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Organic Stories: Discovery Organics

in Current Issue/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Stories

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

By Brody Irvine

The organic movement is one based on the concept of collaboration. At a basic level, it is an agreement between nature and farmers to work together towards common goals of mutual benefit—nature provides nourishing food, while farmers work within the boundaries nature provides to nurture the growth of that food. This is an arrangement that is in constant fluidity, and one where creativity and communication are essential for long-term success. With that in mind, it is important to understand how valuable collaboration is to every scope of the organic movement, or dare I say ‘industry,’ that now exists.

Fundamentally, collaboration is at the heart of everything. It is the foundation of community, allows us to interconnect, and provides the network for how great ideas spread. As the Farmers’ Market provides a space for growers and artisans to sell their products, local eaters come to know and trust where their food comes from. Eaters take that knowledge to their neighbourhood grocers and the demand for local, organically-grown produce and products expands beyond the market tent.

Now we are at the stage where organically-grown produce is available at nearly every supermarket in North America, and the market for organics is growing worldwide. Setting aside the realities (or unrealities) of large-scale economics associated with conventional business models…we need to recognize this as a win! Everyone should be able to have access to food grown with the utmost care for ourselves and the planet, and we are closer to that goal now than ever before.

Randy Hooper (Discovery Organics), Rafael Rodriguez Valdivia (Red Adobe Organics), and Dylan Edmiston (Community Natural Foods) inspecting some of the open field corn trials in Atotonilco Alto, Mexico.

From the start, Annie Moss and Randy Hooper knew how important working together was going to be when launching Discovery Organics. Upon witnessing the tragic returns many local organic growers were getting within the local wholesale markets in BC, and the limits many growers faced to accessing those markets, they knew that something had to be done.

It all began back in 1998, when Annie and Randy found a small network of organic pioneers in British Columbia who could provide the volume needed for the wholesale market and were willing to learn and invest in standards around product grading, packaging, labeling, and branding. They then connected those growers with small, independent retailers, buying groups, and health food stores from Tofino, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser Valley, and all the way to the Prairies. It certainly took time and enormous effort, but it was all based on love, community, and working together for a greater purpose—from early morning drives out to Cawston to help Trevor and Debbie at Sundance Farm pack apples for last minute orders, to brainstorming with Bruce at Across The Creek on branding strategy for Sieglinde potatoes, to working with Choices Markets on marketing tools to raise consumer awareness around where their food is coming from and how it is produced.

From those early days of working with local growers to establish a wholesale market for BC-grown organic produce, Discovery Organics has looked beyond the borders of BC to find year-round sources of organic produce that are grown ethically and with integrity. Collaboration has been key to securing a consistent source of Fair Trade organic bananas, ginger, turmeric, and avocados, among many other produce items—and proving that eaters in Western Canada not only wanted access to all this deliciously-grown and harvested food but were craving it! Open and honest communication was the key to unlocking it.

Kabocha squash available in February 2022.

Working collectively is essential for progressing our mission of a future where we all eat organically, especially when adversity arises and times become challenging. We lean on each other for support, advice, and guidance. We help each other overcome what can feel like insurmountable obstacles. In 2007 one of our dearest friends and colleagues, Esteban Martinez, was met with such a problem and the collective action of our community helped get him through it. After working with Esteban for 17 years, he was Discovery Organic’s most important California strawberry grower.

“In the winter of 2007 there was a bank crash in the US—the great recession. The banks had lent far more money than they should have, and needed cash back and fast to restore their liquidity. In Watsonville, the strawberry capital of the US, at $15,000 an acre, banks had hundreds of millions tied up in loans to growers.” Randy says. “Esteban called us on a Friday night, crying. His bank had called his loan with no notice, and told him if he didn’t repay the $125,000 by Monday they would seize all his equipment. He wouldn’t even have started his season for months and had no income. We didn’t have any money and didn’t know anyone who could help.”

