Life and thoughts from a small-scale organic farm . . . and its farmers

This is a blog that explores ideas around the growing of food and community at Glen Valley Organic Farm.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

2011 CSA Subscriptions Now Available

Glen Valley Organic Farm runs a small Community Supported Agriculture program in partnership with the NOWBC Co-op. Members of the CSA become partners with the farmers -- they purchase a share of the crop at the start of the season and receive a weekly Harvest Box over 16 weeks in the summer. Our first season of running our CSA was in 2009. The 2011 season marks a change for us as we increase the size of the CSA program and decrease the number of markets where we sell.

We are now selling subscriptions for our 2011 season. Read on to learn more.

Philosophy

We grow 45 different certified organic crops at Glen Valley Organic Farm. By growing a diversity of crops we are able to offer a wide selection to our customers through a Community Shared Agriculture program and at Farmers Markets. This diversity also protects us against weather and pests that inevitably wreak havoc on individual crops one year to the next. Direct sales to the public provide us with an income that allows us to use sustainable practices while also paying fair wages to our employees.

We think a Community Shared Agriculture program is an excellent way for consumers and farmers to connect and work with each other. By paying for a share of the crop at the beginning of the season, members help their farmers to cover start-up costs that often require lines of credit. In return, we provide subscribers with the first pick of our finest produce at incredible value, along with regular farm updates and opportunities to visit the farm -- both to work and for fun.

We recognize that a CSA program doesn't meet everyone’s needs. As a result, we invite you to read through the information below to determine whether or not our CSA is a good fit with your eating habits.

Cost

The Glen Valley Organic Farm CSA costs $520 in 2011. Half-shares are available for $320 (a half-share costs more than half of a regular share to cover packing and delivery costs, which are the same regardless of the share size). A $100 deposit is required immediately to hold your spot for new subscriptions. 2010 subscribers have until 1 February to pay their deposit. The remainder for all shares is due by 1 April.

Duration

The CSA starts mid- to late-June, depending on when crops begin to mature. It will run for approximately 16 weeks, although we may provide slightly smaller boxes at the start of the season and extend the program by one week, depending on selection and quantity available.

Delivery

In Vancouver our CSA boxes are delivered to pick-up depots by the NOWBC Co-op. Please check their depot page to see if there is a drop-off near you. Deliveries are made on Wednesdays or Thursdays, depending on the depot.

We will also deliver boxes to our stand at the Langley Farmers Market (Wednesdays) and the New Westminster Farmers Market (Thursdays). If there are enough subscribers, we will also consider drop-off locations in other south of the Fraser locations (Surrey, Walnut Grove, Fort Langley, Abbotsford and/or Mission). Let us know if you live in one of these areas and would be interested in hosting a drop-off location.

Box Contents

Each week's box contains a variety of in-season fruit and vegetables from our farm. We grow 45 different fruit and vegetable crops. A box is sufficient to provide vegetables for a family of four for a week. Some members who are vegetarian or follow raw food diets use all of the contents themselves. Other members share their boxes with another couple or family. Many members also preserve some of their box contents for winter eating. To determine whether this CSA is sufficient for your needs, consider whether you normally spend $32/week on fresh vegetables. If not, you might want to consider finding someone to share your box with.

A late-August 2010 box looked like this:

1 bunch Rainbow Chard
1 bunch Dandelion
1 Romaine Lettuce
1 bunch Dill
1 lb Green Beans
1 bunch Beets
2 Mini-Cabbages
3 lbs Carrots
1 Long English Cucumber
2 Slicer Cucumbers
2 Garlic Bulbs
1.1 lbs Leeks
2 Sweet Onions (one red, one white)
2 Beefsteak Tomatoes
1 bunch Green Onions

Substitutions and Cancellations

We are unable to accommodate substitutions. In order to help you learn how to use vegetables that might be new to you, we will include regular recipes on our farm blog at http://glenvalleyorganicfarm.blogspot.com. We are also unable to cancel boxes. As a CSA subscriber, you are purchasing a share of the season's harvest, regardless of holidays or other obligations. If you are going on vacation we invite you to offer your box to a friend or neighbour. We also offer an option through NOWBC Co-op to donate your box to a food bank if you are unable to use it on a given week.

Connection with the farm

There are a number of benefits to being a member of our CSA. This includes:

Work parties
This might not have been on everyone's list, but some people requested a CSA in a truer model of shared agriculture -- including the work. As a result, we will try to organize a few weekend work parties throughout the season when you can come out and work with us on specific projects. In exchange, you can choose additional produce to take home or even create your own box for that week. Plus, it's a chance to see the farm at different stages of the season and an opportunity for us to get to know our members better.

Fun parties
Our CSA members are invited to our open house in May or June and we're also going to plan a big harvest shin-dig for late September or early October. This will include a large potluck and a preserves exchange. Last year's CSA parties were a blast.

Farm updates
Our weekly blog posting will provide you with an insight into farm operations, thoughts about agriculture and a number of recipes to help you learn about new ways of using the vegetables in your box.

How to subscribe

To subscribe to our Harvest Box CSA, mail your deposit cheque for $100 along with your contact information (address, phone number and e-mail) to the address below. We will notify you when we receive your deposit. The remaining amount of our subscription fee will be due by 1 April. Alternatively, if you live in Vancouver you can enroll and pay online through NOWBC. E-mail glenvalleychris (at) gmail (dot) com for more info on this option.

Glen Valley Organic Farm

8550 Bradner Road, Abbotsford BC V4X 2H5

Small-Farm Business Planning Resources

If you've been following my Twitter account or reading up on the local small-scale agriculture news, you may have noted that I've been teaching the Business Planning component of Kwantlen University's Richmond Farm School this fall. For anyone working on starting a new small farm, here is a summary of some of the business planning resources I would recommend.

