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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date October 1, 2021

Welcome to the final month of operation for the 2021 Fresh Roots Farm Season. This month we are undertaking lots of soil TLC so we have a nice, healthy biome in the spring, ready for our seeds and transplants. The only thing we actually plant this late in the season is Garlic. This year we will be filling an entire block (that’s 10 x 45ft beds) with lots of juicy amendments then planting the whole area with Russian Red Garlic. We’ll top them off with foraged seaweed and 6 bales of hay so they have a nice store of nutrients dissolving into the soil all winter until they decide to sprout up in the spring. There are a few beds we will leave to overwinter – like kale, chard, chicory, and a few other brassicas – but the rest we will amend and cover with silage for a nice winter nap. 

October is pretty solidly booked with school field trips on the farm. I’m hoping the youth will witness our system of putting the beds to sleep as a meaningful learning. It’s not just about smothering everything with big sheets of black plastic – it’s about protecting our soil from leaching and weeds all winter long so that we have an easier time in the spring. 

This month also closes out our final markets – October 13th is the last CSA Pickup as well as Market at the Italian Cultural Centre and October 23th will be the final market with VFM at Riley Park. Once our markets are shut, we clear the fields of any veggies that are left and either sell direct to restaurants or donate to local food hub programs. Right now I’m working on a partnership with David Thompson Secondary for a student-led program called the “Free Store” to get our donated veggies into students’ homes over the holidays. Otherwise we try to get our veggies into the weekly boxes at South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, or the low-cost market at Cedar Cottage Neighbourhood House.

Most of our fruiting vegetables have completely died back. That means no more eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, or peppers. We have some straggling last beans which is kind of shocking to me, but they’ll only last another week or two before they rot in this fall rain. Our flowers are melting off their stems while broccoli and Gailan pump out their last straggling sideshoots so we can bundle them up as broccolini for our final CSA Veggie Box. The transformation of the farm from a beautiful, buzzing production zone into a state of decay is marvellous to me. It means it’s time to slow down and introspect – and it’s so healthy to take stock of what needs work. Looking forward to doing the same for my own damn self, especially in light of this new holiday commemorating one of the Calls to Action for Truth and Reconciliation. 

With production out of the way, Piper and I will be able to focus on winterizing and tidying up the farm. I am so excited to have a clean slate this spring and looking forward to some possible new toys like a rolling flame weeder and a fancy tiller – that’s what I’m asking the Fresh Roots’ Santa for this Christmas, anyway. Another big wish on my list is for more weekday volunteers in 2022 to help us tackle weeds on a weekly basis. With changes in our programming, our SOYL participants weren’t able to support us at our site at David Thompson. This meant the farmers who are dedicated to cultivation had to divide their time between maintenance and seeding; I bet you can guess which task got priority.

That’s pretty much October for Fresh Roots’ Farm team in a nutshell – looking forward to slowing down and taking stock in the months to come. Thanks for a wonderful summer season!

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date September 1, 2021

Technically the title of this report is wrong. Sept 1 is not a seed-date this month, and there won’t be any more seed-dates for 2021. All our seeds and transplants are in the ground, fully germinated, and fate has been determined– sort of. The intended fate for our veggies is to land in CSA boxes and market shelves. This doesn’t always happen because of the pressure of pests, diseases, weeds, and theft. But I digress…

What a whirlwind of a month, August was. It’s peak harvest season, with a slew of intense heat, drought, and financial crunchiness. Meanwhile the administration team at Fresh Roots is hauling to raise funds so we can afford to operate everything from SOYL Programs across 3 sites in the lower mainland, to EL summer camp, not to mention farming vegetables. 