Randy goes on to recount that “the next morning, we were unloading a California truck, which happened to be driven by the driver who usually did our strawberry pickups at Esteban’s farm.” They told him the story, because he knew Esteban. “The driver liked Esteban—he would always come down to his cooler to load them, even at midnight. Later that afternoon Sukdeep and his trucking partner Sonny came to our yard, and then they handed us a bank draft for $125,000 for Esteban—money they had raised that very day amongst their Punjabi community in Surrey.”

Dave Wilson (Choices Markets), Andrew Vogler (Crisp Organics), and Carter Selmes-Blythe (Discovery Organics) touring the fall/winter crops in the Sumas Prairie in the fall of 2019.

At every turn, Discovery Organics works to build lasting relationships with growers, sellers, and transporters that have real tangible meaning, because working with friends is a lot more fun than working with strangers, and community has no borders. That spirit is evident within the greater organic movement, one where finding common ground is essential. It is sharing farm equipment in exchange for helping harvest apples in September (just make sure you wash the tractor before returning it!). It is sharing knowledge on integrated pest management in exchange for some cabbage needed to fill a weekly CSA order. It is learning about new weeding or harvest techniques over a six pack of beer or kombucha during a summer sunset. It is taking the time to call in on a neighbour during the height of harvest season and sharing a laugh, or a cry.

I’ll say it again, finding common ground is essential.

As we know it today, organic agriculture has its roots in the counterculture movements of the 1960s. Susanna Klassen wrote about this in the Fall 2021 issue of the BC Organic Grower, noting how the collaboration between the United Farm Workers and the Black Panther Party raised awareness of the horrifying conditions and inequities that exist in our food system and inspired farmers and consumers to demand an ethical, holistic food production model.1 One that would nurture Mother Earth with care, and treat those working her soil with respect. That message still rings true, and still needs constant telling.

Doing the telling, putting in the work, communicating together to create a better world—that is our vocation and we have so much more to learn. Indigenous land values need a larger voice within the organic movement. The dignity and rights of farm workers need more attention and action through government support, and can start with farm owner integrity. Regenerative agriculture conversations need to include organic principles, and the climate solutions provided by these methods need to be championed and shared amongst all food production models. Collaborative efforts amongst growers, processors, educators, wholesalers, retailers, government, consumers, and more will help us include those issues in our future food system models.

We have come a long way and have a long way to go, and that is kind of the whole point. Communication begets collaboration which begets progress. We are all part of a greater food web, that starts with the soil and transcends into sharing a glass together (virtual or real)—and as much as we need to be there for each other during the hard times we must celebrate together too.

discoveryorganics.ca


Brody is a purchaser at Discovery Organics and specializes in grower relations and development. Starting in 2011 working for a small organic home delivery company in Edmonton Alberta, Brody was bit by the produce bug and has been enthralled with the organic food movement ever since.

Feature image: Employees of Discovery Organics getting a field tour from Bruce Miller at Across The Creek Organics in Pemberton, BC.

All images: Credit: Discovery Organics.

1Read Susanna’s article here: bcorganicgrower.ca/2021/09/fairness-as-migrant-justice

Ag Tech Breaking Down Barriers

in 2022/Climate Change/Crop Production/Current Issue/Grow Organic/Spring 2022/Tools & Techniques

By Crystal Arsenault

Innovative technology for agriculture is all the buzz these days and farmers appear receptive to trying new things in an effort to increase their profits as well as make better decisions that support the mitigation of climate change. But, for many, the hard decision is which tech to invest in. Not only does new tech usually involve a financial commitment, but there is inevitably a time commitment as well—time taken away from farming to learn the new technology, set it up, then use it as part of your daily routine in order to hopefully gain some insights and benefits a year or so down the road. It can be challenging to determine which tech is best for your specific operation, and all too often money and time are spent only to discover that the program was built to sell you a product and doesn’t actually benefit you individually. Not all programs are created equally.

