Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Certified Organic...explained

Boy I am surprised at how much misinformation is still out there about Organics. I recently went to a farmers market where the nice lady told me that her golden flax was organic. I asked her where on the package it said "organic" and she proceeded her disertation on how her flax was grown organically and that because she didn't want to be certified she couldn't call it organic. The whole purpose of using the term "organic" is to be able to make the claim that "yes, I use organic practices to grow my produce and yes, I am audited yearly and I pay my substantial fees in order to maintain my organic certification". I get it all the time from farmers I meet that tell me their grain or hay is organic. Almost every time I ask them what certification body they use and you guessed it...turns out they are not actually organic.

I also hear people say all the time that being certified organic doesn't ensure that the produce is any better than non-organic and that anyone can say that they are organic when they are not. That may be true, but if you are not willing to subject yourself to the on-farm audit and subsequent inspections, the paper-trail that connects your food from the field to the consumer or the committment to excellence that is virtually guaranteed from an organic certification then you are probably not following the rules that would make your product organic. It's just common sense. If you are truly doing all of those things then why on earth wouldn't you just pay the fees that get you certified and recoup them in your increased sale proceeds?

Look, there is a very strong committment when you agree to become Certified Organic. The paperwork is extensive, the audit and on-farm inspection is at times intrusive and the fees are sometimes astronomical especially for a small farmer like myself. I take pride in the fact that our farm is indeed Certified Organic.

As a consumer, you will do a great service to actual Certified Organic farmers like myself if you take the time to ask questions from farmers and vendors that claim to be organic.If you want organic produce and someone is telling you that theirs is organic...ask to see their certificate. If they don't have one, and they are calling their produce organic it is illegal. I am always glad when someone asks to see my certification...I worked hard to achieve it and I am proud to show it off.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Loblaws complaining about the price of food from farmers...

after posting a $189 million dollar profit in the third quarter of this year! This is a CBC story that was brought to my attention by For the love of the soil . I would like to thank them for bringing this story to light and I thought Iwould try to spread the word a bit. Here is the CBC story .

Even though I am exposed to this type of attitude on a regular basis from friends, family and neighbors I still find it shocking that so many people just don't get it.

If you want cheap food you have two choices 1) grow it yourself or 2) buy pesticide laden, GMO, tasteless crap from a "super" grocery.

If you want good quality food that tastes so much better and doesn't create illness in your body you also have two choices 1) grow it yourself or 2) seek out quality organic food at a grocer who purchases locally, or a farmers market, or directly from a farm.

Have I understated the problem? Europeans get it. They understand that purchasing good food is more important than owning the largest truck or suv that you can buy. That food for your family is more important than a family set of snowmobiles and atv's. People near us pay as much as they possibly can for the best ski-boat they can find, but on the same day they will buy the cheapest food they can find. $50,000 for a boat is alright...$5 for a bag of organic flour is too much. If you fall in that category then I am sorry but your priorities are completely backwards in my humble opinion.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Heritage Grains for 2010 – Part 1

I have plans to establish more test plots and to expand the seed bases of the grains I have already tested.

We have established another garden in the yard by moving some fencing in an existing corral. This will free up some space in the garden up by the kitchen. We have used the “Kitchen Garden” (bottom photo) almost exclusively for our gardening needs for the past 10 years. It has always been full, but now with the need for space for grain tests we needed another garden.

We will plant the “three sisters” in the new “Corral Garden” (top photo). It is already high in nitrogen from years of hay and straw residue and cattle/pig manure. The soil is dark and in a bit of a low spot. It will have sufficient moisture all year long. I have some heritage corn, pumpkin and bean seed saved from last year and I have some additional heritage corn seed from Salt Spring Seeds.

We will plant some test plots of grain in the kitchen garden. I will only plant half of what I have in stock of each variety. That way, in case of some sort of disaster, I will not have depleted my grain seed stock completely. We need to grow the test plots within the farmyard; otherwise the deer will destroy them completely. We have a bit of a deer problem here as we are in the middle of the famous Edmonton Bow Zone of whitetail hunting. Hunters are always welcome on our farm!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Getting Started with Organics Part 2

There is of course the odd monkey wrench that gets thrown into the organic rotation plans. This year for instance was horribly dry. It was one of the worst droughts on record for our area. The ground was so dry in the spring that we were seeding into dust. We seeded anyways with the thought that this drought couldn’t last and that everything would work out. Well it didn’t.

With the dry conditions the only plants that managed to get a foothold were the weed seeds that were already in the ground in the spring. The melting snow provided these weeds with just enough moisture to get going. The seeded crops struggled mightily to keep up and we managed to harvest at least some grain.

The problem we face for next year is the weed loads in our various fields. We cannot simply follow along with our planned rotations. It is very problematic, but we have some tools to work with. A late planted buckwheat crop…summerfallow or green manure plow down followed by Fall Rye…spring seeded oats cut in the summer for hay or silage. All of these tools will be implemented to try to get our fields back in clean, weed-free shape for 2011.

