Musings about our farm, organic farming, regional foods and markets.

Plus, what's in the news about foods, systems and regulations around the world.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Review of the Season

Gundi and Peter tanned and tired after garlic seedhead harvest

For our farm, this has been a challenging year for farming and a grindingly good one at markets.

On the bright side of things:
We love our seed suppliers. They provide us with 100% certified organic seeds of tried and trusted variety and quality. Seeds come from small farms produced by growers who really care about continuing to provide the kernel of tomorrow’s harvest.

Enthusiastic help came this year from Marcia who lives nearby in Hastings. She negotiated the hills to work on her electric bike and became our trusty weeder of the greens. Gundi obliged with willing washing and I gladly bagged, labelled and took to market. I am ever happy to see those same greens disbursed into ready shopping bags. On my drive home from market with the empty bins that had oh so briefly housed them, I like to imagine customers at home already preparing their summer dinner with our fresh succulent salad greens.

Harvests of calendula, lavender, and garlic seedheads were prolific. Having planted 7,000 Siberian Red hardneck garlics purchased from our horse manure supplier The Glen Road Organics, a field full of garlic scapes was too much to sell, given that garlic scapes appear for all farmers at the same time in late June and early July. So, many of them evolved from this swirling curl into a rod-straight seedhead pointing skywards. Gundi picked and bunched them. The seedheads were closed, opening and then bursting forth with purple-sheathed seeds. We collected the seeds and bagged them into power-packs of intense garlicky flavour and nutrition which could be picked from for salads and stir-fries and stored refrigerated for weeks. 

At farmers markets, once the harvest got rolling in July, sales went on the up and up, as they have been doing for several years now. Somehow, despite weather challenges, we are able to continue to produce and sell more and more per market.
We have to thank our lovely customers. At Riverdale, there are these days less vendors and less customers. The market misses its founding dynamo, Elizabeth Harris. In her spirit, we stick with the market, though with admittedly not the same ardour as in her time. And so, loyal customers stand by me and thank me constantly just for showing up. And they buy, whether out of gratitude or need, it doesn’t matter. At Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley, Saturdays are without doubt the high point of the sales week. Traffic there keeps increasing, while we try to increase production just to keep up with demand. It’s not easy, but all we can do is plug away at it, explaining away the constraints. With the city of Toronto having faced flash floods and frequent inundations, customers were amazed to hear of ongoing dry on the farm and the consequent meager harvests.

At both markets, I loved introducing customers to my book and selling quite a number. Feed back was overwhelmingly gratifying, sometimes moving. Details are at

On the dark side of things:
The early season lack of rain lasted for around six weeks in June and July.  Without moisture, early season plantings of beets, carrots, lettuce, chard didn’t grow fast enough and were overwhelmed by weeds.

A few Toronto restaurants serviced by Chris Temple loved the early season greens and herbs, but grew frustrated by the dwindling supply as the heat and dry took hold. It was with some relief that Chris and I agreed to discontinue supply as of the end of August, allowing me to concentrate on the two markets. Production especially of salad greens rebounded strongly in September, and autumn delivered record sales right through to the end of November.

Genetically-modified crops (GMOs), glyphosate, neonicotinoids and other pesticides continue their unchecked march across the landscape on conventional industrial-scale farms all around us. Corn and soy, corn and soy, as far as the eye can see. Commodity prices are down a little, so farmers are hedging with a little more wheat, oats, barley thrown into the mix, but there is no mistaking that corn and soy are king. Industrial farming is extending its reach, bulldozing fencelines, installing tile drainage, consolidating field size to allow ever-bigger machinery with which to plant, spray, and harvest. Industrial farmers receive ready grants and loans from the government and banks for these so-called “land improvements”. In the wake of this gouging and poisoning of the countryside – which goes in tandem with a land-grab by hedge-fund and pension-fund investors – the health of pollinators and an entire ecosystem is sacrificed. Neonicotinoids in the dust coating of seeds (especially corn) are playing havoc with the cascading health of the bees, the butterflies, the frogs, the insects, the birds, the wild animals and doubtless us humans too. We attest to it with the plummeting numbers of all this wildlife around us. We saw nary a bee, hardly any Monarch butterflies, fewer frogs, less deer and wild turkeys; no foxes or wolves, just a proliferation of coyotes.

As it got hot and dry in June, we were adopted by three coyote pups who must have been orphaned with their parents shot by farmers. They looked emaciated. One morning I went down to the greenhouse to discover not three, but ten of them nested in bundled-up row covers in the greenhouse. They had to go!  I imagine they must have all starved in the ensuing days, but there was nothing we could do to help them but shoo them on their way.

Early in September we lost our little black cat, Negra, to illness. I loved her so much and miss her dearly. I still see her waiting at the sliding back door, waiting patiently to come in after another happy foray into the wild outdoors.  

We will continue to purchase certified organic seeds from family farms and locally-owned seed suppliers. We will continue to grow specialty greens, vegetables, herbs, flowers that are fresh, full of vitality, energy, flavour, and nutrition. We’ll grow more kale, chard, lettuce, fresh herbs, mixed greens. Every last leaf will be certified organic. We will continue to enhance our soils, rotate our crops, and view our farm as an integral part of the natural world.

We do it for the love of it. What else is there to go by but love?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Heinz plant closure part of trend squeezing farmers out of Canada’s system, says NFU

The closing Heinz plant in Leamington, Ontario

Note to farmers: Don't put all your tomatoes in one big basket

News Release from the National Farmers Union

(Leamington, ON) – The closure of the Heinz ketchup plant announced last week is the latest of several Canadian food processing plants bought and then closed by investors that move production to other countries in pursuit of higher profits. The trend bodes ill for Canadians who want to eat food that is grown and processed within our borders, and is a direct result of the federal government’s policy drive to expand agri-food exports at the expense of Canadian food sovereignty.