Luckily for farmers, many innovative products are now available with farmers and the environment in mind—and best of all, they don’t cost a dime. Two such tools are Organic BC’s online organic certification program, iCertify, and UBC’s farm management program, LiteFarm.

Both programs are helping to break barriers to organic certification and encourage sustainable farming practices. iCertify is now in its third year of use, with all regional Organic BC certifying bodies onboarded. LiteFarm has recently released an update that will directly benefit organic growers.

Record keeping has often been seen as a barrier to organic certification for many new operators. Sitting down for a little light reading of the Canadian Organic Standards while trying to find and purchase land as well as starting a new business is intimidating. iCertify walks new applicants through the certification process with a simple question and answer format. It includes a multitude of references to the standard for quick access to information that is relevant to your operation.

Additionally, iCertify provides premade record keeping templates. No more wasted time trying to design forms yourself that meet all the requirements. Available for download within iCertify and on the Organic BC website, these ready-made forms take the guess work out of certification. They help inform operators about the specific information they need to track in order to demonstrate compliance. At the same time, these templates provide the certification committee and verification officers a standardized version of the exact information they need to complete a comprehensive review.

But wait, it gets better yet. Imagine not even having to fill out the form yourself! LiteFarm has been developed with iCertify and organic certification at the forefront. Through a collaborative project with UBC, LiteFarm can now generate several of the standardized templates used in organic production. With one click your Seed Records, Input Records, product compliance documents, maps and more, are created, downloaded, and ready to upload directly into iCertify.

LiteFarm is a free, open-source farm management program designed for biodiverse operations and includes insights about on farm biodiversity, sustainable farm practices, profits, and even tracks labour cost per crop. To save time for busy farmers, LiteFarm has an extensive database of crop stats provided by researchers from UBC. Creating a crop management plan is as simple as selecting a crop and picking a seeding date. From there, LiteFarm will automatically create seeding, transplanting, and harvest tasks directly on your calendar To Do list. Additional tasks, such as soil amendments, preventative pest treatments, hand weeding, and more can be added at any time and easily assigned to farm workers. Multiple users including owners, supervisors, and farm workers each have individual role-based access. Users have the ability to see tasks that have been assigned to them, indicate in real time when they have been completed, log work hours, and leave notes about crop concerns, all on their mobile phones or desktop.

LiteFarm tracks seeding dates, amendment product use, dates and location, harvest, and quantity information, all easily accessible by verification officers when performing volume and traceback audits on any crop being managed at your farm.

Anonymous, aggregated data can be used to drive further research into the benefits of specific farming practices and help users quantify and analyze their own reliance on purchased inputs, labour, and more.

Designed for and by farmers, these tools are breaking down the barriers to organic certification and helping more farmers see the benefits of transitioning to regenerative organic management practices.


Crystal Arsenault is the technical advisor for Organic BC, UX designer and organic subject matter consultant.  Having owned a certified organic farm as well as working in tech design, Crystal has a unique perspective on challenges faced by both industries as we attempt to unite the two in order to quantify sustainable farm management practices.

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.

Organic Conversion

in Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards

With a booming $8.138 billion in annual sales, Canada is the sixth largest organic market in the world. Yet, despite double digit production growth, demand continuously outpaces supply in Canada. Two thirds of Canadians purchase organic products weekly, and organic is the fastest growing sector of the Canadian agricultural landscape.

Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) launched the Organic Conversion Support Program in 2019, through the Support Organic Change Fund, to assist producers as they convert their operations to certified organic to meet this global demand. The program is privately funded by sponsors Seeds of Change and Mill Street Brewery.

The program supports producers financially with their incurred transition costs by reimbursing part, or all, of their certification costs as a transition incentive. Since the program’s inception, 94 producers have been supported nationally to convert 8,483 acres.

