I Think Our Ducks Hate Me

Khaki Campbell Ducks

So, I’m pretty sure the ducks think I’m the worst.

I tried my best to get them to love me. When they were little, I would hang out with them as long as I could and sing songs or read aloud to them. While I was busy on the farm, I’d play an interview I did (on the Farmer to Farmer podcast) so they’d get used to my voice (full disclaimer, I’ve never listened to the podcast myself….I hate hearing myself speak!).

ducklings

I looked for treats around the farm for them to make sure they didn’t miss out on anything delicious (well, not always delicious to me….although I guess I’ve never given slugs a fair shot).

I avoided direct eye contact with them when I read that it might make me seem like a predator.

When they were traumatized from an overnight raccoon visit, I added Rescue Remedy flower essence and homeopathic arnica to their drinking water to help them get over the shock. (yes, I’m a hippie)

I tried being extra smiley every time I passed by them after reading that some animals can tell when humans are smiling (like pigeons).

I bought them only the best local and organic grains and turn it into an oatmeal –like paste by adding water (they will no longer touch their food while it’s dry).

I make sure their rotating forage area includes fresh grass and other plants, low shrubs, and trees so they have exactly the type of habitat they want in any given moment.

But still they hate me.

organic ducks

They run away and hide every time they see me.

They only eat the treats I leave them when they know I’m good and gone (if they even eat them at all….sometimes they leave them untouched just to spite me).

Some of them will always veer off while I’m herding them just to let me know how much I suck at it.

And then, when I’m gone, they have a nice, loud laugh at my expense. So I can hear just how happy they are when I’m not there.

Khaki Campbell ducks

But still.

I do adore them and am so happy they live on this farm with me.

 

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Biodegradable Plastic Mulches No Longer Allowed in Canadian Organics…..What Now?

Black Knight Scabiosa

I originally wrote this article for and it was published in The Canadian Organic Growers Magazine’s Spring 2016 issue. TCOG (for short) magazine is a great magazine that you can either subscribe to online or as a print/paper copy. Check it out! This article was written as a follow-up to the first article I wrote on this issue originally published in the ACORN newsletter (and later published in The BC Organic Grower).

After years of using biodegradable biobased mulch films (or biofilms for brevity), in early 2015 certified organic farmers in Canada were told that biofilms would no longer be considered an allowable input. Farmers from across the country were understandably upset and confused.

Biofilms offer benefits in weed control and soil warming.  And they biodegrade within 2 seasons, eliminating the need to be picked up. Every ecologically-minded farmer who was using or wanted the benefits of regular plastic mulch, was happy to avoid adding more waste to the landfill.

When I first learned about non-GMO, corn starch-based biofilms, I was excited about the potential. I had never been a fan of plastic mulch but neither was I happy to frequently cultivate my soil, which decreased my capacity to build soil organic matter and store carbon. In our first season on our new farm, converting hay fields to beds of vegetables, using biofilm kept the plentiful weeds from taking over and helped us achieve enough yield to make a living. Until the spring of 2015, Ecocert, our organic certifier, allowed us to use it.

So, what happened? Well, it turns out that none of the biofilms currently available in the marketplace are 100% bio-based (which is the requirement in both the Canadian Organic Standard (COS) and the U.S. National Organic Program Standard) but rather contain only 10-20% biobased material. The rest is made up of polymers from fossil fuels (petroleum and natural gas), dyes, minerals, and sometimes heavy metals.  There are no 100% biobased biofilms, nor are there any expected to be available in the near future (despite what I’ve heard from some salespeople).

On our farm, we started using a biofilm called BioTelo and then moved to a product called Bio360. Both of them include a material called Mater-Bi, produced by a company in Italy called Novamont. Mater-Bi is made with non-GMO cornstarch, but also contains proprietary, biodegradable ingredients from renewable, synthetic or mixed sources. And it’s those extra ingredients that are the problem.

The revised COS published in November 2015 authorizes the continued use of these biofilms—including tilling them into the soil after use—until 2017 only (to allow farmers time to figure out their new management plans).

As a result, the search is on for alternatives to biofilms at certified organic farms across the country. We’d been thinking about this topic throughout last year’s season, and spoke with  many other farmers about it. Most of the other organic farmers I’ve spoken to who have been using the biofilms are still unsure of how they will replace their use. Here are some ideas we’ve considered or heard from other farmers:

Pulling up the biofilms at end of season

Last year (2015), we still had leftover rolls from the prior season so we covered some beds with biofilm and removed it by hand (and rakes). This could be an option some people might choose every season. But, what do you do with the biofilms you picked up? Throw them away like you would with regular black plastic, though that is an expensive choice since biofilms are pricier than black plastic mulch. Philosophically, trashing biofilms over black plastic might seem attractive simply because the films are compostable under ideal composting practices and so they might break down in the landfill (though that is not an ideal composting situation). Truthfully, it is not easy to pick them up. Regular black plastic takes time to pull up and can definitely break apart but biofilms start breaking down within a single growing season and as soon as you grab some, bits break off.

overwintering onions

Regular Plastic Mulch

While we’ve never purchased black plastic mulch, we were given a roll with our mulch layer and are used it last fall for overwintering onions. Black plastic mulch and black biofilms are comparable in terms of weed suppression, soil warming, moisture-conservation, and reduction of nutrient leaching.  Since many organic farmers have purchased expensive, mechanical mulch layers in order to lay their biofilms, the easiest thing for them to do is switch to regular plastic mulch (or sell their mulch layers).