“Since 1989, Heinz’s Leamington plant has shut down the pickle line, its peach, baked bean, soups and vegetable canning lines, the frozen vegetable product line and its vinegar operation. From hundreds of products now all that is left is baby food and tomato product lines. Even so, the plant was still very profitable,” said Mike Tremblay, Essex County Local NFU-O President. “The new owners want even higher profits, and free trade deals just make it easier for processors to pick up and move, leaving our farmers with no market for their tomatoes and other vegetables, and putting hundreds of local people out of work.”

Canada’s produce growers work hand-in-hand with the processors. Although the growing season is short, producers can provide fruit and vegetables year-round as long as there are companies to can, freeze and package what we produce for longer-term storage. A viable food processing sector and farmers with the capacity to produce enough of the foods necessary for a balanced diet are critical parts of a successful food system.  

“It is ironic that as Canadians are becoming more interested in buying locally-produced food, our supermarkets have less access to products that are actually grown in Canada,” said John Sutherland, NFU Ontario President. “According to Statistics Canada, the total area used to grow vegetables declined by 13.5% between 2006 and 2011, due primarily to the loss of processing capacity. The only way to reverse this problem is to refocus Canada’s food policy to promote food sovereignty instead of commodity exports.”

NFU Vice President (Policy) and BC vegetable producer, Colleen Ross commented, “It would be a shame if local farmland that is so well-suited to vegetable production could no longer be used due simply to the lack of processing capacity. There are pockets in each province where the combination of excellent soil and micro-climate makes ideal vegetable-growing conditions. Without policies to ensure local and regional processors’ survival, our farmers can’t make a living and Canadians will end up eating even more imported fruit and vegetables.”
In recent years, the CanGro fruit, tomato and vegetable plant in Exeter, north of London, ON and its peach plant at St. Davids in the Niagara region, along with the Bick’s pickle plant in Dunnville, ON were purchased by US-based multinational corporations and then closed. The local farmers who grew vegetables for them have either quit, now export produce for lower prices or have switched to growing crops such as soybeans, corn and wheat. Increasingly, grocery stores are buying food that used to be grown in Canada from companies that have shifted production to lower-cost processing facilities in India, Brazil, United States, Mexico and elsewhere.

“This is the price that ordinary Canadians – in this case, farmers and workers – pay for a food system dominated by global corporate interests,” Ross declared. “For these corporations ‘local’ is simply wherever they can get the cheapest price.” 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Alkaline foods for vibrant health

Baby spinach growing at Rolling Hills Organics

by Angela Doss 

(NaturalNews) The typical American diet is a deadly one, consisting primarily of toxic and acid-forming foods like processed sugars, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, conventionally produced meats and dairy, and hidden genetically modified organisms. All this, combined with a plethora of other challenging environmental factors (such as lack of rest, psychological stress, and pharmaceutical drugs), mean it's no wonder that more and more people are being diagnosed with chronic, degenerative illnesses or otherwise deadly conditions for which modern conventional medicine claims to have no known cure.

One of the basic underlying problems with this unsustainable lifestyle - and there are many - is the average consumer's lack of understanding that the body must balance the blood's pH levels at a slightly alkaline level of 7.365 in order to survive. When a person ingests food to "burn" for fuel, the digestive and metabolic process transforms it into a kind of ash which is either acidic or alkaline. The laws of modern biochemistry further explain that it is not the organic matter of foods (whether the food itself is acidic or alkaline), but their inorganic matter (such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, sulphur, phosphorous; that is, how they break down in our bodies), that determines either the acidity or alkalinity of this ashy residue.

For this reason, and because all foods in nature contain both acid and alkaline-forming elements according to the Conscious Living Center, balance is either achieved or thwarted as a direct result of the foods we choose to eat. Too many acid-forming foods can have dire consequences for our health, with "acidosis" being a common diagnosis in diabetics, for example. This is because when the nutrients required to maintain this slightly alkaline state cannot be obtained from food, the body will instead draw from its own stores, like the bones or other vital tissues - damaging its ability to repair itself and detoxify heavy metals, thereby making a person more vulnerable to fatigue and illness. And the margin for error is small. Even an only slightly acidic pH of 6.9 can actually lead to coma and death.

Of course, the ultimate goal is balance. Eating too many alkalizing foods can lead to its own fair share of complications over time, but the risk of this is seemingly less likely, given the current sorry state of today's highly addictive consumerist diet. To combat the effects of such a diet, here are six of the most alkaline-forming foods to work into your everyday meals:

1. Root vegetables

Due to the healing "yang" nature of these foods in traditional Chinese medicine, and their tendency to be more rich in minerals than many other vegetables, it may be safe to say that you can't get enough of them. Look for radishes especially (black, red or white), as well as beets, carrots, turnips, horseradish and rutabaga. Ready to eat after steaming for just 15-20 minutes, root vegetables will help you feel both satiated and better grounded.

2. Cruciferous vegetables

These are the veggies we all know and love, made even more delicious with just a small amount of healthy, homemade sauce like pesto. Choose from broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and the like.

3. Leafy greens

These include kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens and spinach - of which spinach may in fact be the best pick. Known especially for its rich vitamin K and folate content, spinach is also packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fibre, helping to improve digestion and even vision.

4. Garlic

A true miracle food, garlic appears at the top of innumerable lists of foods that encourage overall health, and alkaline-forming food is no exception. Among its other benefits are its ability to promote cardiovascular and immune health by lowering blood pressure, cleansing the liver and fighting off disease.

5. Cayenne peppers (capsicum)

As part of a family of potent, tropical peppers which contain enzymes essential to endocrine function, cayenne is among the most alkalizing foods. It is known for its antibacterial properties and is a rich supply of vitamin A, making it a helpful agent in fighting off the harmful free radicals that lead to stress and illness.

6. Lemons

Lemons may be the most alkalizing food of all. As a natural disinfectant, it can heal wounds while also providing potent and immediate relief for hyperacidity and virus-related conditions, as well as coughs, colds, flu and heartburn. Lemon also works to energize the liver and promote detoxification.