The video above is a good example of what I am talking about. Red Fife is a longer maturing crop and needed to be seeded early. The field was pretty clean, but the pigweed got established and was quite a problem in the 1/2 acre that I seeded to Red Fife (seed multiplication plot). The rest of the field was summerfallowed and then seeded into wheat in July so that the cows could graze in late fall after the Red Fife was harvested...that portion of the field is very clean now. The video below gives a good indication of the value of buckwheat as a tool to remove weeds.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Heritage Seeds Arrived!

This is the package that greeted me in the mail yesterday. I recently joined the Seed Sanctuary sponsored by Salt Spring Seeds. Dan sent the seeds to me very quickly after I joined and they look wonderful. Of course I had to open each package and have a look at the varieties. The purple barley is amazing and I really hope to be able to create a market for this grain. First though, I have to successfully grow it out into enough seed to plant commercially.

We will start with these small seed packets. I will prepare individual places in either the kitchen garden or the corral garden. These seeds will be planted in short compact rows to enable pollination. I will thresh these grains by hand or in the threshing box and then save them for next year. From the one pack of Red Fife...I am guestimating that I should end up with somewhere around 3 or 4 pounds of grain? That 4 pounds will translate into perhaps a bushel, that bushel will produce 15 bushels, that 15 bushels will produce around 200. So you can see that within 4 years of initial seeding, I will hopefully have enough to plant in a field of some reasonable size.

Getting Started With Organic Grains Part 1 of 2

I thought I would post just some basic information on my thought processes with getting started in organic grain farming. I am not a scientific man although I adore science and natural studies. My writings are simply based on experience and what I've learned from others. Please take what I say with a grain of salt and recognize that there are myriad methods to accomplish the same task.

Once I had a few essential pieces of farm equipment collected I could imagine getting started with our first organic crops.

Organic farming is basically easy but thing always pop up that throw your plans out the window. The first thing you need to do is figure out what you have for soil and what was planted previously on your land. Without chemicals, the soil needs to be free of weeds and have plenty of nitrogen for your first crop…wheat. The ideal piece of land to get started with is a field of alfalfa or other legumous hay crop. If you can obtain this land in fall and break it then all the better. I broke my land in spring and worked like a demon to get the soil down to a good fluffy seed bed. It was a clean alfalfa crop the previous year.

2nd year…the next crop to go in would be something like Barley or Oats or perhaps even another year of wheat if you had enough moisture and the weeds stayed down. Barley and Oats need a little less nitrogen to perform well. Oats is especially good at suppressing any weeds that may have gotten a little established in the first year.

3rd year…if you planted wheat or barley in the 2nd year you will want to plant oats this year

4th year…now you have a field that probably has a bit of a weed problem and is definitely down in fertility, at least from a nitrogen standpoint. The soil itself will be noticeable more healthy and manageable. This is the year to get control of the weeds. Depending on the problem you may be able to get away with seeding a buckwheat crop to harvest. Buckwheat can be planted extremely late so you can spend a leisurely spring of intermittent tillage that will upset the weed patterns already established in previous years. In goes the buckwheat and with any luck at all you will have a nice crop to harvest in the fall.

Another option for years 3 or 4 would be to plant a crop of Fall Rye after plowing down a legume like peas or beans/oats. That would re-establish the nitrogen and get a good kill on the weeds.

The 5th year and possibly 6th should be spent trying to find a way to get the nitrogen levels back up. Any kind of legume can be planted here…preferably something that can be cut once or twice in the year to really bugger up the weed's ideas of prospering.

This is an idea of what I do. With different areas, there will be different ways of doing things. The basics of organics is to build soil wealth, keep the weeds out and grow crops that people want to buy.

As you can see in these pictures our first tractor and equipment were not very fancy! It is funny to see where we were only a few short years ago. Our first field crop was potatoes! We still plant a few every year, but it is not what we love to do so we keep it small. Maybe with the upcoming farmers markets we will see a need to step up our potato operations.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Now This Is COLD!

Sunday morning we awoke to a record low...the coldest spot in North America. Minus 47 degrees celcius. The mercury in the thermometer was well below the coldest allocated temp of -40 but I didn't know the exact temperature until I listened to the radio later in the day.

This is where the heritage breeds of cattle shine...alberta winters. These guys are so woolly and well built to take the cold that they hardly seem to notice how cold it is. We keep a lot of hay in front of them in these temps. In addition to the bale they are in now, we have a bale feeder in the back field with some nice hay in it. They will migrate back and forth a couple times a day between the two food sources...the walking helps to keep them warm I suspect.

Small Scale Organic Grain Farming

When we made the decision to farm organically we had no choice but to start small. I had grown up farming on a large scale with my Dad and Cousins but I did not take the opportunity to take over the family farm. Instead I waited another 15 years or so before I decided to get back into farming. I had an off-farm career and a limited budget to spend on my “farming hobby”. My wife was a self-proclaimed city girl and she knew nothing about the business of farming. She had only heard about how farmers were suffering and what a dumb decision it would be to get back into it. But I had other ideas.

I knew that farming conventionally was not an option. It went against my beliefs about pesticides; and expensive chemical inputs and equipment would never be in the budget. Not only are the output costs a problem, but the income for conventional crops is abysmal. To get started with conventional farming these days you need to be independently wealthy, certified insane or in debt up to your ear lobes. The amount of acres necessary to create any kind of respectable income dictates the size of the equipment and time needed to be able to farm successfully.