Black plastic burdens landfills. Some landfills have stopped accepting plastic mulch while in other regions recycling programs have been created for black plastic waste (though it’s still cumbersome and expensive to transport). There is also the fact that some soil and crop residues are removed with the mulch.  While the volume of soil and organic matter removed may seem small on any given sheet of plastic, it definitely adds up and works against what organic farmers are trying to do, which is build their soils. This plastic not only ends up in landfills (which would be the ideal scenario for it), it also frequently gets burned (air pollution) or gets blown or washed away (80% of plastics in oceans comes from agriculture).

geotextile

Landscape fabric/Geotextile

In previous years, we’d only used landscape fabric between widely-spaced crops like tomatoes and winter squash. The narrow space between the 2 sheets of fabric serves as the row, which we mulched heavily with compost to inhibit weeds. This system has worked well. There was only one weed to pull from our winter squash field last season! We knew of many other farmers who used it for tighter spaced crops with success by burning holes at the proper spacing (cutting it leads to unravelling of the woven plastic) which we tried this year for cut flowers.  Increased use of landscape fabric is likely on our farm though we have heard concerns about plant diseases remaining in the landscape fabric since it is reused each year and difficult to sanitize.  A great benefit to the landscape fabric is that it breathes and rain can be absorbed in the soil underneath it. If you take care of it, it can last for 10 years or more.

Roller Crimper

Rolling/Crimping Winter Rye

We’ve been interested in the idea of rolling or crimping cover crops to create mulch. As small, diversified farmers, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to invest in a roller crimper to attach to the back of our tractor, especially before knowing how this might fit into our overall system. So, after hearing the idea from a friend in the States, we tried using our tractor-mounted rototiller as a roller crimper. The idea is to use the rototiller without the PTO turned on and just ground drive the rototiller over the rye after pollen shed (when it can be killed by crimping the stems). 2015 was our 2nd season trying it. We found we needed to go over the rye twice about a week apart to kill it (two passes is also typical for a roller crimper). We ended up having too many weeds like dandelion that came through the mulch so decided not to plant into it but this was due to our initial bed prep prior to seeding the rye rather than it not being a worthwhile activity. This would really only work in our region (Atlantic Canada) for late-season plantings since the stage where rye can be killed happens later in the season (early-July) in our region. It also doesn’t contribute to warming the soil at all; in fact, it keeps the soil temperature cooler.

Winter Rye

Mowing Winter Rye

This year we also experimented with mowing some overwintered rye after pollen shed. It died off and left a nice residue into which we transplanted fall kohlrabi and cauliflower. We transplanted half our planting into a regular raised bed that had been tilled. It was not easy to transplant into the mowed rye and we needed trowels to create the holes for the transplants. The plants and yields were later and smaller overall in the no-tilled beds. I think next time we would increase the spacing of the plants in the no-till beds (from 18 inches to 24 inches or more).

We’re also planning on trying to solarise some overwintered rye next spring while it’s still short (with clear plastic though we may also use some black silage tarp to see how they compare) and then plant into that once the rye has been killed.

Protektnet

Paper-based mulches

We were interested in a product called Weed Guard Plus, which is a paper-like product and is the only OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute) approved mulch in the U.S. The soil warming properties are lower than with black or clear biofilms but it does inhibit weeds. However, the company Weed Guard Plus has not applied for their product to be certified as allowable in organic agriculture in Canada due to the added costs and paperwork required. They don’t think the potential Canadian market is worth it at this time and their current Canadian distributors haven’t asked for them to certify it. Another downside of this product is the cost which is higher than biofilms. The rolls are also heavier and so costs of shipping to Canada would also be higher. I’ve heard conflicting reports on how easily the paper mulch can be layed with a mechanical mulch layer with some saying it’s a challenge and others saying it works fine as long as you take pressure off the wheels.

We’ve trialed some this year in a perennial flower bed (since flowers are not approved for organic certification in Canada anyway). It’s too soon for us to say whether we like it or not yet.

If you think this is a weed management tool Canadian organic farmers should be able to use, I encourage you to contact both the company (Weed Guard Plus) and the Canadian distributors of it (Vesey’s) and tell them you want it to be certified as allowable in Canada!