So it can't hurt to think twice about what's on your plate at your next meal, but not doing so might. Just applying that age-old motherly advice to "eat your vegetables" can be a solid first step in achieving better health.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Box of Herbs

It being the beginning of November, we are now officially into the off-season. With a few thousand garlics planted out over the last two days, the fields are now in dormant mode. Fresh produce must come from the hoophouses only – until March when we start anew. Our new off-season offering – to be unveiled at the first indoor winter market at Evergreen Brick Works Farmers Market this coming Saturday, November 10 – is this painstakingly created selection of certified organic dried herbs. The Box of Herbs is chock full of potent herbs and spices, containing a range of goodies for your culinary kitchen counter, your natural medicine cabinet, and your gift basket for friends and family. Get creative making teas, spicing up your cuisine, aromatizing your house, and healing with herbs!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

So Long (for the season) to Marcia

Friday marked the last day of work on our farm this season for Marcia.
She has been our enthusiastic, stalwart weeder in the fields this summer through all weathers. She is seen here on her final task, harvesting calendula flowers midst the flowering rapini and freshly-harvested romano beans.

On this last day, Marcia honoured us with a poem she wrote about her vivid experience here in the farm fields of the rolling hills. Thank you, Marcia. We are very touched.

Rolling Hills organic farm – earth to salad greens

Rolling hills flow as far as the eye can see,
Luscious green trees sing of abundance
Stories of growth toward the sun,
On the edge of the wild, coyotes, deer and moose,
Silence in this oasis of time with bird music in the background.
Life flows in all its fullness.

The farm carves out its own space for a dream,
Plants and art to enrich the world,
Working with nature and glass, the gardener and the artist
Values of peace and cooperation.
A place of beauty, hope and midwifery
Life flows in all its fullness.

Rich earth is home to seeds and baby plants
Manure smells rich and musky,
Roots dig deep for their food,
Salad greens reach for the sky.
Bugs and weeds frolic in this rich land,
Life flows in all its fullness.

Straight lines of plants, weeds dug with a hoe
Glass sculptures glisten in the sun
Butterflies, yellow and black, flirt with the flowers
Birds celebrate abundance and freedom
But this garden is a business, where are my greens?
Life flows in all its fullness.

The gardener is British, with a no-nonsense air
He believes in growing locally without shortcuts,
He loves his land with passion and is committed to nature
Struggles to get help, and cope with the weather,
But his greens are lovely, don’t you think?
Life flows in all its fullness.

The artist makes towers out of glass,
She has a gentleness and is German,
Loves curves, colour and beauty,
She just wants to create, but is in business
How do you sell glass towers?
Life flows in all its fullness.

A retired social worker, loves sweat and grime
Gardening flows through the family tree,
She speaks to the plants with love and respect
And they breathe relief when freed of weeds
My elders all gardeners and the youngsters buy the greens.
Life flows in all its fullness.

Marcia Perryman                                                 June 19, 2013 

We are very happy to hear from Marcia that this poem has been accepted for inclusion into a collection of poetry to be published shortly.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dry, Dry, Dry

On this Tuesday afternoon, I should really be at Riverdale doing market, selling a range of salad greens, lavender, garlic and grass-fed beef to the brave faithful souls that are out in the sultry heat looking for fresh local organic produce. Instead, I'm home on the farm. The temperature out there right now is 34 C. Not so extreme, but for the dearth of rain around here for several weeks at peak planting and growing time. It is hard for customers in Toronto to believe; they who have gone through bucketing rain that came down so fast and furious that the worst floods for a long while ensued. Basements under water, extended power outages, cars stranded half-submerged on major highways…. And we out here in the hills didn’t get a drop. Black clouds raced towards us and passed by, to the north, to the south, just as I well remember from summers gone by.

I have been watering the truly hot houses and the fields, keeping the best patches alive out there while watching the early planted carrots and beets get gobbled up by a sea of weeds, mostly grasses. This same thing happened last year when we endured many weeks of no rain, under drought conditions that took in a large chunk of central North America. I suppose by now I should realize that this is the new normal instead of reverting to the fallback position of hoping that the lack of rain was a one-off. I still retain some optimism that some of the heavy air and thunder forecast for a couple of days hence will yield some much-needed moisture for the parched plants. At least the lower temperatures following the front moving through will bring back some energy sapped by the intense heat. Last Friday, while picking for Saturday market, then watering all afternoon for several hours, I do believe I went a bit gaga and felt some severe heat exhaustion. Oh well, keep on keeping on.

I spare a rueful thought for the millions of people (and animals, plants) around the world that are at this moment entirely without water. Some live in searing heat and rarely have a drop of clean water to slake their thirst, let alone sprinkle over crops growing in the fields.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Eighty percent of the packaged foods on our grocers shelves are banned in other countries

Aisle after aisle of standard supermarket processed "food" offerings

by Tony Isaacs 
Tony Isaacs, is a natural health author, advocate and researcher who hosts The Best Years in Life website for those who wish to avoid prescription drugs and mainstream managed illness and live longer, healthier and happier lives naturally. Mr. Isaacs is the author of books and articles about natural health, longevity and beating cancer including "Cancer's Natural Enemy" and is working on a major book project due to be published later this year.

(NaturalNews) According to the new book Rich Food, Poor Food, ingredients commonly found in up to 80 percent of all pre-packaged foods on grocers shelves in the U.S. have been banned in other countries. As alarming as such information is, our food safety outlook becomes even bleaker when we consider other banned and toxic food items.

The toxic banned ingredients in our food
In the book, authors Mira and Jason Calton provide a list of banned ingredients which they term "Banned Bad Boys" as well as the countries which have banned them. Among the items is Olestra - commonly used in low/no-fat snack foods and known to cause serious gastrointestinal issues - which has been banned in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Worse is brominated vegetable oil, a substance found in Mountain Dew and Fresca which has been banned in more than 100 countries. As the authors state, brominated vegetable oil "has been linked to basically every form of thyroid disease - from cancer to autoimmune diseases - known to man."