***Updated 9 December 2011***

Business Planning

  • Business Planning for Small-Scale Community Farming Enterprises. Published by FarmFolkCityFolk and The Land Conservancy. This is an accessible, step-by-step guide to business planning for small-scale farms. Excellent for use as a workbook, although the end business plan may need some refining, based on a more professional business planning template. http://ffcf.bc.ca/programs/farm/cf/business-plan.html
  • Guide to Starting a New Farm Enterprise. The Province of BC’s business planning guide for small- and medium-sized farms. A very good guide for understanding the components of a successful small- to medium-size farm enterprise http://www.agf.gov.bc.ca/regional/NewFarm/NewFarm.htm
  • Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook An excellent resource for researching and writing a business plan. Written for urban farms, this document has detailed worksheets to help guide users through the process of developing a useful business plan. http://www.epa.gov/brownfields/urbanag/resources.htm#handbook
  • SmartFarm: A centralized site by the Province of BC's Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, providing information about programs, events and resources for farms. http://www.smartfarmbc.ca/

Business Management
Finances and Bookkeeping
  • Farm Financial Records: A Guide to Managing for Success. Published by the Canadian Farm Business Management Council. A comprehensive guide to managing your financial records. Available through www.farmcentre.com (along with a variety of other publications that might be of use).
Whole Farm Plan
  • Whole Farm Plan Guide. Published by FarmFolkCityFolk and The Land Conservancy. When purchasing a property and/or establishing a farming project a whole farm plan helps develop an assessment of the farm’s capacity, resources and opportunities. It also helps to benchmark ecological indicators and, ultimately, develop shared vision and goals for those involved in managing the land. http://ffcf.bc.ca/programs/farm/cf/planGuide.html
Land Access Agreements
  • A Guide to Farmland Access Agreements Leases, Profits à Prendre, Licences and Memoranda of Understanding. Published by FarmFolkCityFolk and The Land Conservancy. Comprehensive guide to types of land access agreements, benefits and drawbacks of each and sample agreements. http://ffcf.bc.ca/programs/farm/cf/laa.html
Local Government
  • BC’s Farming and Food Future: A Local Government Toolkit for Sustainable Food Production. Published by FarmFolkCityFolk and The Land Conservancy. At times, the best plans for sustainable agriculture run up against local government regulations. This guide offers a toolkit for advocating change to municipal regulations around agriculture. http://ffcf.bc.ca/programs/farm/cf/toolKit.html
Magazines
  • Small Farm Canada. www.smallfarmcanada.ca The perfect resource for Canadian small-scale farmers. Covers a variety of agricultural and business-related topics for fruit, veggie, livestock and agritourism plus much more.
  • Growing For Market. www.growingformarket.com An American resource, written specifically for farmers who market primarily through farmers markets and CSAs. Great info on growing practices, marketing and tools. One of the best publications for small farmers operating a farm enterprise for profit.
Labour
  • Stewards of Irreplaceable Land. http://www.soilapprenticeships.org/ A BC-based apprenticeship program, linking farmers and apprentices from across Canada.
  • WorkSafeBC. Once you find your employees, you’ll have to enroll in WorkSafeBC so your workers are covered by the provincial workers compensation program. www.worksafebc.com
Books
Coleman, Eliot. (1995) The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tool and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener. Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • Not a business planning resource, per se, but an essential introduction to organic growing. Excellent demonstration of how to merge thinking about crop planning, marketing and deciding what to grow based on what sells. Crucial if only for one piece of advice: don’t try to farm without taking a day off each week!
Henderson, Elizabeth. (2007) Sharing the Harvest: A Citizen’s Guide to Community Supported Agriculture. Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • An essential resource for starting a CSA. Includes everything from crop planning through to alternative means of engaging under-serviced communities. Based on work by North America’s original CSAs.
Wiswall, Richard. (2009) The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook: A Complete Guide to Managing Finances, Crops, and Staff—and Making a Profit. Chelsea Green Publishing.
  • A business planning handbook written specifically for organic farmers. More suited to the scale and focus of small-scale vegetable farms. Includes a disc with planning and efficiency tools.
Canada Revenue Agency
Business Risk Management

General
Profitability on a small farm, Paul and Sandy Arnold. The best summary article of how to approach the management of a small-scale farm. http://www.cog.ca/documents/Winter04Arnold.pdf

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Changes coming for next season

There are some changes coming to how we market our produce next season. I haven't posted for a while, largely because of time constraints. But I wanted to note an important change.

Beginning in the 2011 season our farm will no longer be part of the Langley Organic Growers marketing co-operative. We decided to step out of this collective of organic farms in an effort to concentrate our sales efforts in fewer venues.

As many of our regular customers know, we have been selling at 9 farmers markets in 2010. Five of these were through Langley Organic Growers (all four Vancouver markets and Coquitlam). The remaining four markets (Lonsdale Quay, White Rock, New Westminster and Langley) are stands we do alone as Glen Valley Organic Farm.

Due to personnel changes on our farm this season, Langley Organic Growers had difficulty staffing all of the markets we were registered to attend. In the meantime, we have just completed the second year of our Community Supported Agriculture Harvest Box program. We have received a number of requests to expand our CSA program next year. As well, we regularly send less produce to some markets in an effort to supply the rest of the markets.

In the past, our marketing co-operative has felt an obligation to attend a new market in order to support its development and provide customers with an organic alternative. Due to a growing number of new, small farms, this is no longer necessary. And due to the growing number of markets, it is no longer possible, either.

We recognize an opportunity to concentrate our efforts on our four markets (possibly one more) plus our CSA in the coming season. Supplying as many markets as we have been doing is no longer sustainable for us in terms of energy and attention. In addition, we see a need to focus some attention on supplying under-served markets, including low-income customers and neighbourhoods outside of Vancouver-proper.

Langley Organic Growers has included Myers Organic Farms, Olers Farm, In Season Farm and Greg Reid Farm and Glen Valley Organic Farm since 2007. Prior to this, Friesen Farm and Glorious Organics were part of Langley Organic Growers while In Season and Greg Reid Farms were not.

Before the 2007 season Friesen Farm and Glorious Organics formed Organic Farm Connection and Langley Organic Growers welcomed In season and Greg Reid Farms. This arrangement benefited all farms by allowing for less congestion at market stalls and greater capacity to supply more customers.

The farms involved in Langley Organic Growers and Organic Farm Connection include some of the original organic farmers in the Lower Mainland. It has been a privilege to work so closely with these experienced farmers during our entry into farming.

This past year has been exciting. More new farmers are coming to markets and this is providing many shoppers with more choice. No one farm or farm co-operative needs to feel an obligation to supply all of the markets.

We know that our departure from Langley Organic Growers will provide the remaining farms with more opportunity to grow crops we have previously supplied. It will also streamline the group's overall operations.

One of the most important lessons we have learned since starting farming is that co-operation is the cornerstone to successful agricultural operations. No one farm or farmer can do everything. The farm community supports each other in times of crisis as well as in regular daily operations. Likewise, the partnerships we have with urban food groups is very strong and provides us with the ability to farm in a small-scale, sustainable fashion.