We started with what we had…a 40 acre parcel of land where we had originally kept a few horses. What could we farm on these 40 acres? We tried all varieties of livestock in order to test the merits of each. Sheep, pigs, chickens, bees. They all had their ups and downs. Deep in my heart I wanted to grain farm.

The only option left was to grow grains that I could sell at a premium price with equipment I could afford and land that I could easily obtain through renting. In other words, I started small. The Organic Certification was a necessity in order to be able to sell my product at a premium price and it fit perfectly with my desire to farm the way my grandfathers had…with their brains and acquired knowledge, not chemicals.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heritage Grains vs. Modern Varieties

A very important question was posted by Rich in Oklahoma..."Do you have any experience or thoughts about how heritage wheat compares to the typical wheat grown today from a farmer's perspective? As an example, does it need less or more fertility, is it more or less disease prone, etc.."

I will attempt to answer this question, but perhaps there are some others that will have more to add in the comments section.

We have found that the heritage varieties require less fertility on average to reach their potential yields than compared to the modern wheats. One interesting observation was made this past year when I made the decision to seed an old Red Spring Wheat in to a field that had next to zero in the way of nitrogen. This field hadn't had a legume on it for 15 years (we've only had it for 2 years). It was one of my cleaner fields from the crop of buckwheat that I took off in 08 and I was trying to get a good clean crop of seed wheat from it. I wasn't terribly worried about yield or protein/falling number. It ended up with 13.5% protein and turned into an excellent baking wheat. The yield was actually pretty good considering the horrible drought we experienced this past summer...somewhere around 20 bu/acre. Keep in mind that I had fields nearby that were below 10 bu/acre!

I don't know if I have a solid answer for you on the disease issue. There were a couple reasons that heritage breeds went by the wayside. 1)There were some disease issues in the early part of the 20th century that caused huge wipeouts in wheat crops...rust comes to mind. Of course that led ag. researchers to develop new rust and disease resistant varieties 2) It became profitable to come up with your own wheat variety, register it and sell it to people. The large corporations became so good at it that that is pretty much all we have for seed nowadays. (ie canola, corn, soybeans).

One of the tremendous benefits of heritage breed grains is that they are landrace breeds. Meaning they have huge genetic diversity within their species. My feeling is that whatever seed that has survived to this day has been naturally selected to be as disease resistant as their modern counterparts. Now this is not a scientific claim...just a theory based on my limited knowledge of genetics and simple observation. We have not had any problems whatsoever with disease on either our modern or heritage varieties of wheat.

This genetic diversity is also what makes heritage wheats so valuable to farmers. I can grow a spring wheat up here in Canada...send it to Rich in OK and Rich would be able to grow it as good as I can within 2 years of seeding it. The plants that flourished in the OK climate would be seeded again next year. There is enough genetic material in the field that no matter the growing conditions, the crop would adapt and flourish within a very short time...especially with some selective harvesting and seed production.

I have also definitely noticed a difference in protein and taste. Some varieties seem to be better baking wheats with higher proteins than others and there is a definite difference in taste, colour and baking characteristics between the species. I can make a wheat like Park or Red Fife have a good protein number by planting them in a high nitrogen field like a clover plow-down, but as I discovered this year. Some varieties produce good proteins without this nitrogen fertility.

I question the claims about modern wheat varieties being more productive as far as yield is concerned. I mean they can grow wheat crops now in the 100 bu/acre range, but I am skeptical about whether that is the variety or the fertility inputs used. Perhaps it is like Round-up Ready Canola...a wheat variety that responds best to a certain fertility input that you purchase as a package?

As you can see in the video above. I can achieve some pretty nice yields with organic practices and less modern varieties. This field was the first year after a spring alfalfa plow-down. It was Park Wheat (a 60's variety). It yielded in the range of 50 bu/acre. You can see the same field below being seeded that same year.

Seed and Plant Sanctuary

We have just joined the Salt Spring Seeds - Seed and Plant Sanctuary For Canada program. Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds, has an extensive collection of heritage based seeds for the field and garden. We have bought seeds from them in the past. The service that Dan offers is tremendous. I submitted my $20 payment via paypal yesterday afternoon (to join the Seed Sanctuary charity group) and right away I received an e-mail from Dan that the seeds I requested will be in the mail today! I am going to spend a little time this winter writing about the various heritage plants that we have grown around the farm in the past.

The Seed and Plant Sanctuary works like this. A $20 active membership gives you access to the seeds of the Sanctuary. You can choose up to five varieties from their databases. If you send the sanctuary records of how they do, you will be entitled to choose another five varieties the next time around. As long as you continue to maintain varieties and let Salt Spring Seeds know about them, your initial membership fee keeps you as an active member.

