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regenerative agriculture

Climate Mitigation through Agroforestry

in Current Issue/Uncategorized

Emily Lorenz

This article first appeared on the FarmFolk CityFolk website and is printed here with gratitude.

Agroforestry integrates trees or shrubs with other crops and/or livestock. Trees can capture greenhouse gases through their branches, leaves, trunks, and roots, making them an important climate solution and aid in reducing emissions in agriculture. In addition to sequestration, trees improve soil structure with their root systems and add nutrients to the soil with fallen leaves. Trees prevent flash flooding on agricultural lands by slowing down water with their root systems. Agroforestry systems create diversified habitats for wildlife with hedges, fruit trees, dead wood, grazing animals and other crops. Woodlands are a place for climate solutions, beneficial outcomes for farmers, and a calming space to promote farmer well-being.

George Powell, previously employed by the University of Alberta and the Ministry of Forests research program, is now an independent consultant offering his depth of knowledge as an agrologist specializing in integrated production systems. Powell describes agroforestry as, “a whole family of land-use practices that in some way involve the purposeful integration of trees or shrubs with other agricultural production, other crops or with livestock systems.” Agroforestry systems are diverse and complex and often “not defined by what you’re producing, but more like how you’re producing it,” says Powell. Clear cutting for agriculture and eliminating native tree species has severe environmental consequences. Powell says, “That’s probably one of the bigger environmental issues we’re still facing in BC. A lot of small and large stream networks [are suffering]. Forest cover was eliminated up to the water’s edge, which has big consequences for water quality and wildlife habitat.”

Cattle thriving in the margins of woods and field. Credit: Big Bear Ranch.

Maintaining and planting woody plants has beneficial results for our climate. Trees and other woody perennials are a significant source of carbon capture. Powell has experience testing carbon levels in test plots of agroforestry models. He says, “Every tonne of woody material that you grow, about 50% of that is carbon. Large perennials turn over about 50% of their fine root material every year, which means huge soil organic carbon pools could be created. It’s a sequestration monster.” There are benefits for farmers to maintain trees on their land; benefits that include savings on time and labour as well as increasing soil health. Powell says, “With a forested system cleared for agriculture, the more trees and shrubs you retain there, the more you’re mimicking that structural setting and natural flows. The nutrient dynamics and the water dynamics completely change when you bring trees and shrubs into the picture. The soil erosion risks drop off because you have those deep-rooted components that you don’t have from most crops.”

Not only are trees and large woody perennials a climate solution, but agroforestry is an effective adaptation tool for farmers. Powell says, “I think the real strength of agroforestry for BC is in adaptation.” One of the largest benefits of agroforestry modelled farms is the diversification of species on the land. Powell says, “Having a diverse range of things that you’re producing is your first best strategy against climate change and annual variability in the climate extremes.” Windbreaks and temperature control are beneficial results of trees. Powell encourages the use of trees and shrubs for soil moisture conservation in terms of windbreaks.

Farmers can adopt several categories of agroforestry to diversify and strengthen their agricultural system. The list includes alley cropping, silvopasture, shelterbelts, hedgerows, timberbelts, forest farming, and integrated riparian management. Each method offers unique benefits and is typically chosen according to the qualities of the farming operation.

Alley Cropping. Credit: Big Bear Ranch.

The integration of livestock and forest systems through silvopasture is a popular method of integrating trees on a farm. The approach of blending trees and animals in a system has numerous positive effects that benefit animal livelihood and our climate. In the winter, animals have an area to shelter from harsh temperatures and weather that is too extreme for them. Powell notes, “Trees and shrubs are largely water, they become big pools of long wave radiation and they radiate out that energy all around them. In wildlife terms, it’s called a thermal cover and the same principles apply to livestock.” Powell suggests setting up “living barns”, which are, “block or strip cuts into forests where you winter your animals in those strips and they benefit from the sheltering from the wind and the thermal radiation coming from the trees.” More importantly, in summer, shade is an important benefit that animals receive from tree cover. Heat stress occurs when an animal takes on more heat than its capacity to lose it. When they begin to experience heat stress, they seek shelter which a forest can provide easily.

Trees and shrubs offer a variety of nutrients that animals may not otherwise get. Fallen leaves and species that produce nuts and berries are nutritious to an animal’s diet. Beyond the numerous reasons that forested areas benefit livestock, the simplest encouragement is that certain species are meant to be integrated with trees. Powell says, “Livestock species were selected from forest-dwelling species. Cattle and chicken’s native predecessors are forest species. So they’re just happier with forest cover around. There are definite animal welfare benefits there.” Heather Young from Under the Oak Farm is preparing her farm for a silvopasture system. She strategically plants species of nut trees with the native and already established forest species and will introduce cattle onto in the coming years. Young plans to provide her cattle with the benefits of shelter from extreme climate variability and nutrients from the fallen nuts and foliage from the trees.

Forest farming is a unique technique for farmers to cultivate a high-value production crop under a canopy of trees. In addition to maintaining their forested area, they have planted numerous fruit trees with crops underneath to create a food forest. There are numerous benefits to forest farming. Young says, “In nature, trees grow with an understory of plants. If we reproduce that and let nature do its thing, it makes our life easier. We don’t have to weed as much, we don’t need to use nitrogen fertilizer, especially if you have nitrogen fixers. And, the trees provide habitat for birds that will eat your bugs.”

Hens as part of the agroforestry system. Credit: Big Bear Ranch.

Many small-scale farmers use alley cropping to optimize space on their farms. This agroforestry method involves planting rows of trees and/or shrubs to intentionally create alleys where crops are produced. For farmers who row-crop, this is a unique way of increasing income using a different profit source than their regular crops. Alley crops reduce erosion and can be a positive use of space where other crops cannot be planted. Strategically planted rows of trees can act as windbreaks and microclimates for other crops and livestock, increasing yield and quality of life. Alley cropping increases biodiversity and provides additional habitat for wildlife.

One or more rows of closely spaced trees and/or shrubs planted at the right angles to protect crops, soils, animals, and buildings from wind pressure are referred to as shelterbelts and hedgerows. These can be utilized along fence lines or as buffers between crops or animals. According to Powell, we need to restore the damaged waterways caused by agricultural clearing. He suggests, “Restoring those [waterways] in an agricultural setting would involve reestablishing buffers,” like hedgerows and shelterbelts. Rainer Krumsiek at Big Bear Ranch uses shelterbelts and hedgerows on their farm to create windbreaks for both their animals and wildlife. For Krumsiek, agroforestry is an important part of their farming operation. Krumsiek says, “Agroforestry helps with erosion control and nutrient balance. The moisture from snow accumulation and the fallen leaves from trees bring nutrients to the soil.”

