Thursday, April 20, 2017

Safe Food For Canadians Regulation Response

Following is the letter I wrote on behalf of the New Brunswick Organic Committee to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency regarding the proposed Safe Food For Canadians Regulation.
The letter is a bit rushed but I think solid response to a 120 page document.

Micheal  Carr, Jemseg River Farm
Co-Chair, New Brunswick Organic Committee
262 Rte 715, Jemseg NB

April 20, 2017

Richard Arsenault, Executive Director
Domestic Food Safety Systems and Meat Hygiene Directorate
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
1400 Merivale Road, Tower 1
Ottawa, ON K1A 0Y9

Dear Mr Arsenault

We are all proponents of food safety and sound regulatory and policy frameworks.  As certified organic farmers and processors, our goal is to grow and produce the healthiest, most nutritious, and safest foods available for our customers. We are leading the way in producing safe food in an environmentally sustainable manner.  These are the values that drive what we do. Our customers come to us because they identify our food as safe. Many are recovering from illnesses or have compromised immune systems and we know that they would be more susceptible to food borne illnesses.  Not only do we value food safety, we also know that one food safety incident has a high probability of destroying our small businesses and is highly damaging for our industry. We and our families are also typically the first consumers of our own product. We have a strong interest in food safety.  
Upon review of the proposed SFCR we observe that the numbers quoted in the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement present very little evidence to justify regulatory change in the domestic organic and conventional vegetable and fruit industries. The figures indicate the societal cost of all foodborne illness in Canada regardless of the source. These numbers are highly misleading and do not attempt to differentiate the problematic areas of risk to be addressed by policy change. The risks are not broken down according to their source and it is unfair to Canadian producers who actually represent very little risk and have an excellent track record. The inherent risks associated with domestic fruit and vegetable production are very low and do not warrant the excessive regulatory burden that is proposed.                
For example, the SCFR document reports:
“From 2011 to present, there have been 84 recalls related to fresh fruits and vegetables as well as 1 573 recalls related to food from the NFRS. Together, these represent more than 70% of all recalls over this period.”
We found in the food recall listings on the CFIA website from 2013 to present only one recall of Canadian fresh produce that originated on a fruit and vegetable farm.  This recall concerned needles found in potatoes. This incident was not a foodborne illness incident, but an act vandalism that could happen anywhere in the food chain and did not result in any illness or physical harm.
Also from the proposed SFCR:
“A 2013 study in the Journal of Food Protection demonstrated that from 2001 to 2009, 27 fresh fruit and vegetable–related outbreaks occurred in Canada and resulted in over 1 500 cases of illness.”
After examining the article it appears these were almost exclusively related to imported foods or food processing and preparation facilities. Only two of the described events originated on Canadian farms and although serious in nature were rather limited in scope. This same study notes that as of 2013, Canada imported approximately 86% of the fruit and 41% of the vegetables consumed by the population. Imported food because of volume and greater chance of contamination clearly bears a higher risk of foodborne illness.    
Therefore, a closer examination of the data clearly indicate that the risks associated with food in Canada appear to be in two areas: (1) The increased volume of imported food that often comes from countries with very little in the way food safety practices and, (2) the food processing and preparation in large commercial operations which have been subject to many recalls. It seems clear that these areas are the target areas to regulate in order to protect Canadians.
The cost of the administrative burden about to be placed on small producers could be devastating as we survive on very small margins and work in a context of a global system that produces very cheap food. It is clearly foreign food that carries the highest risk as it is produced in unknown conditions by producers that will face little or no retaliation for biological or chemical contamination.  According to the SFCR proposal,   
“The volume of fresh fruits and vegetables and NFRS foods being imported into Canada has approximately doubled, from $11.7 billion in 2006 to $22.8 billion in 2015. With respect to fresh fruits and vegetables, a 43% increase in imports of these products from South America has been observed over the past four years.”
