Tag Archives: organic farming

Day 28 – Soil, Seed, and the ALR

I am officially too tired to write anything – but I made this commitment to the 30 day farm blog challenge and given that I have made it all the way to Day 28 without missing a blog entry, by golly I am not going to let a bit of weariness beat me!

SAVE ALR button

Just came back from the big Hands off the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) meeting in Sidney feeling simultaneously optimistic (close to 400 people turned up), disheartened (sometimes it seems like there are just so many fights to fight), and very, very tired (an evening meeting at the end of a long day of farming, writing, and running errands is… taxing).

I’ll write a more complete post on what’s going on with the ALR when I have a bit more time, but what strikes me is that the issues are actually pretty basic.

1. We all need to eat.

White Cheddar

2. To eat, we need farmland.

3. Lots of good farmland is either a) in the path of urban development or b) here in BC, at least, in the way of the oil and gas or mining industries

4. Where money is to be made, people tend not to think of future generations and what makes sense for the long term. Which is why protecting farmland through regulation makes sense, even if our current system could use some tweaking.


At first glance, it’s pretty straightforward – protect the farmland so we have something to farm so we can grow more food and improve our food security. However, if farmers cannot make a living on the land, then what good is protecting that farmland through legislation? (the reverse version of this observation is, if farmers were making a good living on the land there would be no need for an Agricultural Land Reserve or an ALC (Agricultural Land Commission) to oversee it.

And this is where the can really starts getting wormy. If we as a society decide we want cheap food more than we want local food, then there is very little political will to support programs that support farmers. Nor is there much concern about insisting on organic practices that build soil and leave farmland in better shape each season than the year before (Atina Diffley’s book does a good job of describing this process).

If people just want cheap, then who cares that the food has travelled a gazillion miles to get here using gas guzzling transportation systems and questionable farming and labour practices? Consumers and all levels of government need to get involved to help establish and maintain local markets strong and large enough to support local farmers. Governments need to be willing to step in when crops fail, markets falter, or infrastructure is required.

Farmers need to be able to take back control of their supply of seed. Seed security and what is going on there is worthy of a whole other blog post (actually, a whole other blog, but I only have one lifetime and this blog is more than enough to deal with). Similar issues are relevant to those of us who are desperately trying to preserve the genetics of traditional livestock breeds (yes, more posts on those issues coming soon, too).

Large Black Hog piglets

Large Black Hog piglets

Meanwhile, here are some ways to connect with the saving our farms for the future movement, if you feel so inclined.

On Facebook: ALR Watch

Farmlands Trust Society

Farmland Defence League of BC

On the Web: Farmland Protection Coalition

Day 26 – What’s the Farmer Reading? Turn Here Sweet Corn

Book Review:

Turn Here Sweet Corn: Organic Farming Works by Atina Diffley

I love reading farm memoirs, so I fully expected to enjoy this one based on the description and reviews on Audible (I listen to audio books when I’m doing stuff like mucking the horse paddocks, making crispy pork dog treats, or washing eggs…). What I didn’t expect was how completely absorbed I’d become in this story, which is about a whole lot more than a couple of organic farmers. Atina is one of those people I’d love to meet – feisty, determined, hard-working, and absolutely passionate about organic farming and local, sustainable food.

Turn Here Sweet Corn is an excellent introduction to the big picture ideas underlying organic agriculture (soil building, working with the land, developing whole, healthy ecological systems to produce top quality organic vegetables). It is also a love story, a family story, and a tale of loss and heartbreak. What came out of left field was the page-turning legal thriller that had me practically cheering out loud for the farm team as I shovelled manure!

Apparently, there is also an older documentary film by the same title – though it isn’t available through Netflix in Canada… nor does my library have a copy… I will keep searching, but if you happen to find somewhere it’s available to view online, please leave a note in the comments.

