As a woman and a food producer, the way that food is produced has always been important to me.
I had my first child when I was 23. At the time things were getting wild with agricultural innovation. GMOs were just released, causing a new dilemma faced by society, very little information was available to the general public…….and if certain companies had it their way, we would never get any transparency. I wanted my children to have access to healthy food as they grew, and I wanted my planet to be healthy for generations to come.
My husband had grown up in New Zealand on a sheep and cattle hill country farm. In the late “80’s” I gotto spend time there while we got to know each other. After helping on his family farm and witnessing general farming practices, I began to understand that a conventional food production system did not align for me. When we decided that Canada would be home, we both agreed that an alternative way of feeding ourselves was important.
What options did we have? We wanted to look after all we cared for. The question was what did I needto learn more about?
I had been lucky to spend a couple of years working on my family friend (and mentor’s) farm in the Comox Valley, before my time in New Zealand. My experiences there – where composting, French intensive methods of agriculture, creativity and innovation were all applied liberally were life changing. I had fallen in love with growing awesome food (in a system) that appeared to align with my values.
Having experienced a farming strategy that resonated for me made it straight forward to embrace organic certification when we started producing sprouts, micro greens and veggies thirty years ago on our 3.75 acres in the Comox Valley.
What was happening with Organic Certification 30 years ago? Small certifying bodies were popping up like good weeds. They were built on a peer review model and there were limited volunteers. At one point I was the secretary, treasurer and logistics manager for this little group of alternative “organic producers” in our community. Important note: I wasn’t allowed to go on the Certification Committee because that might have been a conflict of interest.
In the years since I have been involved in many aspects of organics. Organizing conferences, being on standards committees, boards of all types and working with the standards in on-farm applications. From my time participating in a peer reviewed system to being part of the team which brought mandatory labelling of organics to BC, I have had the opportunity to watch things evolve.
Fast forward 30+ years and there are so many options for certification. As a new producer it must be overwhelming. Which certifying body should we use? Who can help us? What is a permitted substance? Why do standards change just when I think I get it? Why is this so hard? So many complexities now envelope a simple practice.
Even with all this enveloping why are women (and men too) still looking at organic certification as an option? I feel that it really comes down to the principles of organic which are built from a place of nurturingand care. The Four Organic Principles identified are: Health, Ecology, Fairness, and Care. Talk about alignment for a mother!
I wanted to focus on women in the organic sector and in sharing my background. I searched but could notfind any statistics showing numbers of women engaged in the organic sector in Canada, or the world.
With this lack of data, I thought I would share some information collected by another organization I work with. I am a member of Small Scale Food Processors Association. SSFPA is a great organization working to support small scale food processors throughout Canada. SSFPA has recently embarked on an intriguing “Status of Women” project and has been studying women in the sector and what their needs are. As part of this project some interesting data has been uncovered.
Here is an exert from an SSFPA report:
CONSULTATION EVENT REPORT Courtenay, BC October 30 to November 1, 2019
“The Canadian Government classifies processors as small-scale if they have 99 or fewer employees, andmost SSFPA members have fewer than ten employees. Most of the members are women-led companies (66%), a proportion much higher than the average for all small business.
When I think about that number 66%, I am very impressed and curious.
An interesting comparison is that non-food business, women led business is only 18% in Canada. Why are so many women so interested in food production? What is the true demographic of women in the organic sector? Who is going to get to work collecting this information for the sector? I am excited that organic production exists. I am happy that women have a strong place in it. I say thank you to all who support equality in the organic sector, and I say let’s keep it up. We are at a time where what mattered generations ago is still very relevant. The long-term health of the soil, air and water is the base for all life. Unfortunately, the assault on the planet is more prevalent and ominous than it was 30 years ago.
Let’s all work very hard on maintaining and improving the organic system as a tool of care. Thanks to all those amazing women (and men) out there, milking cows and harvesting sprouts!
This month’s Buzz Builder is a contribution from Carmen Wakeling. Carmen is CEO and Co-owner of Eatmore Sprouts &Greens Ltd. Eatmore is a Certified Organic Farm producing a variety of sprouts, greens and vegetables on 3.75 acres near Courtenay, BC. Their mission is to produce organic sprouts & greens year round for a happier, healthier planet. In the last 30 years Carmen has been involved in learning about and developing systems to support a successful business while maintaining as small a footprint as possible and feeding our community and those throughout Western Canada. Carmen has been involved in all aspects of company development including marketing, financial management, innovation, human resources, facility development, business strategy, succession planning, food safety system development, communication, evaluation and development of core business systems, organic certification, community engagement, and organizational development both internal and external to Eatmore.
Learn more about Eatmore Sprouts here.