Since 2019, the program participation numbers have increased steadily by 79%. The number of funded producers by region are: Quebec with 60, BC with 12, the Prairies with 7, the Maritimes with 4, and Ontario with 3. The program covered a staggering 64.18% of the total certification costs for producers across the country.

COTA is thrilled to announce that the program will be continuing into its third year with the proud support of industry sponsors. The Organic Conversion Support Program is accepting applications for the 2021 program which will be accepted until June 30th, 2022.

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis for producers who are in the process of converting, or who become certified in 2021 or 2022. To qualify for the program, farmers must be in their pre-certification phase, or increasing their acreage or livestock on an already certified farm. The program covers organic certification and consultation expenses, up to a maximum reimbursement of $1,000.

Interested in applying? Verify your eligibility, complete an application and return it to info@canada-organic.ca.

Contact cbernard@canada-organic.ca with any questions.

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.

Organic Stories: Urban Harvest – Syilx Territory, Kelowna BC

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

Many Strands Make a Strong Food Web

Darcy Smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Urban Harvest staff team. Credit: Urban Harvest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

A City Boy Goes to Work on the Farm

in 2020/Fall 2020/Marketing/Organic Community

Devon Cooke

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

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

Filmmaker Devon Cooke. Credit: Derek Gray.

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

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

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

Amara Farm salad fields. Credit: Michaela Parks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Green bean harvest. Credit: Michaela Parks.

Sparkly Eyes, Grit, and Land Access

in 2020/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Marketing/Organic Community/Summer 2020

New Organic Farmers on Leased Land

Tessa Wetherill

Spring on an organic produce farm looks like baby greens, tiny radishes, overflowing seedling greenhouses, and freshly turned soil. Everything feels precious and new and brimming with possibility. Touring around Loveland Acres in Salmon Arm with farmers Robin and Maylene, those feelings were especially palpable and poignant since it’s their first season on the land. They’ve had a long journey getting here, one filled with familiar challenges and dreams. The other familiar things these farmers have are sparkly eyes and grit, ineffable qualities that go a long way in agriculture.As a farm business, Loveland Acres’ main goal is to provide high quality organic food for as many months of the year as possible. Robin and Maylene have been personally committed to eating as locally and seasonally as possible for many years and have identified a gap, often referred to as the hunger gap, in the availability of local produce in the region.

Crop rows in gorgeous soil under row cover. Credit: Tessa Wetherill.

“We want to help promote the Eat Local message all year round,” says Maylene. Which is why their next big project is to purchase and convert a shipping container into a commercial kitchen, an investment that will give them a place to process their produce, dry peppers, can tomatoes, and make pickles.

In discussing this next step in their business plan, Maylene points out that “no one talks about the money when starting a small farm.” She makes a good point. Even with all their sweat labour, these new farmers have invested a huge amount of money that they saved over a long time of working two jobs each into infrastructure, systems, and set up. They have poly tunnels, seedling greenhouses, storage spaces, and a very impressive irrigation system—all necessary to launch into marketing their products this season. The next step in building towards their goal of providing local food 12 months a year will take more capital than they have available right now, but seeing what these farmers have done in a couple years, I have no doubt they will make it happen.

In 2014, Robin and Maylene both left their professional careers in publishing and printing to pursue a siren song towards sustainable organic agriculture and a better quality of life. In her former life in Toronto, Maylene describes her experience with insomnia and a feeling of unease with the constant race and pace of the city and industry she worked in. When Maylene is asked what she loves most about farming, the answer is easy: mental space. Thinking about whatever she chooses all day long, rather than the 300 emails in her inbox. Contemplative, diverse, connected labour. That said, they both admit to having the occasional nightmare about their greenhouse flying away and that time they missed the window on flame weeding carrots!

