The New Potato on the Block

The low-glycemic potato was developed for diabetics, but can also increase gut health and promote sustainable weight loss.

Some people say potato, and some weirdos say po-tah-to, but there are actually many different varieties of potatoes with different tastes, textures, compositions and even health benefits. The Potato Research Centre (PRC) in Fredericton, New Brunswick is dedicated to developing new strains of potatoes. One of their newest varieties is the low glycemic index (GI) potato, a potato bred to have a lesser impact on blood sugar levels.

The PRC works with industry to help identify their needs as well as those of consumers. Every year they host an Open House Day, where potato seeders, marketers, growers and processors are invited to view the most advanced varieties available. If they’re interested they can acquire seeds to evaluate them on the commercial field. Through that process, industry can get the final input into what they would like to see from these new potatoes.

Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, Head Potato Researcher at the PRC says the low-GI potato was bred to meet the needs of health conscious consumers.

“We know that more and more consumers are paying attention to what they eat. More information is available and people are becoming more educated. They’ve become more evolved in their health choices,” said Dr. Bizimungu.

“That’s a trend you cannot forget in breeding, we can have a product that is better suited to health conscious consumers.”

Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, Head Potato Researcher at the potato Research Centre, tends to some potatoes.

Dr. Benoit Bizimungu, Head Potato Researcher at the potato Research Centre, tends to some potatoes.

The average potato has a high-GI. Foods with a high-GI spike blood sugar levels after being eaten. This is typically due to them being easily digestible, which leads to the body transforming them into glucose more quickly which is then released into the blood stream. If humans were cars, glucose would be the “fuel” that we run on, but overloading on that fuel too quickly can have dire consequences over the long-term.

For most people, high glucose levels result in the pancreas producing insulin, a hormone that works to regulate glucose levels and diverts glucose into cells for usage. But for diabetics, either the pancreas or insulin no longer function correctly, which leads to the glucose staying in the blood which can lead to a variety of health problems down the road.

Diabetics have to closely monitor their blood sugar levels as well as what they eat to try and maintain a proper balance. With the development of the low-GI potato, diabetics can have a bit more leeway when they eat some fries, chips or a baked potato.

There are other benefits to this potato variety as well. It achieves its low-GI by being composed of more resistant starch. Resistant starch gets its name because it is resistant to many digestive enzymes. This results in it being turned into digestive fiber which is excellent for creating a healthy gut ecosystem.

It can also be used to help achieve sustainable weight loss. This has to do with the insulin reaction whenever a person eats food that has a high-GI. In extremely simplified terms, when a person eats something that results in a glucose spike, the pancreas starts creating insulin to divert that glucose into cells. Once that process is over, your body then thinks that it now doesn’t have enough glucose and activates your appetite so you eat and get some more. This is why you will sometimes feel hungry quickly after eating large meals, or feel snacky when you still feel physically full. By eating low-GI foods you avoid the spike in glucose and the insulin reaction, resulting in a spontaneous reduction of appetite and calorie intake.

All the potatoes at the PRC are created through traditional breeding practices. This allows all the PRC potatoes to avoid being labelled as a GMO, which many consumers stray away from.

“Our breeding program has always been conventional. We have many genetic resources we use, we have some local strains and some exotic strains, but everything has been conventionally bred. So far from what we hear consumers are looking more for conventionally bred varieties,” said Dr. Bizimungu

Parkland Seed Potatoes is currently doing work to evaluate this potato variety, which they’ve named “AAC-Hamer”.  While they are still conducting human trials to determine its position on the glycemic scale, they’ve found that the variety has other attractive aspects as a chipper potato, meaning it is an excellent candidate to be used as a potato chip. It also has an appealing look that customers like when selecting fresh potatoes.

Dr. Bizimungu says that while the low-GI potato is his current focus, there are many other varieties on the way.

“Nutrition is one component of our program. We also want to make our farmers more competitive by producing more with less inputs, and improving pest resistance to allow farmers to use less chemicals. We also are looking to pursue the qualities that make a better French-fry or chip as those are also huge markets for potatoes. “

The Modern Farm: Agritourism Part 2

Farms all across Canada are becoming far more than just agricultural operations. Wineries, distilleries, restaurants, tours and haunted hayrides are some of the many things that you can find on farms today as farmers create businesses that work in synergy with their crops and their lifestyle.