Other dangerous items listed include food colorings - such as yellow #5 and yellow #6, dyes used to make mac & cheese dinners visually appealing. Those dyes are made from coal tar, an active ingredient in lice shampoo which has been linked to allergies, ADHD, and cancer in animals.

Other banned and toxic items in our foods
The toxic banned ingredients listed in the book, horrible as they are, are but part of the bad news when it comes to food items most Americans regularly consume. Here is a partial list of some other toxic ingredients and unsafe food items:

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a synthetic chemical used to make plastic drinking bottles, baby bottles and storage containers as well as the lining of food and drink cans which can leech into 
foods from high heat and prolonged storage. Currently, it is found in virtually all canned goods and most baby bottles. It mimics estrogen and can offset the delicate hormonal balance in the developing child, and is blamed to be largely responsible for the age of puberty in young girls being lowered to as young as seven years old. In 2010, Canada became the first country to ban BPA.

An increasing number of countries are banning the sale and/or cultivation of GM crops. Some of the GM crops are engineered to produce their own pesticides and research has shown that the genes are passed on to humans and even down to several generations after consumption. Other crops are engineered to withstand heavy applications of the toxic pesticide Roundup.

Thanks in part to GM engineering, US produce contains serious levels of pesticides as well as herbicides such as Roundup and other glyphosphates. Researchers in Europe have found that the weed killer Roundup has serious toxic effects due to inert ingredients that amplify the toxicity of Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate. As a result, Roundup is banned in nearly every European country.

Due to growth stimulators such as ractopine as well as antibiotics which are added to our meats, over 160 countries say "no" to U.S. meats.

Chemical fertilizers are yet another widespread problem. From 1990 to 1995, 600 different companies from 44 states sent a whopping 270,000,000 pounds of toxic waste to both fertilizer companies and farms. The waste was not treated to remove toxic substances including arsenic and dioxins.

Sadly, greed and cash are kings in the US and our government is too often for sale to the highest bidder. This explains why we have a Monsanto insider over our food safety, much like we have a Merck insider over our medicines.

Sources for this article include:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Riverdale Farmers Market status

A busier Tuesday summer afternoon at Riverdale Farmers Market

Rolling Hills Organics has so far put in only one appearance at the Riverdale Farmers Market in 2013. It has been a slow spring for most farmers and at our farm we are just getting up and running with field greens production with the recent spike in heat and passing thunderstorms. We also received a little help from the weekend supermoon which is supercharging anything green with extra magnetized moisture, including weeds of course.

In recent years, since the passing of Elizabeth Harris, the number of vendors has dropped along with the attendance. It’s a vicious cycle - customers stop coming because there are not enough vendors; vendors stop coming because there are not enough customers. The market needs to re-double efforts to attract customers and vendors back to the market to re-invigorate an event that is so appealing when busy in its park-like ambience and lovely clientele.

Thanks to the regular troopers who continue to come and buy through thick and thin, heat and rain. We plan to be there from  July on, continuing as long as it remains worth our while.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Remembering Elizabeth Harris on Riverdale Farmers Market opening day

Elizabeth Harris

Today is the opening day of the 2013 season for Riverdale Farmers Market in Toronto. I find myself at home on the farm. A gentle rain is falling on the lush spring greenery all around. Feeling slightly guilty not to be at market as the rain falls in Toronto, I find myself remembering fondly Elizabeth Harris, the founding market manager, on this her breakout day of the year. It is not possible to imagine not being at market were she still with us, marshalling her farmers and cajoling.

Honouring Elizabeth, here is an excerpt from my newly-published book, High Up in the Rolling Hills:   

It was the irrepressible Elizabeth Harris who had given me my big break as a certified organic grower all those years ago. Then as vice-president of Quinte Organic Farmers Co-operative, I approached Elizabeth to apply for the co-op to be a vendor at her flagship organic farmers market at Riverdale Farm in Cabbagetown, Toronto. She sized up what we offered, 12 small certified-organic family farms pooling their produce to market direct to the customer, and she voiced her doubts. She was used to allowing only single farms to join her family of vendors. But she sized me up too and found something she liked or trusted, so she said, “Okay, but only as long as you bring all the farmers in to sell at your stand through the season.” “Sure,” I promised having gotten a foot in the door. It wasn’t to be, of course; only one or two farmers bothered to come in at all, but the first season was a roaring success for the co-op as a fledgling sales organization. I made sure we stayed on Elizabeth’s good side—as one had to—and, over several years, Elizabeth and I developed a wonderful mutual respect. I was awed by her tight control of the market, her fairness, her discipline with slack vendors, her amazing vision in holding it all together and bringing people together.
“Peter, I’d like you to meet Jamie Kennedy.”
“Peter, can any of your farmers supply three bushels of romano beans for a dinner for seventy-five this Friday?”

She would often call up and tell me about the latest new vendors that she was excited to have visited. She had such respect for farmers and for food produced honestly and in a fresh way. And she would ask my opinion and advice. Early on at market, I incurred her wrath. She had strong rules and enforced them. Vendors were not allowed to sell before the bell rang, right at 3:00 p.m. As I tried to sneak in a sale for a customer who was running off to work, a booming voice bellowed out from the other side of the park: “Mr. Finch, the market opens at three o’clock, and not before!” Last year, held up in traffic and running late in setting up, I upheld her rule when an impending storm told her to ring the bell early. “No, Elizabeth, that’s not fair; I’m not ready,” I pleaded. She agreed to wait, and for weeks after, she deferred to me to see if I was ready before ringing the bell. A softening, maybe? I feel deep down that she truly respected her senior farmers, and I was lucky enough to have been in that number.