Whichever approach farmers choose, agroforestry is regarded highly as a climate solution in agriculture. Trees are massive carbon sinks, add biodiversity to the farm ecosystem, and provide wildlife habitat, all contributing to climate mitigation. Farmers like Young note, “Our ability as agriculture to sequester carbon is more far-reaching than any technology we have so far.” Agroforestry systems benefit farmers in many ways. This includes saving time, labour, and financial costs over time; reducing erosion and increasing soil health; providing a natural canopy and windbreak for grazing livestock and poultry; providing nutrients to the ground below; spreading the risk in agriculture and increasing climate change variability.

When considering an agroforestry approach on a farm, it’s important to keep in mind that not all areas are appropriate for planting trees. Powell says, “When trees are applied to an area, you need to understand what varieties are native to that area and ecosystem, whenever possible. If the goal is to integrate livestock, it’s important to consider that not all livestock are appropriate for certain areas and species of trees. Find a local expert, speak to the local council and consult with First Nations communities.”

Approaching agroforestry by studying local agroecology is a good first step. Natural systems are thriving for a reason and farmers can learn a lot from natural ecosystems. Powell says, “It’s less energy to maintain a system the more of the natural cycles and processes you can retain. That’s what agroforestry does.” This approach can hugely benefit our climate, especially if more agricultural lands in BC incorporate agroforestry practices. Young says, “I am a firm believer that if we change parts of how we live, our emissions would decrease. A big part of how we live is choosing better agricultural practices.”

farmfolkcityfolk.ca


Emily Lorenz is the Engagement Coordinator for FarmFolkCityFolk and is passionate about supporting farmers and ranchers across BC.

Feature image: Alders fix nitrogen in wooded areas. Credit: Farm Folk City Folk.

Finding the Rhythm of Agroforestry

in 2022/Climate Change/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Summer 2022/Tools & Techniques/Water Management

Andrew Adams

Trees, shrubs, and seeds all wait to begin a lifetime or two of photosynthesizing sugars for human and animal consumption and enjoyment.

The road where Walter’s backhoe broke in a muck of two summers of nonstop rain is now ditched and has a new layer of gravel. Part of me broke in that spot. I walked away from that machine until the following spring when I magically got it out despite its broken axle.

The field has its drainage ditches dug for freshet or non-stop rain.

There are many ponds on the property now and I want more.

My back is feeling well and my heart still says go forth and plant.

For several years, I was always happy working way more acres than someone should with basically no machines. I had always been athletic and loved to challenge my body as well as my mind. Three hard summers in a row, a handful of years working in the bush while farming, and two kids later, I am no longer 25.

I sat on an advisory committee on climate change adaptation for farmers a few years ago and the models were stark. As soon as I saw the models, what was predicted to happen in 10 years started happening now. And we felt it.

The shake up in the world’s food system and transportation system over the past few years was jarring to most individuals within reach of a satellite dish or radio wave. We were no different.

Glorious tomatoes. Credit: Andrew Adams.

I had a local friend and restaurant owner come to me during the beginning of the pandemic and say, “It’s happening just like you said it would with food shortages. I thought you were crazy.” I likely am crazy, as it runs in my family, but I think it’s been obvious to many that our system of growing and transporting food is a bit broken.

There was nothing like facing record-breaking weather events, disasters, a pandemic, and supply chain disruptions—and now having two kids—to spur me into thinking long-term a bit harder.

Two things became apparent to me: we needed to expand our greenhouse side of the farm to mitigate the effects of our already harsh environment (we are on class 7 land), and we needed to make plans for long-term resiliency and move quickly because I am not getting any younger, as they say.

We expanded our greenhouse operations with loans, sweat from friends and family members, and lots of studying. Now, we can grow large volumes of annual vegetable crops relatively safe from the major challenges of the season. Basically, we reduced our risk on our annual income.

It was time to start the long-term project.

The soil is alive. Credit: Andrew Adams.

We had read of Indigenous food forests being found in what is known to many as British Columbia and standing the test of time.

We had dabbled over the years in trialing various varieties of berry plants, fruit trees, etc., just by placing them in our clay soil and watching them year by year. We watched some die and we watched some thrive and we watched some just exist in a state of almost cryogenesis in our gleysolic clay and we knew their native cousins in the forest.

We watched native species of fruit-bearing shrubs and nut-producing trees provide nearly every year to our family and to the wildlife despite the type of season it was weather-wise.

A good dear friend who I would call an adopted mother and mentor in the world of local botany and growing in difficult climates had a library and then-some of all the information we needed to pursue this adventure.

We began studying more often about trees and shrubs and visiting my mentor every week to soak up as much information as I could, and then we made the decision. This past year, I purchased prodigious amounts of seed, shrubs, flowering plants, and equipment.

The field will be laid out with wind breaks of willow and red osier dogwood to provide not only wind break but food for wildlife if they out-sneak the guard dogs. A wall of dessert to keep them from browsing the more valuable human-destined crops. It will encircle the field like a horseshoe with the open end facing the south.

A forest of food starts with good intentions and seed. Pictured here are butternut seeds, related to walnuts and pecans. Credit: Andrew Adams.

The next interior layer will be flowering shrubs for pollinators and nesting song birds, followed by apple trees and small “thickets” of butternut trees. The next layer of the agroforest will be the Saskatoon and then Haskap berries. And within the all layers, various native plant species will be reintroduced within the population for more diversity.

The orchard will take a few years to begin bearing fruit physically but it will continue do so with minimal input—as opposed to our annual vegetable crops—once established. Much of the maintenance of the field can be done with our implements and tractor which is a huge bonus, because apparently you can’t work 18-hour days on the farm and be the best dad in the world.

I hope my boys and the community (which includes the local ecosystem) will benefit from the orchard but like all projects, only time will tell, and the time will be marked in the rings of lignified carbon.

If it works financially once up and going, we have plenty more acres that will receive the same silvicultural prescription based on local ecosystem observation.

Is this regenerative agriculture? Is this permaculture? I really don’t like to place labels on anything and some folks are down right cultish about some of those words. How about we call it a slow dance with the ecosystem in which we are all in step.