Robin in the high tunnel hoop house. Below: Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

Robin and Maylene met interning on an organic farm in Ontario. They fell in love with each other and the land and made a life-altering decision. Being in that environment and working in sync with the processes of nature, they both immediately began feeling healthier and sleeping better. They were learning that this was the life they were called to. They spent the next four years working and volunteering on farms across Canada and eventually found full-time employment working on a third-generation family-owned orchard in the Okanagan.

“For any aspiring farmer, working in agriculture is essential. It is the best way to learn and get hands-on experience. The only catch is that wages in agriculture are prohibitively low, which makes the prospect of land ownership, especially in the Okanagan, pretty unrealistic,” says Maylene. “With the average agricultural wage hovering around $14 an hour and the average price per acre of land in the Okanagan sitting at about $100,000, it’s not hard to see that land ownership is essentially out of the question for most agricultural workers.”

The high cost of land was the biggest hurdle they faced. Starting their new farm business on leased land was the only viable option for them, which is how they ended up connecting with the B.C. Land Matching Program (BCLMP) and with me, the land matcher for the Okanagan region.

Robin on the tractor. Credit: Loveland Acres.

Loveland Acres is one of 78 matches the BCLMP has supported on over 4,600 acres across the province since launching in Metro Vancouver in 2016 and expanding province-wide in 2018. The BCLMP provides land matching and business support services to new and established farmers looking for land to start or grow their farm business, as well as landowners interested in finding someone to farm their land. The benefits of land matching are hands-on support services to help new farmers and landowners evaluate opportunities, access resources, and ultimately find a land match partner. The program aims to address a lack of affordable farmland as a significant barrier for farmers entering the agricultural industry. The BCLMP is delivered by Young Agrarians, a farmer to farmer resource network, and is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

After registering for the BCLMP, we worked together to refine their focus on what attributes Robin and Maylene were looking for in a piece of land, taking the guesswork out of the leasing process and then connecting them with interested landowners.

“The BCLMP is so much more than a program that links landowners and land seekers. They helped us negotiate a stable and secure land lease, provided advice and access to a lawyer to look over our agreement, and connected us with their business mentorship program,” says Maylene. “If Tessa hadn’t reached out to us, we’d probably still be unsuccessfully trying to convince bankers and mortgage brokers that we weren’t crazy, and that, yes, you could make a living growing vegetables on two acres of land, with only a walk-behind tractor and a few simple pieces of equipment.”

Robin and Maylene knew from the beginning that organic certification was a priority for them, so when they were introduced to landowners Dag and Elina Falck, who own the land on which Loveland Acres has made their home, there was an instant spark of connection through their shared values.

Maylene with the celeriac harvest. Credit: Loveland Acres

Besides wanting to give their customers a guarantee that the food they produced was being done in a way that met the highest criteria for environmental sustainability, they have also felt the support of a community of fellow organic growers in the region. The pair emphasized the importance of being connected to a group of people who understand what they are going through, are available to answer questions, and generally help alleviate the feeling of being alone in a tough industry. On one particularly bad week, filled with unfortunate life events, including a car breaking down and other irritations, they recalled attending the annual general meeting for the North Okanagan Organic Association (NOOA). Just being in a room with other organic growers gave them the encouragement they needed to push through and keep going.

The willingness these farmers have in engaging with the community and accessing all possible resources to support their dreams has been instrumental in moving them into the exciting place of possibility they are at now. When I asked, what’s the most exciting thing for you right now, they responded by loading me up with freshly-harvested arugula and French Breakfast radishes, which I ate in handfuls on the way home.

Land matchers love being able to help farmers achieve secure access to land to start or expand their businesses, and to help farmland owners enjoy the benefits of agriculture of all kinds on their land. Farmers, get in touch to start a conversation about leasing land for your operation! Landowners, reach out to the BCLMP to help a farmer access land, whether you have hundreds of acres of farmland, or a small urban plot. There are so many growers looking for spaces to produce food across the province, and your land might just be the perfect fit.

Find Loveland Acres online!

First farmers’ market . Credit: Loveland Acres.