Elizabeth slipped away from us, succumbing to cancer, but her amazing energy, drive and spirit would remain with us as we tried to honour her legacy and continued to provide for the table she set for us so passionately. It had been an honour and a privilege to know her; hard to believe that she wouldn’t be shuffling along on a glorious spring afternoon on opening day of market in May and that her voice wouldn’t be greeting me across the park: “Peter, who do you have helping you today? I’d like to introduce you to …”

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

BREAKING: European Commission to criminalize nearly all seeds and plants not registered with government

As I wrote in my newly-published book High Up in the Rolling Hills:
Imagine a world in which nature were privately owned. Well, that world is increasingly upon us now—with the overzealous regulation and restriction of natural products, the patenting of crops, the corporate ownership of seeds and food, the escalating genetic modification of foods, the killing of the bees. It really is the end of nature as we have known it.”

by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, NaturalNews Editor 
View online at

(NaturalNews) A new law proposed by the European Commission would make it illegal to "grow, reproduce or trade" any vegetable seeds that have not been "tested, approved and accepted" by a new EU bureaucracy named the "EU Plant Variety Agency."

It's called the Plant Reproductive Material Law, and it attempts to put the government in charge of virtually all plants and seeds. Home gardeners who grow their own plants from non-regulated seeds would be considered criminals under this law.

The draft text of the law, which has already been amended several times due to a huge backlash from gardeners, is viewable here.

"This law will immediately stop the professional development of vegetable varieties for home gardeners, organic growers, and small-scale market farmers," said Ben Gabel, vegetable breeder and director of The Real Seed Catalogue. "Home gardeners have really different needs - for example they grow by hand, not machine, and can't or don't want to use such powerful chemical sprays. There's no way to register the varieties suitable for home use as they don't meet the strict criteria of the Plant Variety Agency, which is only concerned about approving the sort of seed used by industrial farmers."

Virtually all plants, vegetable seeds and gardeners to eventually be registered by government
All governments are, of course, infatuated with the idea of registering everybody and everything. Under Title IV of the proposed EU law:

Title IV Registration of varieties in national and Union registers
The varieties, in order to be made available on the market throughout the Union, shall be included in a national register or in the Union register via direct application procedure to the CVPO.

Gardeners must also pay fees to the EU bureaucracy for the registration of their seeds. From the proposed law text:

The competent authorities and the CPVO should charge fees for the processing of
applications, the formal and technical examinations including audits, variety denomination, and the maintenance of the varieties for each year for the duration of
the registration.

While this law may initially only be targeted at commercial gardeners, it sets a precedent to sooner or later go after home gardeners and require them to abide by the same insane regulations.

Government bureaucracy gone insane
"This is an instance of bureaucracy out of control," says Ben Gabel. "All this new law does is create a whole new raft of EU civil servants being paid to move mountains of papers round all day, while killing off the seed supply to home gardeners and interfering with the right of farmers to grow what they want. It also very worrying that they have given themselves the power to regulate and licence any plant species of any sort at all in the future - not just agricultural plants, but grasses, mosses, flowers, anything at all - without having to bring it back to the Council for a vote."

As a hint of the level of insane bureaucracy that gardeners and vegetable growers will be subject to under this EU law, check out this language from the proposed EU law:

Specific provisions are set out on the registration in the Union variety register and with regard to the possibility for the applicant to launch an appeal against a CPVO decision. Such provisions are not laid down for the registration in the national variety
registers, because they are subject to national administrative procedures. A new obligation for each national variety examination centre to be audited by the CPVO will be introduced with the aim to ensure the quality and harmonization of the variety registration process in the Union. The examination centre of the professional operators will be audited and approved by the national competent authorities. In case of direct application to the CPVO it will audit and approve the examination centres it uses for variety examination.

Such language is, of course, Orwellian bureaucraticspeak that means only one thing: All gardeners should prepare to be subjected to total government insanity over seeds, vegetables and home gardens. warns about any attempt to actually try to understand the law by reading it:

You cannot just read the first 5 pages or so that are an 'executive summary', and think you know what this law is about. The executive summary is NOT what will become the law. It is the actual Articles themselves that become law, the Summary has no legal standing and is just tacked on as an aid to the public and legislators, it is supposed to give background information and set the proposed legislation in context so people know what is going on and why.

The problem with this law has always been that the Summary says lots of nice fluffy things about preserving biodiversity, simplifying legislation, making things easier etc - things we all would love - but the Articles of the law actually do completely the opposite. And the Summary is not what becomes the law.

For example, the Summary of drafts 1, 2 & 3 talked about making things easier for 'Amateur' varieties. But the entire class of Amateur vegetables - which we have spent 5 years working with DEFRA to register - was actually abolished entirely in the Articles right from the start. Yet the Summary , and press releases based on it, still talked about how it will help preserve Amateur varieties! The Summary is completely bogus. Do not base your views of the law on it!

So, be warned. By all means, read it yourself. But you have the ignore the Summary as that is not the Law, and does not reflect what is in the Law. 

As you might suspect, this move is the "final solution" of Monsanto, DuPont and other seed-domination corporations who have long admitted their goal is the complete domination of all seeds and crops grown on the planet. By criminalizing the private growing of vegetables - thereby turning gardeners into criminals - EU bureaucrats can finally hand over full control of the food supply to powerful corporations like Monsanto.

Most heirloom seeds to be criminalized
Nearly all varieties of heirloom vegetable seeds will be criminalized under this proposed EU law. This means the act of saving seeds from one generation to the next - a cornerstone of sustainable living - will become a criminal act.

In addition, as Gabel explains, this law "...effectively kills off development of home-garden seeds in the EU."

This is the ultimate wish of all governments, of course: To criminalize any act of self-reliance and make the population completely dependent on monopolistic corporations for their very survival. This is true both in the USA and the EU. This is what governments do: They seize control, one sector at a time, year after year, until you are living as nothing more than a total slave under a globalist dictatorial regime.

An online petition has already been started on this issue and has garnered nearly 25,000 signatures so far.

NOAH'S ARK and 240 other organizations from 40 European countries have also initiated an "open letter" appealing to Brussels bureaucrats to stop the insanity. Click here for a translated version of their petition.

