Today, the sun beats down on my shoulders, covered in dust from a hard days work. Although the days are hot, September is slipping away into the cool night air. I am aware of the turning of seasons as the Sweet Dumpling squash and Paula Red apples beckon to be harvested.
Earlier, during the cold winter months of this year I traveled to Heredia, Costa Rica to study sustainable agriculture while learning more about Latin American culture. Once I returned home to Halifax, I was looking to gain experience at a farm a little closer to home. I connected with Patricia Bishop of TapRoot Farms and within a few days I moved into the farmhouse with large bay windows overlooking Wellington Dyke and the red sands belonging to the Bay of Fundy.
During my stay in the Annapolis Valley I wanted to learn about as many aspects to agriculture as I could.This included working within the Fibre Lab. I found it fascinating how flax fibres can be processed into linen and constructed into the very garments we clothe ourselves in. From harvesting, to hand breaking, hackling and eventually spinning the fibres, it was impressive to see the laborious work that it takes to transform raw materials into textiles. Fibre production was something new, that previously, I had never associated with agriculture.
As more hours were invested at the farm, I became acquainted with some of the employees. I soon came to learn that many would spend months away from home in order to support their families financially: some from Newfoundland and others as far as Jamaica. There were also those, who like myself, were spending their first season with TapRoot. However, many more have come year after year, seeing how the farm has grown and changed over recent years.
Recently, I have begun to see the challenges farms in the Annapolis Valley are confronting as they compete to sell their produce in our local supermarkets. The needs of grocery stores are unpredictable from one year to the next, sometimes causing large crops to go to waste. Without the demand for local in our stores, farmers are struggling to pay bills. Over the past couple of months, I have been fortunate enough to witness some of the challenges and triumphs the farmers behind our food are facing.
While deepening my understanding of the challenges of farming in Nova Scotia, I was introduced to Community Shared Agriculture(CSA). It seemed logical to be receiving produce directly from local farms, yet so often we as consumers choose imported items over those grown within our own backyards. CSA members all over the province are helping to create sustainable communities through eating foods that are in season from our local farmers. I have been learning more and more that this is the type of community I want to be a part of.
Each day at the farm brings a new adventure, whether that means being up before the sun breaks the horizon or bringing a crate of cherry tomatoes to the cooler with powdery green tomato tar reaching up, past my gloves. Last week, it was exciting to see the Bok Choy begin to germinate for our winter crop and to pack hearty eggplants(the largest I had ever seen) into our CSA boxes.
Over the past eight weeks I have learned through digging my hands into the soil, soaking my leather boots in the rain and place produce from the farm into the hands of our community. From farm workers, community members and literature, I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what it means to provide fresh, local food for our dining room tables. From my experience, I know it is from the callused and blistered hands working together that we will be able to build a sustainable community where local businesses are supported and thrive together.
As the seasons change once again, I am hopeful because we are able to sow seeds that will influence the future.
We started farming in 2004. The farming model was non organic high volume production to sell to retailers and a small amount for our local farm markets. This model of farming was paying the bills and was keeping everyone employed but it was not providing any income for Josh and I and our growing family, we didn't get paid, but our debts were being paid down and we were thankful for that.
In 2007 our third child was born and we came upon an opportunity to purchase a small and long standing organic farm. Organic agriculture was my vision for the future of our farming. In 2008 we didn't make enough money to cover our mortgage payments with the new farm and that propelled us to problem solve or give up the new farm. We learned about and implemented a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) model on our new farm.
In 2009 we started our first season of CSA in April. With the support of the community, for the first time in a few years we earned enough of a living that we could pay for our farm and have enough to invest more in our farm. It also provided us with the security to begin transitioning more and more of our production on the first farm to certified organic.
Basically since 2009 we have had three sales outlets to keep our farms viable. 1) the traditional model of selling large volumes to the retailers, 2) selling small volumes to farmers markets and stores that carry our products ie. Noggins, Pete's Bedford, Organic Earth, many other health food stores and farm markets and 3) our CSA membership base.
Over the years we have worked to move away from working with the retailers because of the volatility of that market and to focus our energy on our CSA members and smaller local retailers.
Here is how it works in our experience working with larger retailers. In the winter we had a meeting to discuss how things went and what is coming for next year. The retailers provided us with a sense of what they think they will require and it is likely based on sales from the previous year. Last year we had a good year working with one of the retailers and so when we sat down with them in the winter, we explored new opportunities. There are not agreements or contracts. That would be far too risky for the retailers. It is all a conversation. We take all the risk.
When we left our meeting in the winter we had a plan in place to produce enough or our organic vegetables to supply them with the following:
200 cases of grape tomatoes per week
70 case of green onions per week
50 case of zucchini per week
And that we would give ground cherries a go this year likely 10-20 cases per week.
Many leeks and Many brussels sprouts.
Note: The sweet corn (news of late) is not organic and is grown in a crop share with our family farm, Noggins Corner and they sell the corn to the retailers. We planted 30 acres for these sales. Years past we planted as many as 100 acres.