Transportation disruptions. Credit: Andrew Adams.

hopefarmorganics.com


Andrew Adams is the co-founder and farmer at Hope Farm Organics in Prince George. Andrew has a Bachelor’s of Science in Agriculture from Kansas State University and his partner Janie has a Bachelor of education. After seeing the state of food security and agriculture in the north the two felt obligated to make real change in the form of organic food production and thus created Hope Farm in 2011.

Feature image: Walking through the potato patch. Credit: Andrew Adams.

All Dressed Up & Nowhere to Go

in 2022/Livestock/Spring 2022/Standards Updates

Ready for Growth, Small-Scale Meat Producers are Limited by Access to Processing

By Julia Smith

The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association recently completed a province-wide survey of the small-scale meat producing sector in which we heard from 708 operations representing 2,110 producers across all 27 regional districts of the province. Eighteen respondents reported being certified organic, and 15 of these were located in the Okanagan.

The survey identified that small-scale meat producers in BC tend to have very diverse operations, and are practicing a range of land management techniques. Of the respondents, 97% reported using at least one of the following practices to steward their land:

  • multiple species grazing (43%)
  • intensive grazing (38%)
  • regenerative agriculture (38%)
  • no-till farming (36%)
  • diversified forage (36%)

It will be interesting to see if these types of land management techniques become even more popular given the rising costs and supply chain issues associated with more conventional methods and inputs.

Not surprisingly, the biggest obstacle preventing the growth of the small-scale meat industry in BC was access to slaughter and butchery services. While this has proven to all but stop the industry as a whole in its tracks, it hits certified organic producers even harder, as there are very few, if any, certified organic abattoirs or butcher shops offering custom services to small-scale producers.

Chickens at UBC Farm. Credit: Hannah Lewis.

There is a little wiggle room: it is possible for a processor whose facility is not certified organic to complete an “Organic Compliance Declaration” in which they agree to uphold the certification requirements for a producer. However, it is unlikely that most processors would be willing to accommodate this. Processors are completely booked up months (often over a year) in advance without having to jump through any additional hoops.

At a time when it is extremely difficult for anyone to book slaughter and butcher dates for their livestock, organic producers are faced with the added burden of needing their processing facilities to comply with their organic certification standards. Survey respondents reported that they often can’t even reach their abattoir on the phone. It seems unlikely that a business that doesn’t even have time to answer their phone would be willing to entertain the extra steps and paperwork required to serve the certified organic market.

Even if the butcher is willing to take these steps, they are only allowed to cut into basic raw cuts if the product is to remain certified organic. Products of further processing, such as sausage making or smoking, are not able to remain certified organic unless the facility itself is also certified organic. Furthermore, not even the raw cuts can be labeled as certified organic by the butcher unless their facility is also certified organic. The producer themselves must take that meat home, unpack it and label everything to remain in compliance.

Happy pigs. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association

It seems unfair that a producer who complies with the necessary production and animal welfare standards to achieve organic certification should not be able to market that product as certified organic due to insurmountable obstacles in the final step of the process. It may take three years to finish a certified organic steer and a matter of hours to process it.

The new Farmgate Plus slaughter license has the potential to offer some hope. 41% of survey respondents indicated that they are interested in pursuing a license which would allow them to slaughter up to 25 animal units (AU – 1,000 pounds of live weight = 1 AU) per year on their farm or ranch. This license is for slaughter only, and the carcass needs to be butchered at a licensed cut and wrap facility. Unfortunately, 25 AU isn’t likely to be enough volume for one operation to justify the expense of setting up a certified organic cut and wrap facility, but perhaps if there were enough organic livestock producers in a community, they could come together to solve this piece of the puzzle.

Profitability was another challenge identified by the survey and one where organic producers will certainly be feeling the pinch with rising costs and limited availability of everything from feed, to fuel, to fertilizer.

Overall, producers reported that they would like to grow their businesses and that market demand far exceeds their current production capacity given processing challenges. There is tremendous potential for this industry to make a significant contribution to food security and the economy. Given the undeniable need to move toward more environmentally sustainable production methods, the need for growth in the organic sector has never been greater.

To find the survey report, learn more about SSMPA and join as a Producer Member for $35 or as a Supporter Member for free, visit smallscalemeat.ca


Julia is a founding member and currently serving as Vice-President of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association. She farms and ranches in the Nicola Valley where she raises critically endangered Red Wattle hogs and beef cattle.

Feature image: Turkeys on pasture. Credit: SSMPA.

Grazing the Way for Small Scale Meat

in 2021/Fall 2021/Grow Organic/Livestock/Marketing/Organic Community

By Ava Reeve

Drive down any rural road in this province and you’re sure to pass cattle on the range, a flock of sheep, or mobile pens for pastured poultry. Small-scale livestock production has a long tradition in BC, and has been reinvigorated in recent years with practices such as rotational grazing and regenerative agriculture that allow for significant meat production without industrial practices. Demand also seems to be growing for local and sustainable meats.

But are there really enough of these small producers to play a serious role in BC’s economy today? And how much potential does this industry have for the future?

Associations representing commercial livestock producers collect data on their own members – those producing over 300 hogs with BC Pork, for example. Commodity producers also enjoy the benefits of their association’s advocacy, and commerce support from marketing boards.

Meanwhile, producers selling directly to consumers, raising multiple livestock species, or simply operating at a smaller scale have lacked a collective voice in provincial conversations about agricultural policies. And little is known about the current scale and potential capacity of these producers.

Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association.

The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association (SSMPA) aims to address both of these issues. In spite of a diversity of livestock types and sizes of operations, the organization says that its members are united by operating without the supports of the existing commodity associations or marketing boards.

SSMPA was established by a group of farmers and ranchers in 2017, and its membership now includes representation from all livestock sectors. “The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association represents British Columbia farmers and ranchers who are raising meat outside of the conventional, industrial system,” reads the SSMPA website home page.

This might include a pork producer raising 200 hogs per year, and all poultry producers who sell direct to consumer. It can also include cow-calf operations that process a few cull cows for sale to friends and neighbours, even if they otherwise primarily sell at auction.

It has also succeeded in becoming recognized in consultations and conversations with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, such as in the development of changes to on-farm slaughter licensing that the province recently announced.

Julia Smith of Blue Sky Ranch near Merritt is the President of SSMPA. “We’re happy with the regulatory changes,” she says of the announcement. But, she notes, “There’s more work to be done to build a thriving small-scale meat industry.”