I will catalogue the different plant varieties that we have on hand and I will try to provide some notes on how well the various plants have performed for us. We currently farm about 300 acres of certified organic land. It is my goal to be growing 100% of our acreage in heritage crops. In order to achieve that though, I also have to market these heritage crops and be able to readily sell them. The new flour mill should help in that regard. There are numerous opportunities for heritage flour to be produced and sold in our little region alone.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Farmers Market

Well, I was in contact today with the manager of the Spruce Grove Farmers Market and confirmed that we will be a vendor at the market beginning in April of next year! This will be our first foray into the world of Farmers Markets and there is a lot to do between now and then. We have to develop our display, develop and print marketing literature and obtain the appropriate labelling information for our products. Not to mention actually producing the products!

We will be selling our Certified Organic Grain and Grain Products. These include wheat, barley and oat flour, whole wheat berries for home use and whole flax. We still need to place the order for our flour mill which will come in from the U.S. sometime early in the new year. We also need to finalize our packaging and get it purchased. There is lots to do, but we have been planning this for some time now so it is not overwhelming. We have all winter to get er done.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Winter Hits Gold Forest Farms!

On Friday we got around 25 cm of snow! What a wonderful surprise that was. With how little precipitation we have received this year, this snow will go a long way to help with soil moisture in the spring. It is only the beginning of December so we should get a lot more along the way this winter...fingers crossed. The downside to our wintery conditions was the temperature this morning. I awoke today and looked at the thermometer on the kitchen window...minus 36 degrees celcius.

The truck was plugged in overnight and it started without issue, but man it was tough to get it going down the road. That transmission oil must have been pretty thick! It's funny, but I don't really mind the cold like this. Don't get me wrong, I don't enjoy it but there is a certain amount of pride that comes with 'surviving' a cold spell. We have lots of wood stacked and with the fire going continuously, the house stays nice and cozy. The animals are well fed and they don't seem to be in any distress. The cattle waterer is still thawed. The block heaters on the equipment are all working. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Year-end of Grain Farming

Well, the year of grain farming is pretty much over. I still have 9 totes of organic wheat in the yard that need to be cleaned and bagged and there are still some bales in the field that I will haul home this coming weekend. But other than that there just isn't that much left to accomplish. Most of the equipment is home and waiting for maintenance but without a heated shop that sort of stuff can wait till march. The tractors and combine and swathers all need oil changes and other minor repairs.

I will also need to unload the 160 bushels of screenings from the back of the Hino and grind that up for pig/chicken feed with the mixmill. Here is a video I shot last week when I drove the 3788 home for the last time this year.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Pigs Are Ordered!

After an absence of porcine critters on the farm for the past year, we have finally ordered our weaners! I met with Alan of Irvings Farm Fresh over the weekend at a local farmers market. Alan raises pastured Berkshire pigs and operates a commercial meat processing/sales facility that is on-farm. It looks as though he is doing quite well with his operation. When I asked Alan about stock for sale, he admitted that he had 4 weaners for me from a litter that is a week old. I went ahead and told him that we would take all four...three barrows and a gilt. They will be ready to bring home sometime around Christmas. That gives me time to get their barn ready and the feed and watering systems back on-line.

We will raise the barrows on our certified organic feed and whatever pastures that will be available during their stay at Gold Forest Farms and then process them for sale. The gilt we will probably keep, and in the meantime we will look for a suitable young boar and perhaps another gilt or two. Since we sold our Large Blacks I have been anxious to get pigs back and I had my heart set on another heritage breed like Berkshires.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gleaner Combines

I continue to get a lot of comments and e-mails about my 1967 Gleaner C2 combine. I love this combine. It has a lot of features that were not typical of combines of its era. For starters, it has twin blowers. One is a separator fan and one is a cleaning fan. This made for very good cleaning capabilities and clean samples. Another outstanding feature of the Gleaner combine was the ability to adjust the speed of the cylinder right from the cab! It is a simple affair of turning a large crank that operates a variable speed pulley. It works well with crops that have varying conditions or even at different times of the day. I often adjust the cylinder speed a little higher in the mornings and evenings and then drop it down in the heat of mid-day when things are very dry. This eliminates cracking any grain, but let's you harvest when things are a touch damp too.

Middle Earth Gardens sent me this link to a Wikipedia page about the Gleaner E combine. Gleaner Combine on Wiki . Here also is a page about Gleaners that I have accessed many times...Gleaner Combines . You can scroll over the combine models and a picture and description pop up. The site covers Gleaners from 1922 to present day. It is pretty cool. Another great site for Gleaners is Schmidt and Sons they supply a great deal of parts for the old Gleaner Combines. I have ordered from them before and they appear to be a reputable company to deal with.

I have some video of our C2 Gleaner combine from this past fall. I will post it soon for all the Gleaner fans! In the meantime, here is a re-post of video of the 1967 Gleaner C2 from last year.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Verified Beef? WTH?

I just noticed one of those google ads that pop up under my posts from time to time. It reads "Alberta Beef Producers...Is your cattle operation verified? Protect our reputation of quality."

You are freaking kidding me right? "our reputation of quality"? Is that the same reputation that, in the past or even currently, excludes Alberta Beef from being displayed in the markets of Europe and the Far East? That reputation of quality? As a certain bald headed cartoon character would say...good grief.