Canadian producers of fruits and vegetable have been under siege by cheaper foreign food imports and have lost market share. The imposition of the regulations and their associated costs may well be the nail in the coffin for the remaining producers in Canada who are subject to this proposed regulatory framework. With the implementation per licensed  business  at an estimated $6370 average annualised  cost, this will dramatically impact any business with gross sales below $500,000.00. Our industry has very low profit margins and most farms are already experiencing  low profitability and financial instability.  Many farmers already have to work off farm to sustain their operations because they cannot generate enough revenues. These extra costs can only come from increased food prices to Canadian consumers and will place Canadian growers in an even more disadvantaged position and lead to business closures.  
Although the cost of food imports looks low to the importer and the consumer, the costs to Canada related to increased risk of foodborne illness are clear. The data clearly indicates the need for a higher level of scrutiny for imported food.  The CFIA is responsible for due diligence in the area of food safety, but we feel that it is missing the target by dramatically and unnecessarily increasing regulation in domestic  agricultural production while imported food  that represents the highest  risk flows into the country without sufficient scrutiny. 
Although licensing for export may be a necessity for export trade requirements depending on agreements with other countries, the proposed interprovincial trade licensing requirement unfairly discriminates against farmers near provincial borders, particularly in the Maritime provinces where the markets in each province and the geographical areas are relatively small. There is no demonstrated additional risk involved with food crossing interprovincial borders which are an arbitrary line on the map. Canada is a nation that has never regulated interprovincial trade except for tobacco and alcohol. This proposed interprovincial restriction of trade may be unconstitutional given Section 121 of the Constitution which states,
"All articles of the growth, produce or manufacture of any of the provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other provinces."
We suggest that inspection and regulation of domestic food supply up to the point of processing be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture which is in a better position to comprehend the damaging repercussions of regulations for farmers, while CFIA regulates imported foods and foods to be exported. The CFIA SFCR admits it has little knowledge of these operations and is therefore not in the best position to regulate farm operations and support food safety advancement. We therefore request that (1) the interprovincial regulation is not applied and (2) oversight of domestic on farm food safety be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture which has a mandate to support agricultural food safety.
The burdensome effect of the proposed regulations will also be in direct contradiction to the mandate letter issued by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Agriculture regarding the promotion of Canadian production which states:
“Government must use its policy and financial tools to support the agricultural sector in its vital work. This includes helping the sector, including getting product to market, water management, research and innovation, food safety and export support.”
There is not sufficient evidence that the proposed regulatory framework proposed will significantly increase food safety in our industry. It is clear that the proposal will harm agricultural producers, reducing the industry’s ability to be viable in the long term, irrevocably damaging national food security. Without a viable Canadian industry we will be even more dependent on food imports and therefore even more susceptible to the inherent increased food risks within that supply line.  Increased food safety could be better achieved by educational programs and incentives for food safety prevention plans and infrastructure development rather than regulation. The success of voluntary environmental farm plan development is an example of this kind of policy.
The SFCR describes only two options going forward: the status quo and the proposed regulatory approach. We disagree that there are only two options.  There are many other incentive based policies to be considered that may be more cost effective and productive. A much better approach would be to provide education opportunities and manuals for small businesses that help them develop their own food safety protocols and prevention plans. Canadian farmers want to provide healthy and safe food for their fellow Canadians and need incentives and supports to aid them in producing food safety protocols and infrastructure.  If there are food safety issues on Canadian farms, it is primarily because we lack the resources to address them. Government programs should be supportive of small business enterprises which are the real engines of economic health and the heart of local economies across the nation. The proposed regulations would put Canadian producers at a disadvantage related to foreign producers.   
“With the proposed Regulations, the CFIA would move to a single-food regulatory approach. In general, this would mean that there would be a levelling of the competitive playing field for all regulated parties across commodities. Imports would be held to the same standards and requirements as domestic food.”