Mulching with other materials

Many people mulch with straw or hay though there are downsides like keeping the soil cool (which can be an upside but not as a replacement for biofilms), being a haven for slugs and rodents, being inaccessible or expensive to find organically and being either labour-intensive or needing specific machinery to apply. We have used compost to strip mulch single rows between landscape fabric for crops that are planted farther apart (winter squash, summer squash, melons, tomatoes) which worked really well for keeping the weeds down. Despite it being a pricier and more labour-intensive practice, we are very interested in increasing our use of compost as mulch to replace biofilms. The benefits extend beyond weed management and increased soil temperature to increasing soil organic matter and providing opportunities for non-mechanized no-till (a la Singing Frogs Farm in California).

Discontinue Organic certification

I’ve spoken with some farmers who feel that biofilms are still the best option for their production system and that discontinuing their use would reduce the profitability of their farm business too much, in terms of labour savings with regard to weeding, and removing the plastic at the end of the season. In order to keep using biofilms and to continue tilling it into the soil after use, these farmers are considering discontinuing their organic certification. There are many farmers in the U.S. who followed that path when they weren’t allowed to use biofilms, feeling that plastic mulch was less of an “organic” option on principle. These farmers tended to be direct-marketers who could explain to their customers why they felt using the biofilms was important to them and how it fit with their values.

rototilling

Physical cultivation/weeding

This is of course the old stand-by. And the use of biofilms hasn’t replaced the need to weed. There are still plenty of crops that are not being grown with mulches. The reason so many farmers have been happy to use these mulches is due to the high labour or machinery costs of weeding and cultivating. Organic farming has been criticized for its high use of physical weed control which disturbs the soil biology and organic matter (exposing carbon molecules to the air, where they combine with oxygen to create carbon dioxide). Many organic farmers have been trying to move towards reduced tillage systems. Organic farmers have been using many weed management practices very successfully, including the use of cover crops, crop rotations, stale seed bedding, solarisation (clear tarps to burn weeds and weed seeds), occultation (black tarps to exclude light) and flame weeding. Biofilms and other mulches haven’t replaced the need for these techniques, rather they reduced the associated labour for certain crops.Farm sunsetUltimately, for our farm, no single method or product is going to be able to replace the benefits we thought we had with biofilms- there are no quick fixes or easy answers.

Our goal is to produce nutrient-rich food for the human species while minimizing harm to other species. And that is not easy (the general food-producing systems of our world have mostly done the opposite). This is why organic food costs more and why it should cost more. We’re not taking the path of least resistance; we’re recognizing that this planet is only ours to respectfully share.

 

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Do You Prefer Fast Food or Slow Food?

All photos in this blog post taken by Sonia Marwick.

slow food

Have you ever even heard of Slow Food?

Slow Food is a movement that Bryan and I really get behind. It’s a movement towards food (and a food system) that is Good, Clean, and Fair.

These 3 simple words (good, clean, and fair) will mean different things to different people.

To me, good food is nourishing, beautiful, flavourful, and thoroughly enjoyed.

To me, clean food is grown and distributed and prepared in ways that respect and honour the people who will eat the food as well as honouring  the beings (human and non) whose community (including air, soil, water, and habitat) and life was affected by the growing/distribution/preparation of that food.

To me, fair food means that eaters truly value what it took for them to be able to eat this food. This translates directly to our personal career as farmers…that farmers (and fisherfolk and foragers) should be respected and valued. As well as all farm workers along the chain of production. And then taking it down the line, to the food distributers, to the food processors, to the restaurant employees (including the fast food restaurant employees), and grocery store employees. Fair food means asking the questions, Are people paid a fair and liveable wage? Are people treated fairly when they’re sick and shouldn’t be working? Are people worked to the bone, are they always stressed out? Is that industry known for its mental health issues and its suicides? How can we make a positive change when choosing the food we buy?

To really be mindful of as much of the whole picture of the food each person eats is what slow food is about for me. And knowing that your knowledge and mindfulness can only develop further. None of us can see the whole picture behind everything we eat right now. But it’s fun and empowering to keep learning!

And then to really savour, appreciate, and adore every bite we take! For me, at this time in my life, this is Slow Food.

Slow Food is a movement that has been gaining ground since the late 80s. It all started in Italy when people there were getting riled up by food system issues….including the growing presence of fast food restaurants in their country, so renowned around the world for their food culture.

Their aim: “To counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how food choices affect the rest of the world.”

Instead of just saying what they didn’t want, they said, here is what we DO want.

 

Slow Food Canada

Recently, we attended a potluck of our local Slow Food Chapter (Slow Food Northumberland Shore). It was my kind of party. It happened in the middle of the day (which we love since we’re early to bed, early to rise kind of people) and everyone brought delicious food…..food that was, to them, Good, Clean, and Fair. It was awesome to sit around together at the beautiful property of Bay Entreprises (who sustainably raise Malagash oysters), right on the Malagash Bay and know that anyone I talked to was going to have a lot of the same food priorities as me and we could start our friendship with that in common. The picture at the top of this post, of the salad topped with many edible flowers was the dish we brought.

sustainable shellfish

I mentioned the potluck was at Bay Entreprises….and we were treated to the most delicious oysters! They’ve been farming Malagash, Tata and Tatamagouche Bay oysters and quahogs since 1899!!!