Furthermore, what the hell does verification have to do with operating a healthy beef herd? Isn't it the same system of beef production that wants me to "verify" my operation that got us into this whole mess in the first place? Let me tell whomever it is that operates the Alberta Beef Producers Association...I figured out long ago that if you confine cattle in unnaturally populated feed lots for months on end all the while feeding them um, well...what were you feeding them? Oh yes, that's right. Other cows! As I was saying, I figured out a long time ago that you will end up with problems in these types of verified operations.

No thanks to the verification process, I think I'll stay put with my grass-based operation. The same one that enjoys the benefits of healthy, genetically diverse breeds of heritage cattle happily grazing untreated pastures or quietly munching away on their certified organic hay that I grew myself. Or am I doing this wrong?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Winter "Pasturing"

Here is a little explanation of what we do with our critters in the winter. In the past we have fed our animals close to the house where it was convenient to the bales and where we could enjoy watching them throughout the winter months. This is all fine and good but it creates some problems. Firstly, the area where they are kept gets trashed. In the late fall and early spring, before the grass emerges, the cows are trodding about the corral and the ground is completely chewed up and needs to be re-seeded into pasture. Secondly, there is a whole lot of manure and trampled hay to contend with. Even feeding them from a round bale feeder, you would be surprised at how much hay is wasted on the ground. The term "wasted" is a misnomer because we always cleaned the corral in the spring or summer and spread the manure on the various pastures that needed it. This process is problematic because it is terribly time consuming to use the loader to fill the manure spreader and then take the spreader out to the field and actually get it flung! Lots of entire day. Lots of fuel. Lots of repairs to the loader and spreader. Not good.

The solution? Let the cows spread their own manure!

I have to start the tractor each time I need to feed a bale anyways so what's the big deal about driving the bale out to the field instead of the corral in the yard? I simply spear the bale and drive it out to the pasture where the cows are located. I sit the bale on the ground and then move the feeder a little ways down into some clean ground. Then I pick up the bale again and drop it in the feeder. Takes about 10 minutes longer than feeding in the yard.

Now, the cows can poop and trample till their hearts content and I don't have any extra work to do in the spring. No corral to clean. No poop to fling.

This year, the cows are out in the back field where we have grown everything from potatoes to Heritage varieties of wheat like Red Fife. In the spring I will work the ground as I always do and incorporate the manure and wasted hay into the ground for the sake of extra fertility and organic matter. It was a beautiful night last night to go out and visit the cows and take a few pictures for your enjoyment.

I would also like to introduce you to Missy. She is a Galloway and she is by far, the friendliest cow I've ever known. She happily stands munching her hay while I brush her and she was born into a herd of about 200 cows out in a huge leased pasture! It's not like she was bottle fed. Just a friendly cow. Her calf Miley is the same way.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Prairie Mill Bread

The second week of November Prairie Mill Bread Co. recently held a promotion at Planet Organic in Edmonton. Buy one loaf and get one free! It was a huge success with over 300 loaves sold! Great exposure for a great bakery that uses local and certified organic grains. In the photo you can see our little bit of exposure. We supplied Prairie Mill with a framed page of what we are about. They display these frames in their two locations as a sign that they support local farms and locally produced grain.

Ebey Farm Blog...a new favorite

Bruce King writes almost daily on his findings in running a small farm in the northwest U.S. on his blog ebeyfarm. Bruce has a technical background and definitely does his research on various farming topics. A great read.

Pasture Based Pigs

The following is the unedited version of an article I wrote in Small Farm Canada magazine back in 2006. There is some debate ongoing about pastured pigs in several sites including Homesteading Today . Now, you will note that in my article I don't propose raising pigs solely on pasture, but I do believe that it is possible to attain a level of pasture based diet greater than the 60% that I outlined in the article. With some intensive pasture management, I believe it would be possible to hit the 90% mark with a pastured operation. Here, below is the article for your entertainment.

Ground Up
by John Schneider

Pasture based hog producers in Canada do not have the luxury of having their animals actually grazing a pasture for a good part of the year. It is beneficial to duplicate, as much as possible, the conditions of the pasture in your winter feed program. Alfalfa as a major hog feed supplement in winter is probably nothing new, but as with a lot of small farm knowledge…much of what was once common practice has been lost in a few short generations of intensive, modern farming.
Alfalfa contains approximately 17 percent protein. There is a need to increase the crude protein of feed above what any single type of grain can provide. Monogastrics and Ruminants both require protein for growth, reproduction and maintenance. Proteins contain ten amino acids that are essential to an animals’ well being. Ruminants only require a source of nitrogen, or poor quality protein; microorganisms in their rumen can then construct the essential amino acids. Hogs need these amino acids to be readily available in the form of high protein feed. Along with protein, alfalfa also contains high levels of calcium and carotene and can provide pretty much all of the vitamins needed for maintenance. A challenge for most small farmers is to keep costs down while maintaining sufficient protein and nutrient levels for their swine herd. The standard method of feeding barley with supplemental protein and vitamins and minerals does not come cheaply in a certified organic form. The cost, along with a lack of availability has created the need to examine other forms of swine feed.
Two things that are available in abundance in Canada are grains and alfalfa. Alfalfa mixed with barley or wheat is a feed that is quite complete. Another legume feed such as peas can be added where a protein level in excess of 14% is required for gestating, lactating and young hogs. It is advised to use a heritage breed of hog for a pasture based operation as they more easily convert nutrients from a legumous diet. Hogs will take time to adjust to this type of diet; up to two months will be needed for the hogs’ system to begin the uptake of nutrients from a diet rich in alfalfa. Go slow with your introduction of alfalfa to the feed.
The Feed Resource Centre at the University of Saskatchewan refers to a study from 1981 by Pollman et al. This study shows a sow diet containing 50% alfalfa meal resulted in less lactation weight loss, a higher number of live births, better weaning average and a healthier weight gain during gestation. No other known studies have recommended alfalfa at a rate greater than 40% and personal experience has found this to be the limit of palatability for swine anyway.
A Good Recipe for a Young Gilt Ration
Alfalfa Meal or Grindings  40%
Barley 40%
Peas 20%