With no control over activities in foreign countries and little understanding of the direct unsubsidized costs to producers, it is doubtful that there will be a level playing field. Indeed, the SCFR impact statement promises a decreased administrative burden for importers and increased burden for domestic primary producers because the latter has “complicated operations”.  If the CFIA is truly going to hold all imports to the same standards as domestic producers there might be a lot of empty shelves in the supermarkets given the current levels of imports. We currently have a food safety agreement with the US only, so that would preclude imports of fruits and vegetables from other countries. How will the CFIA ensure that imported foods are not contaminated with biological or chemical contaminants such as unregistered pesticides?  What new protocols will be used with imported food to insure food safety from countries without equivalent food safety programs?  The high number of food recalls and illness outbreaks related to imported food has already demonstrated the challenges in this area.    
Business Size
If food risk is not related to business size as claimed by the SFCR impact statement, then why have the $30,000 licencing trigger which is also an arbitrary choice based on HST requirements which are a relatively low administrative burden for small businesses. Even for small food related businesses, the arbitrary $30,000 licensing trigger is unrealistic as the administrative burden would be so overwhelming that it would destroy these businesses and prevent new businesses from ever getting started.  A one-size-fits-all approach will be untenable and will destroy livelihoods across the food industry. The arbitrary $30,000 trigger has no relationship to associated risk and is merely one of convenience for the CFIA based on HST requirements. When does the risk actually increase?  Clearly there is a risk related to the amount of product and potential impact on number of consumers.  We should have hard evidence on which to base such a decision.  The equivalent regulations in the US have a lower regulatory burden allowing farm selling to qualified equivalent food safety program has less stringent requirements for small businesses with less than US$500,000 average annual sales that sell over half of their production direct to consumers, restaurants, retail establishments not more than 275 miles (445 kilometres) away. Instead of requiring a formal PCP, these businesses are able to design, monitor and document their own food safety programs and must be able to provide a report to the Food and Drug Administration if asked to do so. No interstate restrictions are applied. Since these businesses are primarily direct marketing or supplying a local retailer, traceability in the event of a food safety incident would not be a difficult. This approach would seem to provide an adequate way to reduce risk without imposing unnecessary costs. . We therefore recommend that any licensing requirement based on sales be removed until research provides actual data that indicates increasing risk justifies regulation.
Organic Products
The proposed changes to the organic regulations proposed in the SFCR are unrelated to food safety.
The proposal for a 12 month validity (section 342(3)) restriction is impractical as variation in annual inspection times and small backlogs in certification administration beyond the growers control could leave growers without valid certification for months at a time. The current regulations allow for extended certification with revocation privileges for certifying bodies in the case of non-compliance.  A minimum validity time frame would be 20 months to allow for annual variations in inspection dates and certification processing. There is no clear indication that a change from the current regulations would increase food safety or organic integrity and no reason is given for the regulatory change.
Regarding (342(1)c), it will be highly unlikely that the entire supply chain such as conveyance firms and abattoirs will certify due to the associated certification costs and administrative burden relative to the small market size. This discrimination will cause significant harm to Canada’s fastest growing agricultural sector, denying access to services required for normal business operations.  The organic sector has stringent voluntary traceability and accountability requirements that reduce risk of contamination and co- mingling.
The SFCR impact statement claims as a positive benefit,
“Increased opportunity for organic certification and ability to market products with the Canadian Organic Logo”
We fail to see how this benefit will be realised with the proposed changes and are quite sure  that the opposite effect will be felt.  Since these regulatory changes to organic products  do not involve food safety we request that they be removed from the SFCR and be deferred until the next organic standards review is finished or further consultation with our industry takes place which would require an extension of the 90 day comment period.  
We see the proposed SFCR as problematic on many fronts and are deeply concerned that it would negatively impact our liveliehoods and food safety for Canadians who may eventually be denied a safe and efficient domestic food supply. We therefore request a deferral of the regulations involving domestic produce until extensive consultation with the industry that could lead to more effective policy.  We are more than ready to participate in such a consultation and policy development, but would need at minimum a full year given that we are just entering our busiest season.  
Micheal Carr, M.Phil. Policy Studies