Send an email to land@youngagrarians.org and a land matcher will get in touch to learn more about your needs and vision and help you get on your way to making a match.

The B.C. Land Matching Program is funded by the Province of British Columbia, with support from Columbia Basin Trust, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Real Estate Foundation of B.C., Bullitt Foundation, and Patagonia.

Tessa Wetherill farmed full-time and with all her heart for 11 years, first in Vancouver and then the North Okanagan, before joining the Young Agrarians team as the BCLMP’s Okanagan Land Matcher. She loves all things that grow—plants, people, and communities—and what really lights her up are relationships and collaborations that form strong, diverse human ecosystems.

Feature image: Robin and Maylene with starts. Credit: Tessa Wetherill

Maylene with low tunnel row cover hoops. Credit: Tessa Wetherill

Organic Stories: West Enderby Farm

in 2020/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Marketing/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Organic Stories/Past Issues/Winter 2020

From Carrots to COR

Darcy Smith

Carrots: “hard to grow, but easy to sell,” says Paddy Doherty, who farms at West Enderby Farm with his partner Elaine Spearling. When late November rolls around and most vegetable farmers are finally kicking up their feet for a few moments of rest, Paddy and Elaine’s farm is still a hub of activity. “It’s like having a dairy cow, you never get a break,” jokes Paddy. “You start selling in July and go until April. Farmers are on vacation and we’re still packing carrots three, four days a week.”

“Carrots are very intensive. When you’re not weeding, you’re harvesting or irrigating, no downtime.” But they’re worth it.

In 2011, Paddy and Elaine founded West Enderby Farm in 2011 on a 40-acre former dairy farm. They knew they wanted to pursue a wholesale business model. “We didn’t want to move up to the North Okanagan and immediately start competing with our friends at the Armstrong Farmers’ Market,” Paddy says. “So, we decided to grow a crop to sell to local grocery stores and wholesalers.” And there are never enough carrots to go around.

Hilling carrots at West Enderby Farm.

Plus, back when Paddy was involved in the early days of COABC, he remembers a wholesaler saying, “It’s great that you have broccoli for a month in the summer, but really, winter is our busy season. That’s when people want to buy vegetables and spend more time cooking.” An idea was planted, and decades later, when the pair wanted to relocate to the Okanagan and start farming again, it would bear fruit.

At the time, they didn’t know anyone who sold directly to grocery stores in any volume. It’s always difficult to break into the wholesale market: “you need volume to be able to even talk to them,” Paddy says, but over the last decade, the rise of local and organic food has shifted the marketplace. With consumer demand for local food, retailers are “much more open to the idea of buying from farmers, even though there’s a lot of hassle involved for them,” having to deal with a lot of little farms.

How did West Enderby Farm get a foot in the door, or, rather, a carrot on the shelf? “We needed a decent looking bag, some marketing, a barcode, but mostly we needed to be able to service them for at least six months with sufficient stock,” Paddy says. Today, Paddy and Elaine grow 50-80 tonnes of certified organic carrots a year, along with a handful of other crops, including cauliflower and beets, for the wholesale market.

Details of the carrot harvesting and sorting process.

On the farm, Elaine does the crop planning, soil analysis, and lots of field work, to name just a few. Paddy keeps the machines running and looks after organic inspections. They hire three or four workers over the growing season. Elaine also orders all their seed, and they’re very particular about quality. A current favourite is Bolero, because it “gets sweeter the longer it’s in storage, grows well and consistently, makes a nice shaped carrot, and has good germination and vigour,” says Paddy. But they’re always on the lookout for new varieties. The downside to Bolero is its brittleness, leading to breakage in machine harvesting and packaging. “Commercially, nobody would grow Bolero if they were any bigger than us.”