Including Smith, SSMPA’s founding members were selling their meat products directly to members of their communities, rather than through a marketing board or distributor, and feeding communities in the process. And their experience was that their industry was growing.

Suckling piglets. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association.

Smith raises a rare heritage breed of hog as well as a small herd of cattle on pasture. Selling directly has helped her see better margins than many commercial producers, where processors and retailers realize the lion’s share of the profit.

The demand for her product has been enough to enable Smith to grow her operation, from raising just two pigs in her first year, to running a farrow-to-finish operation with fourteen sows and two boars just four years later. She has supplied meat and other farm products to hundreds of British Columbians and currently has a waitlist for both meat and breeding stock.

Smith says this experience is repeated across the province. “We know that a small-scale operation can contribute to food security and the local economy. What we don’t know is the cumulative potential of producers like this spread all over the province – or their specific barriers to reaching that potential.”

She says information like this hasn’t been available because the right questions weren’t being asked. This summer, SSMPA launched a comprehensive survey of meat producers. She says the resulting information will help the organization define its policies and priorities to support these producers moving forward.

The province seems to agree that the industry has promise; many of the new changes to the slaughter regulations had been advocated for by SSMPA for years. Smith believes the number of producers that could be affected by policies like this is in the thousands. And they should all be giving their two cents to SSMPA.

“Everyone who processes at a provincially-inspected abattoir or on-farm should be participating in this survey,” she says. “Tell us: What is your path to growth? What obstacles do you need to overcome in order to reach your goals?”

At Blue Sky Ranch, Smith’s own goal was to produce just under 300 hogs per year. But the operation met with processing roadblocks at 125 hogs.

“We’re not the only operation that isn’t reaching its full capacity,” says Smith. “SSMPA is using the survey to document this. We want to know what would happen if we could create the conditions for successful operations across the province. For example, how many abattoirs would need to be built before producers could book the slaughter dates they need, with enough reliability to scale their businesses?”

“We’re connecting the dots, but without data to prove our case we won’t get the resources and support to let our industry thrive.”

Smith emphasizes that this survey is an independent project. “SSMPA is a producer-led organization and our mandate is to look out for producers,” she says. “We’ve gone to great lengths to protect the anonymity of survey participants and we will not be sharing survey responses or any other raw data with government, or anyone else.”

For an added incentive SSMPA connected with BC-based fencing company FenceFast, which has offered a $25 discount to every current producer who participates. Smith says FenceFast recognized the potential. “Really, this is just an example of the ripples of impact that can come from growing a locally-based industry like this.”

She adds, “We might be surprised at the opportunities being squandered because of challenges that are within our capacity to address. Even producers might be taken aback. We hope that there will be findings in our report that invigorate and inspire producers with a vision of what could be possible. We have so many people who want to enter this industry. Imagine the impact if these producers will have a fair chance at success.”

The survey is open until September 10, 2021 and can be accessed at smallscalemeat.ca/survey or it can be completed over the phone by appointment at 250-999-0296. SSMPA can also be reached at info@smallscalemeat.ca.

SSMPA is conducting regional focus groups in mid-September to dig deeper into potential solutions to the problems identified through the survey. By early 2022 they will be releasing a report on their findings, and announce how they will ensure that their own programming is geared to meet the needs of its membership.

Producers – and all supporters of local and sustainable meat production – are invited to join SSMPA by signing up for a membership.


Ava Reeve is the Executive Director of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association, where she gets to pursue her passion for the sustainable practices that result in a high quality of life for both livestock and people.

Featured image: Spray Creek Ranch Cattle. Credit: Small Scale Meat Producers Association.

Let’s Hold Hands

in 2021/Fall 2021/Land Stewardship/Organic Community

By Natalie Forstbauer

The emptiness of the Earth’s desertified soils is palpable.
The insidious poisoning of our water is profound.
The toxic air filling our lungs is suffocating.
The mass extinction of life is alarming.
The dis-ease in human bodies is dominating.

We wonder, “What can we do? What can I do?”
To change the course of the destruction of earth, humanity, and all living creatures.

Is Global Regeneration even possible?

Is it possible to bring life back into soil?
Is it possible for our waterways to run clean?
Is it possible to purify the air we breathe?
Is it possible to reverse the illness and disease raging through humanity, our pets, and wildlife?

I sit in wonder…

And with certainty – I see it is possible.

Now is the time to engage in Global Regeneration.
There has never been a better time to have your hands in the soil working with nature.
Now is the time to deepen into nature’s wisdom and guidance and rise.

It’s time to shine as a farmer, steward of the land, seed saver, gardener, and lightworker in unity for Global Regeneration.

It starts with you.
It starts with me.
It starts with conversations.
It starts with meeting yourself, each other and the Earth where we are, at this very moment in kindness, compassion, and reverence.

Here’s the thing.
Earth does not need us.
We NEED her.
Let’s Hold Hands.

What if we turned towards helping each other?
What if we turned towards what we want to create?
What if we turned towards being intentional in our actions?
What if we turned towards being conscious of our choices?
What if we turned towards being aligned with nature?
What if we turned towards listening to the wisdom of our bodies?
What if we turned towards amplifying the amazing work being done locally and globally in our homes, communities, and countries?

When we go looking, we see Global Regeneration is in manifestation…

Soil has shown us she comes to life with billions of organisms in just one teaspoon of healthy soil when supported with living biology.

Rain has shown us it returns when supported with agroecology and soil health.
Water has shown us it is stored, purified and resourceful in healthy soil.
Air has shown us carbon is naturally stored in soil rich in organic matter with a diverse soil food web.
Our bodies have shown us they are designed to be healthy and heal when fed a plant-based chemical free diet.

Nature has shown us she seeds, nourishes, restores, regenerates, and renews everyday in every way.
When things aren’t working, she deconstructs, composts, harvests and regenerates—in her way.

Will you join her?
Will you hold hands with Mother Nature?
Will you allow her to guide you?
Will you lean in?
Will you listen?
Will you watch and observe?
Will you learn and follow her lead?

Will we join her?

Globally.
In regeneration.
Global Regeneration.

This is an opportunity in history to show up intentionally, consciously, and regeneratively. Let’s be in this conversation because talking can change minds which can transform behaviours which can transform societies.

Local actions make a global impact.

Focus on what you CAN do, rather than on what you cannot do.
Be a champion for yourself advocating for what is important to you.
Focus on compassion for others on this journey.
Be a champion for others with your presence, actions, conversations—we are all learning, growing, and figuring this out together.

