MEET A FARMER: David Catzel, Glorious Organics
By Cathy Finley
David is a farmer at Glorious Organics Co-operative, a cooperatively owned and operated farming collective situated on Fraser Common Farm Co-op in Aldergrove, BC. They sell directly to restaurants, at farmers markets (as the Organic Farm Connection), and through a CSA program.
What got you into farming?
I was working on a gardening project with youth when serendipity struck. My passion for gardening took me into a program at Linnea Farm where I started to learn about permaculture.
Why did you choose to join Glorious Organics Co-operative?
My wife Donna and I had connections with them through their housing co-op. We had lived in downtown Vancouver and a fairly remote place on Galiano Island. This farm here in Langley felt like a good compromise between the busyness of the city and the remoteness of Galiano. I came here for a season in 2000, after Linnea, and swore never to farm for a living.
And yet you’re still here, an integral part of the farm, 19 years later. What changed?
I arrived with a very idealist view after the Linnea Farm program. Initially I struggled to transition into a more commercial way of farming. Even though Glorious Organics is a certified organic and ecologically focused operation, I was still uncomfortable with practices like tilling. But I did come back the following season and started to make peace with the farming practices. I realized when I wasn’t here I was buying my food from farms that likely had far more destructive practices. Now, I look at the problem as some unavoidable destruction (like tilling) leads to rapid succession growth—so a negative is outweighed by the positive. We get to do a lot of good here in terms of environmental stewardship and education. The whole community lives very lightly off the land that we farm.
Are you a big advocate for educational opportunities at the farm?
I think it’s vital that farmers have a role as educators, especially our type of farming where we embrace sustainable practices. We are partners in a kid’s camp where we can start the process early with kids as young as 5 years old. We give many tours, including to the students of Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. It’s great to get those people training as chefs onto the farm—they make a connection with growing food and they remember their visit. We often see them again at markets and placing orders once they are out in the workplace working as chefs.
Tell us about how your role as a farmer is growing into new projects.
I’ve always been involved in saving seeds since that first job working with youth in a gardening project. A couple of years ago, I got involved with the BC Eco Seeds Co-operative and I have registered a new seed called White Winter that I developed with Open Source Seed Initiative —White Winter Kale Spouts was the first Canadian seed ever registered. About 14 years ago we crossed a Brussels sprout with a variety of ornamental hybrid and open pollinated kales. Since then we have been selecting for a very winter hardy white laced kale that produces beautiful white sprouts in the winter and early spring.
I feel really passionate about working with organizations like this who do not claim ownership of seeds and are moving the focus away from GMO and hybridization. The old art of growing, developing and saving seed varieties hasn’t kept up with the tech-aided development of seeds. I’m a supporter of decreasing our dependency on larger companies and bringing the power and profit back to the farmers.
Can you talk about the BC Eco Seed Co-operative as a viable business model?
Sure. I’m really pleased with how the co-operative is growing. When we started out, we did receive a couple of grants to aid us with marketing and development. Since then, our sales have been doubling each year. In two years, we forecast that we will be an economically sustainable business. What I particularly enjoy about the business model is that up to 50% of sales go directly to the farmers. We currently have farmers as far north as Prince George and right down to the Lower Mainland. We have farmers on the Gulf Islands and all the way over to the Kootenays. My goal would be that every BC farmer would be involved. If everyone grew just one or two seed crops, we would be a diverse and sustainable operation.
You mentioned economic sustainability. Can you give us your opinion of the sustainability of small farms as food trends appear to be leaning towards organic and clean eating habits?
It seems to be good for us at Glorious Organics and the Fraser Common Farm Co-operative but there is always a sense of vulnerability. For example, we felt that we were seeing more consumer awareness in 2006-7 but then the recession hit and consumers went back to cheap food.
Talking about sustainability, farming has to be sustainable for the people doing it. How do you manage the work-life balance?
It’s worth mentioning that my wife Donna and I live on the farm and share a job. It’s probably equivalent to one and a half full-time positions, but it allows us the freedom to share the work burden and the parenting of our three children.
If you weren’t farming, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What’s next for you? Any new projects in your future?
I’m already involved in some bookkeeping for this farm, the BC Eco Seed Co-op and the Food Land Co-op of BC. This gives me a role in understanding and evaluating the efficiency of the crops in our systems. I’ve also given talks and workshops on gardening and seed saving to various groups and at Seedy Saturday events, and really enjoy sharing what I’ve learned. But other than that, I’m just going to keep my focus on the farm and the development of more seed security here in BC for a while.
If you could give some advice to the small farmers in BC, what would it be?
I love the farming community, I find it awesome! My advice would be not to become insular. We should be working together, supporting one another and collaborating. There’s huge potential for an active support network and information sharing.