These operations are collectively called agritourism. They attract customers to the farms themselves, providing both education and entertainment to visitors. They also give an inside view into how raw ingredients are transformed into many of the foods we know and love, providing a greater understanding of where our food comes and the many ways these food staples can be used. 

And, of course, visitors can enjoy food and drink that could literally not be more fresh or local.

For Part 2 of this series, Farm to Table will be taking a look at two different agritourism operations, both that have been in operation for decades. One attracts visitors with its commitment to organic production and biodiversity, and the other is best known for its pumpkin festival and haunted house and hayrides.

Photos courtesy of Soiled Reputation

Soiled Reputation (Sebringville, ON)

For Antony John, otherwise known as the Manic Organic, his venture into agritourism happened organically. Pun intended.

Using his talents as a trained wildlife biologist, John likes to say that his main crop is biodiversity and he subsidizes it by selling vegetables. He treats his land like a balanced ecosystem, with features including:

·  huge flower gardens and plantings interspersed through crops to provide pollen and nectar

·  30-foot buffer strips seeded with legumes that are allowed to flower around a 40-acre field

·  a two-acre meadow that is home to over 20 beehives

These aspects help create a sustainable ecosystem, helping soil health, pollinator populations and reducing soil erosion naturally, all while using no pesticides.  His techniques earned him the 2017 Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award.

Antony has been having visitors to come and see how he runs the farm for over 26 years, but he says he never had to seek them out. Instead, his techniques drove interest in his farm and people came to him.

“We were getting requests from people, it wasn’t us going out looking for tours. As soon as people found out we were growing market garden vegetables organically and we have a biodiversity approach to the way we grow things, they wanted to see more,” said Antony.

Antony is no stranger to that kind of attention. He was the host for the television show The Manic Organic, which followed him on the farm and took a look at the life of the vegetables he grows, from the time they are seeded to when they are being plated in some of the finest restaurants in Canada.

A huge proponent of organic agriculture, Antony treats every visit to the farm as a learning opportunity, and enjoys educating visitors on the organic approach. Not only on the environmental benefits of organic agriculture, but also the financial.

“It’s something that I believe needs to be presented as an alternative model to agriculture. Just as a rough calculation we grow about 20 acres of organic vegetables and salad greens. Those 20 acres generate about the equivalent growth income of a 500-acre cash crop operation, but I don’t need to buy a combine and I don’t need a tractor and a $350,000 corn planter,” said Antony.

In regards to clientele, Soiled Reputation sells most of its vegetable straight to restaurants. But Antony says that about 30% of his revenue comes from agritourism if you include his farmers’ market stalls.

The same customers come back week after week to his stalls, and Antony says that one of the things that helps him the most with marketing to people is something most farmers are probably overlooking: Cooking classes.

“The classes gave me a skillset to go into a kitchen with my produce and say ‘This is what you can do with it,’. The extension of that was to be able to come up with recipes based off my cooking class for the vegetables that people might not be familiar with at the market table.  I could hand them a recipe, providing the information they needed and I could talk them through it face-to-face. Once you build that trust and that confidence they’ll come back the next week and say ‘What else have you got that I haven’t eaten before?’ and through word of mouth it spreads out from there,” said Antony.

Antony markets his farm with the same principles as a winery, using the concept of “terroire”. Wines across the world emphasize the uniqueness of their flavor that comes from a combination of factors such as climate, soil characteristics. Antony says that this is the best way to differentiate yourself so the customer knows they are getting something that they can get nowhere else.

“Market your farm based on flavor, that’s really the most important consideration for people. People eat with their stomachs and they want to taste it. Just look at the wine industry, look at how Prince Edward county is marketing themselves as having different climate and soil than Niagara so the wine is different. The same thing applies to food. You grow vegetables, crops and grains the same way, the same elements affect the flavor of those and it makes each area unique,”

Saunders Farm (Ottawa, ON)

Saunders Farm was built on the principle that they would get the best value from their produce if they could get the customer to come to them. Over the years the farm has taken many different forms, but it always stuck to that idea.

