assurance systems related to sustainability as they look to make industry more resilient and competitive, and that there is much to be drawn from the organic sector. They argue that they have funded projects submitted by organic organizations for market development, strengthening of organic supply chains, development of the National Organic Ingredient Strategy, and a few other projects over the past ten years.

However, without the COS, which is the skeleton of the whole organic industry, these contributions will have no future impact. A lapsed Standard will not convince consumers to buy Canadian organic food, nor will it convince importers of organic food in other countries to buy Canadian; in fact, it will make it impossible.

American and European organic operators do not have to lobby their respective governments every five years for funding of the maintenance and enforcement of their organic standards. On the contrary, the United States Department of Agriculture directly funds the administration of their National Organic Program. The European Commission has a Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, which is responsible for developing and managing the European Union organic production framework, including an expert group for technical advice.

Organic agriculture is recognized as an efficient tool for reducing greenhouse gases, building soils, and enhancing biodiversity. Amid a summer of drought and fires threatening food production in many Canadian provinces, organic systems offer a method of reducing agriculture’s impact on the environment while sustainably producing high quality food.

However, without an ongoing organic standard defining what organic production systems are, and without a fair enforcement mechanism protecting organic integrity, organic agriculture lacks the tools that it needs to maintain growth and provide the ecological services it is capable of producing.


Jim is an organic producer from Delisle, Saskatchewan, growing field crops and raising cattle. He has been President of the Organic Federation of Canada since 2016.

Feature image: Photo: Seedlings at Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks

Welcome to Organic BC

in 2021/Fall 2021/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards

By Stacey Santos

The Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) is now officially Organic BC! In early July, we launched our new website and brand, and along with it, new opportunities for growth, collaboration, and inclusivity.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about the journey and why we decided to undertake such a massive project—one that unexpectedly coincided with the onset of COVID-19 in our province, making it an exceptionally busy and challenging year!

The driving force behind the major change was the fact that our brand and website no longer accurately represented our organization. We outgrew them. They remained securely in place while we expanded, adapted, and continued to accomplish so many excellent things for our members and the organic sector.

And so, the journey began to create a fresh, revitalized, and inviting presence that truly reflects our community and our organization. In the spirit of COABC’s grassroots origins, the Organic BC project was a team effort that brought together staff, members, and volunteers. It’s not easy to build a new website from scratch along with a new brand, but our team really came together to navigate the challenges with experience, creativity, and a much-needed sense of humour.

Deciding on a name was perhaps the easiest part of this project. Organic BC is a reflection of our vision, toward an organic British Columbia, and invites everyone, from organic farmers and farmers-to-be, to consumers and government, to be a part of our community. We worked with an amazing designer, Sandra Hanson, to bring our vision to life. Our logo font is vintage, a nod to our roots, and brings visual interest and a natural, earthy feel.

A lush farmers market display at UBC Farm. Credit: Hannah Lewis.

An important note on our new name: Organic BC is our public-facing brand. Currently, all accreditation activities, internal documentation from the Accreditation Board, and certification body documentation will remain as is and does not need to be updated from COABC to Organic BC. That said, if there are any references to COABC in logos, text, or links on your website/materials, please update those!

The new website, built by a Vernon-based web company, was created with community in mind, and features new tools for organic farmers, prospective organic farmers, consumers, and anyone looking to learn more about what it means to be organic. It connects users to educational events and job postings and offers the latest information and resources on organic agriculture, certification, and opportunities to get involved and help shape the sector.

We’ve spent the last couple of months settling into our new brand and website and are now focused on unleashing the potential of our hard work. We thank everyone for your support during this journey and we can’t wait to take Organic BC to new heights!

We invite you to explore our website, get involved in the #thisisorganicbc community on social media, and celebrate with us as we continue to champion and advocate for a healthy, diverse and resilient food system.

