February CSA Member Update

This is the second installment of your “pre-season” CSA newsletter. If you missed the first one, it is posted on our website here: https://sideroadnaturalfarm.com/2017/01/16/january-csa-update/. Welcome, and thank you to those of you who have joined in the last month. We’re happy to have some new folks as well as many of you returning for your second, third, fourth and FIFTH season with us. We were joking recently that we should start handing out membership awards as the years go by. We even have one family who has been with us for seven years now (they were members in BC when we farmed there and then joined again when we both moved to Ontario) so extra special mention to the hosts at the Beresford pick up site in Toronto for being such long time supporters.

It’s only February and there is about 2 feet of beautiful powdery snow blanketing our farm right now, but already the season is up and running. Yesterday we fired up our seedling greenhouse for the first time this season (literally fired up…as it’s heated with a woodstove). The first crops that we started have all been flowers so far…because some of them just take so darn long that they need this much time to bloom. In the next couple of days we will be starting our early hoophouse vegetable crops like kale, Swiss chard, beets and lettuces. We are aiming to get our first harvest around the start of the farmers markets on May 9th this season. Next week we start our onions and leeks, which we start from seed, as these too need a long time in the field to mature. We’ll be planting more onions this year as we really didn’t have enough last season, especially since one of our varieties completely failed.

The winter is our time for reflection and planning on the farm. It’s when we set our goals for the upcoming season and talk about the changes that we want to make. This year we’ve made some hard decisions in favour of improving our farm/family life balance. The first is to take a year off from attending the Thornbury Farmers Market. Although we will not be attending the Thornbury Market, I (Amy) will remain on the steering committee and really want to see this relatively new market thrive. Having Sunday free will give us a day a week where we can take the time to do family things together and get set for the week.

The second big change is that we have decided to not have any apprentices living on the farm this season. For the past three years we have had fantastic people living and working with us, in exchange for providing labour they have learned about what we do and the ins and outs of our business as well as a modest stipend. While we have enjoyed having apprentices, we are going to try a farm season with only paid staff. We have a few locals hired for the season including, Greg who you may remember from last season (he lives across the street). Greg will be starting at the beginning of April and Sid and Syd will be starting around the end of April when they are back from school.

The last thing I wanted to talk about in this newsletter is our decision to certify organic this season. As many of you know we have been growing organically since the get go (if you want to learn more about our growing practices, you can read the newsletter I wrote about it last season here: https://sideroadnaturalfarm.com/2016/04/27/april-csa-update-2/). Last November we decided to begin the process of certifying organic with EcoCert (one the approved third party organic certifiers available). The whole process takes just over a year assuming that we are not found to be in breech of organic standards. The certified organic standards are created at a national level and are now standardized across Canada.  The process involves a fairly lengthy application as well as improved record keeping during the season and inspection. Our practices won’t change other than we can no longer use biodegradable plastic mulch on our heat loving crops (a new standard that comes into place in 2017…although you can still use regular plastic mulch so long as you remove it and dispose of it in a landfill…in our opinion somewhat counterintuitive to the idea of growing organically so we won’t be doing that). On that note, if anyone needs a pretty much brand new plastic mulch layer, we may have one for sale 🙂

Our decision to certify was motivated by a need/desire to be able to quickly and easily distinguish our crops as organic at farmers markets and on store shelves (where we are selling more and more salad greens lately). At this point in Ontario you can call you crops “organic” even if you aren’t certified although this regulation will likely change so that the word “organic” is only used if the crop/product is certified (such is the case in some other provinces already).

Although we are going ahead with certification, we still have mixed feelings about the whole thing. I am a little bit nervous about the way that the Certified Organic standards are being implemented across the province as it sounds like some certifiers are interpreting the standards differently than others. We’ve heard through the grapevine of some farms being penalized for growing specific varieties that are not considered allowed for certified organic production…only to be told after the crop has been grown (if you’re interested, read this heartfelt account of one Ontario farm’s struggles with the whole thing: http://zocaloorganics.ca/certifiedorganic/). *** Update since writing this, it appears that the crop mentioned in the aforementioned blogpost has since been allowed in Certified Organic production again in Canada**. Local and regional certifying bodies used to provide support to those who are certifying or are already certified, however, it seems that with the implementation of the national standard farms are mostly on their own to interpret the standards. A challenge when you consider the extremely diverse nature of farms and farming practices and the difficulty associated with understanding and apply government regulations.

This all being said, we still feel like the benefits of identifying our farm as Certified Organic out weigh the administrative time, costs, slight changes to our practices and potential risks, so we will be going ahead. Stay tuned, as I’ll likely write about the certification process more during the season.

That’s it for this month. We’ll write again in March and will be sure to include some photos of the greenhouse which should be a sea of green by then.

Take care everyone and enjoy this sunny weekend!