It started as a pick-your-own strawberry farm, where they would bring over busses full of school kids to learn about agriculture. They would provide lunches for them, and eventually realized that they had a talent for hosting as well as farming.

From there the farm evolved to include a “Cut-your-own Christmas Tree” event in the winter, and they renovated a 150-year-old log barn into a canteen for people to stop by and get something to eat and drink after getting a tree.

Mark Saunders, the current owner of Saunders Farm, can remember when his father first got very interested in agritourism. He’d heard a presentation from a farmer from Wisconsin on their haunted hayride and figured they could do the same.

“It took a couple years to convince my mom, but after that we started and that was the beginning of us doing agritourism in a more concerted way. Now, 26 years later we don’t do strawberries anymore, we don’t do cut your own Christmas trees. The Halloween festival and the pumpkin festival is about 70% of what we do on the farm,” said Mark.

Saunders Farm boasts a huge amount of attractions for people to enjoy. They are best known for their famous Haunted Hay Ride, where families are brought along a trail full of terrifying displays and live actors that are sure to get your heart racing. While they have focus on Halloween with a pumpkin festival and a ton of frightening attractions, there’s plenty of other things to see including various mazes, wedding receptions, summer camp, farm fresh foods, zombie paintball and more.

Mark Saunders is the second generation of Saunders to run the farm, and he’s watched as the farm has become a part of the community over the past several decades.

“For a lot of people in the area, every year you come with your parents when you’re little, and then when you’re 13 or 14 you come with your friends. We have people who go away to school and they come back and they come down again, and then eventually if they stay in the area they come back with their kids.  This is our 42nd year on the farm, so now we’ve had two generations of people who picked strawberries as kids who now bring their grandkids here,” said Mark.

Being one of the oldest agritourism sites in Canada came with the responsibility to break ground, and Saunders Farm can definitely be seen as one of the pioneers of agritourism in Canada. There were many hurdles along the way as they changed how the community around them saw what a farm could actually be.

“Some people in the municipality, out of ignorance of what we did and having never been here, thought that we were going to turn ourselves into a drug-induced music festival, leaving beer bottles and needles along the side of the road,” said Mark.

“It was a challenge, it was really hard on my parents to have people in the community or politicians stand up and chastise us in public for trying to do something different. And then some of those same politicians ten years later were praising us for our vision.”

Mark says that the key to success in agritourism is to always be looking for what’s next and for ways to diversify, as well as being creative in the ways you draw in customers. He recalls one of his first forays into marketing the Pumpkin Festival and Haunted Hayride, when the family painted an old Volkswagon van bright orange with “Follow me to the Haunted Hayride!” written on the side and perched a couple monsters in the back seat. Every car that passed by asked what it was about, and the rest is history.

Compare that to today where all of the marketing for Saunders Farm is done on digital platforms with targeted advertising. While the methods have changed, the principles remain the same. Mark believes that agritourism in many ways is changing the ways farms operate and allowing smaller operations to make bigger profits.

“Agritourism has become a cash-cow for the rural community. It’s saved many farms around Canada and has created a lot of new farms. We’re seeing a lot of young people going back to the farm as an opportunity and a lifestyle where you can make a living on a few acres of land.  By going to farmers’ markets, having events on your farm, growing things and doing workshops you can see that there are now many options compared to 25 years ago.”

The Modern Farm: Agritourism Part 1

Farms all across Canada are transforming into creative and resilient businesses, reaching beyond their initial operational plans.  Wineries, distilleries, restaurants, tours and haunted hayrides are some of the many things that you can find on farms today as farmers create businesses that work in synergy with their crops and their lifestyle.

These operations are collectively called agritourism. They attract customers to the farms themselves, providing both education and entertainment to visitors. They also give an inside view into how raw ingredients are transformed into many of the foods we know and love, providing a greater understanding of where our food comes and the many ways these food staples can be used. 

And, of course, visitors can enjoy food and drink that could literally not be more fresh or local.

Farm to Table will be taking a look at different agritourism operations from across the country, some in the first few years of operation while other have been around for decades. We’ll look at the advantages of having people down on the farm, the challenges that arise and some of the rich histories that come from running an agritourism business over multiple generations.