Instagram: @thisisorganicbc
Facebook: @thisisorganicbc
Twitter: @thisisorganicbc
LinkedIn: thisisorganicbc

Stay Connected

We have heard that some of our emails have gone to people’s spam folders. To ensure you keep getting important updates from us, please check that @organicbc.org email addresses are marked as safe.


Funding for Organic BC’s website and online tools has been provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

Featured image: Erin at Fierce Love Farm with carrot harvest. Credit: Fierce Love Farm.

Regenerative Agriculture is the Way of the Future

in 2021/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Spring 2021

Certification is Helping Define Best Practices

Travis Forstbauer

This article first appeared in Country Life in BC and is reprinted here with gratitude.

Soil health is the foundation of any healthy organic farm. While modern agriculture has primarily focused on nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, soil health from an organic perspective focuses on the health and diversity of microscopic and macroscopic life in the soil.

The foundation of all life is carbon, so on an organic farm, soil health can often be directly related to soil organic matter (soil carbon). So, it is with cautious optimism that the BC Association for Regenerative Agriculture (BCARA) welcomes the renewed focus on regenerative agriculture.

Use of the term “regenerative agriculture” has exploded over the past few years. However, this is not a new philosophy. In North America, Indigenous peoples had been practicing forms of regenerative agriculture for thousands of years before the Europeans came and settled. In more recent times, during the early 20th century after the industrialization of agriculture, European farmers were noticing significant decreasing crop yields. Rudolf Steiner attributed this in part to depleted soil health and gave instruction that laid the foundation for biodynamic agriculture, a regenerative system of agriculture dedicated to building soil life.

Then through the mid to late 20th century, pioneers like J.I. Rodale, Lady Balfour, Robert Rodale, and the lesser-known Ehrenfried Pfeiffer championed organic agriculture practices that, at their heart, were regenerative. Through the 1980s and 1990s this movement blossomed to what is known as organic agriculture.

In 1986, as part of the early organic agriculture movement, a group of farmers in the Fraser Valley organized themselves to create the BCARA. An early definition of regenerative agriculture that they settled on was:

BCARA went on to become a leader in the early organic movement in BC, where, at the grassroots of organic agriculture, was the belief that every organic farm should strive to be regenerative in its practices. Soil health expressed as life in the soil, has always been the foundation of organic agriculture.

“Regenerative Agriculture is both a philosophy and a farm management system. Philosophically, it says that there is within people, plants, animals and the world itself a way of recovery that both comes from within and carries the recovery process beyond previous levels of well-being. Robert Rodale says, “Regeneration begins with the realization that the natural world around us is continually trying to get better and better.

Over the past 30 years much has changed in both organic and conventional agriculture and over the past few years the term “regenerative agriculture” has been loosely used for a variety of farming systems. There is a general understanding that a regenerative farming system captures carbon and helps to mitigate climate change. There are many organizations that have jumped onto this wave of regenerative agriculture. But the term “regenerative agriculture” is not regulated like the term organic. There is no governing body overseeing the use of this term and as a result it has been loosely used and often misused and this is of concern to BCARA.”

Travis Forstbauer on the farm. Credit: Forstbauer Farm

There are some that believe that no-till agriculture systems are more regenerative than organic systems that perform some tillage. However, we fundamentally disagree with this assertion. Many of these no-till systems still rely on toxic herbicides such as glyphosate, and while we applaud agriculture producers’ actions to build soil life, capture carbon, and mitigate climate change, BCARA holds the position that any form of agriculture with the goal to be regenerative should have a foundation of organic practices.

BCARA believes that the healthiest, cleanest food is produced in a regenerative agricultural system, without the use of herbicides, pesticides, and agrochemicals. Regenerative agriculture strives to be a closed loop system whereas the production of these agrochemicals is CO2 intensive and are often produced long distances from the farm.

In the US, a regenerative agriculture standard has been developed called Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC). This certification requires the operation to be certified organic to be designated as regenerative. Certification is on a tiered system of bronze, silver, and gold. The farm is granted certification based on how many regenerative practices they use on their farm as defined in the ROC standard. It is our view that this is the gold standard of regenerative certification.