It was a wonderful lunch with great conversations and a presentation from the NS Slow Food youth representative to We Feed the Planet in Milan last fall.

Slow Food Nova Scotia exists to honour the tradition of experiencing the taste of local food in a social and convivial atmosphere through excursions to farms, special dinners, tastings and public projects.

So, members get together at their local Slow Food events, but globally Slow Foodies also get together, every 2 years at Terra Madre Salone del Gusto in Italy. And this year, I’ve been selected as a Canadian delegate! It’s been a dream of mine for a long time and I finally get to go this September. I’ll definitely write up lessons learned and take lots of pictures to share on the blog.

If you’re interested in Slow Food, you can check out the international website and facebook page.

The Canadian Slow Food website and facebook page.

The Slow Food Northumberland Shore website and facebook page.

The Slow Food Nova Scotia website and facebook group.

The Slow Food Cocagne Acadie website and facebook page.

And the Slow Food Youth Canada facebook page.

 

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The Eastern Alternative

Warren Robertson

Last month, an awesome guy named Warren came out to the farm to interview us and take shots for this really cool TV show he makes called The Eastern Alternative.

The show is all about people living in Atlantic Canada and why they stay here rather than leave. In Warren’s own words,

“Every other day you hear or read another depressing article about the Atlantic Provinces and the out migration of people in search of economic opportunity. Well, this show’s purpose is to tell the stories of the people that are here, why they’re here and what they are doing to make it work.

It is my belief that the people that are here, are here for good reason. These shows are my efforts to try and change the conversation and celebrate what these great provinces have to offer.”

Well, the episode is now out and Warren did a great job making our farm look good and editing out any stammers or stumbles as we rambled on about our farm.

I always love seeing shots from above and Warren took some great ones with the drone he brought along. You can also see me herding our ducks!

Check it out by clicking here. And then watch all the other great shows he’s made!

And here is a beautiful shot of our greenhouse that Warren took and posted on The Eastern Alternative facebook page, which I highly recommend you follow to keep up to date on each new episode as it comes out.

greenhouse

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A Farmer’s Manifesto

spider web

When I wake up in the morning, the very first thought in my mind is whether I’ll be planting, weeding or harvesting today (or all three!).Though if it’s a market day, I’ll be up at 3:30 am and am unlikely to have formulated any thoughts yet.

And after that – I wonder what kind of breakfast I’ll find on the farm at that time of year…farm-fresh eggs, wild blackberries, August apples, or a sweet and creamy winter squash.

My heart glows when I pull a perfect, long, straight carrot out of the ground. My heart breaks when an entire bed of sweet Hakurei salad turnips are unsaleable due to insect damage (insects need to eat too, I guess).

carrot harvest

My customers are my seasonal-eating inspiration. More than anything else, I care about sharing with them the most delicious, nutritious, and delightful vegetables I can grow so they can prepare and relish their own local, organic gourmet meals (with a beautiful flower bouquet cut from our farm as their centrepiece!).

In my world of small-scale organic farming, tired muscles, dirty fingernails, and abundant earthworms are an absolute necessity.

garden hoe

Pausing in the midst of a hot day to consume a fresh watermelon is always a fabulous idea.

Moncton watermelon

Growing bigger is overrated and mono-cropping is a definite NO.

Fantasizing about lounging in front of our wood-stove in the winter with a pile of seed catalogues is totally reasonable.

Striving to improve our soil’s health each year is a must.

River Hebert, NS

But at the end of the day, watching the sun set with my partner and co-farmer, listening to the sounds of the birds and the bees who happily co-exist on our farm and knowing we did our best for our community of eaters is all that really matters.

When I die, I want to be remembered as a person who left her farm better than she found it. And who inspired others to nourish themselves with beautiful, unique vegetables too.

female farmer

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The Future of Organic Farming

IFOAM

Organics isn’t just a farming sector or a marketing option…Organic is a movement! And, like any other movement, it needs to change over time as it grows and people demand more from their movement. Organic farmers, leaders, processors, and eaters around the world recognize this and have been trying to work together to envision what they want the future of the organic movement to look like.

I saw a presentation on this topic (called Organic 3.0) at last year’s ACORN (Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) conference, given by Dr. Andy Hammermeister and I was really inspired!

So, I googled Organic 3.0 and found a discussion document written about it on the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) website.

And I read it and I liked it but it was kind of long and I wasn’t sure how many people in general would be geeky enough to read it.

So, when I attended the National Farmers Union youth retreat this spring and was supposed to think up a topic I would want to speak on, I chose this one.

The pictures in this blog post come from that presentation I gave (and some come from Andy Hammermeister’s presentation).

Rudolph Steiner

So, if we’re looking at Organic 3.0 as the future, what was Organic 1.0?

Organic 1.0 is the reason organic farming started at all. People from all over the world were concerned with the direction agriculture seemed to be moving in and wanted an alternative that could support people as well as the Planet.