Meanwhile, here’s an interview with Atina relating to organic farming principles. Also of note is her comment relating to seed security and how worrisome it is that companies like Monsanto have been buying up seed varieties, in some cases pulling those cultivars off the market and making it impossible for farmers to grow them any more. She also discusses where farm subsidies should go, how building organic matter in soil relates to aquifers, and what we all can do to make sure we don’t lose our local, organic farmers.

And here’s a short video trailer relating specifically to her book:

Can’t get enough of Atina Diffley and her message? (Which, apparently, I can’t – I seem to be turning into a bit of a groupie…) Here is Atina’s Blog 

Happy reading/listening/viewing!

Interested in learning who else is participating in the 30 days agriculture blog-a-thon or the five things Holly Spangler will be talking about this month? Head over to Prairie Farmer to find out!

Day 19 – An African Women’s Farm

Last night Dad and I attended a talk about a women’s collective farm in the north eastern part of South Africa. It’s hard to know where to start as the talk touched on so many vital issues facing agriculture today. The speaker, Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, was excellent – her talk both inspiring and horrifying.

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

Dr. Elizabeth Vibert, University of Victoria

In the aftermath of the apartheid and drought, a group of women in Joppie Village started a small farm so they could grow vegetables for their families and community. 20 years later the farm is a vibrant hub in the community serving many roles beyond simply growing vegetables. It was inspiring to hear how these women have managed to get the farm off the ground, how it sustains them today, and fuels their hopes for the future.

Issues like the fact they must use hybrid seed (and, therefore, are beholden to the seed companies each year), have very little capital to invest in infrastructure, endure long periods of heat and little rainfall followed by short periods of deluge, and the ongoing struggles they face to protect the equipment they do own (pumps to provide essential irrigation to keep crops alive during those dry periods) against theft make my farming challenges insignificant hiccups. Despite the obstacles, through their perseverance they have created an amazing hub that sustains many people in many ways.

I found myself wondering if we shouldn’t be looking more seriously at other land-ownership models here on the peninsula that would make it easier for young farmers to have access to farmland (the Women’s Farm is owned collectively by the community) and at the same time move us along the road toward securing our own local food supply. Not so very long ago, Vancouver Island produced 80+ percent of our food. Today, that figure has plummeted to somewhere between 3% and 8% (depending who you ask). If we do not provide markets, infrastructure, and access to land for our farmers, AND we proceed with making changes to the ALR as is being discussed by our dear government, then why would we expect to see any farmland left at all? As a farmer said at a recent Peninsula Agricultural Commission Meeting, if we were to make farming a viable profession, there would be no need to protect farmland because young farmers would be lining up to get into the profession and they would be financially able to do so because farming would be a job that would pay a living wage.

There are so many cans of worms in that last paragraph I would be blogging until Christmas if I started opening them all. My point is, really, whether we are in South Africa or south Asia, Australia or Hawaii, the Fraser Valley or right here on our island, we ALL need to pay attention. We need to worry about seed saving, about who owns the genetic rights to living things. We need to think about smart ways to use infill development, to preserve the farmland we have left and make it accessible to a new generation of farmers. And, we need to provide useful ongoing support to farmers willing to use that farm to grow food. We need to look at the logic of using chemicals on food crops and how smart it is to ship lettuce from California when we can grow lots of it right here in our back yards.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make - organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes - but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

Supporting local farmers is an essential part of the equation when it comes to deciding how we are going to plan for our collective food growing future. The decisions you make – organic vs conventional, local vs hauled in from a gazillion miles away affect you, yes – but they also have an impact on the bigger picture. Voting with your food dollars does matter.

A vibrant community farm is far more than just a place to grow vegetables. The way we feed ourselves, our children, our neighbours, our elders, our friends, and our communities tells us a lot about how healthy [not just physically] our families and communities are likely to be for the long haul. 

Soapbox moment finished – for now. Stay tuned. And consider coming to the ALR Town Hall Meeting in Sidney (Mary Winspear Centre) 7pm on November 27th. Unless, of course, you don’t eat. In which case, farmland really is of no concern.