Currently, there are countless researchers, soil advocates, and organizations doing the much-needed work to shift the collective focus of agriculture towards regenerative practices. These people and organizations include Gabe Brown, Elaine Ingham, Matt Powers, Zach Bush of Farmers Footprint, Maria Rodale and the Rodale Institute, Ryland Engelhart and Finnian Makepeace from the film Kiss the Ground, the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the Canadian Organic Trade Association, and the list goes on and on.

Much like organic agriculture has evolved, the understanding of regenerative agriculture will continue to evolve and BCARA looks forward to being a leading voice for regenerative agriculture in BC.


Travis Forstbauer is president of BCARA, an organic certification body that certifies farms and businesses across the province of BC. He farms alongside his wife and children, his father Hans, his brother Niklaus and his family, sister Rosanna and many other family members throughout the growing season. Together they steward Forstbauer Farm, a multigenerational, certified organic, biodynamic farm located in Chilliwack.

Feature image: Cows in field. Credit: Forstbauer Farm

Certification Coordinator Welcomes New Online System With Open Arms!

in 2020/Grow Organic/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

Corinne Impey

When it comes to growing, organic certification, and supporting local operators, Cara Nunn could be considered an expert. She has also seen many changes over her 20-year career in the organic industry.

Cara is the Certification Coordinator for the North Okanagan Organics Association (NOOA) and the Similkameen Okanagan Organic Producers Association (SOOPA).

“My interest in growing began at a very young age as a child raised on a market garden in the Lake District of the Okanagan,” says Cara, who has a professional background in biogeography and experience working as a Managing Agrologist in the ginseng industry.

Cara started working with NOOA in 1997 and later expanded her work to include SOOPA. Now, nearly 23 years later, Cara continues to support organic growers and operators. Most recently, Cara has been helping her operators with the switch to iCertify, COABC’s newly launched online organic certification and renewal system. At the same time, she has been learning new skills and processes related to the administration of the online program.

“The system has come together better than I could have asked for,” says Cara. Having participated in the initial system development as well as many system demos, feedback gathering sessions, and testing, Cara played an active role in the project. “I really appreciate the input we had in developing the questions and format,” she says.

“The system is very robust and extremely capable,” says Cara. She acknowledges that at times, it can be a bit daunting, but “the iCertify Technical Advisor has been invaluable in getting answers and finding how to navigate the system.”

Regardless of any challenges related to learning a new system, she says the move to online certification is important. “I see the biggest benefit being an integrated location for all operator information: files, emails, communications, uploads, reports. Everything—chronological and orderly!”

“Record management has been heading this way for decades,” says Cara. “And the benefits go beyond the certification bodies.”

“The ability to provide details about our industry to government and funding bodies will provide a stronger voice for organics. It is also important for ourselves to have an integrated, clear system to verify integrity of organics to our own members and within our industry.”

Looking ahead, Cara is anticipating the launch of a new feature in iCertify: a database of approved inputs that will become available this summer. This database will be managed under the COABC umbrella of certification bodies and will be accessible to COABC members.

“To be able to offer an ongoing list of approved inputs and products throughout the community and have it accessible to our producers will keep the knowledge flowing,” says Cara. “It will also streamline the time involved in verifying products that may have already been looked at by another certification body.”

“Pooling resources and building community is a strength of the BC Certified Organic Program that I am happy to support.”


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: Cara Nunn building her new greenhouse. Credit: Maia Nunn

Footnotes from the Field: Fairness in Organic Agriculture

in 2020/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2020

Anne Macey

Originally published in The Canadian Organic Grower, Spring 2018, and updated by the author in May 2020, with thanks.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) has established its Principles of Organic Agriculture. Within those, IFOAM includes a Principle of Fairness, which states “Organic agriculture should be built on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.” The IFOAM text elaborates further, saying this principle “emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties—farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders, and consumers.”