This recipe will yield a crude protein level of 16.2% and an energy level of about 11,200 MJ per tonne of feed, perfect for the feeding of your replacement gilts. Each pig will require 4-6 lbs per day up until 2 weeks before breeding when the feed will be increased to 6-8 lbs per day. This ration will contain superior levels of all vitamins with the exception of D and B12. With some supplementation of household food scraps containing eggs and/or dairy, enough B12 will be provided. With a larger herd, feeding of a dairy based supplement may be necessary. Vitamin D is manufactured within the body with exposure to the sun.
There are numerous ways to achieve ground alfalfa. Hammer Mills and Burr Mills are easily used to reduce a bale of high quality alfalfa hay to smaller “chunks”. A quick change to a finer screen and running the alfalfa through again will achieve the necessary consistency of a “rough flour”. It is not advised to feed raw alfalfa through the finest screen of your mill in one pass. The resulting green powder can then be mixed with finely milled grain in varying amounts to suit your protein needs and can be fed wet as slop, or dry in the self feeders. The same results could be obtained by soaking alfalfa cubes. Hogs will appreciate a warm porridge on a cold morning and this is one way to make the transition to pastured feed a little easier.
Good luck with your pastured operations and don’t be afraid to ‘go green’ with your hog feed this winter!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cost of Organic Food

I feel like ranting a little.

As often happens I have talked to people recently who dont know that I am an organic farmer. I almost always get the comment once we are on the topic of organic food that it is simply too expensive. At one point in time I would get all riled up and make my points about the amount of work and lost revenue that goes into proper rotations, legume plow downs etc. This would totally blow my cover. Now however, I just politely nod and ask a few more questions as it fits in the conversation.
1)Where do you buy your kids clothes? The answer is inevitably some retail store like Lulu Lemons or Gap or Triple Flip (all great stores by the way).
2) What kind of TV do you own and how many?
3) What kind of car and how new is it?

It always makes me smirk inside when I hear the answers to these questions because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. People are unquestioning when it comes to purchasing a new car every 3 years instead of buying a used one. Instead of doing a little research on reliability and economy they buy Lexus or Mercedes or Audi or as is the case with the latest person I had the discussion with...Hummer. All of these are good cars I am sure, but they are not as reliable as a Honda Accord or Toyota Corolla according to third party researchers and they certainly are not as efficient and they are certainly more expensive.

They are equally unquestioning when it comes to household electronics, clothes for thier kids, gaming devices, etc. etc. They won't think twice about spending $400 on the latest version of x-box or whatever is the latest and greatest gaming system.

What is wrong with people when it is normal to drop almost a grand on a couple outfits for the 9 year old girl in the family yet complain about paying $2 more for a quality loaf of organic bread without all of the processing, additives or preservatives. A loaf of bread whose ingredients were grown in a responsible, sustainable manner. What is wrong with our society when families have children whose bedrooms have multiple gaming systems, computers and tv's but we chose to purchase cheap, processed and plastic enshrouded snacks. I just don't quite get it.

Here's another way to look at it. Is the cheap Walmart food really all that cheap? What about the government subsidies that go into large corporations and large conventional farming and fuel systems? You and I pay for all those billions of dollars through our taxes. That has to be included in the cost of conventional food. The average family spends around $700 per year in government, food related subsidies...did you know that? All of a sudden, locally grown, organic foods are fairly resonably priced and nobody can argue about their value after considering all of the details.

I can see how easy it is for people with common sense to get caught up in the mixed up values that our society thrusts upon us. We are bombarded with the television commercials that make it a common occurance to buy your spouse a lexus for Christmas morning. I spend a good deal of my life feeling just a little bit guilty that I am so cheap and practical. Jeesh.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finished Combining...Finally

Good grief...what a year. Yesterday I went to the field where I still have swaths laying. It is a difficult property that I just picked up this year. Parts of it here and there were tilled, other areas were wild grass and the remaining acreage was alfalfa hay. I did my best to break it this spring, but in hindsight I should have just summerfallowed it for the year or grown a cover crop. As it turned out the areas that were tilled by the owner for his market garden did quite well (aside from the monstrous crop of thistle). The wild areas and the alfalfa areas simply grew up in wild grass and alfalfa despite the spring tillage and seeding of wheat. With the drought, the already established grasses and alfalfa did well and the seeded wheat could not compete for moisture.