Some of these individuals became well known because they did research, wrote books and articles, gave speaking tours and they became known as the pioneers of organic farming. The picture above shows Rudolph Steiner, Sir Albert Howard, Lady Eve Balfour, and J.I. Rodale, but there were many more from every country in the world.

Agroecology

The organic movement is based on the principles written in the photo above. I love these principles….they inspire me so much…these are the principles that make me grateful to live in this world and to always work to make it a better place! I know many people believe in these very same principles whether they support organic farming or not. And these principles are right at the front of the 2015 Canadian Organic Standards…this is what it’s all about.

Organic Regulation

Organic 2.0 is where we are right now in the organic movement and have been since the 1970/80s. This is when we moved towards having an understanding of just what organic farming meant. Creating definitions (which is what the Organic Standards really are). And regulating the term so that people who wanted to eat organic food knew what they were buying when they saw the word or logo.

This has not been a perfect system and has created many challenges, including very small-scale or subsistence farmers around the world feeling left out, organic farming becoming market-driven rather than principles-driven in some cases, the Standards becoming really a minimum standard where it’s hard to certify or enforce the “heart” or true commitment of the farmer.

However, Organic 2.0 has really allowed many farmers to start getting the respect and fair wages for the work they do. And has allowed more people to access organic food while increasing the amount of acreage around the world devoted to organic agriculture.

Food insecurity

But, we still have so many of the global issues that got many of us into organic agriculture in the first place. It’s hard to overcome these just using Organic Standards and Regulations.

And so Organic leaders the world over, want to figure out ways to strive for more, to always do better, and to really work to overcome these huge global issues.

Canadian Organic Growers

 

There is no set plan….we are all in this together and all of our input and actions will be needed. But there has been a collaborative effort to try to think up some strategies. And these are listed in the Organic 3.0 discussion document in more detail. But I thought I’d outline them for you and I would love to hear your thoughts.

Vision for Organics

These “key features” will likely be interpreted differently by every person who reads them and I think that’s important. That’s how great things happens!

I know I think of specific ways I can implement these on our farm, and Bryan will have different ideas.

Innovative farmers

I love this one! Innovation is definitely a good word on our farm.

I think sometimes people think that organic farming is “farming like our grandparents” or “going back in time.” From my perspective, nothing could be further from the truth. Just look at the picture above. I don’t often see old-fashioned, black-and-white photos of high tunnels on farms and row cover protecting crops from cold weather and pests.

We are constantly trying new things, they just happen to be things that respect the principles of organic agriculture.

To me, the idea of war is old-fashioned and out-dated but that is still the mindset used in much of our “modern” agriculture: waging war against every other living being who we share this planet with, in an attempt to offer benefit to our own kind, while inadvertently harming ourselves as well.

6-row seeder

This is a good one too. I know our farm isn’t perfect and I’m happy for the opportunity to spend my life trying to do better and better every year. Our farm is a life’s work of improvements to be made. That is what makes it so intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually challenging and fulfilling.

And there is no one “recipe for success” for a farm. What works super well on one farm may be a flop on another. Learning from other farmers around the world is exciting and important but so is learning from the people around you. On a regional level, Bryan and I find it so important to visit other farms (both organic and non-organic farms) throughout Atlantic Canada and have been so grateful for the mentorship and sharing offered by this community. The Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network (ACORN) has been the most useful resource in this regard, offering us tons of opportunities to connect with other farmers.

farmer to farmer

This one really recognizes that the current way organic farms become certified and recognized as organic farms is an imperfect system. It doesn’t work well for everyone and there are other ways to offer eaters transparency in their food system, especially as farmers who sell directly to those eaters.

While we are committed to organic certification for our farm, if we ever stopped certifying our farm as organic, we would still farm in the same way (while of course constantly improving).

Even if I couldn’t call my produce organic in that situation, I would still be an organic farmer in my soul. Nobody can take away my place in the Organic Movement!

sustainability

Organic farmers and eaters are not the only ones who live by those principles that were listed before. There are so many groups of people, calling themselves something different, who believe in those principles and are trying to move the world in a similar direction!

We need to band together and we will likely find ourselves in the majority of the earth’s people. Together, we are so much stronger!

fair food

Historically, and in the present day, farmers have had the least amount of power in the food system. Our voices are the smallest, what we provide has been valued the least, we are told that our knowledge is less important than the “experts,” that we must purchase fertility, seeds, and other inputs from those who know how to do it better, and then sell our produce for low prices to people who can distribute and sell it better.

Farmers need to become an equal member along the “value chain” from field to table.

And, in general, other types of food workers are similarly dis-empowered, whether through being paid non-living wages or treated disrespectfully.

hidden costs of agriculture

 

The price of food is all out of whack. Farmers cannot make a living (over 80% of farmers in Canada require off-farm income to survive) even though they are providing citizens with one of the most essential needs (after air and water).

And so many costs have not been factored in. Environmental costs, social costs, health costs that taxpayers must pay for now and that our future citizens will have to pay even more for.