Many of us have always thought of organic agriculture as a food system that includes social values, yet nothing in our standards speaks to social issues. The focus is very much on agronomic practices and permitted substances. Animal welfare is addressed, but when it comes to people and relationships, North Americans have resisted any suggestion that social justice standards are needed. The argument is that those kinds of standards are written for the global South where exploitation of the work force and poor working conditions are more common. The US and Canada have labour laws to protect farm workers.

I am not so sure, and in any case, fairness in the food system is about much more than treatment of farm workers. Fairness and basic rights include fair trade, fair pricing for the farmer, and fair access to land and seeds. It means fair wages for workers, decent farmworker housing, and more. I agree that incorporating social issues into standards could be problematic, but it is time we had a serious discussion about whether they are needed—and, if not, whether there is an alternative approach. How we can create trust and demonstrate that organic farmers respect their workers as much as the critters in the soil? How can we ensure farmers get a fair price for the quality food they produce?

Colleagues in the US (Michael Sligh, Elizabeth Henderson, and others) worked on these issues with the Agricultural Justice Project (see sidebar on Social Standards in Food Production), developing social stewardship standards for fair and just treatment of people who work in organic and sustainable agriculture. These standards currently fall into the realm of “beyond organic” with the stated purpose:

  • To allow everyone involved in organic and sustainable production and processing a quality of life that meets their basic needs and allows an adequate return and satisfaction from their work, including a safe working environment.
  • To progress toward an entire production, processing and distribution chain that is both socially just and ecologically responsible.1

Here in Canada, two things got me thinking more about the need to introduce something on the topic of fairness in the Canadian Standard. The first was hearing about the poor housing with no potable water for migrant workers on a fruit farm in the Okanagan (not an organic farm), despite laws being in place to protect those workers.

The second is the debate about farm interns and apprentice rights on organic farms. With high labour requirements, many organic farms depend on WWOOFers and other short-term interns for their work force. But sometimes the relationship sours and the workers end up feeling exploited. While many farmers commit to providing a rich and rewarding experience for their interns, in other cases conditions are less than ideal. An intern’s expectation will likely include learning what it takes to become a farmer, not just how to weed carrots.

Maybe we don’t need to spell out lots of specific requirements in the standards, but we could at least make some principled statements about the need for organic agriculture to provide fair working and living conditions for farmers and their workers, whatever their status. For years this type of approach was used in the livestock standards, without the need to spell out exactly what was needed for compliance. We only articulated more specific rules when consumers became unsure about the ability of organic agriculture to address animal welfare issues and started looking for other labels. We could also include statements about fair prices and financial returns for farmers or buyers’ rights to a good quality product.

Unfortunately, since writing this article not much has changed. To bring the discussion to the table, I made some proposals for the 2018 standards revision process. The Organic Technical Committee set up a task force on the topic but no agreement was reached, although it might end up as an informative appendix to facilitate the review in 2025. In the meantime, following a discussion at the 2020 COABC conference we wondered if COABC should conduct a pilot project which, if successful, could be brought forward to the 2025 standards review. Perhaps a first step might be for organic operators to have a “letter of agreement” or similar in the first language of their employees and interns committing the operator to uphold the principles of social fairness regardless of any other formal labour contract that might exist.

The conversation continues.


Social Standards in Food Production

Domestic Fair Trade: The Agricultural Justice Project is a member of the Domestic Fair Trade Association along with a wide range of farmworker and farmer groups, retailers, processors and NGOs from across North America. These groups are united in their mission to promote and protect the integrity of domestic fair trade.

Farmer Direct Co-op, a 100% farmer-owned, organic co-op based in Saskatchewan, was a leader in domestic fair trade, as the first business in North America to earn that certification. Its membership includes more than 60 family farms producing organic small grains and pulse crops in the Prairie region.