Photos courtesy of Fulton's Pancake House

Fulton’s Pancake House (Pakenham, ON)

Were you lucky enough to go on a field trip to a sugar shack in your school years? If yes, there’s a good chance you went to one like Fulton’s Pancake House, where you could enjoy taffy made in the snow and some syrupy pancakes at their restaurant. But the story of Fulton’s started long before the generation that runs the farm now. Family legends say that the first Fulton brothers originally learned the art of making maple syrup from First Nations people close to a century ago.

Shirley Duego, a fourth generation Fulton who now runs the farm and restaurant with her son Scott Duego, says she remembers when her parents first decided to take the plunge into agritourism.

In the 1960s, CBC came to visit the Fulton farm with two tractor trailers full of camera equipment.  These weren’t the hand-held cameras we see today. They were massive machines that had to rest on plywood out in the bush, that needed teams to set up and move around. Over the next week CBC filmed the family tapping trees to make maple syrup, the daily activities of running the farm, having campfires and running sleigh rides.

When the show first aired, it created a lot of interest in the farm, and Shirley can remember her parents sitting around the dinner table, debating on whether or not they should open a restaurant.

“We built a pancake house with 12 seats. Three tables with four chairs each. One little griddle, not a commercial one but a household griddle and that was the beginning of our pancakes,” says Shirley.

With just twelve seats it didn’t take much to make the restaurant busy and before long, they needed to expand. Four expansions and six decades later, the restaurant seats 120 people and the household griddle has been long-retired.

Shirley estimates that 80% of the Fulton Pancake House’s revenue is related to agritourism now.

Shirley is quick to mention the advantages of having people visit the farm. Maple syrup is a product that is seen as uniquely Canadian, which makes the Pancake House and Sugar Shack a great attraction for school field trips.

“The people loved the taste of the maple syrup and we found that it sold more syrup because people would get to try it and want more. The height of our school trips were in the 80s and into the 90s and so many of those children brought their parents back on the weekends.”

The children weren’t just bringing their parents to the farm for another sugar rush. Fulton’s Pancake House also offers trails, snowshoeing, guided tours, tobogganing and special events throughout the year.

The symbolic cultural status of maple syrup helps with what Shirley describes as the most difficult challenge in Canadian agritourism: advertising.

“To promote or advertise in the tourism field, the buy-ins are so much money.  With a small business like ours it’s very difficult to afford to be visible in those key tourism markets, and yet the people are looking for businesses like ours. Authentic, family-owned, real, not corporate, they’re looking for us. But we can’t afford just to be part of all of those things.”

Having been around for several decades has helped the Fulton’s solidify their brand, but Shirley credits Ottawa Tourism as their best promoter. As maple syrup is representative of Canada, they often take their products to use as gifts in large trade shows overseas, which helps get their information out into the world without the burden of purchasing and manning a spot on the trade show floor.

Another of the main challenges that comes with expanding your business is that you yourself must expand your skills to match the new demands you create. Shirley says that the most important aspect of wearing so many hats is that you have the proper support around you.

“There’s so much that goes into it that you have to have the support of the family around you. My son is the producer now, my husband died ten years ago and my son has learned the art from him. He looks after the forest, looks after the production; I look after the restaurant. The management is shared between the two of us.” she explains.

For anyone trying to get into agritourism, Shirley warns of the red tape that can be involved, based on the type of farm you run and what kind of attractions you offer.

“There are so many responsibilities in terms of the production, the forestry, keeping up on all of the government requirements, reading reams of papers, the number of inspectors we have because we’re forestry and agriculture. We have CFIA in, we have all the restaurant requirements, and labelling requirements,” said Shirley.

“The red tape is incredible. I often look back to 1980 and think about how different it was to run a business. It’s unfortunate because I think it’s going hurt entrepreneurship in our country.”

Photos courtesy of Black Fox Farm & Distillery

Black Fox Farm & Distillery (Saskatoon, SK) 

A relative newcomer to Canada’s agritourism scene, Black Fox Farm and Distillery ventured into agritourism in 2015. Its owners made the move away from large-scale grain farming while switching over to growing cut flowers and launching their distillery. They’ve taken amazing strides since starting out, winning the “World’s Best Gin” award at the World Gin Awards in 2017. 

