Combine seeds, soil, sunlight and water and, presto — you’ve got vegetables.
Any farmer and market gardener can tell you that the process isn’t quite that simple. For one thing, no one can control the weather which can delay seeding, hamper or kill plant growth and postpone harvest.
Even without weather variables, things are a lot more complicated for certified organic farmers such as the Regnier family, which produces organic vegetables, herbs and fruit at Blue Lagoon Organics on 27 acres in the RM of St. Francois Xavier. The farm was certified organic in 2003 and the certification must be renewed annually to meet provincial and national standards.
Lori Ann Regnier, a retired teacher who taught at Headingley’s Phoenix School for 22 years, said the farm spends about $3,000 annually on certified organic seed from suppliers in Canada and the U.S.
"I have to look everywhere," she said, adding that shipping costs are steep.
Seed can’t be saved for use the next year because cross-pollination results in offspring that don’t always have consistent characteristics. Most consumers expect their vegetables to look a certain way, even when they’re grown within an organic system.
The bulk of the family’s produce is sold through Community Shared Agriculture, with up to 40 families buying a share. Regnier said they also sell some vegetables and herbs at St. Norbert Farmers’ Market and the market at the River Heights branch of the Central Corydon Community Club in Winnipeg.
Even soil and fertilizer must be part of the organic system. Unfortunately, Regnier said, the family farm is located on Red River gumbo so the soil in the fields must be lightened in order to plant. She, husband Rene, and son Stefan mix their own soil in a cement mixer for use in their greenhouse and for top-dressing on the outdoor plots.
"It’s a mix of four pails soil, two pails of peat moss, one pail of perlite and about one cup of (organic) kelp," she said.
Composted race horse manure from a local horse breeder provides extra nutrients for some of the outdoor plots. The family grows alfalfa on 17 acres for use as mulch and bedding for its flock of laying and meat hens, turkeys and ducks.
Rene rigged up a temporary incubator inside a small trailer for the ducklings and chicks that were just delivered for this season’s flock. The birds will be placed into mobile coops that can be moved around the farm yard.
Among many other handcrafted innovations, Lori Ann places cut-off plastic milk jugs around tomato cuttings recently taken from plants in the greenhouse and put into an outdoor plot.
Tomato vines are already curling around strings in the greenhouse where they share space with other types of seedlings, some of which will be moved outside.
After the unusually late spring, the Regniers are scrambling to get everything started. Lori Ann said she and two volunteer helpers recently spent a rainy day seeding celery.
Blue Lagoon Organics is a stop for "woofers", mainly young men and woman who typically spend a month volunteering on organic farms through the Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farmers program. In return for their work, they are given free room and board.
Regnier said they have had volunteer workers from Japan, Germany and other countries lend a hand. She enjoys playing host to these people who are committed to organic growing practices.
"Last summer I had 11 people at my dinner table," she said.
But she’s puzzled by this year’s lack of volunteers.
"Last year we were turning people away."
The family is currently looking for a farm manager as Lori Ann and Rene are thinking about retirement, and Stefan works as a chef and caterer for part of the year.
She knows that farming’s hard work, long hours and rural location can’t compete against a 9 to 5 office job in the city for most young people, but she takes heart from the fact that many are supporting the local food trend and Manitoba’s organic farmers.
"We’re just committed to growing healthy food."