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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?