How can we change this? This is a huge question but definitely one that many people are starting to think about.

Check out this recent article, Organic Isn’t Too Expensive, Non-organic is Too Cheap, from the EU about a campaign to teach people about the true costs of “regular” food and comparing it to organic food. I would love to see something like this in Canada!

Organic 3.0

So, this chart above gives you a bit of an idea of some of the pathways we can take from where we are now  to where we might go in the future.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas of how these ideas might be implemented? I think this is a conversation worth continuing.

 

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What’s New in 2016?

Khaki Campbell Ducks

We’re always excited about trying new things on our farm. Sometimes our attempts are successful and sometimes they really aren’t. But we still like to try.

New things sometimes come up because it’s something we personally want. Like lots of lemon balm tea to help support our bodies during stressful times while being super delicious. We want that for ourselves and we think our customers would also like fresh, local, organic lemon balm that they can use for tea. So, we decided to go for it this year and plant a good-sized patch of lemon balm.

Or melons. We LOVE eating melons. Especially specialty melons that aren’t easy to find anywhere else. They take a long time to grow but the wait is always worth it for us. We’ve tried a lot of different melons and are always fine-tuning the plan around our favourite varieties (though the list is still long). One new variety of melon we’re growing this year is called Dove. It’s an Ananas-type melon. We can’t wait to try it!

Sometimes we grow new things based on customers asking for or casually mentioning them. During the winter, as we’re selecting the crops and varieties we’re going to grow, those asks and casual comments always come up. We don’t always decide to go-ahead with these crops (there can be lots of reasons why not to grow something), but that is why we’re still growing Charentais melons. A couple passing by our stand asked us if we grew Charentais melons, like they’d eaten in France. We didn’t. But the following year, we did. And we were not successful. But we tried again the next year (last season) with different varieties of Charentais melons and only grew them under a field tunnel. And they were spectacular! This year, we’re growing even more and a new variety (in addition to our favourite variety from last year).

This year, we’re growing a pepper called Jimmy Nardello’s. This was a request for restaurant sales. Jimmy Nardello’s are a 2-bite sized horn-shaped pepper with a touch of heat and loads of flavour. It’s pretty trendy with cutting-edge chefs and we’re pretty excited ourselves for these peppers to ripen!

Sometimes we read about something in a book and think it would be cool to try. Last year, we got a book called The Resilient Farm and Homestead by Ben Falk. In it there are a few mentions of Sea Buckthorn as a really nutritious, super-food. We’d heard about sea buckthorn before but the book really inspired us to try it. So, this year, we’ve started some sea buckthorn from seed. Who knows how it will do or whether we’ll like eating it, but the other benefits of this crop for wildlife are important to us too.

Sometimes we learn about new crops through other farmers. At last year’s ACORN conference, Amanda Muis Brown from Humble Burdock Farm spoke about a plant she uses on her cut flower farm called “Hairy Balls” Gomphocarpus. I’d seen it in the catalogues but her enthusiasm for it (and the name!) made me add it to my crop plan. And I’m excited to see how I like using it in bouquets.

Also, we sorta add new crops by accident. Last winter, I attended an Organic Seed Growers Conference in Oregon (read my blog post about it here). While there, I was given seed for Yellow Doe Hill Peppers and Nash’s Rhumba Carrot. So, we’re growing them both for seed (though we’ll definitely get to eat some of them…..in particular the “rejects” for seed production).

And of course, sometimes, the seed catalogues’ pictures and descriptions move us. That’s what happened with 2 new flowers in our cut flower lineup this year: Purple Kisses Daucus carota and Lacy Blue Didiscus. They are both thriving in the field right now and I’m looking forward to seeing them bloom.

Besides crops, we’re always trying new things in our “whole farm system.” This year, we’ve added Khaki Campbell Ducks to our farm. We think having animals on a farm can really help manage the ecosystem regeneratively. Our ducks are great eaters of greens not perfect enough to sell, really enjoy the grass we love to see on our farm (we both hate seeing bare soil!), as well as fertility recyclers, slug control, entertainment, and, by the end of this year, nutritious egg providers. This hasn’t been a perfect new experience and we’ve had some losses from raccoon predators, but we’re learning and getting better at co-living with and caring for ducks.

And new things can also be about how we sell and new opportunities. This year, we’re growing acorn squash for a local food box fundraiser program with local schools. It’s called the Nourish Your Roots box program and you can read more about it here.