Focus on leading with wisdom and grace.
Share what you are learning and discovering and be encouraging towards others on the same path, others who are a few steps behind you and others on a different path altogether.

Global Regeneration is global healing at the deepest level.
Global Regeneration invites us to pause, to tune in, to observe, to connect, and to be in regeneration with ourselves, each other, and our home on earth.
It starts with awareness. It builds with conversations. It happens with action.

Global Regeneration is inviting you to take your next step in regeneration. What will it be?


Natalie Forstbauer, is the founder and editor-in-chief of Heart & Soil Magazine. She is a TEDx speaker, author, organic/biodynamic farmer and traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivor. She is passionate about human potential and seeing people live their best lives. Raised on an organic farm, trained in Polarity Therapy, alternative medicine, Neurofeedback and Transformational Leadership she brings a wealth of knowledge and life experience to her audiences.

heartandsoilmagazine.com

Why I Joined a Farmer-Led Coalition Advocating for Climate Action

in 2021/Climate Change/Crop Production/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Summer 2021

Arzeena Hamir

My husband Neil and I have been growing organic food for our community in the Comox Valley for nine seasons now. As a farmer, an agronomist, a food security activist, and a mother, ensuring the safety of our planet is really close to my heart. I have always farmed with the goal of giving back to the land and to my community, which has embraced our family farm and supported us in so many ways. This support led me to run for election in local government in 2018 and since then, I have been sitting as the Director of the Comox Valley Regional District. I love being able to advocate for local policies that will ensure the health and prosperity of our community.

I saw what I was able to achieve locally through my political involvement, and recognized the benefits it brought to my work as a farmer. In an effort to grow this impact, I sought out opportunities to reach the wider agricultural sector.

That’s when I found Farmers for Climate Solutions (FCS) and decided to get involved. FCS is a national coalition of farmers and farmer-supporters who believe that agriculture must be part of the solution to climate change. FCS currently represents over 20,000 farmers and ranchers across Canada, reflecting the vibrant diversity of the agricultural sector in terms of farm size, types of production, and farmers themselves.

The squash field at Amara Farm next to moveable hoophouse. Credit: Michaela Parks.

In just one year of operation, FCS has garnered some serious attention from the media and policy-makers. The coalition was launched in February 2020, marking Canada’s Agriculture Day. Shortly after their exciting launch, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Through the tragedy of countless losses across communities, I felt the weight of this pandemic on top of the growing threat of climate change to my livelihood as a farmer. FCS felt this too, and as our government planned to “build back better,” they asked: what does this mean for agriculture?

A smart, forward-thinking and lasting COVID-19 recovery should prioritize climate resilience on our farms. I was thrilled to see a report recommending five priorities to achieve this, from encouraging the energy transition on farms, providing incentives for climate-friendly practices, investing in farmer-to-farmer training, and supporting new and young farmers. These were priorities that I felt proud to develop even more as I formally joined the efforts of the coalition.

In September 2020, after an unprecedented commitment from the Speech to the Throne to farmers and ranchers, the Canadian government recognized us as key partners in the fight against climate change and pledged to support our efforts to reduce emissions and build resilience. In order to ensure that the government would deliver on their commitment, FCS set out to recruit a farmer-led task force of experts to propose short-term actions that would deliver long-term lasting benefits in emissions reductions and economic well-being. The short list of recommendations was to be advanced for Budget 2021 to inform the next agricultural policy framework in 2023.

Neil Turner and Arzeena Hamir. Credit: Michaela Parks.

I initially signed up as an interested farmer and attended a focus group, and then ultimately took on the role of task force co-chair, where I shared leadership with fellow farmer Ian McCreary, who farms grain and livestock in Saskatchewan. Together, we led a team of members with expertise in agricultural economy, greenhouse gas (GHG) modeling, and domestic and international agricultural policy analysis, to advance six high-impact programs that would reduce on-farm GHG emissions and build resilience. I am also working with fellow British Columbian and long-time friend, Abra Brynne, on an equity analysis of these recommendations to ensure that we do not leave out BIPOC, 2SLGBTQ+, and other equity-seeking farmers, and that supports are accessible to all farmers.

Being part of this team was incredible. Meeting farmers from across Canada who were equally committed to climate action was so heartening. Having access to Canada’s best GHG modellers and scientists was fascinating and I was able to expose myself to a whole area of lobbying and policy development at a federal level that I had never been involved in. I got to meet the federal Minister of Agriculture, Marie-Claude Bibeau! Ultimately, with this team, we were able to make the case for how agriculture could really be a powerhouse for climate mitigation and that message was heard.

Over the course of several months, FCS held over 20 meetings to engage with representatives from the federal government to promote and refine our budget recommendations. We often heard positive and hopeful feedback from these meetings, commending the evidence-based and detailed research our group had brought forward. Essentially, we were championing climate-friendly farming practices that have been proven to reduce emissions and are cost-effective for both farmers and the government.

An Amara Farm worker harvesting field cucumbers. Credit: Amara Farm.

We launched our budget recommendation report on February 23rd 2021, once again marking Canada’s Agriculture Day with a national media tour to help amplify the voices of farmers who are already implementing these practices on their farms and who have seen the benefits on their business and the environment. This really reinforced the most important potential that I see for Farmers for Climate Solutions: we are shifting the viewpoint that farmers are solely the victims of climate change, and recognizing that we are also valuable actors in moving the agriculture sector forward.

Our team waited for the announcement of the budget with bated breath. In a year where the government had to prioritize funding immense gaps left by the pandemic, we were hoping that a climate-focused budget for agriculture would also make the cut, and it did. This historic win for our sector showed us that the government is committing to supporting farmers directly to scale up adoption of climate-friendly farming. Because we can no longer wait to act. With only nine growing seasons left to achieve Canada’s target under the 2030 Paris Agreement, and our agricultural emissions projected to rise, we urgently needed this kind of meaningful support to lead the climate transition in our sector.

Farmers are already leading the way, and have shown their innovation and resilience in the face of many challenges, and climate change is no different. There is a growing movement of farmers who are inspiring change, from fence post to fence post, and now we have concrete support to ensure we can harness the positive impact that our sector can have on the environment. I feel incredibly proud to be part of seeing this change happen across millions of acres of farmland in Canada.

Read more:

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/recovery-from-covid19

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/budget-2021-recommendation

farmersforclimatesolutions.ca/news-and-stories/budget-2021-represents-historical-win-for-canadian-agriculture


Arzeena Hamir is the owner of Amara Farm in Courtenay, BC and a Director of the Comox Valley Regional District.