We have calculated that so far, we have had an approximately $100,000 impact because of no orders from the retailer. We haven’t started with leeks and brussels sprouts yet so we are not sure what will happen there. I email regularly and sometimes twice a day.
A few years ago we decided to no longer work with one of the retailers (we sort of fired them) because they would actually order, receive the order and then a few days later decide to reject it at which point the farmer loses everything, unless they hire a truck to bring it back to the farm where at the very least they could use it for compost or animal feed. If you see poor quality food in the grocery store it is because it has been sitting in their coolers for too long and they aren’t going to bring in fresh until they have used up what is in inventory. Then then of course the consumer thinks the farmers are doing a poor job. The situation is really not good. AND this isn’t just happening to us here, it happens all over the place. If the price is 2 cents less coming out of Ontario or California then there are no sale for us/local farmers. Which then puts us in a place of have to choose whether to sell our corn for less than it costs to produce it, which of course we all know what that means.
We (collectively) are in a conundrum, we really are. The retailers are a part of the conundrum. They are in a very competitive market too, trying to keep things going. All the power is in the hands of the consumers. It truly is. I think the focus needs to be on having direct relationships with food producers. On our farm, we have always kept our relationship with the retailers because honestly, it is efficient for us to do up one large order of something and ship it off. We have the systems to do that on our farm and our farm has depended on it for many years. The time has come however to step away. The risk is too great. We need to focus on markets 2 and 3, small local retailers and directly to you as CSA members and maybe we need to consider what other alternatives there could be.
Thank you for the incredible response on the weekend. It filled up our cups! We need you now more than ever.
Ways you can have an impact:
When purchasing at the grocery store look at what you are picking up. If it is not grown locally, go to the produce manager at the store and tell them you are not purchasing this item because it is not local. And then do not purchase it.
Search for local retailers in your community, shop there
The one thing I try every year to put up is tomatoes. I prefer to can them in a pressure canner, but you can also freeze them whole, roasted or in sauce form. Cherry tomatoes can be used in the same way as you would larger tomatoes.
We started freezing cherry tomatoes here at the farm a few years ago, to great results. They are actually very handy to have in the freezer, so when you're making something that calls for a few tomatoes - soups, stews, casseroles - you just pop open the container and throw a few in. I always leave the skins on the tomatoes, if i'm making a recipe where I want a smoother texture then I use the stick blender before adding the jar to the dish. The plus side of this is that you get extra fiber from the skins, and it's much quicker :)
Freezing cherry tomatoes is easy:
Simply wash the cherry tomatoes and let dry on a tea towel. Then bag them up and put in the freezer. You can lay them to freezer on a baking sheet and then bag them, but I don't find this is necessary because they don't stick together in the bag like other fruits and vegetables do.
You can use your frozen cherry tomatoes right from the freezer or thaw them before use if the thing you are cooking doesn't have a long cooking time.
In a post I was reading, they said they used their frozen tomatoes in this recipe with great results.
Canning cherry tomatoes is easy (but you must be sure to read about the process first from a tested recipe):
My preferred method of canning tomatoes is to can them. I have been doing it for years and feel very comfortable with it. I have both cherry tomatoes and larger tomatoes in my garden and stew them both together to make my sauce.
Cherry tomatoes can be canned in either a water bath or pressure canner. I prefer to make a sauce first before putting it into the jars, but you can place them in whole and process that way. If you process them whole, the tomatoes cook down and you end up with a 3/4 full jar, so it seems like a waste of jar space to me. When you make a sauce, you can fill up the jars and when you are done you have nice full jars of sauce.
When I make sauce I just wash and cut up the tomatoes and stew them down. I use a pressure canner, so I do not add lemon juice to up the acidity, but if you are water bathing the tomatoes you should add 1 T per pint, and 2 T per quart. It's recommended that you always follow a recipe when canning tomatoes and that you follow the instructions on your pressure canner. A water bath doesn't have to be anything fancy, just as long as the pot is large enough to have the jars covered completely in water. If you add any vegetables to your recipe, then you must use a pressure canner.
These canned tomatoes can be used in any place where they call for tinned tomatoes.
I love looking at my rows of tomatoes in jars, knowing that I have locally grown, organic tomatoes for cooking with all year long.
Ground cherries, these little golden gems have been gaining in popularity in the last few years, and it's no wonder. They are so fun to eat, in their own little paper package, and they are delicious. A not too sweet berry, with a slight pineapple taste. We mainly eat them up before we can use them for any other purpose, but the patch in my garden is about to be ripe and I think there will be too many for us to eat all at once.
Ground cherries freeze well. My mother in law freezes them every year and uses them over the winter in smoothies, or thawed in yogurt for breakfast. She says no need to lay them on a tray, just take them out of their paper husk and put into bags or containers.
I am also inspired by some of these cooked recipes. I think this jalapeno and ground cherry jelly would be great on warm brie with crackers. Or the recipes I saw for ground cherries pies or mini pies. I also saw a recipe for ground cherry salsa that looks intriguing.