I saw this coming
By the way, I am on the record predicting this exact scenario. Read Chapter Three of my fiction book, "Freedom Chronicles 2026." (Read it FREE, online.) It depicts a seed smuggler living in a time when seeds are criminalized and people earn a living as professional seed smugglers.

In my book, a woman uses a specially-crafted breast prosthesis to smuggle seeds to "underground gardeners" in full defiance of laws crafted by Monsanto. A vast underground network of grassroots gardeners and scientists manage to put together a "seed weapon" to destroy GMOs and take back the food supply from evil corporations.

Mark my words: Seeds are about to become contraband. Anyone who grows their own food is about to be targeted as a criminal. The governments of the world, conspiring with corporations like Monsanto, do not want any individual to be able to grow their own food.

This is about total domination of the food supply and the criminalizing of gardeners. And this is what big government always does after centralizing sufficient power. All governments inherently seek total control over the lives of everyone, and if you don't set boundaries and limits for government (i.e. the Bill of Rights), it eventually runs roughshod over all freedoms and liberties, including the freedom to grow your own food.

Additional sources:

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Book is Published!

High Up in the Rolling Hills is now officially “live” and published. This, my first book, is available first in the Bookstore at Within a few weeks it will be available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and, in Canada, through Chapters Indigo. It will also be available to order here through Paypal.

In his youth, Peter Finch wove his way through a series of exploits and adventures. Travels took him to Canada, where a fateful encounter in the Rocky Mountains opened up new horizons. In midlife he and his wife Gundi made the shift to country living, ushering in a new phase in their life, as they set down roots in the hills and settled into a deliberately simplified lifestyle.

Peter relates how he and Gundi immersed themselves in ways guided by nature. As she created and sold glass sculptures, he sunk his hands and tools into pure glacial-till soils, sowing, planting, and growing culinary and medicinal herbs, heirloom vegetables and salad greens to take to farmers markets and restaurants in and around Toronto. Invigorated by the pleasures and health benefits of growing, selling, and eating fresh organic food, Peter reveals how he became a passionate advocate of traditional, small-scale, chemical-free farming.

High Up in the Rolling Hills shares the personal journey of an independent couple as they explore the vital role of nature, creativity, and healthy food in life.

The soft cover version retails for US $17.95.
The hard cover version retails for US $27.95.
The e-book retails for US $3.99.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Why Certified Organic?

Unitarian Allen Goldfeder came by our stand at Brickworks Farmers Market a few weeks ago and told us about a talk he was organizing. He picked up on my passion for organics and invited me to talk about my experiences as an organic grower of food. An audience of some fifty or so First Unitarian Church attendees in Toronto came to hear a discussion on “Why Consumers Are Choosing Organics”. I was one of four speakers, the others being Sarah Dobec of The Big Carrot, Jodi Koberinski of the Organic Council of Ontario, and Tanmayo Krupanszky of the Toronto chapter of Canadian Organic Growers.

Allen introduced me:

Peter Finch runs Rolling Hills Organics, a small farm that has been certified organic for twelve years. The farm grows local fresh pre-washed salad greens and mixes, specialty vegetables, garlic and other herbs. Peter sells Rolling Hills Organics produce on Tuesdays and Saturdays at two Toronto farmers markets. The farm also supplies a handful of Toronto and local restaurants.

The following is the basis of the speech I delivered.

How did you get into farming?
I emigrated from England in 1983 – hard for me to believe, this is some 30 years ago now! I met my wife Gundi on the train, in Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains, and that was that. It changed the direction of my life and brought me to Canada. For 16 years, we lived in Toronto and then on the Niagara Escarpment outside the valley town of Dundas, near Hamilton. We were always renting, and always having to move on.

So, 13 years ago, we made the big move, out to the country, to buy a home. We cast our net and purchased a house and land in the Northumberland Hills, an hour and a half east of Toronto, north of Cobourg, Port Hope, near Rice Lake. We were looking for a couple of acres, maybe four or five. What we found was an open-concept house heated by wood and passive solar, with a good water supply from a deep well, and 55 acres of tucked-away land. We have come to love the rolling hills, so much so that I have just finished writing a book called High Up In The Rolling Hills, A Living on the Land! Soon to be found in a bookstore near you. Gundi is a glass artist, and I was a map publisher at the time. I do not hail from a traditional farming family, but Dad was a part-time market gardener. It’s in the blood.

What is the history of your farm?
We didn’t think of it as a farm as it was mostly neglected fields and mixed woodland.
There were never any chemicals on this land. For 20 years or so, a fellow called Carman Atkinson had worked up these fields and always farmed them organically, even before the term became widely used. Now, after a dozen years of working up the fields, it’s more of a farm! We have 20 acres of pastured fields, three acres of market fields, 2000 square feet of greenhouses which extend our growing season by three months. We also love the semi-wild  8 acres of creek and wetland (conservation lands), 25 acres of mixed woodland.

Why did you decide to go organic?
For years, wherever we lived, we had had a small vegetable garden and loved the produce from it. Though we hadn’t always bought organic seeds, we grew naturally without chemicals, fertilizer. It was all aboutfood quality, health, flavour, freshness, and nutrition for us. At first, I hadn’t planned on growing at a scale to sell. The land was already organic in nature, and it was our chosen natural lifestyle that made us react against chemical farming, industrial food system. We started out with garlic, perennial herbs, a few veggies, sunflowers.

Why did you decide to go certified organic?
After a year, decided to sell oour produce at our local farmers market, in Campbellford.
A year of transition and we were certified organic. Starting out as a grower, I wanted to sell locally, at farmers markets, transition out of map publishing into make a full-time living at farming. Going organic partly a political decision: customers have a right to know what is in their food. Food labels, claims should be crystal-clear. Too often, they are deceptive and opaque. We see labels that claim natural, organic, ecological, chemical-free, and farmers that claim organically-grown, naturally-produced. Certified organic produce is your guarantee that a farmer has consistently adhered to a valid set of guidelines and been annually inspected. He or she has invested in healthy produce.
Even at the mostly organic markets we sell at, unfortunately still too easy and maybe tempting for farmers to claim to be organic, and to buy in produce from conventional sources. This, I believe, is wrong and should be better monitored and labelled than it is.