Feature image: Arzeena Hamir harvesting beans in the field at Amara Farm. Credit: Michaela Parks.

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

Why Nature’s Path Embraces Real Organic & Regenerative Organic

in 2020/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Soil/Spring 2020

Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path Founder, and Dag Falck, Nature’s Path Organic Programs Manager

Pioneer organic farmers were the visionaries of their age. Like many other inspired thinkers born before their time, they viewed the ordinary in extraordinary new ways, working quietly and diligently towards an alternate approach, often years or even decades before the general population awaken to the same realizations.

Consider the doctor who was fired from his job in 1847 for suggesting that surgeons wash their hands before operating on a patient. Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis and his new “idea” of practicing basic sanitary procedures has saved millions and millions of lives.

At the center and core of Nature’s Path Foods is the goal of creating an agricultural system that aims towards healing the soil, land, water, air and all of us who rely on these essential and natural elements.

All around the world, people are waking up to the direct connection between how we farm locally and the massive collective impact this has on the stability of the global climate. This awareness has led to a will to do something about it. And we welcome the conversation on how we better reach that goal.

Around the time of the Industrial Revolution, humanity was excited with a “new form” of agriculture that increased yields and reduced backbreaking labor. It was clear that the invention of mechanical tools and chemicals that lent themselves to mass agricultural production of food and fiber was welcomed and celebrated worldwide.

At the same time, there was a handful of visionary individuals spread around the globe who had an awareness of a different sort. They observed how traditional agricultural practices had developed over thousands of years, being vital in support not only to people, but to all living things.

They saw the tiny organisms in the soil, the animals and people living above ground, all working together in cooperation in a way that provided calories and nourishment through the plants growing in the soil. This whole-system-approach is now recognized as having an intrinsic capacity for maintaining and perpetuating a complex balance where all parts co-exist in balance.

We call this system “nature,” which includes supporting the modulated climate on planet earth that makes our existence possible.

As if by some divine decree, this diverse core of individuals across the globe were awakening to this insight about the same time, being mostly unaware that others like themselves were all having the same revelations. The individuals and small groups inspired by this idea often felt isolated, and their efforts to reconnect with Nature as their role-model and teacher was certainly considered as going against the tide. In their experience, the system of cultivating the soil was not seen as having value, and these visionaries were often ridiculed as wanting to return to harsh and barbaric methods.

This was a key period in history where the concept of being “alternative” took hold. Carrying the torch for an idea not embraced by the mainstream society is a hard path with much struggle and little recognition. Especially in the early stages, visionaries are often exposed to ridicule and direct opposition from the mainstream way of doing things.

Imagine the frustration of Dr. Semmelweis, when he met resistance to something as simple as washing hands before surgical procedures. He clearly saw the death toll resulting from not doing so.
Fortunately for us, the visionaries who came before our time were provided with an extra dose of resiliency and energy that allowed them to keep going against all odds. They never gave up and they often did not receive any recognition in their own lifetimes. And the issues that they fought for didn’t see the light of day until generations later.

Organic farming is one of these alternatives.

The early organic farming pioneers bravely blazed the way forward. They lived and died believing in their vision, but never saw any real uptake on any large scale. Years later, organic agriculture started to grow as a movement, and with it, organic food and fiber became available around the world.

Even if organic agriculture is just a drop in the bucket compared to the growth of chemical and industrial monoculture, we have arrived at a moment where the pioneers of the organic movement and their vision for a healthy and truly sustainable way of agriculture are becoming recognized by an ever-growing segment of society. It can no longer be denied that our very survival as a species depends on shifting our current conventional agriculture model towards the kinds of organic practices that nurture and support nature’s wholistic system health. This is the birthing room that today’s Regenerative Agriculture movements have been born in.

Is Nature’s Path excited about regenerating agriculture? You bet!

Yet in the last few decades of false starts and opportunistic profiteering muddying the waters of the soil health movements, we’ve observed label claims like “natural” that have no proper definition, with no standards and no certification or oversight. This has confused consumers and provided a mockery of the soil health movements with deeply authentic goals to improve conditions for all life on earth. The organic movement has always been in front and center of this conversation.

Our highest hopes for the latest movement to hit the scene is that it will drive a sincere and intensely practical revolution for how we care for the thin crust around the earth that feeds all life here. Our thin layer of top soil, and the new movement recognizing its paramount importance has taken on the name of Regenerative Agriculture.

The three key concepts that gave rise to the recent iteration of the regenerative agriculture movement are that:

  • Soil which is nurtured to support a largely unseen microbial network will grow healthier plants,
  • The plants grown in healthy soil provide healthier nutrition for people and animals, and
  • The big “Aha!” realization is that this very same healthy soil actually sequesters enough carbon from the atmosphere to heal our catastrophic global climate disruption.

Nature’s Path Foods is deeply concerned over the disastrous effects of climatic change felt by people in most parts of the world, and vocal with our message that the problem of climate change must be recognized as the most critical issue of our age.

How amazing is our discovery that organic farmers indeed hold the knowledge to reverse a climate calamity? Nature’s perfect mechanism of photosynthesis can draw carbon down out of thin air, and lock it into living soil. By simply taking better care of the soil and nurturing the life that lives below our feet, we can contribute so importantly to the most existential crisis humanity has yet faced.

The life in our soil can hold much more carbon if we only treat it well and allow it to flourish instead of constantly applying practices that diminish its fertility and vitality.

At this point please allow us to make an introduction. Dear regenerative movement: Meet the organic movement.

We have a lot in common and could benefit from sharing ideas and best approaches. The organic movement brings decades of hands-on experience in carrying an unpopular torch and what it takes to keep it burning despite opposition from powerful vested interests.

Our common bond is capturing carbon to reverse climate crisis. Where the divergence happens is in the details of the plan to accomplish this.

There are two main challenges: One is that according to the latest science, there is very little time to make enough of an impact to actually affect the climate— so we need to be in a hurry by necessity. The other is that if the scale of adoption is not massive, then the outcomes won’t be big enough to make a difference.

Reaching large scales of adaption in a hurry is undeniably the key to success. We will even venture to guess that most people with a stake in one or more of the myriads of today’s regenerative initiatives are with us on this assessment so far—that we need to scale up in a hurry.

