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going organic

Helping farmers make the move

Handbook for strawberry growers is the latest in a series of publications responding to increased demand from themarketplace.

By Judie Steeves S

ince Canadians currently import 80 to 90 per cent of their organic produce, Canadian farmers are not meeting the demand for it, notes Kristine Swaren, project manager of practical skills handbooks for the Canadian Organic Growers organization.

And that’s the root reason the COG began producing a series of grower handbooks in 2006, including the 128- page Growing Strawberries Organically.

“There’s an increasing interest in growing organically,” says Swaren, who notes there are many COG members in B.C.

With a 20 per cent increase in demand for organic produce each year, she said. it’s a trend that she doesn’t expect will go away.

She admits that going organic is a challenge for the industry, but says there is lots of room for small growers, as well as larger ones, though she concedes it’s more difficult to be organic.

Still, growers close to urban centres have plenty of markets nearby, so making the move is well worth their while, she says.

As well, she believes there’s a place for a new distribution and marketing system where there is an aggregation of organic growers in a food shed. The idea of the handbooks is to help organic growers grow their businesses, Swaren says. Each begins with a number of profiles of organic growers, such as the Hettlers of Pilgrim’s Produce in Vernon (who recently received the Certified Organic Association of B.C. Founder’s Award).

Then there is practical advice, with lots of thorough technical information about soil and prevention of insect and disease problems.

“It can be discouraging,” she admits, but with the help of the handbooks, many questions are answered and tips provided.

Anyone who wants to reduce use of chemicals can benefit from the books, says Swaren.

The strawberry handbook has been written by Maureen Moore, and each of the authors is an experienced grower, with all books vetted by a peer review prior to publication.

Although strawberries are particularly challenging to grow organically, with the number of diseases and their prevalence, weed and insect pressures, Moore has done her best to collect the latest in organic methods from both academic and on- farm sources, to provide practical advice, said Swaren.

Two earlier publications provide basic information: The Organic Field Crop Handbook and Gaining Ground, both of which cover the essentials of soil management, since it is at the core of growing any organic crop. Since COG began in 1975, there have been dramatic changes in the organic sector, from a movement struggling to be noticed to today’s multi-million- dollar industry with widespread consumer recognition and national standards backed by federal regulation. Swaren notes that organic agriculture produces food with energy-efficient methods; sequesters carbon in the soil; increases soil organic matter and the

diversity of living soil

organisms; improves water quality and quantity and, by improving

biodiversity, improves the health of soil, plants, animals, farm workers and consumers.

The COG’s mission is to lead local and national communities towards sustainable organic stewardship of land, food and fibre while respecting nature, upholding social justice and protection natural resources. Notes at the front of the handbook state: “Organic agriculture is knowledge-intensive. It requires a new way of thinking about food production. Instead of focusing on crop and animal yields, organic farmers think about the entire agro eco-system. As a result, organically-managed soils have more organic matter and micro-organisms. Outside inputs such as synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, genetically-modified organisms, growth hormones and antibiotics are eliminated.”

Publication is supported with funds from Agriculture and Agri-food Canada through the Advancing Canadian Agriculture and Agri-food program; as well as the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C.

For more information go to the COG website at:

The handbook is also available through

British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2012 15

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