Why does the Canadian farmer choose to pay and fill out a lot of paperwork to become certified?
Yes, why do we set ourselves up for questions like
What initiatives will be undertaken this year to improve and/or maintain soil and water quality in the operation?
What steps are being taken to reduce the effects of wind and water erosion?
Are you currently using compost on the farm?
What forms of animal manure do you use?
For the crops to be sown this year, what are your seed sources?
These are all good questions that farmers should be thinking about and addressing. I believe the certification process teaches us how to be better farmers. It’s about transparency. We are all accountable for what we do, how we live. It helps our  customers to trust us as farmers and the food we produce. Certification keeps us honest. We rotate crops, use cover crops, green manures, certified organic compost from our own or local farms. Farming organically is all about the soil, working it up, constantly improving it. At our farm, we buy only certified organic seed. We encourage birds, bees, butterflies, insects, frogs. The aim is to create a holistic bio-diverse ecosystem on a small farm in harmony with nature and the land. We gladly share our space with deer, wild turkey, foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, rabbits…

What is used in certified organic farming to deal with “pests”?
Certain natural substances are authorized, like diatomaceous earth, insecticidal soaps.
But I myself use no treatments, relying on entirely natural practices, such as moving crops around all the time, using floating row covers to protect against flea beetles which are a nuisance early in the season (eating holes in the arugula, for example). We have learned to see this as a marketing opportunity, labelling it “Holey Arugula”! We rely on help too from birds, ladybugs, praying mantis, etc. Interplanting with calendula, nasturtium is beneficial. Only in extremes (heat, cold, wet, dry, strong wind) when plants get stressed do we experience problems, like aphids moving in, blight on tomatoes. We ride out these extremes. We may suffer a poor harvest or crop failure, but we get over it!
We focus on building a healthy environment for the soil. Then healthy harvests take care of themselves. A mineral and nutrient-rich soil fends off disease, just as a strong immune system keeps our bodies in good health.  

Which markets do you service?
We sell our produce at Evergreen Brickworks in the Don Valley on Saturdays, Riverdale Park in Cabbagetown on Tuesdays farmers markets in Toronto, at a few Toronto restaurants through a friend and colleague who also works the markets with me, and  at a few local restaurants in our locality. This combination is enough to make a healthy livelihood for a small farm.  

How do customers respond to certified organic?
We have regular, very loyal customers who come back for what we bring. They want to know more about their food and how we grow it. They want to be healthy through food. They get the connection. Many customers want fresh, local organic, GMO-free, rightly so. Certified organic, along with bio-dynamic, are the gold standard in natural farming practice. Other customers are price-conscious, trust their non-certified farmer, are unaware or unconcerned about GMOs in food. 

Why is it important for customers to seek out certified organic?
There are GMO risks. There have been no independent, long-term studies on their effect on human health, only some on animal health. It does not look good. Only certified organic produce is guaranteed to be GMO-free. Genetically-modified ingredients should be labelled on all foods, but our governments are letting us down in this. We have a right to know what is in our food. We don’t have to buy food laced with chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and synthetic fertilizers. In seeking out certified organic, we are making the best choice for regulated, verified health in food, honestly produced, without shortcuts. It is hard to trust labels on food. Processed/packaged foods in particular are almost certain to contain GMO ingredients. Watch out for industrially-produced items especially heavily processed meats, seafood. Most come from a long way away, sometimes halfway around the world. Only 1% of all foods – even certified organic, I hate to say – is inspected on import into Canada.

So, it’s a minefield out there. It’s important for our health to be vigilant in our food choices. Know where your food is coming from. Build a relationship with your food growers. Ask questions of your farmer, your supermarket, the labels on your food.

Local fresh in-season certified organic is your best guide to maintaining good health.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let Them Eat Horsemeat

We now know that most processed foods are loaded with genetically-modified organisms. With their massive mobilization against any kind of labelling that would reveal their presence in packaged goods, mega-corporations are pulling the wool over our eyes in the food choices we make. Complicit in this are government agencies like Health Canada and the FDA who perpetuate myths about the safety of GMOs, even in a staggering void of independent scientific research on them. Is the salmon on your plate genetically-engineered? Not yet, but in all likelihood, it soon will be. The FDA is set to give the green light to monster fish engineered on Prince Edward Island and grown on in Panama (yes, Panama!), to be shipped back for consumption across North America. And no, you will not be able to tell whether the fish you purchase and eat is such a denatured monster or not, as authorities say it doesn’t need to be labelled as genetically engineered.

Across Europe, authorities that regulate our food are all in a frenzy over the widespread presence of horsemeat in processed food. Not only horsemeat, probably donkey too. Who knows what else festers in our food? My bet is that – if it is ever to be revealed to us – there is a ton of gross unmentionables right through the industrial food chain. Researchers at Stellenbosch University in South Africa have just announced in a study that they found that 99 of 139 samples of processed meats contained species not declared in the product label, among them donkey, goat, and water buffalo. While this mis-labelling is not inherently dangerous to our health, it is certainly deceitful. Eating donkey meat may not be harmful to humans, but it is harmful to donkeys. Just tell us what’s in our food, please! "Our study confirms that the mislabelling of processed meats is commonplace in South Africa and not only violates food labelling regulations, but also poses economic, religious, ethical and health impacts," one of the researchers, Louwrens Hoffman, is quoted as saying.

It is almost certain that such misleading or inadequate labelling is rife across North America and Europe, as lack of proper regulation allows all manner of deceptive practice to go unchecked. My hope is that authorities now make strenuous efforts to get to the bottom of  the abuse, punish the perpetrators, and bring in sweeping new laws that enforce full, transparent labelling of all food products. Instead, I fear that a lot of the dodgy undeclared meat will continue to be swept under the carpet and into burgers and sausages. Where does this stuff come from? How did it get into the food chain? We might not want to know, but we have a right to know.

