There’s been a buzz recently about Goodness Me! having our own farm. It’s certainly a unique endeavour, and not something you would see from a regular grocery store. But we’re not a regular grocery store. We care about product standards, and about providing the best product for our customers. When it comes to produce, this means three things: we want it to be certified organic, we want it to be local whenever possible, and we want it to be reasonably priced. Growing our own produce on our own organic farm was one way to go above and beyond with these goals.
Our farm is located in Campbellville, Ontario, and is run by David and Meiring Beyers: two farmers who are passionately dedicated to organic farming. Together, the two brothers run the farm on their own, doing everything from seeding to planting to harvesting with their own two hands. I recently had a chance to go to our farm and ask the farmers a few questions for this exclusive interview.
Q: What made you decide to grow organically?
David: My background was in conventional farming, so I know both sides very well. Gradually I started to be astounded by the amount of chemicals going out conventionally, and it really bothered me. I also didn’t feel physically well, because you’re in contact with so much poison, so I had lots of headaches and couldn’t sleep. Eventually I thought, this is not the way. I don’t like inhaling all this stuff, let alone working with it and eating it and selling it to others. My conscience couldn’t take it anymore. I started thinking if it could be done otherwise, and if we can do it organically, why not? It’s easier, it’s way more healthy, and you feel better. So I started getting more into organics. It just makes sense. It’s so easy. And it’s in here, it’s in the heart.
Q: How long have you been growing organic?
David: 8-9 years maybe. I started in wine making but moved over to vegetables. Wine making is great but it’s the same thing every year. Veggies are different and a great challenge. It’s been a massive learning curve. You gotta have your mind on a million things. It’s extremely stressful and incredibly hard work, but the amazing part is that it’s incredibly rewarding. It’s definitely a 24/7 job and that’s why it’s kind of a lifestyle. It’s something you strive for and do it with the passion you’ve got and it becomes more play than work because you love it.
Meiring: The original vision for us was very simple: the challenge to try and make sure that at the end, when we step away from this, the place is in a better state. With conventional farming, you get to a point where you’re extracting so much and you’re putting so much artificial stuff in the soil that eventually, the organic matter is gone. Then you’re in a nutrient deficit cycle so you can’t grow anything anymore if you don’t put anything synthetic into the soil. That is a global issue. It’s not just the issue of this going into a consumer’s mouth, but of our soils and water and earth being depleted. And we’re not contributing to that, which feels great.
Q: How do you decide what goes beside what?
David: There is a system. Some vegetables grow well together and others don’t. It has to do with insects the plant repels, what it attracts, and what it needs from the soil. Certain plains help each other out: they guard against insects and feed nutrients through the soil. The idea is to try and plant them together so that one helps the other, using less of the soil nutrients by helping each other out. One gives, and the other takes. It’s called interplanting. For example, there’s something called the Three Sisters: you plant corn, beans and squash together and create this threesome of collaborative plants. The corn grows, and the beans grow underneath the corn, supplying nitrogen to the corn. The squash is a broadleaf, supplying shade to the soil. They help each other out. We also rotate certain crops: you don’t put the same crop in the ground that was there last year. That crop takes a certain something, a component, out of the soil, so you need to switch it up. If you don’t, you run out of nutrients in the soil. You want to maintain significant biodiversity.
Q: Do conventional farms do that?
David: No. They have the benefit of the seed (GMO or coated with an insecticide) so they don’t have the weed pressure to worry about, and they spray to keep the insects away. Let’s say, we have weeds here taking over… they have pesticides to control weeds, but we can’t do that. We have to do it all very naturally. The yield is still amazing even though you have significant weed pressure and it’s simply because the soil is in such incredible condition.
Q: Do you think there are other farmers who feel conventional isn’t right?
David: You have to see it this way. There are a lot of conventional farmers I have respect for because they do take great care to spray the correct formula at the right time for the right applications. It’s done properly with whatever Canadian regulations there are. In that sense, they’re not necessarily bad for the environment. Of course, you get the odd one that just doesn’t care, but conventional is not always bad. But it’s still chemicals, it’s still unnatural, and if you can do it organically, why would you do it conventionally? It’s simple. If you can get this without chemicals, why wouldn’t you?
Q: If you don’t use pesticides and chemicals to keep pests away or to help your plants grow, what do you do to ensure you get good yield?
David: There are a number of different things you can do. We use herbs like nettle and horsetail. You brew those into teas, strain them, and spray on the plants. Nettle is more of a “pesticide”, keeping bugs away from plants—not killing them, but keeping them away. Also, natural insects help keep other pests, like cucumber beetle, away. We did have cucumber beetles before and now they’re gone. We didn’t spray a single thing—they just went away naturally. Having a balance of plants, weeds, and beneficial plants increases biodiversity on the farm which also helps guard against pests. And then interplanting is a great tool, too. Flea beetles don’t like lettuce or garlic, so by planting those next to cabbage, it keeps the beetles away from the cabbage.
Q: So you’ve never used pesticides or chemicals on this farm?
David: No single spray has been used here. Not even organic spay. This is as is: no irrigation, no sprays.
Meiring: That’s the beauty of an organic farm. It’s actually beautiful, from the roots to the plant. It’s not engineered or manufactured. It’s natural. Lots of this is about biodiversity, not just harvesting. You might see an insect on one of our plants, and people think you might not want that, but it also shows that everything is in harmony. It’s all natural.
Q: What’s the most rewarding part about farming organically?
David: With organics, it’s tough to know where to start, because everything is rewarding. It boils down to an insane amount of work, which is something I and all of us are very proud of. I think it’s something for the community, it’s not something that’s just grown to make money. It’s something to give back to the community, and I think that’s really important to us. It’s for the people, for the earth, and about being good to the environment.
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