Legend Organic Farm, Saskatchewan
Real Organic Project interview with farmer Stuart McMillan of Legend Organic Farm Saskatchewan and Dag Falck of Nature's Path. You can read Legend Organic and NOSB Testimony here, the accompanying newsletter that featured this video from December 1, 2019.
Legend Organic Farm, Saskatchewan
Stuart McMillan: It is more than simply the presence or absence of pesticides. That's where I think I see the biggest challenge.
“Oh, you’re organic. So you don’t use any fertilizers or pesticides!”
“Yeah, I don't use any fertilizers or pesticides.” But what am I also doing?
It means that I'm trying to actively build soil health, trying to actively promote the environment, actively preserve and maintain our biodiversity. All of those things are also parts of what being organic really is about.
Dag Falck: I'm Dag Falck, Organic Program Manager for Nature's Path Foods. I've been working with the company for 16 years now. Nature's path is a company that is very committed to organic so every product we have is certified organic.
And that means that we don't have to sort of double-think anything. We know what we are about: we are about organic. And we don't have to protect a non-organic side of our business.
We're totally in on organic.
We believe that's the way that we are going to leave the earth better, by using this system that's developed around organic.
We've been involved with buying farmland since 2008. We started to buy farmland, and we're not aiming at, you know, growing everything that we need to make our cereal.
Legend Organic Aims For Biodiversity
We're aiming at learning about agriculture, being a very active participant and hands-on with the farming aspect of our business so that we understand the farmers that we work with, we understand the issues that they are dealing with, and we can also hopefully be of help to them by experimenting with leading-edge technology and methodology and organic principles.
Stuart: I'm Stuart McMillan, I'm a farmer at Legend Organic Farm, one of the farms supplying into Nature's Path Foods.
We're almost on the fringe, where the agricultural region of the prairies meets in with some of the northern boreal forests. So some of the crops that we end up growing are ones that suit this area, so peas and oats and wheat and flax — those are what I'd say are our principal crops.
And we're always trying to see if there could be a new crop that might fit in here, to allow us to diversify our rotation, and yet one that's still suited to our area and our ecology.
Our harvest was interrupted by four weeks of snow last year and our crops ended up being buried under snow and we finally resumed harvest in October. So the region definitely poses some challenges for management, especially as an organic farmer trying to use the best practices.
It does make things a little more complex, but that, I think, is the interesting thing about real organic farmers. They are always innovative, they are adapting to their region, they are trying to come up with a solution that fits with their crops, their ecology, their region.
I think having goals that can be adapted across this wide variety of growing regions and the wide types of operations is something that's essential in how we maintain the integrity of organic standards and how we maintain the integrity of the goals of what we want organic to truly stand for.
Having complex and desirable crop rotations, protecting pollinators, the water, or soil health — those are goals that we can all work towards and, again, approach with different tools in a different region.
When you look at a lot of the peer-reviewed, scientific studies, It's not just a hunch that organic is better for biodiversity, It's proven!
Time and time and time again Whether looking at organic soybeans in the Cerrado of Brazil, whether it's organic dairy farms in Germany, or whether it's organic apple orchards in Washington State, or organic grain farms in the prairies of Canada.
In this crop of oats, I know I have dozens and dozens and dozens of different plant species, all of which are flowering at different times; I'm quite happy with this crop.
It's not overly weedy or overly problematic, but there are flowers that are out there and those flowers, some of which come early in the season, like the dandelions, are providing pollen and nectar for all sorts of insects. And those insects, in turn, are supporting song birds, and this ecosystem just keeps building up and up and up from a diverse soil, to diverse plants, into a diverse ecosystem.
Soil Health Written Into Organic Standards
When it comes to thinking about the standards or the regulations in organic agriculture, I do think that having a recognition that promotes soil health is a goal that all farmers, regardless of what they're growing, whether they're a dairy farm, a vegetable farm, an almond orchard, or an oat farmer, we all need to, and should be trying to, promote and protect soil health.
How do I start building up carbon in my soil and have it out of the atmosphere?
The research has shown that organics can play a really important role in that.
But I would say that it also shows that the right type of organic farming can really do that [sequester carbon] and that's where I think it's important that we really always think about, “How do we do things better?”
How do we make our systems more sustainable?
How do we champion those that are doing more for the soil, doing more for the environment, and not just meeting the base rudiments of the expectations but are really being innovators, and adapters, and trying to go beyond?
Dag: I consider my job at Nature's Path kind of my dream job because I get to be in the places that I have an interest in being, and also educating about what organic really means.
And that's a wonderful opportunity to help build this movement and to help people understand what it's about because there is a lot of lack of understanding of what organic is really about.
Because of the fast growth [in organic] in the last few years, a lot of new people are coming into it and not having a real full picture of what it's about.
It is complex. It's a complex style of agriculture. And it takes knowledge and skill to do it.
And it's not push-button, you know, it doesn't have push-button solutions. It's not like you have this problem and you just solve it with this one single solution.
In conventional agriculture, that's the approach that's favored.
Aiming For A More Fertile Agriculture
In organic, the approach is to recognize the holistic system of nature that we are functioning within and to function in that environment in a way that's not disruptive, and is taking advantage of the ways that nature creates fertility, for instance.
And so if we can take advantage of that because we are not disrupting the natural system and then we can utilize that and build our crop fields with those technologies.
We think that, who's going to win in the end of all that?
The environment is going to be healthier, fertility of the soil is going to have natural robustness.
An organically managed field will be more fertile each year that it's growing something.
In conventional agriculture, it's not necessarily inherently more-fertile after each growing season, because of the inputs of chemical fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers don't strengthen natural fertility.
So we're focusing on strengthening the natural fertility. We don't put any more fertilizer on next year, yet because of our crop rotations and our management systems, the soil is more fertile.
And that's the goal: to build a more fertile agriculture.
Because we have to face it, we have a growing population and we have people to feed for many, many generations to come, and they have to have this resource of soil to rely on.
We cannot squander it.
And that's why we believe we're doing the very best method that we know, in not squandering the soil and actually nurturing it and building it up.