Domestic fair-trade certification is based on a set of 16 principles, encompassing health, justice, and sustainability:

  • Family scale farming
  • Capacity building for producers and workers
  • Democratic and participatory ownership and control
  • Rights of labor
  • Equality and opportunity
  • Direct trade
  • Fair and stable pricing
  • Shared risk & affordable credit
  • Long-term trade relationships
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Appropriate technology
  • Indigenous Peoples’ rights
  • Transparency & accountability
  • Education & advocacy
  • Responsible certification and marketing
  • Animal welfare

Source: Domestic Fair Trade Association

Aquaculture: The Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) includes social requirements in its standards certifying responsibly farmed seafood. “ASC certification imposes strict requirements based on the core principles of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), these include prohibiting the use of child labour or any form of forced labour. All ASC certified farms are safe and equitable working environments where employees earn a decent wage and have regulated working hours. Regular consultation with surrounding communities about potential social impacts from the farm and proper processing of complaints are also required by certified farms.”

Source: Aquaculture Stewardship Council


Anne Macey is a long-time advocate for organic agriculture at local, provincial, national and international levels. She has served on the CGSB technical committee on organic agriculture, the ECOA Animal Welfare Task Force, the COABC Accreditation Board and on the Accreditation Committee for the International Organic Accreditation Service, as well as her local COG chapter. She is a writer/editor of COG’s Organic Livestock Handbook, a retired sheep farmer, and a past president of COG.

References:
1. Agricultural Justice Project. 2012. Social Stewardship Standards in Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: Standards Document. agriculturaljusticeproject.org/media/uploads/2016/08/02/AJP_Standards_Document_9412.pdf

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

Footnotes from the Field: Improving Poultry Rations

in 2020/Footnotes from the Field/Grow Organic/Livestock/Organic Standards/Spring 2020

Improving Poultry Rations to Accommodate Natural Behaviours & Strengthen Supply Chains

Marjorie Harris

COR Section 6.4: Livestock feed
6.4.3 – Specific livestock rations shall take the following into account:
j) poultry and pigs shall be given vegetable matter other than grain;
k) poultry shall be fed daily…


Why did the chicken cross the road? To eat organic greens of course!

It is well understood that a very important natural behaviour of a healthy and happy hen’s lifestyle is to scratch and peck vegetation and dirt.

The COR standard 6.4.3 (j) states that poultry shall be given vegetable matter other than grain and (k) states they be fed daily.

While the wording and use of language of this standard has led to many confused looks and interpretations by the industry, the intent of this standard is to support the natural behaviours of poultry. It also begs the question, what kind of vegetable matter for poultry?

Thankfully, at the Roundtable Q & A session held at this years’ COABC conference, Anne Macey shared information to help clarify the standards pertaining to poultry nutrition and natural behaviours and how they relate to outdoor access, pasture, and vegetables.

Anne suggested an appropriate interpretation for the term ‘vegetable matter,’ would be ‘green matter,’ and that the simplest solution is to hang sufficient alfalfa/grass hay mesh bags/baskets in the barns for the birds to peck.

The reasons why the hanging hay bag/basket is the simplest and potentially the only current solution for providing green matter on a daily basis in today’s organic poultry industry are discussed here, including the supply chain disruption for organic alfalfa pellets.

Pasture constitutes one possible source of green matter. However, there are several limitations that affect the amount of time green matter can be consumed on pasture, such as weather conditions, season, and vegetation cover. Pasture vegetation can quickly be degraded to dirt by flocks eagerly scratching and pecking.

Requirements for outdoor access, and access to rotational pasture, contained in 6.7.1 (a & j); 6.13.1 (c (2)) are sometimes mistakenly thought to meet the green matter provision. Anne Macey pointed out that these standards also present many limitations for accessing green matter on a daily basis.

Outdoor access during inclement weather can be achieved using winter gardens that typically have sand or sawdust for scratch and no vegetation. Pullets can be kept indoors during vaccination programs and never see the light of day and then be placed directly into layer barns and continue to be kept indoors until peak egg production around 26 weeks of age. The COR standard 6.13.1 (f) only speaks to laying flocks having access to outdoors as little as one-third of laying life. The standards pertaining to outdoor access, and access to pasture, are clearly insufficient to account for the daily green matter provisions of 6.4.3 (j & k).