Here is the point where we face a wide divergence of approaches. Two key strategies to help reverse the climate crisis. If we are to rise above our respective positions in this massive puzzle to save soil, environment, climate and humanity, we will need to find ways to synchronize our efforts. The first logical step in addressing both speed and scale is to tap into everyone’s efforts at the same time.

Our conflict centers around these two opposing theories:

A) That carbon intensifying farming can be achieved by adding practices to any existing form of agricultural system today, including “conventional.” Versus;
B) That even with the best added practices, success cannot be achieved without also addressing the removal of those practices that have the most grievously detrimental effect on the life in the soil.

A is the conventional regenerative movement’s belief, and B is the organic belief. We have to be clear about this and not settle for a compromise where we say we promote carbon capture, while also allowing use of the methods that basically make that intent ineffective.

“Regenerative Agriculture” is easily co-opted and used as a form of greenwash and duplicity. Regenerative Organic agriculture does not employ fossil fuel-based synthetic fertilizer, toxic pesticides or GMOs, and agricultural practices cannot be labeled as Regenerative if they are harming people and polluting our planet.

We simply and clearly cannot call it Regenerative Agriculture by introducing a few time-honoured organic practices such as crop rotations, compost and ruminant pasturing into any practice that allows the use of toxic chemicals and GMOs.

Reaching scale quickly cannot be done with clever wording alone. The practices actually must have a positive effect on carbon capture.

We must directly address the applications of agrichemicals that are working counter to actual carbon capture and diligently weed out these practices, while requiring agricultural producers to add regenerative practices. Carbon intensifying farming cannot be achieved by adding practices to today’s conventional systems of heavy reliance on synthetic fossil fuel-based agrichemical inputs that kill the life in the soil, which is responsible for the capturing of carbon.

To meet the goal of scaling-up solutions to the climate crisis, we must evaluate which of two critical practices have the most detrimental effects on the life in the soil:

  1. Is it the practice of using agrichemicals on the soil to control weeds, disease, and fertility, with the consequences of negatively affecting soil life, or
  2. Is it the practice of tillage, which addresses weeds, disease, and fertility, but which may expose the soil to baking in the sun, eroding in rains, and the resulting loss of soil life?

We agree that tillage needs to be reduced and be carefully practiced with discretion. But even in its most extreme form, it is not thought to be anywhere near as detrimental as agrichemicals.

The fork in the road where we are standing today looks like this: The south fork is going along without confronting the status quo of industrial agriculture, while adding carbon-capturing practices. The north fork is confronting the status quo, and adding carbon-capturing practices.

As part of our commitment to continue raising food on a compromised planet, we all have to wrestle with these issues and decide which fork in the road we will follow. All we can offer is the suggestion that we all look clearly and dispassionately at the issues. For Nature’s Path, the north fork is the one we choose to take. In our assessment, chemicals have a strong detrimental effect on the ability of our topsoils to capture carbon and do not belong in a food production system in the first place.

Tillage can be moderated. Before agrichemicals, there was no alternative to tillage, and we refuse to believe we’re stuck with putting poisons on our food and fiber-producing fields in order to save our climate. Organic farmers have long proven that food can be produced without chemicals, using some tillage as a tool.

Our hope is that the diverse regenerative agricultural movements will seek to find existing systems that already embody the solutions we disparately need to implement, and deeply study the successes and challenges in these systems to see how they can be scaled up quickly.

Let’s take a closer look at historical examples where sustainable, regenerative practices have been employed over the ages. In Asian wet rice farming, abundant soil fertility has been consistently maintained, producing bountiful harvests on the same plots for over 2,000 years. The greatest input we can add to our farmlands is the wisdom of cultures around the world who have been growing organically for hundreds of generations before chemical agriculture was introduced in the 20th century.

Since the recent invention of “conventional agriculture”, we have been steadily eroding soil fertility and rapidly increasing the destruction of our natural environment— while decreasing the nutritional content of our food.

We should view and treat our soil as a bank containing the present and future wealth of nations. Instead of reinventing the wheel, let’s utilize the momentum already built by the worldwide organic agriculture movement. It has not yet reached the scale we need to solve the climate crisis, but there is no comparable system of agriculture that is as well defined and that has as much success to show.

Let us all join ranks with organic and make it the kind of movement that can change the world on a large scale. With your help, we can get past the tipping point and make the kinds of changes in our food system that we need to survive.

In the end, organic agriculture is really just good farming. It treats natural soil life, insects, animals, people, air, water and earth with integrity. Our support of the Real Organic Project is not a radical move— it’s simply a clear statement for the preservation of integrity in organic.

Together we offer the strong voice needed to stand up against the practices now tearing the fabric of the planet apart. And as the Real Organic Project continues to raise this voice in support of integrity in the face of well-entrenched and well-financed opposition, Nature’s Path hopes that it won’t stand down or give in.

Organic knows what it’s like to be a threat to the world economy’s largest interests. If healthy soil is the solution we need, then the chemicals that kill the life in the soil must be prohibited.

That’s doing, versus promising.


Pioneer, entrepreneur, artist and visionary, Arran Stephen’s organic legacy sprouted more than 50 years ago with just $7, a $1,500 loan and a dream. After opening the first vegetarian restaurant in Canada and the first organic cereal manufacturing facility, he is now leading future generations down a path of organic food and agriculture practices so we may all leave the Earth better than we found it. naturespath.com

Recognized as an expert in the organic industry, Dag Falck has served as Organic Program Manager for Nature’s Path Organic Foods since 2003. Prior to joining the company, he was an organic inspector for 14 years.

Ask an Expert: Organic Agriculture 3.0

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

History of the Debate About the Future of Agriculture

Thorsten Arnold

This article was first published by the Organic Council of Ontario on January 18, 2019, and is reprinted here with gratitude.

The organic farm and food industry is facing major challenges. IFOAM, the international federation of organic agriculture movements, is spearheading a debate on how the organic movement can tackle these in the future. This blog summarizes the history of this debate and some questions of interest for Canada.

In 2015, Europe’s major organic farmer associations identified major challenges, with ongoing relevance for the present. Most importantly, the growth in organic production has been slow and farm conversion to organic practices are stagnating. Even if the current growth of 5% per year is sustained until 2050, the organizations concluded that the impacts of organic agriculture would remain insignificant with respect to the movement’s goal of reducing the adverse impacts of agriculture on the planet’s ecosystem and resource base. The organizations also identified several structural barriers within and outside of the organic sector, and posed the question, what could the next development phase of organic agriculture, coined Organic 3.0, look like?

