December 09, 2016
By: Vincent Strickland
What a season it has been!
Spring time is always a time of excitement – mud and tiny green things have this way of lifting everyone’s spirits! It’s a time of looking forward, to start putting carefully made plans into action. We do a lot of what we know we’re good at, but there’s always something new to try. We can hardly wait for our crops to get big enough to harvest, and anything left in the fields that successfully overwintered is a welcome bonus. Seasonal workers from Jamaica arrive as other local seasonal workers come back to the farm, and there is a general air of a family reunion amid all the work that needs to be done.
There has been a lot in the media this year about the plight of seasonal agricultural workers, a subject very near and dear to our hearts here. In July we hosted a Film on the Farm event to raise awareness on this issue, and have become involved in advocating for the rights of migrant workers.
This summer was a not only a scorcher, but very dry too. In July and August we watched as entire blocks of vegetables dried up in the fields. Some items were slow to germinate and grow, and others didn’t manage to even reach that stage. This also managed to throw off the timing of crops – we had a gap where nothing grew, and then all of a sudden we had too much. We had to resort to irrigation – we prefer not to, but if it is necessary we do it carefully. Not all fields were accessible to the irrigation hoses however. The losses from the drought were great.
We tried a few new things this year. For example, this was the first year we have tried growing cauliflower. Sizing proved to be a challenge as we didn’t get the crop spacing quite right. As some of you may remember, some of them were pretty small – single serving cauliflower! They were pretty cute, but not very practical. We have learned from our mistakes, and we will try again next year, armed with the new knowledge we have gained.
Despite the challenges of the weather we had some good opportunities for growth. Most notable were the equipment upgrades that our teams say increased their efficiency and made their jobs easier. These new processes certainly have some tweaks to be made, but the trajectory is positive once we figure it out. We have some numbers to crunch to see how they reflect this feedback we’ve received from our teams.
After the drought, things got much easier. We had so many fabulous greens! Spinach, collards, chards, kales, lettuces! Broccoli was beautiful, and so was the cauliflower (although small). There was so much to harvest, our workers could hardly keep up! But somehow they always do.
Our root crops have also been very good – steady and reliable. It’s easy to see why our ancestors relied on them so heavily to get them through the winters! We did have a small hiccup at the beginning of our carrot season, but aside from that they have been fantastic! This is something we love to do and are pretty good at! Turnips, rutabaga, beets, potatoes, squash, celeriac, cabbages, onions, parsnips, and even radishes are all tried and true winter warriors. They keep our packing crew busy for most of the winter!
Our leek crop has been particularly good this year – great size, quality and steady supply!
Potatoes presented some challenges this year. The importance of traceability is never more apparent than when trying to go back and isolate a problem when there is so much product that passes through here. Thankfully, our paperwork is up-to-date! Regular inspections ensure that we don’t fall behind on this.
Speaking of inspections, we had three of them this year! The audit season started in August with a visit from the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency), followed by our organic audit from Pro-Cert in September, and then CanadaGAP food safety just last month. We are happy to report we passed all three successfully! We follow these standards as a guide for how to operate. Each audit gives us an opportunity to get feedback on how we are doing and a chance to do better in the future.
Most of the seasonal workers from Jamaica have gone home now. We are glad they will be reunited with their families and friends, as 6-8 months is a long time to be separated. We miss all our seasonal workers when it’s time for them to go home. Fortunately, we now have projects that can be done over the winter months to keep more of our local workers employed.
Now that the season is over, there’s very little in the fields except for cover crops! For now the fields will rest and rejuvenate for next season. But not us! This winter we will be spending time reviewing the season’s unique challenges, and brainstorming ways we can face them in the future – as well as planning next year’s crops!