Paddy and Elaine both have deep roots in agriculture and BC’s organic community. Elaine has a degree in agricultural botany, and taught organic farming for many years at UBC Farm and in the UK. Today, she sits on the steering committee of the North Okanagan Land to Table Network when she’s not out in the field. Paddy is the President of Pacific Agricultural Society (PACS), a member of the National Organic Value Chain Roundtable, sits on the COABC board, and is a part of the Okanagan Regional Adaptation Working Group for the Climate Action Initiative.

Look back 30 years and Paddy and Elaine were raising sheep in Quesnel, and watching regional certification bodies pop up around the province, with “differing standards, and differing ideals and procedures,” Paddy remembers. “It was quite interesting. The government approached us, and there was a group of aligned certification bodies that came together, that was the initial nucleus of COABC.”

Elaine sorting carrots.

Paddy was volunteering with the Cariboo Organic Producers Association (COPA), and tapped into the provincial movement. “I was always an environmentalist, it’s the way I was raised,” he says. “Organic farming is my way of doing what I believe in as my mode of production.”

At the time, there was new legislation in BC that would allow the development of a provincial regulation around organic. Not everyone was on board with a mandatory label, so they moved forward with a voluntary program in 1992, the BC Certified Organic Program (BCCOP). [Editor’s note: the Organic Certification Regulation passed in 2018, making certification mandatory for use of the word organic.]

About helping build the BCCOP, Paddy says, “I guess I enjoyed it, getting people together and getting agreements, and had a talent for it, so I kept going.” As he puts it, “I just hung around and kept on showing up and learning. We were inventing new things, the Ministry of Agriculture helped a lot but we had to invent a lot of it.” Then came the development of Pacific Agricultural Certification Society (PACS). “I learned a lot in that process, starting a commercial CB from scratch and writing a quality manual for that,” he says.

Further details of the carrot harvesting and sorting process.

At a national level, in response to an edict from the EU requiring a national regulation to ship organic products to Europe, “fruit growers in BC were very concerned about their access to EU markets.” Paddy led the development of a project to get an organic regulation together in Canada to ensure access to EU markets.

From there, Paddy when on to work with IFOAM, where he “met some really cool people, and traveled, and made relationships that are important to me today,” and with ISEAL as the standards manager, working in the global sustainability standards community. “There’s so much more beyond organic, there’s the Forest Stewardship Council, the Marine Stewardship Council, and a hole pile you haven’t heard of—all trying to save the world in different ways, using this system of consumer pull, and voluntary standards systems.”

Today, Paddy is busy working on the latest standards review, and leading a project to attempt to solve the problem of a brand name inputs list, as a project of the Organic Value Chain Roundtable. The Roundtable is “a place where leaders of the organic industry can come together to solve problems,” explains Paddy, and it’s been instrumental in bringing together a Canada’s disparate organic movement, from coast to coast, and up and down the value chain, from retailers, to producers, and everyone in between. “It didn’t turn us into one organization, but it definitely helped us focus our energy.”

Bins of washed carrots

“Organic may only be 2% of the market,” Paddy says, but “we have come leaps and bounds.” A small market share belies the outsize impact that organic farming has had on agriculture as a whole. “I do see change, change in production and in the market, towards more sustainable production. What we’ve done with our very strict standard is challenged other types of production to meet our bar.”

“As soon as you put organic carrots on the shelf, it shows consumers that they have a choice, and then the non-organic farmers are faced with, ‘How can I differentiate myself?’ It just changes the dynamic. It encourages a move towards more environmentally friendly production.”

Back on the farm, Paddy and Elaine are thinking about what’s next. They’re looking for someone to take over the carrot business, Paddy says, “but I wouldn’t mind growing cauliflower, that does well, we could grow cauliflower in the summer and take the winters off.”

West Enderby Farm’s view of the cliffs

Darcy Smith is the editor of the BC Organic Grower, and a big fan of organic farmers. She also manages the BC Land Matching Program delivered by Young Agrarians.

All photos: West Enderby Farm

 

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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