Here’s a quick list of a few other new things for us this year:

  • Goji berries. We’re excited to be planting some goji berry plants. They should do really well here and we think they’re pretty tasty dry and want to eat some fresh. Apparently, the leaves are also highly nutritious and can be used in various recipes.
  • Elderberries: We have a lone elderberry shrub behind our barn. And we have harvested from it in the past and made elderberry syrup with honey. But it’s in a super awkward spot for harvesting and we’d like to have more.
  • Sweet “hot” peppers: We’re not huge hot pepper eaters and now that we’ve found our new favourite hot pepper Korean hot pepper (last year was our first year growing it), we’re pretty much set for now. But there are some varieties of sweet peppers that are basically hot peppers with the heat removed. And this year we’re growing two of them. One is called Habanada. It’s basically a Habanero pepper but not hot. So just the flavour without the crazy spiciness. The other is called Aji Dulce. The interesting thing about both of them so far is that the plants grow noticeably slower than sweet peppers. Which is a typical trait of hot peppers. I hope when we take our first bite of each of them, that we don’t need to run for milk to cool our tongue!
  • Mountain Mint: The 1st farm Shannon ever apprenticed at was the Algonquin Tea Company. Every morning while there, she drank their Awakening Tea which really tastes strongly of Mountain Mint. Even just transplanting the mountain mint into our fields brought Shannon back to being there and all the great memories and lessons learned. We’re so happy to now have this herb living on our farm with us.

 

Every year on the farm is a new adventure and trying new things keeps it all fresh and interesting. And, we’re so grateful to have customers who enjoy taking this adventure with us and being really open and excited to try new things themselves!

William Dam

 

 

 

 

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What is Safe Food?

Super Sugar Snap Peas

We have been dismayed by the frequent news of frozen organic produce recalls at Costco over the past few months. For us, it started with some organic frozen berries from Costco that were recalled due to potential contamination of Hepatitis A.

In the news at the same time, Costco apparently really wanted to increase their organic product offerings. In particular, to start stocking organic fresh fruit and vegetables.

But it seems they were finding organic fresh produce hard to find (maybe hard to find at crazy cheap prices because organic farmers want to be paid a fair wage?). So they’re helping to fund farmers to grow organic produce for them.

As an organic farmer and organic eater, I’m happy to see more acreage (in any part of the world) move to organic.

But the Hepatitis A frozen berries really got to me.

Yes, these berries were organic and that’s something I care about. But I don’t know anyone who thinks it’s ok to contract Hepatitis A (or any other illness) while consuming their morning smoothie. I know I don’t. And the contamination isn’t just a problem with that one company whose label is on the package. Or the company (Costco) who is selling the product.

The problem is with our entire food system. We buy food, that precious thing that makes up our physical bodies, from people we don’t know, processing systems we don’t know, production practices we don’t know, distribution chains we don’t know.

The current policies and practices that govern our food safety rules allow recalls to happen. They set it up so that it’s known which “lots” may be contaminated. What stores got those lots. Even, which customers bought those lots (in particular at membership-based stores like Costco but also with credit card info).

But, for me, I’d rather know where and who my food came from.

I’d like to know who the person was who may have infected those berries with Hepatitis A and make sure they’re ok. Make sure they were able to access treatment, make sure they were able to take some time off to recover and their family would still be able to eat and pay the bills during that time.

For a long time, farmers have been told “bigger is better” and “get big or get out.”

This is one of those cases that show the benefits of small.

On our farm, there are 2 people who grow the produce. 2 people who wash the produce. 2 people who package the produce, transport the produce, and sell the produce. Those 2 people are the same all the way down the chain and those 2 people also own and live on this farm. Our names are Shannon and Bryan. We have a strong self-interest in producing safe food: so we don’t lose our reputation, we don’t lose our farm (which is also our home) and because we are also eaters of the food we produce.

Yes, we are a small farm. We can’t claim millions of dollars in revenue or big export markets. But we are leaders in real food safety. The kind that isn’t only able to efficiently advertise recall information. But where people know our names and faces, can visit our farm or see us at the market, can call us up on the phone.

Even though we’re just a 2-person farm, and we don’t have a “food safety specialist” on staff, we make sure to always update our knowledge around food safety. We think about each new infrastructure project and how it will impact food safety. We research food safety trends that may be coming into regulation in the future (because we’re still young farmers….we’ve got many years in the future we need to look towards). We created our own food safety manual (from a great free online template!). And, as certified organic farmers, there are some inborn food safety practices in the organic standards (like the required record-keeping, the monitoring or testing of any compost used, the regular water testing for washing and irrigating crops).  We do these things without anyone telling us we have to. We do them because this farm is our life’s work and we’re passionate about it and don’t want anything to risk it.

And that organic frozen berry-Hepatitis A recall has further deepened our commitment to buy the food we don’t produce ourselves from other small-scale farmers with a face and name that we know.

I know our governments have their own food safety plans…..but what’s your own personal food safety plan?

 

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Visit to Twisted Brook Farm

Certified Naturally Grown

Who: Me- Shannon of Broadfork Farm and Del from Side by Each Farm in Amherst, NS

What: a road trip and farm field trip

Where: Twisted Brook Farm, a Certified Naturally Grown farm in Lawrencetown, NS (close to Middleton)

When: Monday, April 25th (just over a month ago now…)

Why: Steph, the farmer at Twisted Brook Farm is a highly skilled seed grower and has become my official Seed Mentor (and Del’s too) through ACORN (the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network) and the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security.

