About the UBC Farm’s Organic Certification
As of May 1, 2016 the UBC Farm became certified organic through NOOA and all our market and wholesale produce is grown according to British Columbia Certified Organic Management Standards. However, from our onsite records and the accounts of the UBC Farm’s extended family who have been cultivating the soil here for decades, the UBC Farm has adopted organic practices since students began gardening at the Farm in the late 1990s. The UBC Farm chose to become certified organic for many reasons, but our biggest motivation was to join the organic movement and community in our region with a stronger voice. Our research and production fields have benefited greatly from these knowledge streams throughout the agriculture community.
In Canada, our Organic Standards and Regulations are based on the following four general principles:
- Principle of health – Organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plants, animals, humans and the planet as one and indivisible.
- Principle of ecology – Organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.
- Principle of fairness – Organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.
- Principle of care – Organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.
Since the early 2000s when students began a market garden at the current UBC Farm site, we have been following organic practices. However, we chose to become certified to better support the certified organic community by joining it officially. As the Farm becomes a more public and visible site, we wanted to use that opportunity to raise the profile of organic agriculture and encourage and support more teaching and research about organic agriculture. Being certified organic helps us keep up to date with ongoing development and practices in organic agriculture, including changes and additions to the Canadian Organic Standards and Regulations. We also want to challenge ourselves: how do we know if we are following all of the organic standards and regulations if we don’t go through the application and verification process on a regular basis? This can help us be better organic farmers and members of the local and international organic community. At our markets, in our programming, on tours, during course projects, and at outreach events, we are excited to provide a space where people can ask questions and have conversations with us about what organic agriculture means.
At UBC Farm, organic agriculture means that we rotate our crops to balance nutrients in the soil and discourage pests and disease. We use compost and green manure (cover crop) to add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil, keep weeds down, and prevent drought and soil erosion. We use beneficial insects or mechanical and manual methods to control pests and weeds, and we ensure animals have access to outdoors: fresh air, sun and access to pasture are essential for their health. Stop by to visit the Farm or join us for a tour (free tours meet at noon at our Saturday markets) to learn more and see organic agriculture in action!
Research has been an integral part of UBC Farm for years and we wanted to make sure we could continue collaborating with and supporting valuable and innovative research when we chose to become certified organic. Thankfully, the organic standards have exemptions for research that allow us to navigate this without compromising our organic status. We are excited to be able to host and encourage more research into organic agriculture now that we are certified! This can help grow the organic community, provide much-needed research into organic practices, and continue to shape organic food systems locally and globally.
At UBC Farm, our eggs are certified organic, which means we follow the Canadian Organic Standards and Regulations in caring for our chickens and their eggs. This includes guidance on how to source, breed, feed, transport, and handle the chickens as well as how to care for their health, their living conditions, and manage both pests and manure.
For example, at UBC Farm we are guided by the Organic Standards in what we provide for feed, how much space our flock has in pasture, and how we prevent and manage pests such as mites. This reflects the Standard: “Livestock can make an important contribution to an organic farming system by: improving and maintaining the fertility of the soil, managing the flora through grazing, and enhancing biodiversity and facilitating complementary interactions on the farm.” (6.1.2.)
Our chickens not only provide delicious eggs for sale but help manage pests in our field, deliver nitrogen-rich manure to our fields as part of our crop rotation, and provide a great learning opportunity for UBC and community members who come through the Farm. We love our chickens!
In Canada, certified organic status is determined through Certifying Bodies (CBs). In BC there are nine CBs representing different regions of the province. Other CBs working from other provinces also certify operations in BC. A producer or processor submits their application to a CB and is then visited by a Verification Officer, a third party contracted by a CB to confirm their practices and report this back to the CB. The CB’s certification committee then reviews this information and, after following up with the producer/processor to discuss any potential risks or non-compliances, may either deny certification, award one- to three-year transitional to organic status, or organic status. Every year, the producer/processor submits their application to the CB and is visited by a Verification Officer. Costs vary among the CBs, and are also dependent on producer/processor gross income and whether the product will be sold outside of BC or not. At UBC Farm we submitted our application in the spring of 2015, were given one year of “transitional to organic” status, and as of May 2016 were given status as certified organic!
A trip to the grocery store can remind us just how many different words are used to make us think a food product is good for the environment. Natural, green, eco, and enviro are all common words to see; however, unlike these words, the words certified organic are regulated on a federal and provincial level. Food products that are certified organic for sale among provinces and outside Canada have the circular Canada Organic logo shown here. Food products that are certified organic for sale within the province of BC (which is what UBC Farm is certified for) are displayed with the BC checkmark logo shown below. Other logos exist for food products certified organic in other countries and imported into Canada. Only food products with these logos attached are certified organic, so look for these when shopping! We are proud to now be displaying the BC Certified Organic checkmark logo at our markets:
This is a question we hear sometimes at our markets and are glad market-goers are paying attention to what they buy! In agriculture, time is money. Because organic farms avoid the synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and growth hormones used by many non-organic farms, we typically require much more labour (paid staff time) to produce and care for our crops, for example through pulling weeds by hand or with tools rather than by spraying herbicides. In Canada, subsidies exist that currently favour large-scale and non-organic farms; this is a great opportunity to lobby local and federal government to help support organic farmers more!
When people ask “Why is organic so expensive?” a great question to follow up with is: “Why is non-organic food so cheap?” Somewhere down the chain some costs are being externalized, such as underpaid labourers or ecosystem services that are not being nourished and regenerated – for example, the depletion of nutrients in the soil without building them back up over time. At UBC Farm we are constantly assessing our prices to ensure we are matching the organic community and offering the fairest price we can while covering our own costs; while we understand that not everyone can afford organic, we want to help grow food systems in the future where there are less barriers for people to access organic food!
Organic farming methods offer the best current model for promoting climate-friendly food production. This is because organic agriculture is less dependent on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides and builds resilience in the face of climatic extremes. Organic farming also stores higher levels of carbon in the soil, promotes wildlife diversity, reduces pest outbreaks, protects soil from erosion, helps prevent contamination of water, and uses far less energy than conventional farming methods. Our commitment to modelling healthy and sustainable food systems at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems is embodied at UBC Farm through our choice to be certified organic.