Our dream for the sector is a future of thousands of small-scale farms practicing sustainable, intensive growing practices and marketing direct-to-consumer and/or co-operatively through a variety of channels. The local food scene is changing rapidly and this dream seems attainable with some hard work and a focus on end goals.

So, with all of this in mind, we don't think of our departure from Langley Organic Growers as an attempt to "go it alone". Rather, we're refocusing and figuring out some next steps in an effort to continue to grow and change in tune with the larger local, organic food movement. We're happy to have so many wonderful people to work with.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

On behalf of the entire farm team at Glen Valley Organic Farm, we would like to extend our thanks to the many friends, family members and customers who support us throughout the year. We wish all of you a wonderful autumn season and a wonderful time of thanksgiving and reflection.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Watermelons and the Price of Local Food

My two farm hands pose with their melon harvest . . . their new favorite crop.

Melon season arrived on the farm today and melons make me think of money. Prices, more specifically. And I've been thinking about prices and money a lot this week, after a CBC radio host commented on the cost of local, organic food . . . but more on that in a moment. I'm also thinking about watermelons.

The truth is, the melons surprised me. I've been ignoring the melon patch. Nothing else is planted around it, so it's been easy to walk by and not look too closely.

Today, however, we ran out of fruit in the house. And both children were screaming. And Paige (now 8 months pregnant) needed some quiet. It was time for a walk. A trip yielding fruit would be even better.

We ended up in the melon patch. Watermelons were the only conceivable fruit I could think of that might be ready on the farm (apart from apples, of course). In the back of my mind I recalled Jeremy commenting on the fact that melons might be ready for the market this weekend. I didn't think much of it at the time; last year we had melons in mid-August. Beginning of October melons? They couldn't be any good.

Watermelons are a difficult crop, but well worth the effort when they grow well. They need heat, lots of water, weeding and more heat. We started growing melons two years ago as an experiment. When we sent a bunch to market for the first time we had to figure out a price -- we had no precedent.

Once our costs were considered, we figured that we would have to charge the same price we have for our squash -- $1.25/lb. This came as quite a shock to customers who normally pay $0.29/lb for conventional melons in the stores through the summer. After various comments about the price that first week, we discussed whether we needed to lower the price.

So, consider this: each melon requires about 190 liters of irrigation water. It makes sense when you think of the primary ingredient of a watermelon: water. In fact, a number of customers noted that our price seemed rather high when most of the fruit is water (of course, they still line up to pay $3.00/lb for tomatoes that are 94% water and $2.50/bunch for spinach that is 92% water).

Nonetheless, a large portion of the population doesn't blink an eye at paying $2.00 for half a liter of bottled water -- that's four times what they pay for a liter of gasoline for their car. So what value do you place on 190 liters of water, especially when fortified with fiber and a great range of nutrients?

Then I heard about watermelons in Japan. It turns out they are a delicacy. Many people in Japan have never tasted watermelons. They regularly sell for $200. Moreover, the first Hokkaido watermelons of the season are auctioned at an astounding price ($6,000 two years ago). Unbelievable? Read about it at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24997464/

All things considered, we figured that $1.25/lb was a heck of a deal for melons. In fact, Lulu Lemon should be designing yoga bags with melon carriers, not water bottle carriers -- think of the Vancouver fashion statement that would make. The next Saturday morning I explained this to our customers waiting in line at the market. We sold out of melons in an hour.

The cost of local, organic food: Here's the dirt

Having said all of this, it still doesn't answer the question of why local, organic food costs what it does . . . $1.25/lb or otherwise. So here is a summary of some of the factors:
  1. Wages: In BC, many farm workers are paid the agricultural minimum wage of $8/hour. Pretty lousy. At the same time, BC growers are competing against imports from places where people are paid between $4 and $8/day. Keep in mind that in the US, most farm workers are illegal migrants working under the table for far less than minimum wage. Even in BC, in 2008 a judge noted the exploitation in BC's fruit and vegetable industry. For any operation, labour is generally the greatest expense. Try competing against someone who doesn't pay their employees. Add to that, on our farm we reject the minimum wage. Our apprentices earn $10/hour plus accommodations and food; our long-time, permanent workers are paid $13/hour plus a profit-share bonus at the end of the season. Still not great, but this factors into the prices we set.
  2. Labour: In addition to the cost of wages, organic growing requires a significant amount of labour compared to conventional growing. All of our planting, weeding and harvesting is done by hand. Weeding alone is a full-time job for many of us throughout the summer. This is an even greater factor for our farm because we use very little plastic mulch for weed control.
  3. Land: Anyone trying to pay a mortgage in BC knows about the cost of land. Trying to earn a living from farming while paying a mortgage is borderline insane. This is one area where our farm has an advantage; the land is co-operatively owned and leased to us at affordable rates.
  4. Scale: Most of the farms you find at the farmers markets are there because it's one of the few places they can get the price they need to cover their costs. They are small-scale farms. Because of their small scale, they are able to employ more sustainable practices (e.g. hand weeding instead of disposable plastic mulch). By comparison, many large farms depend on volume to make money. If they sell at low prices to wholesalers, earning one or two dollars for each case, they'll make their money by selling a lot. Small producers can't do this, but they can compete on the basis of quality: many people will pay to have fresh and excellent-tasting produce.
  5. Industry pressure . . . or lack thereof: There is huge pressure on farms to sell to distributors for prices that are sometimes less than the cost of production. In the summer when Americans are on holidays and crops are plentiful, Californian farms dump product at low prices. Local farms are then forced to sell cheap or let the food rot. Keep in mind that supermarkets generally lose money on fresh produce -- it's a loss leader -- instead earning their profit from the less-healthy packaged food. The appearance of abundance in the produce aisle has many costs -- wasted food, labour exploitation and dangerous agricultural practices that feed a system with cheap food. One alternative is the farmers market, where a farm can set a price that reflects the cost of production and justify the price to the end consumer.
  6. Opportunity and Capacity: I would be naive to state that some farms don't take advantage of the ability to set their own prices at the farmers markets. I have been shocked to see the prices on some produce. In some instances there has been little challenge because there haven't been other farmers. Having said that, this season has been a good example of what farmers markets are cultivating: competition. There are few places where the primary producers line up, lay out their products and set their own prices, all in direct line of the end consumer's questions and queries. It's somewhat of an ideal form of capitalism. This year, there were many new farms at the markets. Some are existing farms who have figured out that the markets provide a better return on their products. Many, however, are new farmers -- the result of capacity building within the sector over the past few years to get more young farmers into the fields. The end result: Vancouver markets featured local, organic, non-greenhouse (i.e. tasty) tomatoes (normally a high-value crop) for well under $2/lb, and even lower when buying in bulk.
With all of this in mind, it is fair to note that there are many people who can't afford to buy fresh produce at all. There are more people who can't afford to buy organic produce. And there are many more people who choose not to buy organic produce as a personal choice. None of this makes anyone better than anyone else. Rather, it's a distraction from larger issues.