Organic agriculture is classified into three development stages. Organic 1.0 describes the early period, when farmers responded to the industrialization of farming with a call to respect natural cycles and soil health, and retain a lifestyle that is in tune with nature. This early phase was inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s agricultural courses but also with the warning about “Limits of Growth” by the Club of Rome. Organic 1.0 was characterized by a colorful and incoherent movement that was innovative but failed to link into the mainstream food system. Around 1970, a growing number of unsubstantiated organic/biological/ecological claims increasingly confused consumers and retail traders, highlighting the need for harmonizing the “organic trademark”. European farmer associations reacted by defining a number of guidelines and private organic standards (e.g. Demeter, Bioland, Naturland, BioSwiss, BioAustria), many of which are popular today. During the early 90s, governments throughout the world adopted national organic standards and equivalence agreements between these. This global harmonization enabled international trade in organic goods and also opened retailers to organic products. The successful shift from ideology to standard-driven production is subsumed as Organic 2.0. Today, private and national standards co-exist in many European countries, with private standards being widely recognized by consumers as more stringent and small-scale, whereas national standards cater to industrial organic production and processing.

IFOAM International did not favour a two-tier system, as many member countries do not share Europe’s history of successful private premium organic standards. In a follow-up paper (Nigli et al., 2015), the authors of Biofach 2015 re-formulate the five challenges of organic agriculture as (1) weak growth in agricultural production, (2) the potential of organic agriculture to provide food security, (3) competition from other sustainability initiatives including greenwashing, (4) transparency and safety in value chains, and (5) the need to improve consumer communication. While authors agree that a two-tier system is not necessary, they voice concern about the organic label losing its leadership claim amongst a multitude of emerging sustainability labels. Authors see the current stagnation of organic growth, and the slow speed of innovation in national standards, as a fundamental threat to the organic movement and its goals.

In 2016, IFOAM responded in a paper that gives direction to Organic 3.0. In recognition that “promoting diversity that lies at the heart of organic and recognizing there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach”, IFOAM identified six features that Organic 3.0 should address (IFOAM 2016, p3).

Fig.2 Toward six features of organic agriculture for true sustainability (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)
  • Feature #1: A culture of innovation where traditional and new technologies are regularly re-assessed for their benefits and risk.
  • Feature #2: Continuous improvement towards best practice, for operators along the whole value chain covering the broader dimensions of sustainability.
  • Feature #3: Diverse ways to ensure transparency and integrity, to broaden the uptake of organic agriculture beyond third-party certification;
  • Feature #4: Inclusiveness of wider sustainability interests through alliances with movements that truly aspire for sustainable food and farming while avoiding ‘greenwashing’;
  • Feature #5: Empowerment from the farm to the final consumer, to recognize the interdependence along the value chain and also on a territorial basis; and
  • Feature #6: True value and cost accounting, to internalize costs and benefits and encourage transparency for consumers and policy-makers.

With some further guidance to different players in the organic movement, IFOAM called upon national and regional associations to fill these features with meaning. Since then, organizations across the globe have engaged in a more focused discussion about the future of organic agriculture.

Fig.3 IFOAM proposes changes to how the organic movement operates (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)

What Does the Future of Organic Look Like?

North America’s organic associations remain sceptical about a two-tier approach to the organic label. Still, farmers who strongly exceed the national standards feel insufficiently represented by the organic associations and unable to compete with some of the largest organic production corporations. Next to the Demeter biodynamic certification, there are at least two recent private initiatives that promote premium organic certification. Currently in its piloting phase, the Rodale Institute’s Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) integrates animal welfare and labour fairness requirements and uses three tiers to reward leadership. Secondly, the Real Organic Project is an “add-on label to USDA certified organic to provide more transparency on these farming practices”. USDA organic certification is a prerequisite to participate in this add-on program. This family farmer-driven project embraces centuries-old organic farming practices along with new scientific knowledge of ecological farming.

In the face of these international developments, Ontario’s organic organizations must respond to the grassroots emergence of a de-facto two-tier system. This is not only driven by farmers who feel insufficiently represented by the “mainstream” national organic standards, but also by consumer understanding of the organic label. Organic-critical mainstream articles play a major role in consumer perception, such as a recent Toronto Star article “Milked”, which found less-than-expected differences between the milk from a large certified organic brand and conventional milk. Even though the article’s findings were based on misleading and unscientific grounds, it still points to a growing concern from consumers about the differences across the organic sector. How can consumers learn about these differences? And how do we, as part of Ontario’s organic movement, promote the national organic standard without abandoning those innovators that exceed the COS requirements, and strive for further recognition?

Organic 3.0 aspires to build leadership within the organic sector as well as bridges with mainstream agriculture. This means innovating beyond the COS requirements and sharing experiences with the entire agriculture sector. As Prof. Caradonna, U of Victoria, reports, many non-organic farmers are already taking up some of organic’s proven practices: cover cropping, reduced tillage, and smarter crop rotations. How can we strengthen this cross-over to maximize benefits for our shared planet? And, what can the organic sector learn from the innovative non-organic producers, e.g. for no-till field crops? How can the farming sector better generate, accumulate and pass on knowledge that is independent from input vendors, whose advice is biased by self-interest? How can farmers learn from each other to sustain farm profits, healthy people, and our beautiful planet?


Thorsten Arnold is a member of the Organic 3.0 Task Force of the Organic Value Chain Roundtable. Thorsten also serves on the board of the Organic Council of Ontario and currently works with EFAO as strategic initiatives & fundraising coordinator. Together with his wife Kristine, Thorsten owns Persephone Market Garden.

Feature image: Fig.1 Evolution of the organic movement (Source Arbenz et al., 2016)

Further reading:
OCO’S response to Toronto Star’s article Milked.
Organic agriculture is going mainstream, but not the way you think it is.

References
1. Niggli, U., et al. (2015). Towards modern sustainable agriculture with organic farming as the leading model. A discussion document on Organic: 3. Jg., S. 36.
2. Arbenz, M., Gould, D., & Stopes, C. (2016). Organic 3.0 for truly sustainable farming & consumption. 2ndupdated edition: IFOAM Organics International: ifoam.bio/sites/default/files/organic3.0_v.2_web_0.pdf.

Biodynamic Farm Story: Peeking Behind the Wall

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

Anna Helmer

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

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

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

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

Digging up the horns containing BD 500.

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

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

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

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

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

I am not certain I want in.

I question whether I need in.

Really, I just don’t understand the concepts.

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

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

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


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

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

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