The overarching standard COR 6.4.3, ‘Specific livestock rations shall take the following into account,’ is interpreted in (j) to refer to the natural behaviours exhibited by the animal while feeding.

The next step is to determine what kinds of green matter would be suitable for use in the various types of poultry operations: ducks, turkeys, broilers, pullets, and layer hens. This is where the application of the standards becomes more complex.

The first thing to consider is that rearing a small flock of less than 200 birds and rearing a large flock of 200 to 10,000 or more birds employ entirely different animal husbandry barn setups, with each method presenting its own set of challenges.

Small flocks are typically part of a mixed farm production unit and poultry will benefit from on-farm garden and orchard waste throughout the growing season. Small scale farms that overwinter poultry can provide a wide range of green matter from hay to sprouted fodder. Large flocks regulated under the egg marketing boards are the main production units of the farm and are raised under tight biosecurity regulations in comparison to small scale farms.

Livestock feed suppliers across Canada are governed by the Feed Act regulations which adds one more wrinkle to how green matter can be supplied in feed. BC feed producers produce a ‘coarse mash’ complete nutrition feed. In contrast, the Ontario poultry feed industry has switched over to a completely ‘pelleted’ complete nutrition feed.

Leanne Cooley, MSc., Poultry Scientist, working in the Ontario poultry industry, described how green matter is provided both as a feed ingredient, and as hay for natural behaviour. Dehydrated alfalfa is mostly indigestible by poultry and when it is included in the pelleted feed certain enzymes must be included to assist in the digestion of alfalfa. According to Cooley, “Insoluble grit is provided either as, or in combination, in free choice feeders and/or in the hens feed to assist in forage digestion and prevent birds developing impacted crops. Hay (second or third cut preferred), alfalfa, or hay-alfalfa blend may be done hanging in mesh bags or baskets, or scattered as litter. I see both. Warning —do not use straw!”

Hanging alfalfa or grass hay in mesh bags or baskets is a good method for accommodating the birds’ need to fulfill natural behaviors for scratching and pecking on a daily basis. When alfalfa/grass hay is made available to the birds early in life it can help to reduce and prevent the poultry pecking behavior that results in bird cannibalism.

Hanging the hay in bags or baskets will also keep the hay clean and out of any moving parts of larger egg layer operations. Pullet and broiler operations typically provide the hay as litter which doubles as scratch.

Organic alfalfa pellets are also a good, clean, sterilized source for ‘green matter.’ Unfortunately, there has been a supply chain shortage and currently there are no organic alfalfa pellets available from Western Canadian producers. The supply chain has suffered in the past few years due to an inappropriately applied ‘commercial availability’ clause in the PSL Can-CGSB 32-311 Table 4.2. This clause, without proper scrutiny, has become a loophole allowing crop producers to use no-spray and non-gmo alfalfa meal and pellets at lower cost. This left only livestock producers in place to purchase organic alfalfa pellets, and not able to create enough demand on the supply chain to keep it healthy in Western Canada. The Ontario supply chain is strong with Ontario Dehy Inc. supplying the Ontario poultry farmers with organic alfalfa pellets.

Western Alfalfa Milling Company (WAMCO) is a pioneer in the industry and grows and processes alfalfa near Norquay, Saskatchewan. WAMCO is certified organic to produce organic alfalfa meals, pellets, and hays. However, due to the misapplication of the commercial availability clause noted above the greater demand was for conventional alfalfa pellets as green fertilizer and mulch. WAMCO had to make a ‘supply and demand’ business decision this year to downsize alfalfa pellet production in 2020 from 60,000 tons a year to just 6,500 tons a year, with a focus on the conventional green fertilizer market. WMACO sales representative, April Guertin, shared some industry history, noting that 20 years ago there were 48 alfalfa pellet producers in Canada, shrinking down to only 3 producers in 2019, with only Ontario Dehy Inc. and WAMCO being certified organic. WAMCO gave assurance that if requests for organic alfalfa pellets were placed now at the beginning of the 2020 growing season, then WAMCO could certainly fill the orders for poultry and crop producers.