As a farmer, I want everyone to be able to access the food I grow. At the same time, I refuse to allow myself or my employees to live in poverty so that someone else can have cheap food. We live in a society with such abundance that there is little reason for people to go hungry. The inequality that results in hunger is a societal problem -- it's not the farmer's fault. Rather, it's all of our fault and all of our responsibility. There's more to say on this point, along with some stories of how this is being addressed . . . but it'll have to wait for a future post.

Anyway, we think a lot about the price of food on our farm and what makes for fair compensation to the people who grow the food, the cost of environmental stewardship and value for those purchasing the food. There aren't easy answers, but these are important discussions to have.


As for the watermelons, we had a great harvest this evening. The screaming stopped and my daughters feasted on a late-September treat after dinner. Actually, it was their dinner. Knowing what came next, the refused to eat anything else.

We'll have melons at our markets this week. They might cost a bit more and it might seem late in the season, but at a time when peaches are finished and cherries are but a distant memory these melons will blow you away.

Squash of the Week

OK, I missed a week, but no one seems to be interested in making their guesses publicly. Oh well, here's the next squash to guess.

This Week's Harvest Box Contents

The CSA Harvest Box contents are changing with the season. Here's what our subscribers will find in their boxes this week:
  • 1 Long English Cucumber
  • 2 lbs Cooking Onions
  • 1 lb Shallots
  • 5-7 lbs Red Kuri Squash
  • 1 massive Sweet Onion
  • 1 Sweet Red Pepper
  • 1 bunch Radishes
  • 3 lbs Apples
  • 1 bunch Collards
  • 1 bunch Kale
  • 1 head Lettuce
  • 1 bunch Beets
Here's some info that might help you navigate the box this week:

Apples
Apple varieties are Blenheim Orange and Belle de Boskoop. Both of these apples are primarily cooking apples, although we like them for fresh eating and cider as well. If you can hold on to them, both varieties will taste better in a week.

Squash
The Red Kuri Squash is a very dry-fleshed squash with a rich flavour. It is popular for soups, its seed cavity can be stuffed and it also fares well in baking (it makes great pies). Local restaurant Seasonal 56 posted a recipe for Red Kuri soup on their Facebook page.

Onions
The onions and shallots are together in the same bag this week (sorry for any confusion this caused people last week . . . hopefully everyone figured out the difference). We have also included a massive Bedfordshire Champion Sweet Onion this week. You can use this raw in sandwiches, burgers and salads.

Collards
The collard greens are great chopped and sauteed with butter, seasoned with sesame seed oil and soya sauce or balsamic vinegar. You can also blanch them in boiling water and use them as wraps for your favorite sandwich fillings. Many people use them raw, too. Try grated carrots, beets, lettuce and sweet onion with rice or quinoa and cheese. Cookthink.com also has some ideas for using collards.

Happy cooking and happy nourishing.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Summer's Last Sunset

Last night I was heading into Abbotsford and stopped at the top of the hill to catch summer's last sunset over Glen Valley. It was quite spectacular.

Heading away from the valley, I was reminded that the full moon this month falls on the Autumnal Equinox. Here's the almost-full moon of last night.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Autumn and the Foggy Valley Days

Tomorrow marks the Autumnal Equinox. At this time of year we often see the fog rolling into the valley, obscuring our views for part of the morning. As the days get shorter and cooler, the fog lasts longer and longer . . . until one day it doesn't lift at all.

The photo above is taken from above our farm, just a quick walk up the hill, out of the valley. As you can see, just the tree tops are visible in the valley below.

From this vantage point on a clear day one can see clear across the Lower Mainland and even see skyscrapers in cities closer to Vancouver. In addition, it's a fantastic view of the farms in Glen Valley and the Fraser River meandering through. Below is an image on a relatively clear day.

Autumn is one of my favorite times of year. We celebrated the Equinox on the weekend with a party for some friends and family. The weather didn't cooperate, so we moved everything into the barn and had a great time.

Equinox is a time of balance. The days and nights are of equal length and we transition from the long days of outdoor labour in the fields to more family time indoors and recovery from the season we've had. We, as farmers, move toward a time of leisure and learning. We are able to pick up books we've been meaning to read. We are able to take days off. But we do this amidst the outdoor tasks that need to be finished before winter arrives. Slaughter day approaches for the goats, we continue to get root crops into storage and finish preserving fruits and vegetables. In many ways, it truly is a time of balance.

Since starting farming, celebrating the change of seasons has gained more relevance for me. My body is exhausted and craving for sleep as well as the warm, savory meals of winter, comprised of root vegetables held in storage. I want to be able to spend more time with my children, going to the library and swimming with them and visiting friends. Marking the change of seasons is a way of celebrating what we have accomplished while reminding us of the need to change pace -- and understanding that changing pace is allowed.

I get a chuckle, however, when I hear people state that celebrating the Equinox and Solstice is flaky. In actual fact, it's marking a distinct change of seasons as the earth orbits around the sun. It's a change upon which all life on earth hinges. And it's much more concrete that any religion we're asked to believe in and celebrate (many religious holidays being, of course, appropriations and abstractions of old pagan rituals based on the change of seasons).

So take a moment to celebrate the arrival of autumn by taking stock of where you need better balance in your life. Take a walk and contemplate the changes taking place and compare what you are seeing to your memories of summer. And if you've been preserving food, take a picture of your canning cupboard or freezer -- for posterity's sake if nothing else. And while you're at it, make sure you've written down how much you actually preserved (for next year's planning).

We talk a lot about balance in our lives. I think it's fine to be out of balance from time to time. That's particularly true in farming when the summer is such a busy time. But it's important to re-balance and make sure we don't try to extend summer into the months when we need to rest.

Spring, after all, is only six months away.

Curried Couscous with Crispy Kale

From Moira, one of our Community Supported Agriculture subscribers . . .

