September 19, 2016
By: Bernadette Antoniou

Organic Week is here!

I have been thinking about what organics has come to mean to me.  When I started working here at Pfenning’s seven years ago, I had thought of organics in a kind of vague way – no pesticides or harmful chemicals.  I thought this was probably a good thing, but I wasn’t very concerned.  I thought it would be nice to be able to buy organic, but I didn’t think it was affordable for me.  It was something in the background during shopping trips, never fully examined.  As a mother, I tried to bring healthy foods home, and was more motivated than any other time in my life prior to that to try and do better.

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Field work early this season.

After beginning work here and having the opportunity to bring organic food home, the first thing that struck me was the flavour!  I wasn’t too crazy about carrots,  I found them bitter and unpleasant.  Needless to say, I’ve changed my mind!  I remember steaming some for a family party:

Mother-in-law: “Aren’t you going to put anything on those carrots?”

Me: “No, they’re tasty this way!  These are the carrots we grow on the farm, they’re really good.”

Mother-in-law: “No butter?  No salt?  No nothing?”

Me: “Nope!”

Mother-in-law throws up her hands and walks away: “Ok, you do what you want…”

Later on, as we’re eating our meal: 

Mother-in-law: “Are these those carrots you just made?”

Me: “Yes..”

Mother-in-law: “You didn’t put any butter on?  No salt?  No nothing?”

Me: (sigh) “No, just steamed them.  That’s it, there’s nothing on them at all…”

Mother-in-law:  “Wow, these are really good!  I can’t believe it.”

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The most delicious carrots I’ve ever tasted!

I remember that period of time as a kind of rediscovery of food: many foods I found bitter, or bland, were suddenly packed with flavour and very satisfying!  Celery wasn’t bitter, strawberries and grapes were amazing, potatoes were creamy and good, and apples were bursting with flavour!  I used to think lettuces were both bitter and bland, but no more – and those are just a few that stand out for me.  I felt like I was eating real food.  I remember my grandmother saying that food just doesn’t taste good nowadays, and I always wrote it off to aging taste buds.  Now I wonder.  She did live through the agricultural revolution, and so would remember food before the widespread introduction of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Meal prep.

Meal prep.

I also remember being impressed by the integrity here.  The claim is organic – and organic it is.  No shortcuts, no deception.  Lots of inspections gladly complied with as there was nothing to hide.  No crazy mark-ups – pricing is done very carefully to balance what is needed to sustain the business with providing the best price for our customers.  Proudly doing what they do, in the knowledge that the practices are best for human health, the good of the environment, and future sustainability.  There is always consideration for the future here.

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Busy bee.

What I have come to think of as the “organic community” stood out for me as well.  By this I mean the network of people I’ve come to know, including other organic farms, our customers, and their customers too.  Integrity, kindness, and support are key characteristics I’ve found in so many.  This makes my job a genuine pleasure.  You know who you are!

I also had a vague notion of organic farms being stuck in an old-fashioned way of thinking, that organic principles were based on tradition rather than science.  What I found instead was a sound body of research that supports organic methods, and an approach that took the best of the old and the new.  Yes, we drive tractors here, and the production lines are certainly not traditional.  On the other hand, we also do a lot of manual labour if that seems to be the best way to proceed.  Soil science was a field of study I had never heard of, and it’s fascinating!  There is an innovative spirit here too – small portions of our fields are offered to the University of Guelph for research, and we’re not afraid to to try something new if the reasoning is sound and it fits within the organic principles.  Everything done here is done with consideration not just for ourselves but our neighbours too.  Including the wildlife!

Working together.

Working together.

My colleagues here – what a team we are!  So many different backgrounds, people from all over the world.  Seasonal workers, student workers, year-round employees too.  Brought together by work, and finding ways to communicate.  It’s not always easy, but there’s a lot to be said for starting from a place of respect.  I feel privileged to call many of my co-workers, my friends.

Bunching radishes.

Bunching radishes.

Coffee break together.

Coffee break together.

So what does liking my colleagues and customers have to do with organics?  I think for me it all ties into respect – respect for each other, for the environment, for human health and for the future.  It’s an attitude of conscientiousness, thoughtfulness and a willingness to work through challenges that permeates everything.  As it should.

Those are my two cents – I would love to hears yours too!  What does organics mean to you?