In summary, the intention behind COR 6.4.3 (j & k) is that poultry shall be given rations of green matter with respect to meeting their natural behavior needs for pecking and scratching daily. Options that would work for both small and large scale producers include alfalfa/grass hays hanging in bags or baskets and as litter and alfalfa pellets. Livestock producers need to be aware of keeping supply chains viable, strong, and competitive by ordering product ahead of the growing season. Crop producers can also buy into the organic supply chain, avoiding the misappropriate uses of the ‘commercial availability’ clauses for green fertilizer and mulches, further strengthening supply chains for the entire organic industry.


Marjorie Harris, IOI VO and concerned organophyte.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Unfinished Conversations

in 2020/Marketing/Organic Community/Spring 2020

Anna Helmer

At the recent COABC conference I enjoyed an unfinished conversation with a peerless organic industry leader about how certain words traditionally associated with our alternative/organic farming movement are being co-opted by mainstream agriculture. Case in point: General Mills using the word “regenerative” to describe some decidedly non-organic, chemically supported farming practices. Some consumers don’t give a hoot one way or another of course, but a certain segment really wants to do the right thing and have previously associated the word “regenerative” with good farming. Using that word is an obvious ruse intended to reassure a large conscientious consumer group: General Mills wants to keep their business.

The galling thing, as far as being an organic farmer goes, is that we might feel “regenerative” is our word. For starters, we used it first; furthermore, we practice it; bottom line, we believe in it. We are using it to heal the earth. General Mills is using it to sell more sugar-cereal. It’s quite irritating.

And what are we to do about it? Cue the unfinished conversation.

Well, we can keep talking about it, amongst ourselves and in our marketplaces. Preaching to the choir ensures that everyone is on the same page, singing the same song. Very important that, but pretty much paves the way if not to rebellion, then certainly outbursts of inappropriate and/or unwelcome individuality, complicating the issue.

Private enterprise has thusly spawned several certifiers, with standards ranging from whimsical to fanatical, offering farms a chance to formalize their relationship with the word. This will remind the older set of the early years of the organic business and send shivers down a few spines.

The next obvious thing is to fight for it at the government level. Get some public policy developed around it. Some standards. We could be fighting for the use of that word like we have for “organic”.

Basically, the fight for “organic” is far from over and it’s not yet clear who is winning, despite all the hard campaigning. I think you can still have the word “organic” in your farm name even without certification. We are very lucky to have people fighting for this word and they do not need the burden of another word. Allow them to focus.

It is possible, left to their own devices whilst organic gets sorted, that these big companies will publicly stumble over the banana peels they will find littering the road to “regenerative” and all the rest of those words: “natural,” “whole grain,” “plant-based,” and of course “sustainable.” A lot of consumers are not stupid and will recognize marketing when they see it; and having done so, won’t buy it. Our fingers are crossed.

It’s a difficult conversation to complete, isn’t it?

Complete it I will, however, by simply moving on to another topic. And this one is affecting me very directly.

Any produce market vendor who understands retail will tell you that the surest way to sell something is to whack it into a plastic bag and put a price sticker on it. Just today at market, one of my staff spent the entire four hours making tidy little plastic bags of potatoes. Probably about 70% of sales today came from $6 bags of Sieglinde potatoes.

These are the bags the Vancouver Farmers’ Market management wants to ban. I have been moaning about this coming ban to anyone who would listen (and some who would not) for months now. And I will just stop you there as you come up with suggestions on how to replace them. You can’t replace them. It’s plastic: it doesn’t break down and there is no replacement.

Plastic is amazing. It has changed our lives in dramatic and important and lasting ways.

Unless I hear a little more celebration of plastic, I am not going down without a fight.


Anna Helmer farms in Pemberton where there are a surprising number of rules, policies, and standards for such a population of keenly individualistic farmers.

 

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