The only real recourse we have in shopping is to buy our food close to home, from sources we can trust. Who can we trust? Our local farmer and food producer of whom we can ask questions, or our supermarkets that have no answers?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The New Environmentalist and the Old Ideologies

Bill Gates look-alike, think-alike Mark Lynas delivering his speech in Oxford

Posted on Jan 9, 2013 in Ontario Organic Blog

In response to Margaret Wente’s article on “Environmentalist” Mark Lynas, “An activist recants on GM foods”

by Jodi Koberinski

Margaret Wente announces the arrival of a new, balanced kind of environmentalism that is “science” based rather than “ideology” based in Mark Lynas. Yet Mr. Lynas’ speech at Oxford on GMOs is riddled with ideology masking as fact.

Let us be clear about the main thesis: GMOs are not about “feeding the world”. They are about controlling the seed. Continuing to attempt to divide the global north and the global south on this notion that anti-GMO people are pro-hunger is ridiculous.

We have a confrontation of world views: the old reductionist, mechanistic world view tied to commodity-focused, corporatist assumptions associated with capitalism, and the world view great thinkers like Vandana Shiva posit of collective responsibility, the primacy of the commons, and the centrality of the seed to evolution and survival.  Her concept of “Earth Democracy” is steeped in honouring diversity and requires life-oriented, scientifically sound, philosophically rigorous approaches to policy and regulation where our ecosystems are concerned. Where the economy serves life, not the other way around.

All Ms. Wente admires in an environmentalist is there in Dr. Vandana Shiva: Dr. Shiva thinks technology can be a force for good. Dr. Shiva teaches that environmental responsibility is completely compatible with human betterment and economic progress. The methods employed at Navdanya, Dr. Shiva’s research farm, yield twice the nutrition per acre over mono-cropped systems.  Is this not both better for people and the economy?
And therein lies the rub. What exactly does Ms. Wente mean by “human betterment” and “economic progress”? The way she writes it, these are self evident.  She uses those terms like I would use “ocean”. I think we can agree what an ocean is, but I can assure you what Ms. Wente thinks “betterment” looks like and what Dr.Shiva’s millions of supporters think “betterment” looks like are worlds apart.

Where are conversations about our assumptions and what we believe the problems are that need solving taking place? Rather than responding to disinformation, we need to look at root assumptions to reach some understanding if we are to act responsibly as global citizens. Just because Dr. Shiva’s ontological framework is different from Mark Lynas’ doesn’t mean Mr. Lynas speaks “truth” and Dr. Shiva speaks “ideology”. Its just that Ms. Wente and Mr. Lynas share a framework. That is why it is invisible to them both.
The reason we reject GMOs in our food system is not because we are anti-science: biotech is anti-science, that is why they won’t allow experimentation or inquiry or proper regulation as a novel food. We reject GMOs in our food system because good science requires us to.

One thing Ms. Wente got spot on? GMOs are a moral issue. Brewster Kneen wrote Farmageddon to assess GMOs from a place of morality: just because we can gene splice, ought we do it? What problem is biotech the solution to that agro-ecological approaches can’t solve?

In her article, Ms. Wente takes issue with Dr. Vandana Shiva’s recent tweeted “rapist” comment, which dealt with GMOs as a moral issue. “To seize and take away by force; an outrageous violation”. Rape. Dr. Shiva suggesting allowing farmers to plant GMOs is akin to permitting rapists to rape is accurate. The GMO farmer can impregnate his or her neighbours’ seed crops with offending GMO materials that the assaulted farmer did not choose to grow. There is no consent. It is an act of force, a violation. How is this so outrageous? Let us not pretty it up with words like “cross contamination”. It is only outrageous if one doesn’t understand farming.

The myths being reinforced through Mr. Lynas’ oratory are almost worthy of The Rick Mercer Report, not a podium at Oxford.  Does Ms. Wente buy Mr. Lynas’ apparently straight-faced assertion that the cost of developing biotech and corporate concentration are due to green opposition? Really? Guess who wrote that talking point for Mark Lynas? EuropaBio wrote it, that is who, along with the other 20+ fallacious claims Lynas makes.
In late 2011, EuropaBio, the trade association for big biotech firms, sought spokespeople for its PR campaign to try and re-educate Europeans on GMOs. They book the engagements, the interviews, they write the bylines, the letters to the editor. There isn’t anything wrong with having spokespeople – it’s the attempt to be covert that is troublesome, as was revealed in EuropaBio’s recruiting letter dated October 2011 painstakingly describing the effort to distance speakers from EuropaBio despite the campaign being entirely funded and coordinated by the group.

Let us be clear: GMOs are about controlling seed, not about feeding the world. Trotting out the ideologically-based 2050 Myth is becoming tired. Loblaw Sustainability Chair Dr. Ralph Martin’s analysis shows we could feed 9 billion without adding any “productivity” to yield or acreage by dealing with our underlying issues: post harvest handling and food waste (40% of what is grown is wasted), appropriate protein sources and ratios of calories, emancipation of women, and geo-political will to distribute food equitably, apply appropriate technology and share responsibility for climate-change induced hunger. FAO itself states that agro-ecology and not “biotechnology” is the way to meet the demands of the next 100 years.

Indian farmers watched the price of cotton increase by as much as 8000% since bT cotton was introduced. We’ve also seen a quarter million farmer suicides – most from consuming the very pesticides they went into debt to buy – in India’s cotton belt as a result of farmers crushed by debt created through the GMO seed-chemical dependence cycle and the failed promises of yield and quality Monsanto made. GMOs are not about helping poor farmers or feeding the world. If we can do no more to educate ourselves on the real issues of control and ownership at stake with this “technology”, let us at least stop repeating this lie.

Jodi Koberinski is the Executive Director of the Organic Council of Ontario. She has over 15 years experience as an activist, entrepreneur and food systems analyst. Ms. Koberinski also sits on the Organic Value Chain Round Table.