For many years I have been personally engaged in speaking up for the protection of agricultural land in Kings County, Nova Scotia.
It all started for me when land in Greenwich was under treat of rezoning for the purposes of developing cluster housing. The land that we farm in Kings County has been farmed since the Acadians arrived. In my opinion it is priceless and a resource to be greatly valued for what it has the capacity to do, grow amazing crops.
My involvement in speaking up for the land led me to running in the municipal elections and I sat as a municipal councillor for 5 and a bit years. The 5 + years I was a councillor, the council of the day,CAO and staff could not get it sorted out to get the municipal planning strategy (MPS) updated. It has been years and years of effort and a continuous struggle. The struggle in my opinion is this: Any good planner realizes the need for prime agricultural land to be protected. Everyone in planning knows that the best way to protect anything is to have strong language of protection written into an excellent municipal planning strategy. Zoning is by far the best way to protect land. BUT, protecting anything is not how people like to roll. People want to be allowed to do what they want, when they want. AND so, we have a conundrum.
The time is here again. Kings County is now moving forward (a good thing) to get new policies in place and they need feedback on the draft policies.
It is time for everyone who eats to engage in this process. It doesn't matter where you live. It doesn't matter if your house was built on farm land. It doesn't matter if you life in Halifax. What matters is what is before us right now, and how we want to see things unfold into the future. We can't take it back, we are where we are, so now what?
Kings County is the hot spot for two important things. One) we have a lot of very good agricultural land here and we have conditions here that are found in only a few places on the planet because of our proximity to the Minas Basin. Two) we have a municipal planning strategy (not all municipalities have one) and everyone is watching what will happen here. If we protect land here, then a message is sent to the province to hurry up and enforce protection of land elsewhere in the province. If we weaken our policies here in Kings County, then it sends a sure message to the province that people don't care much about agricultural land.
I have not been involved in NF2 for many years. I stepped away when I became a Councillor and I haven't been able to get back involved since my term ended because of two reasons. 1) I get really anxious now when I talk about land policy, I/we/many people worked so hard to bring about good sound options for provincal policy of which the gov't has done basically nothing, lip service and lip service is incredible insulting and 2) it has been full on busy at the farm.
NF2 is alive and well and reaching out to share the news of the what is going on and what you can do. Please read below. Many thanks in advance. One thing that I know for sure is that each of our voices matter so so much! Every single comment matters. Every single person in the room matters. Every person who can't be in the room that you speak for, matters. Please come to the meetings. Please speak up.
IT TAKES LAND TO FARM
This simple fact is absent in the proposed Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) for Kings County. The protections the new MPS provide to farmland are grossly inadequate and flawed.
The proposed MPS starts off well. It recognizes the vital importance of farmland: it is necessary to preserve a way of life; it is a crucial engine to the region’s economy; it provides a steady supply of local foods; and it is a key reason why people decide to make their homes here and why so people come to visit.
And yet the actual policies setout in the MPS do not provide the protection this vital resource warrants.
The MPS’s Settlement vision is to “[c]oncentrate new commercial and residential development, including mixed uses, the Growth Centres . . .” However, with no explanation or justification, the MPS contains a number of exceptions that would allow residential development to take place on farmland.
The proposed MPS will allow non-farm dwellings on A1 farmland. Non-farm dwelling could be located on farmland if the lot has a minimum of 1000 feet road frontage and on infill lots. The MPS provides no reasons for these exceptions. Also troubling is the fact that the MPS provides information about the amount might be lost or made useless due to nearby residential development.
Without justification, the new MPS has increased the number of designated Grown Centres (GCs) in the County and contains a provision that would allow expansion of GC boundaries. There is no evidence that there are not enough potential building lots in the GCs and the Towns of Berwick, Kentville and Wolfville to accommodate the anemic population growth.
Equally questionable is the failure of the MPS to provide any protection to farmland located within GC boundaries. There is no information in the MPS about the amount of farmland in the designated GCs which will be unprotected and could disappear due to residential and commercial development.
FUZZY TERMS AND CROSS PURPOSES
The portions of the proposed MPS affecting agricultural land are full of contradictory policies and imprecise language.
For example, the MPS contains strong support for requiring residential development and other non-agricultural development to take place in Growth Centres where infrastructure and needed amenities are located. Yet one of the Settlement priorities is to "[e]nable and encourage a diversity of housing throughout the region." (Our emphasis.) And more damaging to the cause of protection of farmland and the goal of channeling residential and commercial development to Growth Centres are the numerous polices that will allow non-agricultural development to occur either on agricultural land or near agricultural land which will adversely impact the use of farmland for farming.
Here is just one example of sloppy language.
Proposed Policy 3.4.1 states that Council shall
designate as Agricultural portions of the Valley floor, North Mountain and South Mountain. The Agricultural Designation is intended to encompass the rural parts of the Municipality where agriculture is a dominant land use;
In order to make sense of this policy and implement it you need to know the meaning of “portions”, “rural parts” and “dominant”. But these terms are left undefined and imprecise.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
To get more information go to NoFarmsNoFood Facebook page at