I was left with a few decisions to make. Firstly with the shortage of hay in the area it made sense to simply bale up the alfalfa/wheat for feed bales and secondly, the areas that had a half decent crop of wheat could be combined. Then came the October rains, or shall I say drizzle, heavy dews...whatever. Weeks on end of wet soggy, moisture laden clouds hovering over the field. When the sun finally came out a week ago it was too cold to effectively dry anything.

I thought I was pressing my luck with the good weather lately and just decided to combine anyways, dry or otherwise. As long as the swaths would go through the combine I was ok. It wouldn't be enough grain to worry about heating in the bins as I would just bag it in large totes and grind it for feed. So, away I went with the old C2 combine for one last working day of the season (for it at least anyways). Things went well and a couple hours later I had about 80 bushels of damp wheat in the hopper. Everything worked well with the combine.

Now all I have left to accomplish is to bale up the remaining 15 acres of feed. I raked it yesterday,  November 15th and now I can bale it up tonight or tomorrow....or both depending how long it takes with my crappy old baler. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Harvest is over?

Well, what a year. I know that everyone laughs when farmers complain about the weather, but come on! This spring was so incredibly dry that we were seeding into dust. In some fields we had weeks and weeks of zero germination. What weeds were already in the ground took advantage of any spring moisture and started to grow. The crops never had a chance to germinate and outgrow the weeds so we had some pretty dirty crops. The summer again was terribly dry and we ended up plowing under several fields. What fields we left to mature did not produce well at all. The quality of the grain was very good...good levels of protein that help the bakers, but the yields were less than half of normal. Not good. Then we had some terrible storms this summer...winds at close to 100 km/h and hail. Then another wind storm this fall that blew the swaths all over the place. Now we are in the middle of october and it won't dry up enough to finish with the harvest. I have very little left to combine, but I do have hay laying in windrows that I need to get baled. I am not sure if we will be able to or not? I can see around our area that there are many farmers who are a lot worse off than I am. There are still thousands of acres of crops out in the field west of Edmonton.

I will be glad when 2009 is over from a farming perspective. Whatever 2010 has in store for us farmers, I can't see it being any worse.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hand Powered Flour Mills

I received an e-mail today from a nice fellow asking where he could obtain a hand-powered grain mill. I knew that they were still being produced, but I was at a loss as to where you could buy one. I did a little snooping and here you go Wayne! This looks like a good article on what to look for in a mill. Now keep in mind that I have never used a hand-powered mill, but the one that kept popping up in my searches was the Country Living Mill . It sounds as though it is quite an effort to use these mills...perhaps a couple pulleys and a stationary bicycle are just the ticket to work off some of the calories from all those tasty buns you make with your home ground flour!

Alberta BioDiesel!

I recently came across this site and was delighted to learn that biodiesel is now available in Alberta! I was attracted to Greenway Fuels website and subsequently contacted their CEO Jaimey Farnese about obtaining b100 diesel to mix with regular diesel at Gold Forest Grains. Greenway Fuels' first biodiesel station is located in Turner Valley, AB. According to Ms. Farnese, Greenway is looking to expand their stations northward throughout Alberta. It is understandable what an undertaking this is and I would like to try to support their efforts in any way possible. With enough interest from organic producers, perhaps we can entice Greenway north sooner rather than later!

Another interesting site that was linked to Greenway Fuels is the Green Fuels map This is a great way to see different green options for refueling while travelling across Canada.

Alberta Organic Producers Association

I attended the AOPA AGM this past weekend.
AOPA is a wonderful organization that is tight-knit and full of personality. I am proud to be a member. The association was formed in 1990 and has been going full speed ever since. It is a tremendous place to network with some of the Organic "old timers" as well as the new breed of organic producer with bold and interesting ideas. I have enjoyed any function that I have ever attended and this meeting was no different.

As a function of my attendance, I am now a member of the Marketing Committee for AOPA. We will be working to further the marketing effectiveness of member producers through co-operation and additional communication. There needs to be a better connectivity between local organic producers and consumers and organizing the producers is probably the place to start. I plan to explore the possibility of starting a producer Co-op Retail Food Chain that could be supplied by producer co-op processing facilities.

We'll see how far I get.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Obtaining Local Organic Foods

I receive e-mails and phone calls all the time from people looking for local organic grains and grain products. I have attended recent meetings hosted by local food groups and organic groups. The number one question that I hear murmered in the phews is "where can I get this food that they are hyping?" That's a good question. Strolling through most organic food stores here in Edmonton I see an overwhelming selection of organic foods, but a quick review of the label tells me that this food is not very local at all. I mean isn't the point of "Organics" reduce the carbon footprint, to produce food in a sustainable way? Trucking flour over the mountains from BC to sell here in Edmonton strikes me as fairly ridiculous. Here's the rub there actually anyone local who produces organic flour for a local market? I am going to have to say no. At least not that I am aware of. As a producer, I can vent all I want about people who refuse to purchase local foods, but in doing so I also need to take responsibility for making every effort to actually make local food and make it available!