Not bad for a couple who two-and-a-half years ago had no experience running a distillery, and grow 90% of the ingredients for their gin on the farm itself.

While co-owner Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote attributes the success of the gin to her husband’s “amazing palate” and ability to intuit what needs to be added to round out the flavor profiles, the success of their farm and the shift to agritourism can only be attributed to a lot of hard work on both their parts and a wealth of agriculture knowledge they developed by studying and working on farms across five continents.

The move to agritourism sprang from a desire to be closer to their customers, to help them get better feedback so they could deliver a better product.

“In grain farming you rarely get to see the end user. You don’t have a close connection with them at all. We felt that the customer would respond to something that was high quality, that gave them an experience that was over and above what they had access to. Then we as primary producers could see the response from them. We could feel how they felt. We would get fresh feedback as to what we were doing and we felt that we could do a good job,” said Barb.

Barb explains that when she and her husband first made the switch, they did not have a lot of experience with cut flowers or running a distillery. They did, however, bring acres of agriculture knowledge from their times travelling, studying and consulting in various countries. Between them they have researched and worked on agricultural operations in England, Scotland, Belgium, Wales, the U.S., China, Japan, Australia and more. Those experiences as well as their network gave them a wide range of ideas to pick and choose from in order to start their new business.

“There were a lot of things we took from those trips that we use in our business today. John and I are alumni with the Outstanding Young Farmers (OYF) and there are many, many contacts in that organization. When we tour with OYF, every year they have a national event and part of that is tours where we get to go and see different operations and experience different things,” said Barb.

“Nuffield allowed me to see a lot of different things on an international basis while OYF allowed the same on a domestic basis. We were very lucky to have a chance to see many operations before we started our own,” she said.

The path to becoming Black Fox Farm and Distillery was no straight shot. The original plan was to grow vegetables and run a winery, but that soon switched to the current iteration.

“Was it a steep learning curve? Absolutely, and we’re still learning every day. Every day is something else,” said Barb.

The Black Fox Farm and Distillery’s website showcases an environmental commitment to “utilize the best agronomic practices from all production systems available to us to become as efficient and sustainable as possible.”

This includes a mulch system when planting, incorporating minimum tillage practices, using cover crops and crop rotation strategies. The entire farm uses state of the art drip irrigation systems to minimize water usage and has implemented a bio filtration system for runoff water through a series of marsh ponds before it eventually enters the South Saskatchewan river. They use a geo-thermal cooling system, reuse nearly 95% of their water and “strive to work with the land to reach its greatest potential and leave it better than we found it for future generations."

Having people come down on the farm can open the business up to scrutiny on their agricultural practices, but Barb values these opportunities to help educate and raise awareness on the different types of techniques and how they affect the environment.

“A lot of times people have these concerns and they have nowhere to go to hear the other side of the story. To us, that’s what’s important. They may not agree with our practices – we are not organic, we explain why we are not organic and why we choose to use all of the best tools that we have available – we are sustainable is what we are. We believe strongly in our methods and are willing to show science and explain why we do things the way we do,” said Barb.

Food for Thought: Influencers and Leaders in Canadian Agriculture

Andrew Campbell: 52 farms in 52 weeks

Farming is more of a lifestyle than a career. A commitment to working seven days a week as a steward of the land, being on-call twenty-four hours a day for any kind of emergency. But for farmers like Andrew Campbell, there’s always more that can be done.

His video series, 52 farms in 52 weeks, has him travelling around Canada profiling farms from every sector and giving an inside look at their day-to-day operations. From tulips to water buffalo to robot-run dairy farms, he’s seen them all. But growing up, Campbell didn’t think that farming would be his calling.

Campbell grew up on a dairy farm near London, Ontario, and after high-school he left the farm to study Journalism at Fanshaw College. Eventually this led to a job at CKNX, a country music station where he worked as a news anchor and reporter. Soon he moved to the position of Farm Director, responsible for covering agriculture issues, effectively merging his upbringing with his passion for journalism. But after a while, he was drawn back to the cows.