Co-Chair NB Organic Committee, on behalf of NB Organic Producers.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why are we organic?

Why are we organic?

I wouldn't be farming if we couldn't do it organically. My first encounter with biocides was the apple orchard sprayer at my uncles farm. I was quite young at the time, perhaps six or seven, but l remember climbing on the sprayer and peering down into the tank... and I can still remember the smell to this day. The dizzying chemical soup in there turned my stomach and I felt instinctively that this was something horrible. It is quite possible that my mind was already made up then. I knew to trust my nose as it contrasted the wonderful earthy smell of the soil in the woods and fields that I frequented, with the acrid, noxious smell of the chemicals in the sprayer.

When I began gardening I encountered the innocuous pink coating (most likely Captan) on treated corn, pea and bean seeds that were pretty much all that was available at the local garden supply stores. As I casually handled the seeds, planting my garden, this fungicide coating covered my hands and I began to itch in various places. It was only a mild reaction, but nevertheless it was another sign. I learned to avoid the pink seeds and started seeking untreated seeds.

A few years later I spent a couple of summers in PEI near potato farms and would wake up to the roar of huge sprayers lumbering through the fields. The fungicide bothered me the most and once I even had to climb down off a roof I was working on because the drifting spray made me dizzy. I began counting the number of times the potatoes were sprayed. From seed piece treatment, pre-emergence weed sprays , pesticides, fungicides, top kill and finally sprout suppressant in the warehouse it could be close to twenty applications of chemicals. How do your fries taste now? I really questioned how nutritious that potato was in terms of its life giving properties. PEI has the highest cancer rates in the country and has big fish kills every growing season in the rivers. (We have the same sort of production here in the upper Saint John River Valley.)

I have never read Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring but I did read a lot by others that were influenced by her. Family members were regular subscribers to Organic Gardening, Harrowsmith and Mother Earth News  magazines (back before they were sold out to big publishers) and I would read these enough to learn a bit about organic gardening and some of the negative aspects of chemicals. Organic just always seemed to be a more positive route, working with nature instead of fighting against it. It was author/farmer Wendell Berry more than anyone who opened my eyes to the problems of industrialised agriculture and the implications for our culture and environment.

I haven't mentioned fertilisers yet. Although these chemicals do generally not create the same human health risks that herbicides, fungicides and pesticides do, they do wreak havoc on the soil biology. Fertilisers are really generally in the form of salts or acids, containing nitrogen(N), phosphorus(P), and potassium(K), the three elements that make up the NPK values written on the bags. The problem with salts and acids is that they are highly soluble and reactive allowing them to wash out of the soil or significantly change the soil chemistry and structure. Fertilisers aren't so much bad for people as they are bad for the soil and waterways. I think the human impact comes in the form of lower nutritional quality of food grown this way. Lower mineral and micronutrient content in crops  are the result of a dead soil created by extensive fertiliser and biocide use. Fertilisers are also quite energy intensive to make, increasing the environmental impacts of agriculture.

Of course growing organically means a lot more than farming with the absence of chemicals. Organic is about care of the soil and stewardship of the land. It is about growing healthy plants and animals and nourishing healthy people. Organic carries with it a set of values that include healthy soil, healthy food, healthy farmers and respect for the environment. Organic is dedication to growing nutritious food with life giving properties. So much of our food today lacks those life giving  and health promoting properties. Organic also offers us continuity with a long tradition of farming, celebration of food and restores the cultural  and community aspects of agriculture. 
Organic certification seemed like just as an easy decision as growing organic, but perhaps not as obvious. It is quite a bit of paperwork and definitely an expense, over a thousand dollars a year in our case. There is a lot of discussion among farmers about certification and some people decide that they will not certify because it is too expensive or too much paperwork, or drop their certification once their market is established. There is some criticism of the process and its various weaknesses but I think it works overall, certainly it is a minimum standard that has real meaning. For us it was an act of transparency and accountability, but just as importantly, it is a public dedication to a set of principles and values. I also see it as an act of solidarity with other organic growers and the people who buy our products.