Although all the numbers aren’t quite in, I think the Backyard Harvest Dinner was a success, Fresh Roots having met our fundraising goal of 20K in pledges and silent auction bids (excluding ticket sales). It is such an epic feat to pull this kind of thing off. There is so much organizing, networking, communication, timing, collaboration, showmanship, and rather bad poetry (sorry-not-sorry). Witnessing Caroline Manuel (Communications), Vivian Cheung (Ops), and Alexa Pitoulis (our ED) pull the whole thing together was kind of like magic. That said, every single person on our core team pulled weight, whether it was packing dinner boxes, cooking for 50 people, or trucking equipment from 3 sites. 

The highlight of the fundraiser for me was the farm team planning our outfits. All season long we were very proud to imagine ourselves as a band called “Planting for Death” – a term I use to refer to re-planting holes where transplants have failed. The team loves to take the weird things I say (ie: “great,great,great,great,great;” “It’s fine, I’m fine, Everything is fine;” and other sayings not quite family-friendly enough to list) and turn them into songs. Well, not literal songs. We are more in our ‘concepts and planning’ phase. The only literal thing P4D has done was put together outfits, dye some eyebrows, and do a little dancing for a fundraiser. But you better trust that our literal outfits were literally epic. This Farm Momma doesn’t lie. 

Last week we said goodbye to our beloved Isobel, the part-time flower arranger and ponderer of deep, comical musings. We planted seeds of rebellion in her, and she is returning to school in Saskatchewan to mess up industrial agriculture. This month we will be bidding our Market Lead, Nico, adieu, as he returns to Ontario to connect (like, he is a dude who really connects) with the Food Security community out there. Piper, Mia and I (with an assist from Galen) will be holding down the fort on the farm and market scene until the third week of October when we will put the farm to sleep for the winter. 

September is my favourite month of all time. First of all, it’s my birthday month and I Thank-Mother I was born. Mushrooms begin to pop out, it’s sweater-weather, and the chill in the air cools down my summer-boiled temper. This is a moment when we still have all the wonderful fruiting veggies of the summer while the cool season crops come on, so we get to enjoy a cornucopia of diversity. I’m looking forward to filling our CSA Boxes and Market Shelves with a plethora of colours, shared with all of you.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date August 1, 2021

You know what I like about August? There are actually very few seed dates this month. This translates to two things: one, there isn’t enough time left in the season to plant much; and two, I get to focus on making flower bouquets instead of seeding in the greenhouse. 

When Galen (the SOYL – Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership Program Manager) told me that flowers were a big program at Fresh Roots, I was like, “pffffffft can’t eat flowers.” But then, one morning, I covered Isobel’s early shift harvesting and bunching blooms and now, I cannot get enough. I’m kind of obsessed. They fill me with colour and joy and I see it extend into the hands of our market goers. Flowers are amazing. 

While very attractive to humans, flowers don’t appear to interest many pests besides insects, which is a huge bonus in the urban landscape. I cannot say the same for our veggies. We lost a full planting (about 60 heads) of kohlrabi, 90% of our broccoli and about 75% of our cauliflower to rodents. The disappearances happen almost over night. They’ve also started munching our ripening tomatoes but we have implemented some tech to try and prevent such massive losses. Other pressures unique to urban farming resulted in the loss of our entire snow pea crop, an average loss of about 60% of our kohlrabi plantings, and about 30% loss of our butter lettuce. Naturally, I expect some cream skimmed off the top with hands reaching through fences for a tomato or zucchini here and there, but I’ve witnessed people show up to the farm with huge buckets and knives, expecting to reap in the bounty of veggies planned and paid-for by our CSA members. 

In addition to having our veggies taken, the Fresh Roots truck catalytic converter was swiped the day-of our last ICC market in July. This meant we couldn’t finish our harvest for the market so our shelves and CSA Veggie Boxes were a little scant. 

Another pressure that is kind of funny has been a fisherman! We call him “worm dude” because he digs for worms in our freshly seeded beds. I had been wondering what was causing these circles of failed germination all over our beet beds, so when I saw him digging the other day I was relieved to learn we didn’t have another weird fungus on top of our ongoing club root and lettuce drop. That said, it has resulted in about 30% failed germination in our beets and carrots. Strangely, the crop circles have continued since I explained to him the effects of worm digging. Maybe he is not the only fisherman looking for bait.   

