Big Agriculture In a Small Scale: The Growth of the Organic Sector
photo credit Sheila Poznikoff
Pitchfork Organic Farm is a small-scale, certified organic farm, nestled in the furthest reaches of West Abbotsford. Amid a sea of blueberry fields, silage corn and dairies, and chicken barns, it is an unusual blip on the agricultural landscape.
On only four acres, Jeremy Pitchford and Sheila Poznikoff produce a remarkable diversity of produce: beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, salad greens, kales, chard, squashes, zucchini, melon, parsley, sweet corn, beans, onions, shallots, leeks, garlic, peppers, cucumbers, fennel, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, rhubarb, and more. The remaining acreage is devoted to tomatoes and long English cucumbers in cold frames, and berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries).
Even more unusual than such a range of crops grown on one farm, is Pitchfork’s access to land. Jeremy and Sheila lease their farmland from Glen Valley Organic Farm Cooperative—a co-operative who owns 50 acres of land to ensure its use as farmland. The co-operative’s mandate facilitates access to organic farming on Class 1 soils, and for a reasonable lease, which is quite removed from the $50,000 per acre market value of most Fraser Valley farmland.
This farmland is blessed with alluvial floodplain soils from the Fraser River, and more than 20 years of organically managed soil. In a given year, the main fertilizer used is 250 yards of compost, and Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), a commonly found bacterium, is used for pest management. Pitchfork utilizes human weeding crews, and a smattering of black landscape cloth. Jeremy and Sheila typically hire two seasonal workers, which allows for one person per acre. Pitchfork Organic Farm grosses around $25,000 per acre, per year.
Farmers like Jeremy and Sheila are helping to grow the organic agriculture sector in BC. Today, BC is home to approximately 500 certified organic producers on 61,000 acres, as well as 110 organic processors and handlers (around 13% of all Canadian organic operators).
The wider public has led the charge to recognize the value of locally produced, organic agricultural products. The value of certified organic sales in BC through direct marketing routes alone totaled $64 million in 2012.
“I get to be there along the whole chain, right from growing it, and selling it to the person who is going to use it.”
“Our customers have a chance to talk to us about our produce,” says Sheila. “From our conversations with them, I know they value quality food, as well as the knowledge of how their food is produced, and by whom. I believe it instills a sense of confidence about their own health, too.”
Pitchfork Organic Farm sells all its produce direct to customers through two Farmers’ Markets (New Westminster and White Rock), chefs, and their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box program. The CSA program is an opportunity for individuals and families to pay a lump sum up in the early spring, and look forward to a box of fresh produce and fruit delivered to a nearby location on a weekly basis.
For Jeremy, being able to sell his product direct to customers is a very satisfying part of his job. “I believe my produce provides a service for the community. I get to be there along the whole chain, right from growing it, and selling it to the person who is going to use it. When a customer comes up to the Farmers’ Market stall, I can see what they are buying, and they can tell me what they like. By seeing the same people come back each week, you know that they are enjoying what they are getting.”
While Pitchfork Organic Farm may still be the anomaly across the agricultural landscape, its contributions are beginning to add up in the economic market, and continuing to make a difference to our ecological and social landscapes.