Serves 6 to 8

This is an easy, versatile couscous dish that works well as a warm side dish or served cold in lettuce cups as a salad. The curry flavor is distinctive but not overwhelming; adjust the amount of curry powder to suit your taste. The tamari-crisped kale is very flavorful and adds interest and nutritional benefits to the dish.

To stretch this recipe into a meal, try adding shredded cooked chicken or pork, garbanzo beans, or diced shrimp.

2 large bunches dinosaur (Tuscan) kale, stemmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper (1/4-inch dice)
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons good-quality curry powder
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup Organic Raisins
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or pistachios

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the kale and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the kale is cool enough to handle, squeeze the water from it. Place the kale in a small bowl and toss with the tamari sauce. Spread the kale pieces in a thin layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the kale is dry and slightly crispy, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool at room temperature.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; when the oil is hot, add the bell pepper and shallots. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables start to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, curry powder, and brown sugar, and cook, stirring frequently, for another 3 minutes.

Add the broth, raisins, and salt, and bring the liquid to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover the pan, and turn off the heat. Let the couscous sit for 15 minutes without removing the cover, and then fluff the grains with a fork. Stir in the reserved kale.

Transfer to a platter or shallow bowl and garnish with the toasted pine nuts.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fall Fair Time

I just returned from the Mount Lehman Fall Fair with my daughter Roxie. This evening is the entry period for the fall fair contests. I entered a variety of our fruit and vegetables that are currently in season.

The experience was a blast. I'm not sure how many people actually enter items at the fall fair, but the organizers were quite excited to see a lot of produce coming in. In fact, they had to add another table. All of a sudden, I was part of a bunch of conversations about what kind of soil is best for growing, where to buy seeds and when to plant.

People asked if I was a hobby gardener. I almost felt ashamed to say that I'm a farmer, as though they might think I have an unfair advantage. The advantage really comes from the fact that eight of us grew these items, but my name had to go on the entry forms.

My inspiration for entering the fall fair came from Amy Jo Ehman's book Prairie Feast: A Writer's Journey Home for Dinner. Written about a year of local eating in Saskatchewan, Amy Jo visited a number of community fairs and festivals, even entering her bread in a wheat festival and her friend's mustard in an Oktoberfest.

The reality of our situation hit me as I read. Since moving to the farm four years ago, we haven't had a whole lot of exposure to the local community. We're rather out-of-the-way at the end of the valley and our errands are scattered between Abbotsford, Fort Langley and Vancouver. And we haven't made a lot of effort to meet people in the area.

All of this is slowly changing. We've met many farming neighbours through the farmers markets and we're slowly finding out about community events. As our children grow, we'll undoubtedly find out about more community goings-on.

But the Fall Fair seemed like the best way to do something right now -- at a time when we otherwise say that the season is too busy for other things. When you grow vegetables for a living, can we really be too busy for the local Fall Fair?

Last summer I was the guest speaker at the Pender Island Fall Fair. It was a blast and, perhaps, the first time I had really paid attention to a fall fair. They had exhibits, a big meal, a parade and, of course, all sorts of competitions for produce, baking, preserves, flowers, eggs, animals and art. It was an amazing day.

These events are so much of what community life should be about. On a small scale like this, everyone knows who the organizers are and, ultimately, everyone needs to participate in order for it to work out. And too many rural fall fairs aren't getting the participation they deserve.

Maybe more fall fairs will pop up in the cities now, too. With urban gardeners increasing in numbers, they need a place to exhibit their achievements and have a chance at winning a blue ribbon.

I hope we do see more fall fairs in the city and rural areas alike. And through them we could see more community celebrations. Hopefully, in the future, the produce competitions will be the main event and no one will be embarrassed to admit whether they're a gardener or farmer. In the end, we're all in this together.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

All About Our Eggs

One of the questions we get every week at the markets concerns whether our eggs are from Free Range chickens. We actually spend more time talking about our eggs and hens than any other topic with customers. So, here's some info.

To be certified organic, eggs must come from free range hens. This means outdoor access, no cages. In our case, our small flock has access to half an acre of green space to roam, plus a spacious coop where they roost, feed and lay their eggs. They also have a covered space outdoors and a dust bath (which helps with controlling parasites).

Our hens get a diet of certified organic grains, plus access to oyster shell to help their shell strength. They also get a large dose of greens from our vegetable production, including beet tops and extra lettuce, chard and kale that comes back from market. They also eat greens growing in their chicken run (various grasses and weeds) plus a healthy dose of insects and worms that they scrounge from the earth.

It is the access to greens and bugs that give our hens' eggs a rich, dark yolk -- due to the
presence of organic pigments called cartenoids, found in the chloroplasts and chromoplasts of plants. But in case you're worried that the richer yolk is bad for you, here's some info from a 2007 study commissioned by Mother Earth News -- Truly free-range eggs had:
  • 1/3 less cholesterol
  • 1/4 less saturated fat
  • 2/3 more vitamin A
  • 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene
Now, although the colour of the yolk indicates healthier eggs, the shell colour is irrelevant. Shell colour is determined by the breed of hens (i.e. it is a genetic trait). For example, brown colouring comes from the pigment protoporphyrin. This comes from haemoglobin in the blood; the pigment is added to the egg during its formation. There are heritage varieties of hens that lay different coloured eggs (blue, green, etc) but these are generally not available commercially because the hens often have lower productivity than breeds used in commercial production today.

Our chickens play an important roll in our overall farm operation. The manure we get from the birds is composted and then used to nourish the soil for our fruit and vegetable crops.

Finally, there's the issue of price. Simply put, it costs more to purchase organic feed and to maintain the space required for free range hens. Our farmers market cost of $5.50/dozen doesn't actually leave us with a very large profit margin at the end of the day. But we think the price (lower than most store-bought organic eggs, higher than conventional battery cage eggs) is worth it.

Home Sweet Home


One of our Co-operative shareholders, Tricia Carpenter, started keeping bees on the farm this year. Although she didn't get the bees until late in the season, they seem to have taken to their new home. We won't get any honey from the hives this year, but the bees have been busy pollinating our crops.

Name That Squash

Can you name this squash? Leave your answer in the comments section below.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Breeding Time

Fall is approaching and that means figuring out certain logistics . . . like how we will get our goats bred. We don't have a buck on the farm, so that means we'll have to take our dairy goats out on the town (or to another farm that is) to be bred.