It sounds like I have a lot to complain about right now, but it’s only because July and August are our busiest, and most productive months. With harvest comes reaping, and work, and sweat, and competition. These frustrations also come in-hand with growing food in the city. In permaculture we say farmers have to work with what we have, rather than against it. Stolen food and catalytic converters is an indication that our city is rife with food insecurity, poverty, and desperation. Right down the road from our flagship garden at Van Tech is the mobile home city that was recently threatened with eviction. Meanwhile, free-range rodents up the hill are living an organic lifestyle foraging our fields. The discrepancy is gut-wrenching. 

Recently, the entire staff of Fresh Roots were invited to a workshop on anti-oppression. It was an impressively comprehensive guide to the key concepts and terminology used in identifying oppression, and was scheduled a couple weeks after Canada Day. This July, I witnessed the farm team digest what’s happening in the world around them and really apply their thoughts and feelings to it all. We have spent many of our harvest hours with our hands busy while our mouths discuss weird movies, what our band name would be, and also the continuing effects of Colonialism. Watching these ideas grow in the minds of young people, and then to witness them take action on them is nothing short of inspiring. 

As an organization, Our Lady Fresh Roots is proactive and progressive in the way that it creates intern opportunities for youth and connects children with the source of their food. That said, there is so much space to grow! Recently, in an interview with the BC Association of Farmers Markets, Alexa (our Executive Director) and I were asked what it is like to be doing land-based work in light of the recent residential school findings and this incredible Indigenous Uprising that is happening. To be honest, it was hard to find the right words to answer that question. It means a lot for me, as a white person of mostly settler descent, to be doing land-based work to heal my own ancestral trauma. Doing land-based work also reminds me of my responsibility to commit to the process of interrogating my own complacence with colonialism, and challenges me further to work into allyship with the forever-keepers of this land I inhabit. Land-based work in a fraught and hectic urban environment highlights the inequity of food accessibility even further. 

Once the tomato harvest is done in October and I have a moment to enjoy the cool fall breeze, I’ll tuck into some tea and commit time to taking the teachings the young folks on the farm team have offered me to the core team. That is what the off-season is all about. Until then, we shall continue to ruminate in the fields on gnarly turnips and heartfelt ideas about justice and equity. 

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed Date July 1, 2021

July 1st. Wait, what? It’s J U L Y ? It’s July and the kale has exploded along with the weeds. I’m so thankful for our hard-working team (not just the farm workers!) and the handful of volunteers who have joined us in liberating our crops from the overwhelm of hungry, green-leaved neighbours. Fresh Roots has a few hungry neighbours of the human variety, too, which has made an impact on our yields. The unique pressures of Urban Farming continue to surface as we try our best to fulfil commitments to our CSA members, Markets, Programming, the Community Eats Program, Lunch Lab, and Donor Recipients such as South Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Hub. All of this is to say, I feel the theme of the past month has been about Community. 

Community

The Fresh Roots Community is blooming into the Summer Queen that she is. All of the youth hired under the Canada Summer Jobs contracts are trained up and ready to operate the Fresh Roots Summer Kingdom (aka Farm). By the second week of July, we’ll have SOYL (Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership) participants growing, learning and leading at three sites, keen to pull weeds and distribute wood chips (I can’t wait to utilize those hands!) and harvest veggies for the market. 

Our Community Supported Agriculture Program is in its 5th week, now, getting our lovely greens and roots into the hands of thoughtful consumers who know their investment is supporting not only the operation of our farm, but also our programming to employ youth and teach kids about agriculture and themselves. It has been a pleasure to put the faces to the names on our CSA sheet and watch as our vegetable babies find their forever homes… in your mouths, I guess?