Now we have a national standard now for organic farming, and you are not really organic unless you are certified organic. In fact, only certified orgainic growers are allowed to use the word organic and if someone tells you that they don't use pesticides or 'hardly any" spray, they are not organic. If they say they are organic, but are not certified, they are not organic. In fact a few people that say they grow organically, do not even know what the regulations are. Unfortunately this makes it hard for consumers who are trying to acquire safe and healthy food. They already have enough confusing terminology to deal with such as "naturally grown", "ecologically grown", most of which are meaningless marketing devices. Add the confusion around the term organic and it can be a bit disconcerting. Look for certified organic if you want a guarantee. I regularly see meat and produce being marketed as organic when it is not and I find it quite frustrating. Ask to see the suppliers certification if you are in doubt.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sausage making 1.0

The focus of our farm is vegetables and some small fruit, but we do have a little livestock on the farm including pigs, chickens and occasionally turkeys or geese. The decision to keep some livestock seems to be a good fit with the farm as the animals will eat any unmarketable vegetables and kitchen scraps that the farm generates...they even devour most of the weeds that we have to pull. I am always a bit uneasy about the fate of the animals, more so the pigs than the chickens, but I do eat meat and at least this way I know the animals had a comfortable life, were well cared for and were fed well. And to be honest, it just doesn't feel like a farm without a few animals around as they add a rhythm to the farm day and year that would otherwise be absent. 
Although we have raised pigs for the last few years, we hadn't found time for sausage making until this year. I spent a summer working on a farm in Italy and knew the wondrous delicacies that could be made from the  ever versatile pork; salumi, proscuiuto, pancetta, pepperonis, and fresh sausage in dozens of varieties. I did try to make prosciutto last year, but we lack the proper conditions for the final stage of curing, so it got a little shall we say... funky. So this year under the guidance of Jennifer Pazienza, we made the plunge into the less intrepid world of sausage making. 

So with two large boxes of the less desirable cuts and a bit of already ground pork Michelle and I set course for Jenn and Gerry's place. Along the way the way we picked up two enthusiastic helpers, Andi and Sylvia. Andi is a former student, now friend, and enthusiast off all things gardens and food. She happened to be home from San Franscio where she now lives. Sylvia and I have been friends for a long time since we were students together at Renaissance College. She is one of our loyal weekly veggie box customers and a great fan of the farm. It was a nice way to catch up with both of them and two more pleasant helpers could not be found I am sure.      

Sylvia and Andi deboning and trimming pork
Gerry grinding the pork.

After arrival, Sylvia, Andi and I deboned and trimmed all of the pork  and we started putting it through the meat grinder. When we had our first batch of ground pork ready, Jennifer and Michelle started blending spices into the meat. First they used a mild but savoury fennel sausage recipe that is part of Jenn's Italian heritage and is often featured in her delicious cooking. That recipe includes a bit of pancetta, essentially an unsmoked Italian bacon, that also went through the grinder. Next came a similar batch but without the pancetta. We followed with another half dozen batches including some breakfast style sausages with sage, nutmeg and a little pepper. The final batch was seasoned with some rosemary from the farm and thyme. We didn't try stuffing the sausage into casings this year and just made the mixture into patties which we like just as well in most cases. We find we often take the meat out of the casing anyway when cooking. Next time we will do some in casings for summer barbeques. 

 Michelle making patties
The whole process took a few hours  and culminated in a nice stack of sausage for the freezer..and a beautiful meal prepared by Jenn that featured a large skillet of the sausage sauteed and roasted with onions and coloured bell peppers. Yummy!          