I'm trying to figure out how the online dating ad would look for this: "Single female goat seeking non-committal male goat for 20 minutes. Must be from good milking stock."

The photo, by the way, was taken by Brian Harris last September. It shows two of Alyson's goats during mating season. For farmers without televisions, this is an exciting time of year.

The Canning Continues

Our preserves pantry is filling up. We have tomato sauce, tomatoes, salsa, salmon, pears, peaches, plums, pickles and various jams ready for winter. Our freezer is also filling up with stocks for winter soups, salmon, corn and berries. The cheese fridge has four large rounds of Gouda aging.

Our apple orchard has a lot of October apples, so saucing is still coming up, along with making cider. We'll be happy when the preserving season is over. At the same time, since we started making cheese, canning fruit and veggies seems like a quick task!

A Peek Inside This Week's CSA Boxes

Here's what our Community Supported Agriculture subscribers are getting in their Harvest Boxes this week:

1 bunch Kale
1 head Red Oak Lettuce
1 bunch Golden Beets
3 lbs Carrots
1 Long English Cucumber
1 bunch Green Onions
3 lbs Cooking Onions
1 lb Shallots
1 medium Tomato
1 pint Blueberries

We were happy to be able to include cooking onions and shallots now that the sweet onions are finished. These onions are stronger than the sweet onions and can be stored in a cool, dark place (e.g. under the sink or in a pantry) if you're not going to be using them right away.

The shallots can also be stored. Shallots tend to be a bit milder than onions. They develop a very nice sweetness after a long, low-heat cooking and are can be used in savory tarts (particularly good with goat cheese). Check out these shallot recipes from Cookthink.com:
While you're at Cookthink.com, and if you're feeling overloaded with beets and/or carrots, you might check out some new ways of preparing them: carrots, and beets. Or, type in your ingredient of choice and see the selection of recipes.

This will be the only week for blueberries and likely the last week for tomatoes. We're not sure if zucchini or beans will make a reappearance now that the weather is cooling down.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cycling the Coast: Farm Visitors

At the start of their journey: Our visitors as they head out for their next farm and cycling adventure.

This past week we had visitors on the farm. Ned and Charlotte are cycling the coast, starting in Vancouver and heading down through Washington, Oregon, California and into Mexico and beyond. They are trying to learn about farming, particularly focusing on the Community Shared Agriculture system, in the hopes of figuring out something to do in the realm of farming back in Britain when they return next year.

They arrived just at the right point in the season -- the diversion of guests was a welcome break from the tiring routine of the end of August and early September. They helped us get a thousand pounds (or so) of onions out of the fields and into curing. And they lent a hand at a couple of markets.

We were able to send them on their way with a few extra contacts for the journey south and hopefully a good impression of what can be done with a small-scale farm.

You can check out their project and perhaps answer some of the questions they post by reading their blog, Cropcycle. And if you know of some farms they should check out on their journey you can let them know via their blog as well.

Ned and Charlotte heading off to their next stop on the start of a great cycling adventure.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Season of Saving Begins

Jeremy and Rob cleaning onions, September 2009 (photo courtesy of Brian Harris).

The daylight hours are shortening and there is a distinct sense of autumn approaching. Leaves are justing beginning to change colours on the trees and we're shifting gears into harvesting a new set of crops.

In many ways, this is a season of saving and I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Last week an exhibit opened at the Museum of Vancouver, featuring photography of BC Community Farms and Urban Agriculture by Brian Harris. The exhibit reminded me of the role of saving in farm life.

Throughout the exhibit there are quotes about food and agriculture. One of the quotes is by me, taken from a larger statement: "Knowledge about agriculture is no different than the knowledge contained in a seed. Both must be grown out each season, tested against the soil and weather. They must be passed from the minds and hands of one generation to the next. Those who assume mentorship roles understand that what they have amassed is useless unless passed along to others who will continue their work."

The quote in the exhibit is in shortened form:
“Knowledge about agriculture is like the knowledge contained in a seed. Both must be grown out each season then passed from the minds and hands of one generation to the next.”
The quote comes from real-life observations. My parents were the first generation in their families who chose not to farm. They did, nonetheless, keep a large garden in our backyard while I grew up and some of the gardening rubbed off on me. But it strikes me that so much knowledge about growing food can be lost in only one generation.

In a similar vein, there are varieties of beans, poppies and various other veggies that we lost when my grandmother stopped gardening in her 80s. Many of these varieties likely came with her family from the Carpathian Valley region of what is now Ukraine. The seeds formed the basis for the meals enjoyed at many family gatherings. In losing these seeds, we risk losing something greater in knowing our history.

The truth is, however, I didn't write the above-mentioned quote in an essay or speech. Rather, Brian asked me for a quote on the theme of mentorship while he was designing the exhibit. I actually received his request while on a winter vacation, enjoying the farmer's markets of Hawaii.

Now the quote has me thinking that an essay on mentorship and the transfer of knowledge in agriculture is due. I started writing some rough notes yesterday. Daily work on the farm is serving as an inspiration for the piece, particularly as we begin to do a lot of saving.

This past week we brought up the first storage onions and shallots for drying. Once the tops of the onions start to die in the field we pull them out and bring them into a dry space to prepare them for winter.

A few of the onions brought up from the field yesterday and laid out in the coldframe this morning.

The onions get laid out in our coldframes, where they will dry for a few weeks. Once the tops and roots are dried completely, the bulb is sealed and can be cleaned. The tops and roots are cut off and the outer layer of skin is removed, leaving a beautiful, clean onion or shallot. The bulbs are bagged and put away in a storage room where we control the humidity and temperature through the winter until everything is sold.

Meanwhile, the end of summer also marks the point when seeds must be harvested for next year's crops. While we purchase most of our seeds for growing, there are a few crops from which we have been trying to save seed.

A handful of golden beet seed, harvested this fall.

Last fall I saved a few bags of the best beets we had and stored them until this spring. Early in the spring I planted out the beets. Now, many months later, we're harvesting the seed. The beets, in particular, are a crop I think we should be able to save and adapt a variety to excel in our growing conditions here in the Lower Mainland.

Another seed we saved this year is from our crop of fava beans. Beans are an easy crop to save seed from and favas, given their size and early maturity, are particularly nice seeds to grow.

Thousands of fava beans dry in a bin after shucking.