We attend two markets with two distinct but wonderful communities: Saturdays at Riley Park we connect with the market-goers, organizers and vendors that make up the incredible Vancouver Farmers Market; and on Wednesdays our market is hosted by the ever-generous folks at the Italian Cultural Centre. The ICC market community ‘feel’ is definitely different this season than last – yes, that means the pizza and wine are missing. That is because the ICC is putting their effort into supporting the community in another way: they are hosting an epic vaccination site, seeing an average of 1600 members of our community get vaccinated each day. So while I’m sad that we don’t get a slice of pizza, I’m happier still that we are overcoming this virus with the support of places like the ICC. 

Other amazing community experiences include ogling all the adorable dogs that are walked around the periphery of the farms, connecting with our curious neighbors, playing I-spy with neighbourhood kids, chatting with students who attend the schools where we farm, and staff sharing a lunch of Fresh Roots Salad Mix with that tasty yeast dressing we all love. 

I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg that is the support and connection happening between the coreteam members of Fresh Roots! It seriously takes so much teamwork to adorn our Lady Fresh Roots with the glory she deserves. It takes meetings — so. many. meetings — and so much planning, and phone calls, and notes and communication boards to make sure all the cogs are turning in time between each department. There is also a lot of: “who does what?” in this organization, as she evolves and transitions into something new, it seems like every moment. 

So, yeah. We get weedy, and stuff gets stolen, but the trade off for working in a supportive community is totally worth it.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Seed-date June 1, 2021

Nuts and Bolting

The nuts of farming, to me, translate to the “awe, nuts!” moments – like when you arrive one morning to your lovingly hand-reared broccoli transplants and find that they have all bolted prematurely. Riding the waves this spring – whether they were tropical hot or arctic cold – meant that a lot of our plantings behaved differently than expected. This early in the spring, when most of our planting spaces are spoken for, it’s hard to make up for failed crops without having a time machine. The effect for Fresh Roots is that we have adjusted our market start dates, and introduced a “soft-market” concept to our first week. 

That said, we did have many gorgeously productive days on site, with all our farm team recruited and in the process of all staff (22 new team members!) training over the past few Mondays. The Vancouver farm team transformed our greenhouse over the last 4 weeks from wild, gregarious, multi-shaped leaves bursting over every surface to a serene, warm oasis with tame baby head lettuces lined up in rows of green and purple. While seeding and rearing transplants is a lovely, crafty task, the prep for transplanting is everything in this process. 

Putting the Seedlings To Bed

When seedlings are ready, their bed has to be made. To start, we first have to uncover the beds that have been sleeping under silage tarps or lumber wrap all winter. If they were uncovered previously, we need to weed — sometimes for hours — before we can move on. Next, we measure and mark out each bed: 36 inches wide, with an 18 inch path. Then we wheelbarrow 3 loads of compost for every 45 foot bed, rake the compost out, and wheelhoe the bed to integrate the nutrition and fluff the mattress, so to speak. If a fluffy bed is a mattress, then consider row cover the sheets. For transplanted beds, the best way to save yourself future battles with weeds is to apply a sheet of landscape fabric to the prepared bed to prevent scattered, wild seeds from seeing the sun or getting irrigated. When we run out of fancy fabric, sometimes we create low-cost covers out of lumber wrap that we cut holes into with rickety scissors found at the bottom of cracked rubbermaid boxes. Transplants are popped into holes in these sheets, and eventually their plumage cascades over the surface, hiding the fact that their sheets are not Egyptian cotton, but rather, black plastic.  

Prepping our beds in this way not only prevents unwanted weed pressure, it also retains the nutritional quality of the soil, preventing nitrogen from being taken up by unplanned plants. Additionally, it prevents surface leaching, by blocking irrigation and rain outside of the holes we farmers have cut. In these ways, we are serving our soil as well as our crops, to minimize our nitrogen output, which also protects the environment.

We did lots of other cool stuff besides bed prep, including clover angels (who knew this was a thing?), building an epic tomato trellis, donating 14 totes of veggies to South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, and wrestling rhubarb – whose leaves I’m considering using in place of landscape fabric, maybe, to suppress weeds? Also makes a great hat during a thunderstorm. 