Through the Seed Mentorship program, we get to connect with Steph in person at our farm or hers, call or email her throughout the season to ask questions that relate to our own seed production, and have our very own seed cheerleader, encouraging us along the way! Plus, we got an awesome binder from the program with resources and learning outcomes.

learning to grow seeds

Twisted Brook Farm is very different from many farms I’ve visited. Primarily, because seed production is such a major focus. Steph grows seed crops and sells them through Hope Seeds, Annapolis Seeds, Seedy Saturdays, and her Annapolis Royal farmers’ market stand.

propagation

Steph grows a lot of seedlings, in particular tomatoes, to sell at farmers’ markets and she also contract grows them for other farmers.

In addition to all the annual plants that Steph grows, there’s a lot of perennials growing too….including nut and fruit trees. A lot of them are fairly unusual crops too like hazelnuts, elderberries, currants, and Sea Buckthorn.

Sweet Potato Slips

Steph is growing sweet potatoes by taking cuttings from a variety she found at a local Seedy Saturday.

wooden raised beds

She uses raised beds in wooden boxes to grow some of her annual and biennial crops but also perennial crops like raspberries, strawberries (she cuts off the runners and pots them up for sale), asparagus, and herbs.  It looked nice and tidy and really helps her manage the weeds.

kale flowers

Her greenhouse was abundant and diverse, despite being so early in the season, with crops she had overwintered (like chard and kale), spring-planted crops (lettuce, spinach, Hakurei turnips), as well as perennials like French Tarragon (yummm).

Steph Warr

Steph is an amazingly generous person, offering us a delicious lunch of greens from her greenhouse, baked beans from the vast collection of dried beans she’s passionate about growing, and homemade buckwheat bread with only 2 ingredients: buckwheat and salt.

She sent us off with seeds and plants from her farm to contribute to the diversity of our farms (I brought home some elderberry cuttings, hazelnut seedlings, sea buckthorn seeds, and black locust seeds. And the most valuable: her hard-earned knowledge and her precious time. She has been an inspiring and great mentor so far this season and I know that our farm will benefit so much from her presence in our lives.

THANK YOU STEPH!

If any of you readers are lucky enough to be able to purchase the regionally-adapted, Certified Naturally Grown seeds, seedlings or vegetables that Steph grows for the Annapolis Royal farmers’ market, don’t miss the opportunity!

I’m super stoked about the Seed Mentorship Program because growing vegetables, herbs, or flowers to seed is not just about waiting around and picking the seeds before they drop. Seed producers need to be on top of things the whole season! You need to know what that crop might cross with and how far it needs to be away from anything it could cross with (really far in some cases!). You need to know how your crop is pollinated. How long it will take to produce a good seed yield (not the same as harvesting for fresh eating in many cases). How many plants (or population size) you need in order to have a good representation of genetics. At every stage of development, you need to be removing any plants that are different from what you want (so that you can keep the variety consistent for the long-term).

Bryan and I aren’t interested in doing a half-assed job at seed saving. We want the time (ours as well as the time in the field) and effort we spend on seeds to grow really high quality seeds that are more resilient and adapted to the qualities our farmland and our customers want. We’ve seen such wonderful success this spring with the arugula we’ve been harvesting for market. Two generations of that seed has been saved on our farm and it’s amazing to see the difference (most organic arugula seed in the market is grown in Israel – very different conditions to us here!).

We’ve also noticed that learning more about seed production has helped us be better farmers overall. Thinking about the whole life cycle of a plant, noticing qualities we like or don’t like and thinking about how those could change over generations, knowing which plant diseases can be stored in the seed and how to manage for that….these things all really interest us!

For all these reasons and more, it’s so great to have someone more experienced in seed growing than us, who we can call on anytime for advice!

 

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La Bikery hosts: an Organic Plant Sale with Broadfork Farm

plant sale

On Sunday, June 5th, between 10 am and 2 pm, ride on over and find the perfect plants for your garden. We’ve got vegetables, flowers, and herb plants to go straight into your garden.

Everybody knows there’s nothing like biting into a fresh homegrown tomato! And organic seeds too!

Need to build up your soil fertility? We’ll have green manure/cover crop seed, compost, and organic soil amendments available.

Bonus: you can ask these organic farmers any gardening questions you have.

Bike on over and pick up what you need for the best garden season ever!

Where: Cooperative La Bikery Co-operative, 120 boulevard Assomption, Moncton, NB

What: Seedlings from Broadfork Farm: Lots of varieties of tomatoes (different colours, different sizes, bush and vining types), basils, peppers, flowers for cutting your own bouquet, pollinator/butterfly packs, Swamp milkweed (a non-invasive type of milkweed great for Monarch butterflies!), Lemon Balm, Mountain Mint, Love Lies Bleeding Amaranth, Grindelia herb, Sacred (or Holy) Basil.

There will also be organic seedlings from Ruhe Farm which will include lots of vegetables and herbs such as kale and cucumbers.

purple basil

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