Chef Jennifer at work     

The feast!  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Year in review....and looking ahead

We had another successful year this year despite some weather related and crop disease challenges. Mother Nature has a way of keeping farmers on their toes:-) We lost some crops because of the drought and we spent a lot of time scrambling to get water to everything. The strawberries with their relatively short season and high moisture needs seemed to take the worst hit with out crop down about 70%. We also lost most of our tomato crop to late blight. Fortunately the hard work and previous care of the soil paid off and there was still what could be described as a moderate bounty. We were certainly able to keep our CSA customers baskets full and we had only slight less than planned for the market. We actually ended the last few weeks of the season with better market sales than last year. After hearing from my neighbour that it was the worst growing year he had seen in the nearly thirty years since he had bought his farm, I thought maybe we were actually doing pretty well given the circumstances.

As in the past, this year brought a wonderful bunch of young people to the farm to work an learn. Andrea, Ben, Bethany, Christine, Ryan, Trudi spent all or part of the season farming with us this year, and Joe and Jordan also helped with the house construction. I think we were more than ten at the dinner table sometimes. Many thanks to them as our farm is very much a team effort and we couldn't grow such great food for so many people with out their help. Each of them brought something special to the group. I think that watching people learn about growing and food is just as rewarding as growing food itself and although not all of them will become farmers, I am confident that a season spent on this farm will be memorable and change their lives in many ways. I have watched people become more comfortable in their bodies, more thoughtful and observant, and develop skills they never thought they would. I also expect that they will never look at a plate of food in the same way.

One expects that things will get easier as time progresses in a relatively new venture, but this was in  many ways the most challenging year yet. Fortunately, challenges do teach us lessons and drive improvements.  I certainly learned many lessons this year, and many improvements are planned for 2013. Late blight and other diseases have destroyed much of our tomato crop for the last two years so we will be moving them into plastic tunnels. We also continue to refine our crop planning and marketing. Farming is a low margin business and although we have been successful, there is plenty of room for improvement in our bottom line. This year we may have taken on to many projects at once and it was a little overwhelming at times. In addition to expanding our acreage, we were building a house and also developing and running a compost project that took more hours a week than expected. Sometime the weeks did not seem to have enough hours for everything.

Although there is a surprising amount to do at this time of year, winter for a vegetable farmer is a great time for reflection and I have already thought a lot about the year to come. I  have also been reflecting on how lucky I am to be able to pursue my dream as many people cannot for various reasons. I love what I am doing. I love being on this beautiful piece of land and caring for it. I love that my community is expanding as customers become our friends. I love that I eat the best food in the world and I get to share it with so many people. I am lucky that I have friends around me that are so supportive and customers that are so appreciative. It is a good time to be a farmer.  

New Years resolution #1
Blog once a week!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The 2012 season has officially started!

Late winter and even early spring sounds are returning to the farm these days. The crows and ravens are making a lot of noise as they are now in mating season and I expect the pileated woodpeckers and partridge will start their drumming soon. We have had a resident flock of snow buntings hanging around the fields all winter. I love those little birds and love to watch them gracefully move across the fields as a flock, swooping this way and that. I was also amazed at their ability to clean the seeds off of weeds that escaped us during the summer:-).

We are now ramping up to our third season. We had a great year last year despite the damp weather and are hoping for a sunnier season this are always hopeful about the weather:-) Our milder winter has made life relatively easy for a farmer and I am feeling rejuvenated after the winter break. Even though there are no crops to look after in the winter, there seems to be plenty to do in the winter including cutting firewood, hauling and turning compost, planning, bookkeeping, ordering plants and seeds, sorting and delivering storage vegetables...the list goes on. The pace is definitely a little less phrenetic though so there is more time for rest, recreation and reflection.  

