I wanted to write something to reiterate our commitment to sustainable growing practices, so here is is:
Do you spray pesticides? On our farm we NEVER spray our veggies. This includes synthetic as well as organic-approved pesticides. The trouble with synthetic pesticides are well known, there are dangers of cancer and other health problems to consumers that eat veggies that have pesticides sprayed on them. There is danger to the insect population (including those that the sprays are not intended for), insects are a vital part of the ecosystem of the earth. There is danger to wildlife, waterways and soil biology. We also do not use organic-approved pesticides because even though they can be safer, there are still dangers to insects such as honeybees that the pesticides are not intended for, that is our decision for our farm and it’s what we feel comfortable doing within our little piece of nature. A lot of people are skeptical when a farm says they are no-spray but please take into account all the hard work, sweat, stress, planning, adapting, and tough times that go into running a farm, please believe the farmer! Also if you are still not convinced, you are cordially invited to come down to our farm and “catch us in the act” at any time… you will not find us spraying pesticides on our vegetables.
So how do you control pest insects then? A lot of people think that you cannot grow crops without using some sort of pesticide, in our experience this is not true… you just have to be a bit more creative, adaptable and observant! The first and foremost method we use is letting nature do it’s thing, our farm is surrounded by forest, a river, fields, a ravine, streams, and lots of wild areas where wildflowers grow. By leaving most of the land in its natural state, we are inviting the natural ecosystem into our veggie fields - this includes beneficial predatory insects, predatory animals and birds and even native fungi and bacterias. We also use natural products such as wood ash and diatomaceous earth to deter pests, as well as mulching with hay and straw that provides places for predatory insects to live right next to the crops. We use natural fertilizers like compost tea and alfalfa meal which help the plants grow fast and big, a healthy plant is less susceptible to pests. Something we are even trying this year is simply daily sweeping pest insects off the plants so they are slowed down and more susceptible to predators. We also just squish them as well! Sometimes we don’t even do anything because the pest chews on the plant for awhile but then ceases to be a problem, and if you are using pesticides as soon as you see a pest you might never realize this.
How do you control weeds? We NEVER use herbicides. Herbicides, like pesticides can be damaging to wildlife as well as people. All of the weeding on our farm is done by hand, either pulling them out by hand or using a hula hoe (the most useful hand tool we’ve found!). We mulch the soil with hay or straw or reused sheets of greenhouse plastic to keep weeds from growing in the first place. We also have a flame-weeder where you hold a flame right over the weeds after they emerge. We also sometimes just leave weeds if they are not competing with a crop for nutrients, because they have a place in the ecosystem too and are good for the soil. Dandelions and clover are excellent for soil health. Lambs-quarters are a favourite food of aphids, so if you leave some growing the aphids will choose them over your spinach! Edible weeds can also be a nutritious snack for a farmer working a long day in the fields. They can also be harvested and turned into compost tea which is very nutritious for crops. Hand-weeding is the most time consuming part of our farm but it allows us to stay in touch with the crop health, soil health and notice useful things that we may not otherwise see.
How do you fertilize? We NEVER use synthetic fertilizers. These are mined, then processed in large industrial plants and are bad for the environment both by the impact mining has on natural areas as well as all the energy used and pollution produced. When used on fields they can kill microorganisms and fungi that make the soil healthy, as well as run off into waterways and cause algae blooms and other problems. We opt to use all natural and organic fertilizers such as cow manure, compost tea, alfalfa meal and kelp meal. These are more gentle and natural to the soil and add to organic matter, which feeds micro-organisms and makes for healthier, more nutritious and tastier veggies! We also use cover crops such as clover, buckwheat, oats and rye which can be seeded and them chopped and tilled into the soil for fertilizer. You are effectively growing your own fertilizer! That’s how nature does - it with naturally occurring weeds and grass.
Why don’t your veggies look as good as the ones in the grocery store? Because our veggies aren’t grown in a strictly controlled environment like a heavily sprayed field or a hydroponic greenhouse. Most produce at our grocery stores are grown on large farms in other countries where workers are paid very low wages and the environmental impact is not considered important, then they are shipped here, and it may be weeks old by the time you purchase it - while they may superficially look better there is a lot of ugliness that goes into producing them. Our veggies on the other hand are grown within the natural ecosystem which means they come into contact with insects that are also looking to eat them for nutrition. This means that when the veggies get to you, the buyer, they may have some holes in them. This does not mean were don’t care about the quality of our produce, we care deeply about getting the best quality veggies to you, but we are looking at a deeper quality that does not just take into account the surface of the vegetable. We care about what you can’t see: the nutrition, the lack of harmful pesticides and the environmental impacts of growing it. Our veggies may have holes or scars but it’s because they have a story, they are a piece of nature that grew under the sun, in the soil, through wind and rain and have made their way to you to feed yourself and your family and keep your body healthy. When going through a farmers market and you see a vegetable that is “ugly”, please don’t assume it is not good to eat, the farmer brought it there because it is the fruits of their labour and we would not intentionally try to sell you something that is off or rotten, we are literally standing behind our produce! If it’s there on the table, it’s good to eat - and a farmer would know because we tend to eat the uglier produce ourselves and keep the best looking stuff for customers because we know it is always the scarred pepper or squash that will be left last in the basket.
Aren’t you being a little extreme? This is the choice of how we run our farm and everything we decide to do comes with a lot of forethought and deep considerations. We are looking to nature and the thousands of years of vegetable farming as our guide in what to do. Pesticides only became widely used in the 1950’s, before that every vegetable was spray-free. Yes, government scientists and policy makers say they are ok to use when following the label, but science and policy is not infallible and they get things wrong all the time. Look at DDT for example, it won’t surprise me when glyphosate is considered in the same vein in the future. With all that being said, we do the best we can do and that’s all we expect anyone to do, everything you need or want is not available at farmers markets so it is inevitable that we all will consume something containing pesticides at some point in our lives. This does not mean we shouldn’t strive for doing the best we can by ourselves and the natural world and do what we can, when we can! The world is not black and white, and just because you buy lettuce that was grown in California one day, does not mean that you can’t try to buy locally grown lettuce when you can.
Why aren’t you certified organic? We care deeply about the health of nature and the health of people, who are a part of nature even if we don’t consider ourselves to be. We have chosen at this time to not certify our fields as organic because there are problems with organic certification (along with all the good it does). It is a lot of extra work (paperwork) on top of all the work farmers already do, it restricts what you can use on your fields to just what is approved, and you often can not sell your produce for any more to make up for all the extra work. Also, organic standards differ greatly between countries, so an organic veggie from Canada or the US are not grown to the same standards. Also, with organic certifying bodies considering adding such unsustainable growing methods as hydroponic farming to Organic, their judgement is a little questionable. Also, you can lose your certification just by reporting some pesticide drifting in from a neighboring farm, so they are disincentivizing honesty in that way. Really, it is all set up backwards... farms who use pesticides should have to label every pesticide they spray on their veggies, not the ones who don't spray anything!
Why should we buy your produce? Simply because we are putting everything we’ve got into growing the best veggies for you in the best possible way, we put our heart, soul, mind and body into every crop we grow! Happy Eating!
Olde Furrow Farmers!!