 

June will see our first CSA Pickup and Market Days – don’t miss them! 

 

We’ll be at the Italian Cultural Centre from 4-7 on Wednesdays starting June 2nd. We’re located at the southwest corner adjacent to the park-look for the white tents, orange signage, and basketball hoops!

AND

Vancouver Farmers Market at Riley Park from 10-2 on Saturdays starting June 12th.

 

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Start-date, May 1, 2021

A week into April I found myself completely transitioned from working behind a screen to my hands covered in compost, unable to check my messages. It’s awesome. This is why I farm. I love being outside, covered in dirt, with wet, matted hair. Thank Manure it’s finally time to work the soil! We direct seeded about twelve beds at the David Thompson Secondary schoolyard farm, a handful of which are now sprouting. These sprouts are destined to be the first veggies in your CSA box or your June market haul! Time to get excited!

This month, I spent about 2 out of 5 days each week fiddling around with irrigation. This time reminds me once again, how important preparation is for a smooth farm season. When Fresh Roots starts up the growing season, Gray, our Infrastructure Manager, first has to test all the lines and replace any broken bits. Any leaks (or explosive sprays!) need to be repaired before we can hook up the lines that will water our seed babies. Next, we make lists of the parts we need, place an order, and pick them up, sometimes requiring a trip out to Abbotsford. Ideally, we would have a very organized inventory of all the essential, tiny, plastic parts that are dispersed over our many sites. Fresh Roots operates over six sites across the lower mainland (and counting) so this process is a little like herding cats with a broom. 

 

Once we’ve got all our bits and bobs, we need to assemble them according to crop, asking questions like, “do we need overhead or drip irrigation;” “do we need 1, 2, or 3 lines per bed;” “what kind of emitters do we need and what’s their coverage;” etc etc. It’s a little bit like lego, which is kind of fun, but also tedious. Once everything is in working order we finally set the timers… the hardest part. The technology is not user-friendly. It’s like setting an alarm on a water-damaged watch from the ’90s: half-analog, half-digital, with about two dozen impossible-to-find settings buried under complex command chains. TBH, I’m not really sure if these minutiae are interesting to you, Dear Reader, but there you have it – irrigation in all its tiny, explosive glory. 

 

Our seedlings in the greenhouse are now fully irrigated and warm under the clear light shining through fresh panes of glass. It seems like the ideal situation, right? Wrong. Turns out a heavenly courtyard in the middle of a school is also a haven for small animals that like to chew things — namely, about a dozen trays of gorgeous plant babies. I can’t blame the animals. Who doesn’t love a sumptuous spring salad after a winter of garbage… Er, turkey? Our response was to build 6 more cages to protect our precious seedlings from grazing. It also spurred a much-needed deep clean in all the nooks, crannies, and under-the-stairs. The whole team — all departments — banded together to tackle this work and it felt so good to accomplish it together. 

 

Stay tuned next month when I’ll talk about transplants, why we do row covers and the onboarding of our seasonal staff.  

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Farmer’s Log, Start-date, April 1, 2021

Oh, March. Another month of prep before the busy season comes on. The idea is that the better we prepare, the smoother the tomato volcano will be… but I’m sure many-a-farmer will argue that there’s simply no way to prepare for a vegetable glut in the heat of summer. 

There were a couple of things about my job that I fell in love with this month. First is the SOYL youth alumni who joined us for Spring Break:

  • At Van Tech they tended to the sensory garden after amending our entire growing space. 
  • At David Thompson, they planted cold-hardy seeds in the learning beds, built a new bed for a ‘tea garden’ in the outdoor classroom, helped us seed in the greenhouse, and drilled together a frame for a bed in the courtyard.
  • They also collected observational data on our overwintered chard to determine what might have led some plants to survive the cold while others died (conclusion: the healthier plants had more leaves to insulate them from the cold so they survived).
  • SOYL hands distributed about 20 yards of compost over two sites, which is an incredible help for Fresh Roots farmers. Their ingenuity in observations and energy tackling the huge piles of compost left me inspired. So many great problem-solving skills were applied in the building projects, too. What a delight!

