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.

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.