“I was talking to farmers a lot, keeping up with industry news and events and all that kind of stuff. There was a realization that the industry I had grown up in was a pretty neat one,” says Campbell.

“That idea of being that downtown Toronto news anchor wasn’t something that I really wanted to be. I was in a small town and that was too big-city for me as it was. I wanted to be out in the country and raise my kids in the same type of spot that I was fortunate enough to be raised in and so we headed to the farm.”

It wasn’t long before Campbell’s journalistic tendencies surfaced once again. He started a picture-a-day project on Twitter, #farm365, sharing pictures of his farm to his followers, showing them what the daily life and routine of a dairy farmer was like. It wasn’t long before the positive reception influenced Campbell to expand his idea into his current project, 52 Farms in 52 Weeks, where every week he visits a different type of farm, interviewing the owners and giving an authentic look into their operations.

“There’s so many other farms and operations and innovations that people should understand what goes on. Even if it’s a little farm or a big farm they’re all family farms with people trying to do their best every day. That was kind of the thing that made me think maybe it’s time to highlight more than just my own cows and step outside and highlight what other people are doing,” says Campbell. 

Andrew headshot.jpg

Since the project started, Campbell has visited a wide variety of farms, and there’s one thing he sees in every single farm he visits.

“There’s so much similarity down in the depths of why people farm. It’s about having your family around you, but also the mindset of challenging yourself to always do it a little better next time, no matter what the obstacles are. Farming is an all in type thing. They invest everything they have into it which is cool,” says Campbell.

This idea of constant improvement isn't foreign to Campbell's own dairy farm. He says that staying up to date on research and consulting with his team of nutritionists, vets and agronomists gives him the edge to stay sustainable while maximizing profits.

"We focus a lot on the cows - since they take up the most of our time. Little things like improving feed intakes, which typically translates into more milk production. By making little changes and then consistently tracking it to see what happens - we can know when we've done something better and then look for the next improvement. One little improvement may not look like a lot. But five little improvements working together can incredible effective," says Campbell.

Campbell’s video series doesn’t shy away from touchy subjects. He’s visited a veal farm, and more recently talked to farmers about neonics and the reasons why they are sprayed onto crops. In today’s world of social media outrage it can be a dangerous path to take, but Campbell believes these are issues that are best served by shining a light onto them instead of keeping them in the dark.

“People have an idea about what a veal farm looks like, and people aren’t going to get a different perception of it if we don’t show them,’ says Campbell.

“A lot of the negative perceptions of agriculture tend to come from fear or guilt. Those two emotions alone control probably most of the skepticism of agriculture. So let’s target those emotions. If we know that going in people are feeling guilty about a veal farm then let’s make them not feel guilty. Not by dressing it up but by showing them what it’s actually like. If it’s fear on pesticides lets target that emotion and say why is it the way it is. It’s not that they finish the video and all of a sudden they’re smiling and go buy RoundUp and everybody’s happy. That’s not the point. If you target that emotion you can start to hopefully have them think a little bit deeper on it than just that raw emotion that they’ve been dealing with up until that point.”

In fact, on the veal and pesticide videos mentioned, there are far more positive comments than negative. Some viewers mention that the farms are much better than what they pictured them to be. A step in the right direction for public opinion on agriculture.

Campbell notes that it isn’t only important to give the public an honest view of the things going within agriculture, but it’s also crucial that the government understands the complex aspects of agriculture if they want to meet the goal they set forth in the 2017 budget of increasing agriculture exports to $75 billion by 2025.

“I think it’s one of those challenges that shows the realities of what we face in the industry. Less and less people in Agriculture Canada or the civil service in general have any idea of some of the complicated policies in agriculture.” Says Campbell.

“It’s not a black and white business. I know people that say ‘Oh the government should only hire people with farm experience for those positions,” well that can’t happen. There just aren’t the people there anymore. What we have to do is make sure that all levels of government, including the bureaucracy itself, understand some of these more complex parts of ag policy.”

This comes after the federal government announced the reduction of annual contribution limits for AgriInvest, a move that has angered various farm groups around the country as it is in direct contradiction of their goal to raise exports. Campbell says in the past decades he has seen a slow “erosion” of support from the federal government, where they continue to pull back just a little bit of support every few years.