Finally, saving is a huge theme in our kitchens as we preserve food through canning, drying and freezing. We spend long hours doing this work in the fall, and we always appreciate our work throughout the winter and spring as we enjoy the memories of summer on our taste buds.

Saving, whether it be seeds, food, knowledge or even money is something we don't do much of these days. We trust that answers to our questions are only a google away. Seeds are purchased from catalogs and gardening stores. Food is always available, at least for those who can afford it. National statistics tell us that most people have far more debt than savings to their names.

Despite this, I am encouraged by the numbers of people learning to grow and preserve food. There are many people getting into small-scale farming and exploring how to get involved in the agricultural sector. If this continues, we just might be able to do a bit more saving, before too much more is lost from our hands and memories.

Thousands of shallots drying before being cleaned and stored for the winter.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Going to market


Going to market is almost always a highlight of the week for us. It's an opportunity to get off the farm, meet our customers and to do a little bit of shopping for the week ahead. There is something exciting about the energy and pace of the market which comes as a great contrast to the long days of often-solitary work on the farm throughout the week. I've heard some people even describe the market environment as addictive.

This year, Jeremy, Rob and I have shared the responsibilities of the Lonsdale Quay, White Rock and New Westminster markets, each taking a turn at one of the markets every three weeks. Our apprentices Adam and Cat have shared working at the Langley Market.

Here's a rundown of a market day along with my editorial comment. I took some photos from the last couple of markets I worked -- Lonsdale Quay and White Rock.

For the weekend markets, the day starts early with loading the truck -- at 5 or 6 a.m. When everything is loaded in the height of the season the market truck should look something like this:

While driving to the market we sometimes get a great view of the sunrise coming up over the mountains and valley.

And once we arrive at the market, it's time to transform an empty square, parking lot or park into a carnival-esque market scene. The White Rock market is held in a square between two condo towers. On this particular week someone threw old food from their window at market vendors during set-up. Maybe the set-up time is too early for some people on the weekend. We were lucky no one got hurt, though, given that the package fell about 15 stories.


At our Lonsdale Quay market on Saturday mornings we have the ever-able Storm who helps us. He's been part of the market scene for longer than we have and knows how to navigate piles of produce boxes and set up a market stand with his eyes closed.


Once everything is set up we occasionally get an opportunity to admire the presentation before starting to sell. If we finish setting up too early before the start of market, our customers begin to get a bit anxious for having to wait.


A major part of market set-up is presentation. Making the food look beautiful in large piles and orderly rows goes a long way to helping sell everything.



We try to be strict about only selling after the advertised opening time. At Lonsdale Quay there is no strict start time, although the market is advertised as starting at 10 a.m. Until two years ago, we started selling as soon as we were st up. But our customers started arriving earlier and earlier.

One week I pulled the truck in to begin setting up at 7:30 a.m. and there were two customers waiting who proceeded to take boxes off the truck and began rummaging through for produce. We were sold out before the market opened, much to the dismay of customers who arrived on time. That's bad market management.

The next week I arrived with a rope and a handful of coffee cards. I tied off the stand and told customers we would no longer sell before the advertised start time. I handed out coffee cards so people could get a complimentary coffee on the corner and wait. People complained fiercely, other vendors continued to sell early and the market society didn't care.

We still sell out and customers appreciate knowing when the market actually starts in order to plan their days. We've maintained strict start times since. Remember, the early bird only gets the worm. Everyone else gets some organic produce with their worm.

Every so often before the market starts a market manager comes by to talk to us. On this particular week in White Rock, Market Manager Helen came by to tell us that we should have a tent over our stall. I had forgotten the tent that morning. The health department gets upset when we don't have a tent because they're afraid birds will poop on our produce and cause mass pathogenic outbreaks. It's amazing what they can dream up in their offices.

It was a great day for working without a tent (no rain). Jeremy forgot the cash float the following week. In the past I've forgotten the tent, the scale and the float (not all on the same week). Any one of those instances could lead to a terrible day. But we managed to recover each time thanks to the generosity and ingenuity of other vendors and market volunteers.


Then we can finally get to work selling food. The weather has a major impact on how busy it will be (I understand that people don't eat on rainy days). Lonsdale Quay is the one exception to this rule. The north shore is always wetter than anywhere else in the Lower Mainland and its residents know that they have to brave the rain or spend much of their lives indoors.


If all goes according to plans, our stall is more-or-less empty within a few hours. By the way, we don't sell off produce at the end of the day for lower prices. We take it home and eat it.

When people try to get food for less than the marked price we respond in one of two ways. On a good day we simply explain that we won't undermine the price other customers have paid and that the posted price reflects the value of the food based on what it costs us to bring it to market. On a bad day we ask people to buzz off.

Our philosophy for farmers markets is to sell out rather than throw out. We could take a lot of produce to keep the stall fully stocked until the end of the day (and probably achieve some additional sales), but much more food would be wasted. Rather, we order up or down on a weekly basis depending on previous weeks' sales and the weather forecast.

Supermarkets have fully-stocked produce sections and it means that a high percentage of their produce gets thrown out. In fact, most supermarkets don't make money on produce. The real profit is made from packaged food that can sit on shelves for months and doesn't have to be thrown out. They sell produce cheap as a loss leader to get people into the store.


And before returning home to unload the market truck we stop off at the local Co-Op gas station to fill up for the next market trip. It's a good reminder that despite our attempts to sell local, we're still dependent on oil for the moment. There's still work to do.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Great book on human-scale farming

We are excited about the release of a new book about small-scale, local farming. Up We Grow! is written by Vancouver author Deborah Hodge for children ages 4-7. The book features photography by Brian Harris, showing small farms and farmers from around British Columbia.

The book is excellent for its portrayal of the human side of food production. Too often discussions of local food focuses on pictures of food. Up We Grow! shows the people who grow food in our communities. This is a feature of Brian Harris' photography; he captures the community and cultural elements of farming. Deborah's text engages children with questions about how they celebrate the seasons and inquiries about their favorite foods.

What we especially like about this book is that it features our farm. The text is based on visits the author did over a one-year period, documenting the activities of the farm. The farm in the book is a composite of many farms, using Brian's spectacular photography.

The book is available at bookstores around British Columbia and beyond. Kidbooks in Vancouver is hosting a book launch on Thursday, 26 August from 7-9 p.m. Check out their amazing window display here.

We have copies of the book for sale at our farmers market stands at Lonsdale Quay (Saturdays 10-3), White Rock (Sundays 9-1), Langley (Wednesdays 3-7) and New Westminster (Thursdays 3-7).