My other new love is Fresh Roots’ greenhouse. Jack, Fresh Roots Delta farm lead, and I spent many hours there this month, seeding for our Vancouver locations as well as our new farm project out in Delta, a partnership with Farm Roots. We listened to co-op radio (what an awesome mishmash of music and personalities) while we sprinkled seeds and love into every cell. Even on bitter cold days, the greenhouse is nice and cozy, especially nestled in the courtyard at David Thompson Secondary. In this little oasis, the resident hummingbird screams its electric Tarzan call atop the huge magnolia tree and there are a couple of ravens that visit, often circled by angry crows. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that this space is in the middle of the city.

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log, Start-Date: March 1st, 2021

Hello and welcome to the Farm Team’s very first blog post of 2021! My name is Camille and I’m the new Farm Manager for the Good Food program here at Fresh Roots. I come from a  Deaf Family (Deaf parents, hearing kids) of mostly white European settler descent. Growing up on a large piece of land in what’s now known as South Surrey, the Indigenous land of the Semiahmoo, Katzie, Kwikwetlem, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, and Tsawwassen First Nations, I was afforded the privilege of tending the soil and growing food with my family. This was where my passion for vegetables was ignited and it continued down paths of wildcrafting, permaculture, and urban farming to where I am now, here at Fresh Roots. 

 A few fun facts about me:

  • my first language is American Sign Language
  • I am obsessed with wild mushrooms
  • I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Critical Theory and Critical Studies in Sexuality. 

My combined education and experience leads to interests at the intersection of everything, like how the ‘local’ food movement can serve to simultaneously feed and exclude marginalized communities – and how breaking bread can bind us together. 

Similar to most Farmers in our region, February was a month of planning at Fresh Roots in addition to a whack of orientation for this noob to the organization. I had lots of introductions to people, programming, and technology that I never knew existed. I’ve been pouring over documents and making seed orders, planning compost deliveries, and scouring resumes to hire folks for our seasonally expanding  Farm Team. I am so excited to bring all of this planning to life. Just like a little garlic sprout, these ideas will transform into something lusciously green and delicious, and I can’t wait to share it with you. 

Looking forward, we’ve got lots of stuff germinating. I just received our first seed order from Johnny’s and even got a couple of seed trays started with the help of our Program Manager, Galen. Seeding is kind of like making perogies – put on some good music, set up the trays, get a flow going, and you’re in the zone. I like to imagine all the energy in the room going into every ‘plop’ of a seed. What were Galen and I talking about and how will those words be brought to life by these plants that will emerge? I don’t care if this seems hippy-dippy. It feels good to set the scene for intention and growth in a holistic way. Other things featured this month: an epic, steamy, slippery compost dump; approximately one million zoom meetings; a gigantic, online group interview for our summer staff; and… snow (what!?).  

In March you’ll hear more from me through social media and the second Monthly Farm Report, and by June CSA Veggie Box members will be reading my weekly fresh sheet updates. Soon enough, I hope you’ll all be eating the food the Farm Team has collaboratively created. Can you taste those sweet Hakurei Turnips, yet?

-Farmer Camille

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Farmer’s Log – October 14, 2014

With school back in session there is a buzz of activity around the farms, reanimating the space and offering new opportunities to engage with our community. We only have a few weeks left of new seeds going into the ground this year. As the days get shorter the crops keep growing but sllllllooooowwww down. This means if we want to see a harvest from anything we plant in the next few months it needs to start growing soon! We are happy to have all our winter kale in the ground, brussel sprouts starting to bulge and lots of sweet cool-season spinach starting to roll in. Soon we’ll be tucking the tender crops under plastic to protect them from the cold so you can enjoy mid-winter, green delicacies.

Farmer Scott