The seeds are all here and I started planting onions and leeks around the first of March and the tomatoes and peppers are now sprouting as I write. Of course, I have planted too many and will now struggle to fit them all into my field plans:-). We will be expanding our plantings a bit this year, but not too much as we are starting to reach our limits in terms of human resources. We are going to work a bit  the fine tuning of the farm operations, seeking efficiency and making our work easier. It is always tempting to plant more than we can handle, but crops always end up being neglected or wasted somewhere as a result. We are also planning to plant a few perennial crops this year also, including dwarf bush cherries and asparagus.

This years intern crew is almost all confirmed with just one position open at this point. I am really excited about our new working and learning team. A few other folks will be joining us for shorter periods of time and  it should be a very dynamic group. Intern reports from last years interns; Eric Wallace is starting his own farming endeavour in St Adolphe near Winnipeg, Liang Chen is working on developing garden programs at summer camps, and Miles Clayden is doing brilliantly at medical school in Saint John.  

We now have a waiting list for our weekly vegetable boxes (CSA) but should be able to add some folks on depending on how many return subscribers we have.  We got great feedback from our customer survey last year and are making small improvements there also. It was so great to see all the positive feedback we got when I received the survey results in January... quite reaffirming. We have to change our on line sign up  service as our old service provider raised their prices, from affordable to ridiculous, but we should have a new system up and running soon.

 Lots of other plans on the go this year including a new farmhouse and hopefully a little music festival in the late summer if all goes well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A New Season!!

Well the days are getting longer and we have our first set of seedlings growing under lights until the weather warms enough to open up the greenhouse. Onions,shallots, tomatoes and peppers so far. The onions are already three inche tall. All the seeds arrived a few weeks ago and I attended the ACORN conference this past weekend and am excited to get things going again. New seeds and new ideas!

With all the snow, the garden literally looks like a blank 15 acre canvas waiting for us to apply a pallette of seeds, plants and mulches. I spent a lot of time crop planning this winter and every bed has been assigned a crop or cover crop. I can't wait to see this years garden emerge.

We will be trying a few new things this year including sweet potatoes, a first for us. We will also be planting a few more artichokes this year. We experimented with them a bit last year and had some success with a small planting. We will have our first strawberry crop and we should even have a few raspberries. The prospect of all those strawberries is both exciting and daunting. With luck we could have a few thousand boxes and that is a LOT of picking as well as eating.

We are expanding a little this year, slowly building on our successful growing year this year. We will be offering more CSA baskets and be selling for a longer season at the market. We received our organic certification last fall and that will help with our marketing.

There will be lots of projects this year, including a new kitchen and housing for interns and myself. One of our projects for this year is a whole farm plan that utilises the principles of permaculture. This will help insure the long term sustainability of the farm and help us to utilise resources more efficiently.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page for events on the farm We plan to hold a few events at the farm this summer. We will also be a host for the provincial open farm day. The first event will be our second annual soil blocking party. Join us Sunday afternoon March 20th in the greenhouse to help make soil blocks for transplants and have a cup of tea.

It looks like we have a great crew shaping up for the summer and I am looking forward to working with them. Miles will be joining us again this year until he goes to med school and we will have three new interns arriving in May to help and learn. Liang and Scott are coming from Ontario and Eric will be joining us all the way from Winnipeg.
Hope everyone has a good spring!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year Reflections

It seems like only yesterday that I was putting together seed orders for last year. Well, the catalogs are here again already and I am planning for next summers crops. The new year and winter weather brings a little time for reflection on the past year. It seems like a bit of a blur now, and I can't believe how it went so quickly. It was a very busy year, so I expect that contributes to the compressed perception of time.

This blog, like so many farmer's blogs completely stalled in late June as there just seemed to be no time to keep up, particularly with no internet access at the time. I mostly used our Facebook page for updates as it was much easier to use and seemed to reach more people with it's surprising popularity. It is at river if you want to check it out. You don't need a facebook account to see it. Be sure to click on the wall tab if it brings you up to the info tab.