Our Harvest Boxes This Week


I haven't been posting the contents of our Harvest Boxes to the blog thus far. Today, however, I'm noting the contents, just because we're at the height of the season and the boxes look incredible.

1 bunch Rainbow Chard
1 bunch Dandelion
1 Romaine Lettuce
1 bunch Dill
1 lb Green Beans
1 bunch Beets
2 Mini-Cabbages
3 lbs Carrots
1 Long English Cucumber
2 Slicer Cucumbers
2 Garlic Bulbs
1.1 lbs Leeks
2 Sweet Onions (one red, one white)
2 Beefsteak Tomatoes
1 bunch Green Onions

We went heavy on the allium family this week; it's the last week for garlic, the leeks and sweet onions are beautiful and a planting of green onions matured this week. This is foreshadowing for the incredible crop of storage onions and shallots we are just beginning to cure for storage. The tomatoes are at their peak and we only wish we could grow more! Cucumbers, beans, carrots and beets remain in abundance.

I'll take a moment to note that since our farm is in the Lower Mainland our boxes are heavy on veggies and lower on fruit. We don't have the consistently high temperatures and cold winters necessary for the popular soft fruit crops that grow in the interior. This is part of understanding the bio-region in which we live and knowing what we can grow in this environment. Field crops (root crops, leafy greens, beans and berries) do well here, tree fruit not so much (although I'm looking forward to some amazing apples from the orchard of heirloom trees in the month ahead).

Our CSA has 33 members this year. We're trying to figure out how to increase the spots available for next year, including working with different social service agencies to get boxes to individuals who otherwise have difficulty accessing fresh produce. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mid-August farm round-up

Mid-August means the harvest is picking up and the days are still long and hot. Our sunflowers are in full bloom and the bees are busy, as you can see above.

We planted three beds of sunflowers on the edges of our fields this year. They attract beneficial insects and are an incredible sight.

Jeremy has hung garlic to cure in various locations around the farm. One of my favorite views of the farm is from the dairy barn where one batch of garlic is curing. You can see the red roof and vines of a farm residence in front of the pastures and fields below.

I was happy to spy some of the pumpkins and squash sizing up and even ripening in the fields. Squash are one of my favorite crops, both for their taste and aesthetic in the fall.

A Red Kuri squash is looking pretty nice amidst the vines.

Part of a bed of cilantro has gone to seed, right next to our pickling cucumbers. I was harvesting cucumbers today and heard a hum the entire time -- thousands of bumble bees, honey bees, wasps and various insects all pollinating the flowers. It's absolutely amazing to overhear flower sex!

The Crone's Cottage in our meadow is another good place for curing garlic. You can see that the cottage has quite a lean. It might not be around in its current state for much longer.

For the meantime it makes a great place to cure garlic and butcher goats (to come later in the fall).

That's my photo documentation for the day.

First canning of the season

Last night we did our first canning for the season (apart from some earlier jams). I picked up a case of peaches from The Fruit Guy at the White Rock Farmers Market yesterday (his booth was right next too ours). The peaches had to be used the day of the sale, so we got the canning equipment out and fired up (i.e. turned on) the stove.

We have a large assortment of jars, many of which are from my own grandparents. The jars above came from my Ukrainian-roots grandmother in Saskatchewan, so they've seen everything from dill pickles and sauerkraut to borscht, apples and root beer over the decades.

You'll notice the glass lids, which use a rubber ring for sealing. these haven't been manufactured since the 1950s. Jar companies say these aren't safe for canning because they don't have a moron-proof "snap" lid to indicate that they're sealed (and since you don't have to buy new lids every year to support their companies, they must be unsafe). Instead, you actually have to remove the zinc lids to check if the lid is sealed. And the lids seal so tight that you need a knife or screwdriver to open them up. It's obvious whether or not they're sealed.

We noted that yesterday had to have been the hottest day of the year thus far -- it seems like we only do canning on the hottest days. But no wonder; that's when the produce ripens!

Now we're gearing up for more fruit canning, tomato sauces, salsas and lots of apple sauce. If we're adventuresome enough, we might even try salmon this year. It means many long, hot nights in the kitchen and many great meals through the winter.

So I'm curious . . . do you can? And if so, what do you can? Share your comments below.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Magic Spaces on the Farm: The Herb Garden

The Herb Garden at Glen Valley Organic Farm

Often we think about magic as something unattainable. Yet there's magic in the world around us everyday. Indeed, our gardens contain some of the greatest magic of all, particularly when it comes to healing and maintaining health. A range of herbs and other plants contain various chemicals that can help us in many ways.

Last summer the farm welcomed Barb as our resident herbalist. Barb arrived from her previous farm, Twobie Creek, along with hundreds of her perennials and a small flock of ducks. Coming the Glen Valley Organic Farm allowed Barb to downsize to an appropriate amount of growing space without the overhead cost of a mortgage.

Now established as Glen Valley Herb and Apothecary, Barb began work on reclaiming a herb garden that had previously existed at the south end of the property, right along the entry to the forest -- high above the rest of the farm. The old herb garden had been more or less abandoned for three years prior to Barb's arrival.

After weeks of blackberry and weed removal, the former splendor of the herb garden began to reappear. Along with a newly constructed shed (and duck home), the herb garden is now in full bloom. Barb is doing regular harvests and drying the herbs to add to her apothecary, although the move between farms means many of her perennials are only getting established this season.

In addition to the herb garden itself, Barb has established her lavender bed in a previously-unused (and weedy) flowerbed at the farm's entrance. She also planted rosebushes (which she harvests flowers from to produce Rose Petal Moisturizer) around the yard in front of the Farm House. Barb also has a coldframe that she uses for starting transplants in the spring and overwintering fragile plants.

Barb in front of her apothecary cupboard

Barb's culinary and medicinal herbs, salves and moisturizers are available at some of our farmers market stands throughout the year.

As a herbalist, Barb knows the medicinal qualities of her herbs. But Barb is also a strong advocate for viewing our entire diet as part of our medicinal routine. Many of our regular culinary herbs also have medicinal properties -- as do many of our foods. Eating a diverse and varied diet and being conscious of potential impacts of certain foods is an important part of preventative medicine.

And that's the magic of our gardens. Much of what we need to stay healthy doesn't come from a bottle. Rather, when the garden is our medicine cabinet we can rest a bit more easily that the natural world around us is a therapeutic place.