The crowds teeming into the Qualicum Beach Farmers’ Market on Saturday left with more than just fresh fruits and vegetables. They also left with an education about B.C.’s burgeoning organic sector.
The education campaign came as the B.C. Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick issued a proclamation in Victoria, declaring Sept. 22-29 as Organic Week in the province.
The proclamation acknowledges the important contribution the organic food sector makes to the well-being of B.C. and the choices it provides B.C. consumers.
The proclamation, which was cried aloud by Qualicum Beach town crier Len Mustard, encouraged British Columbians to attend their local fall farmers’ market or food retailer and celebrate the valuable contributions of the organic sector during Organic Week. The B.C. organic sector is varied and includes field crops such as grains and seeds, livestock, dairy, vegetables, fruit and berries, and spice and herb producers.
It’s that wide variety, said Kris Chand, who runs Blue Heron Farm, that makes the organic sector unique.
“The organic sector is the only sector nationwide that is embedded in the community,” Chand said. “No other agricultural sector gets so close to the people. We encompass all aspects of agriculture, whether it be grain, beef, pigs, eggs, chickens,vegetables or wine.”
Chand said he was heartened by the strong and positive response shown by shoppers at Saturday’s market.
“I think this has hit a nerve,” Chand said. “People are very interested in organics.”
That perception was shared by Jacqueline Cormier, who runs Horizon Heritage Farm in Qualicum Beach. She said people were eager to learn about what was organic and how farmers used organic methods to deal with their crop issues.
She said a good organic farm doesn’t need to deal with pests so much, although weeds are another issue.
“When you have a really good system you don’t get a lot of pests,” she said. “They go for the weak and the sick, just like predators in the wild. They go after the runt, the smallest, the weakest. If you have good soil, pests aren’t the problem, but weeds can be difficult.”
Rather than expensive fertilizers, she said she builds up her soil with one ingredient only — sheep manure.
On hand at the event was Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, who said he’s in favor of getting organic farms certified.
“People need to have the proper understanding,” he said. “Farms have to go the extra mile to get that certification and we should recognize it.”
Maria Chand of Blue Heron Farm is well aware of just how many extra hoops are involved to maintain certified organic status.
“I follow the guidelines of the Canadian standards, so there are lots of things I have to keep track of,” she said. “I have to use certified organic feed and they inspect my farm once a year and look at how much I sold in terms of units and pounds. Then they make comparisons with my notes of how much I plant. They want to know where I plant, my crop rotations, if I take the temperature of my compost. Once you have a system, it’s not so bad and it’s helpful to have a lot of information from year to year.”
Wayne Osborne of Omega Blue Farm said his poultry is organic but he has opted not to get certified, as he believes that by doing so he would actually lower the quality of his produce.
“We don’t use pesticides or herbicides, antibiotics or hormones and, most importantly with modern organics, we don’t use genetically modified organisms (GMOs). However, I promote heritage poultry and I use a more traditional organic approach and the bureaucracy has a problem with that.”