All of the energy we consume from our crops comes from one source: the sun. The green leaves of our plants are each tiny solar panels that collect energy and nutrients, which become available to us as the food we eat. That means we have an amazing abundance of energy available to us, provided we employ a set of practices that is sustainable well into the future.
Fertility and Soil Health
To farm sustainably it is paramount to know that soil is alive. Here's something incredible: there are more living organisms (bacteria, fungi, insects, seeds and animals) living in one ounce of soil than there are humans living on the entire planet. The human population depends on the six inches of soil covering our land to survive. As farmers, protecting and nurturing this life is our job, and it pays off. We grow food that people seek out every season because it tastes incredible and makes people feel wonderful.
In order to maintain healthy soil, we feed it with compost made from animal manure and vegetable scraps as well as a regular rotation of cover crops. Cover crops put organic matter back into the soil, conserve nutrients and soil against leeching and erosion and break disease and pest cycles. Legume and clover cover crops fix nitrogen in the soil, which subsequent crops use to grow. Some crops, such as white mustard, can even deter pests by fumigating the soil when their natural oils are released into the soil.
The presence of native bees provides a significant pollination benefit to us. We leave grassy areas on the farm uncut to allow undisturbed space for ground-nesting bees. We also maintain housing for Mason Bees, which pollinate early fruit crops on the farm such as our apple trees. To feed our native bee populations, we plant flower belts and crops that provide a food source throughout the growing season. In addition, we have chosen not to use organic pesticides that are toxic to bees.
Crop Diversity and Rotation
Growing a diversity of crops is an important component of operating a viable, sustainable farm. Every season, some crops will do well, while a few suffer due to weather, pests or disease. Crop diversity is our crop insurance; we know we will always have an array of vegetables to take to market at any one time, because we grow over 40 different crops.
Our crops diversity provides other advantages as well. Some crops require irrigation, others do not -- we save money, energy and water because don't need to irrigate everything all the time. Some crops require compost, others do not -- we maximize the fertility in the soil by rotating different crops based on their fertility needs. Some crops stay in the ground the entire season, others are harvested in 45 days, allowing multiple crops to be grown in the same space over the course of a season. Through our crop diversity, we are able to maximize each bit of growing space on our farm by conserving water and nutrients.
All things considered, our crop diversity allows us to employ a full three-year crop rotation. Once we grow a crop in a bed, we won't plant anything from the same family in that bed for three years. This helps to preserve the health of the soil, while breaking pest and disease cycles.
We irrigate using drip tape. Tiny emitters in the tape control the release of water, releasing water at soil level at the base of the plants. This type of irrigation provides water savings of up to 60% compared to overhead irrigation, where significant amounts of water are lost to evaporation.
We use coldframes -- unheated poly-covered steel structures -- throughout the year for a variety of crops. Coldframes allow us to extend our season, by employing a natural greenhouse effect to add heat to early- and late-season crops. During the main season, coldframes provide additional heat to crops requiring higher growing temperatures. The structures also keep precipitation off of crops that are more susceptible to disease in our moist environment. Overall, coldframes help us to grow food intensively on small parcels of land throughout the entire year.
Small is Beautiful
We want to farm on a scale where we are able to be big enough to support ourselves, big enough to feed our customers and big enough to be able to farm according to our own social and ecological philosophies. The small farm is the foundation of sustainable agriculture. We envision a food system built on millions of small farms, employing millions of people in meaningful, socially and economically empowering work.
In the end, It's only partly about food
We aren't into food fetishes. We like good food, but we also care about who grew and it how they grew it. The root of the word "culture" comes from the Latin cultura meaning "to cultivate". We think this is an important point to remember. The very notion of culture is literally rooted in the soil. Our traditions, customs and ways of life revolve not only around food, but around how we use food -- how we eat. It is around food that we can build community and reconnect to the rhythms of natural cycles.
We're not just farming in order to grow great food. We're also farming to offer an alternative culture, an alternative way of connecting with other people and an alternative way of respecting our natural environment.
We farm at Glen Valley Organic Farm, a certified organic farm. We think the organic standards are an important benchmark for establishing agricultural practices that respect the soil and the environment. We are certified by the BC Association for Regenerative Agriculture.
In 2011, Glen Valley Organic Farm became one of the first farms in British Columbia to be recognized as Salmon Safe by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Fraser Basin Council. This means that we employ practices that protect Pacific salmon habitat.
The Land Conservancy of BC recognizes our farm for employing practices that support good land stewardship for the benefit of both conservation and agriculture. This includes the maintenance of hedgerows, flower belts and water creeks through the farm, which provide habitat for wildlife.