There were many highlights of the year and everyday was special in some way as the farm and the fields full of crops provided an endless imagery of beautiful scenes. Even in the nastiest weather, when one is immersed in Nature, you can be struck by the beauty, diversity and abundance that surrounds you. Our plateau at the edge of the valley, provided an endless supply of sunrises, sunsets, rainbows and incredible skies. The eagles, ospreys and the songbirds were our constant company. The world seems so much more real and alive when you are constantly outdoors.

The gardens did wondrously well for our first year, producing a bounty of incredible variety, despite some first year mistakes. Although I have had generous gardens most of my life, moving to the commercial scale took things to another whole level and many lessons were learned. It was perhaps the harvesting, washing and packing vegetables where the learning curve was the greatest as the volumes were large and the infrastructure a bit sparse. By mid July we were, according to my best estimates growing and selling enough vegetables to feed over 300 people, maybe even a few more at times. Each row takes on a new level of importance when it is slated to fill CSA boxes or sustain our weekly market sales.

The gardens and nature were not the only pleasant part of farming. We were blessed by having many wonderful people participate in the farm activities in different ways. Apprentices Eric and Francie endured the chilly spring mornings cheerfully and toiled through the heat and bugs of summer, exhibiting great patience, perseverance and diligence. Miles generously and gracefully did the same through the frosty mornings and cold fall rains of September and October.

Gerry's constant friendship, support and help through the whole year was invaluable and I am forever grateful. His sister Janet visited us from afar twice this summer and her support and help has been crucial to our success. His brother John even came this summer for a visit too and helped out. Thanks to Jennifer too, her enthusiastic support and wonderful cooking.

Michelle was ever supportive, helping out wherever she could and generously gave up many of here Saturday mornings to help out at the market.

Heather appeared and visited on cool and damp fall Friday evenings during the fall helping us prepare for the market and lifting our spirits.

Andi, Dan, Sylvia, Adam, Christie, Joe, Janet, Natalie, Andrew, and many others too numerous to mention came and helped with the many various tasks on the farm.

Our strawberry planting was done miraculously fast with the generous assistance and guidance of our neighbours Raymond and Cindy. Raymond generously shared his farming experience and provided sound advice throughout the growing season.

We were also blessed by wonderful customers both in our CSA and at the Boyce Farmer's Market. I was blown away by the the level of support and loyalty. Our Tuesday box deliveries were always fun, seeing everyone, telling them about the veggies we had for them that week, creating and strengthening friendships. Although Friday evenings were challenging, getting everything picked, cleaned and packed, Saturday mornings brought the excitement of the market and seeing the rest of our customers and usually meeting a few new ones. The interactions with our customers made farming feel like less of a solitary pursuit and more of a joyful community building exercise. I felt as though we were growing a wonderful community as much as crops. It was incredibly rewarding to provide healthy food to so many appreciative people.

By almost all measures,the year was an incredible success. I am sometimes amazed, particularly when I note all the times things could have gone terribly wrong. Not that little things didn't go wrong from time to time;-), but we avoided any and all sorts of real disasters. I would like to think that it was due entirely to successful planning,preparation and experience, but I know all too well that it involved a bit of luck. Farming is a hopeful enterprise in which your actions can only tilt the odds a towards your favour. Nature doesn't let you cheat... at least not for long, a lesson that modern industrial agriculture has yet to learn.

As I look forward to the new year, new goals are materializing; making the farm more profitable, producing higher quality produce, extending our growing and sales season, finding time to pursue more of our education and community building goals, planting an orchard, developing a whole farm plan along permaculture principles. Building a larger community of interns and customers. Planning more on the farm fun events. There are still some building projects unfinished and some more to begin. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges will be avoiding the end of season exhaustion that seems to plague vegetable growers and crept up on me in November. I expect the farm will operate more efficiently next year and we continue to add infrastructure that will help ease the burden. Getting rested up now in any case:-)

Much to be thankful for indeed!
Happy New Year!