I know that there is a local flour mill, but they are fairly dedicated to marketing their flour at the bigger supermarkets where people who are interested in local foods will almost never visit. It's a difficult problem because I understand why they do this...there aren't enough local food consumers to make it worthwhile for this relatively large mill to cater to them. It's a vicious cycle. In this post and others to follow, I am going to focus on as many different stores and locations to obtain local foods as I can think of. By all means, e-mail me if you know of others that I miss.

First of all, let's look at the obvious...Farmers Markets. There are a number of outstanding markets here in edmonton. Not the least of which is the "City Market Downtown on a 104th" This is a growing market that is large enough for you to find most, if not all of your staples. Then there is the venerable "Old Strathcona Farmers Market" For a complete listing of markets across Alberta check out Now be aware that not all markets are created equal. For the hardcore local foodie, there are some markets that will be a complete waste of time...full of grandparents sitting at tables full of knitted tissue box covers and numerous other tables of network marketing items like plastic dinnerware and cleaning supplies. Check out each market in your area by calling the manager and asking what vendors are there each week...also, make sure to make a point of telling them what YOU ARE LOOKING FOR. A good market manager will keep track of this stuff and make changes to the market where possible.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Heritage Wheats

I have recently obtained samples of several varieties of heritage wheat. What is Heritage Wheat you may ask? Well, that is a good question and to be frank, I don't know. What I do know is that there are different answers to this question depending on who you ask. To me, a heritage wheat variety is one that is "antique". A variety that was developed say sometime prior to 1940. You see, it was about this time that the war effort was in full swing in laboratories across the world. New weapons were being developed that included chemicals that had the potential to defoliate and poison entire cultures of people. Luckily for us (tongue in cheek) these chemicals became the basis for modern agriculture. They magically and without consequence, enabled farmers to grow crops with fewer weeds, more productivity and in the case of dessication, shorter seasons. Oh yes, and on a lesser side note, some companies were able to make a few little profits.

So, after WWII these same agricultural companies who were busy developing different ways of poisoning the earth were also funding the development of their own breeds of grains. These varieties could survive the chemical baths that other, lesser species couldn't and therefore farmers could spray till their hearts content to get rid of weeds and bugs and other maladies. Soon, these new varieties were the predominant ones and the older varieties selected for natural resistance to lodging and growing seasons and competitiveness were forgotten. With such specific breeding and even genetic manipulation, the new varieties of grains are genetically uniform and very shallow in genetic material. The old breeds are known as landraces and are genetically very diverse. They are able to adapt within a few years to different climates and growing conditions and most importantly are not registered or owned by anyone in particular. Of course some of the antique varieties from the 20's and 30's were registered by hard working breeders in government ag. offices and farms across the continent. These breeds were naturally selected and crossed with other heritage varieties to produce plants with significant genetic diversity and traits that enabled wheat to be grown in places in Canada where shorter seasons or natural obstacles prevailed.

What all of this means is that the companies in question were able to enslave farmers and decieve them into believing that registered, copyrighted seeds in conjunction with associated chemicals were the only modern way to farm. As is the case with all other known forms of modern farming hierarchy, the people making the vast proportion of profits were in fact these companies...peddling their wares like modern day versions of the tonic hoaxsters of years past.

Luckily for us today there are enlightened farmers and most importantly, enlightened consumers who are demanding a return to intelligent and sustainable farming practices using landrace, community owned seeds and organic agronomy.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Buckwheat in the Organic Rotation

I was thoroughly impressed with how well the Buckwheat performed with regards to weed supression in the field. One field that I have been farming since 2007 was so infested with Cammomile, that the County was bothering the landowner to take care of it with chemicals. She contacted me at that point and asked me if I would farm the piece. I took it on and spent the first year simply tilling the weeds under from time to time, otherwise known as "summer fallowing". This is definitely not a sustainable way to farm and so I decided to invest the time and money into planting a crop of Buckwheat. I had heard of Buckwheat's ability to suppress plant growth from other species be it weed or otherwise. The lush canopy shades out any lower plants and the alleopathic properties of the Buckwheat root system takes care of any stragglers. In this video you can clearly see the difference between where the Buckwheat was seeded and where the drills missed seeding along the edges.

One other benefit of Buckwheat in the Organic Rotation is how well it conditions the soil. In the fall, after harvest, I typically spend some time doing tillage. This takes care of any left over weeds and prepares the soil for spring tillage and seeding. Fall tillage also allows for a better penetration of moisture when the snow melts in spring. When I was performing this fall tillage with the chisel plow, I couldn't help but notice the improved condition of the soil. It was less lumpy and with a pass of the disc in the spring will be a wonderful seedbed for next years crop of whatever is next in the rotation.

Organic Buckwheat

I thought I would take the time to produce a few posts to do with Buckwheat. This is a relatively new crop for us. I have been researching it for a few years now and only decided to grow it commercially for the first time in 2008.

In this, the first of a series of Buckwheat posts, I thought I would share with you some of the benefits of Buckwheat from a dietary standpoint. Buckwheat is a nutraceutical "super food". The nutritional benefits are many. But don't take my word on the subject. Attached below is more information than you ever wanted to know about the beneficial aspects of adding Organic Buckwheat to your diet. It is a wonderful piece from Steven Edwardson when he was at Purdue University.

Here also, is a great Youtube video on the subject. Nutrition by Natalie.