“You’re talking big dollars in some cases and people without a whole lot of experience or knowledge of the industry see that and say ‘Oh we need to cut some money in the budget and here’s a pretty easy spot,’ they see that only a couple thousand people will be impacted and they kind of trim it off. Like fuel tax redemptions. Little things like that where ten or fifteen years ago you would be crucified if you even mentioned that. Now they are always putting these issues up for discussion,” says Campbell.

“I think though that we’ve got to be very careful that they don’t erode some of those things that have helped us get to the point we’re at today. That don’t erode some of that competitiveness that we have here in Canada. And even if it’s not to be more competitive but to be as competitive as other countries in the world they have to be very careful as to how to address that so we can continue to build the industry as we all want to do.”

What to Know Before You Shop: Myths and Misconceptions about GMOs and farming

Food is important to all of us. Not only is it the fuel we run on, it also brings communities and families together and is the focal point for traditions and celebrations of cultures around the world. We care about the way it’s grown, its environmental impacts and how it affects us when we eat it. For years there’s been lots of discussion about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides and the long-term effects they have on the human body.

In articles here at Farm to Table, we explore the many paths to producing Canadian food, whether they be organic or conventional, with or without GMOs — but with so much misinformation out there on GMOs and the differences between organic and non-organic, it’s hard to make informed choices on what we buy. In this article, we look at some of the myths and misconceptions about the way your food is grown, so you can walk into the supermarket with a clearer sense of how to find the food that meets your values and nutritional needs.

Common myths and misconceptions:

Health and safety of GMOs have not been tested

GMOs in Canada go through, at a minimum, a seven to ten-year process of research, development, testing and safety assessment before they can be approved for sale.  For every GMO food approved in Canada, a decision document describing the novel food and summarizing the safety information used to determine its safety as a food is posted on the Novel Foods and Ingredients page of Health Canada's Web site.

Some GMOs are created to be immune to specific herbicides, allowing the farmer to eliminate weeds with the herbicide without damaging their crops. The prime example of this is Monsanto's RoundUp Ready Crops, which are immune to the herbicide RoundUp (otherwise known as glyphosate). So far, studies have found that there are no health risks from RoundUp used in farming.

Besides, when it comes to food safety, some of the most toxic culprits are found in our natural environment — E. coli, salmonella, listeria, to name few. The good news is that with proper food preparation methods, we can manage safety risks from these types of pathogens. Check out this Farm to Table article for tips on food safety at home.

GMOs cause cancer

News about a study that linked RoundUp pesticide to cancer in rats spread wildly, and the factoid that RoundUp causes cancer can be still be found circulating today. However, that study was retracted for various reasons. One of the key complaints had to do with study design. For a two-year trial, researchers used a strain of rodents that spontaneously develop tumors and other health problems after 18 months. A much more detailed list of the issues with the study can be found here.

In terms of the pesticides used along with GMOs, no reproducible studies have shown that RoundUp is harmful to humans.

 Not all organic labels mean the same thing

What does organic mean to you? Does it mean the food was grown without chemicals being sprayed on it? Does it mean that the food was grown naturally and without GMOs?

In Canada, every province has different rules for defining the term “organic” and the process through which something is certified organic. While there are federal regulations, these apply only to producers who want to use the Canada Organic label and to those who sell organic products across provincial, territorial or international borders. For products produced and sold in the same province, provincial regulations apply.

This 2017 report shows that in Canada “locally produced organic food in certain provinces can be promoted and sold locally as ‘organic,’ even though the farmer hasn’t been certified as an organic producer.” That means unless you see a Canada Organic certified label, you might be paying extra money simply for the word organic and nothing else. Have you ever purchased an organic avocado? Well, there is no such thing as a GMO avocado. Sometimes organic is simply a marketing term. 

The same can be said for the "GMO-free" label on many crops. Do a quick google search whenever you see this label, as many vegetables have never been genetically modified and therefore have no GMO alternative, making the label meaningless. In Canada, there are only five GM crops grown commercially: Canola, corn, soy, sugar beet and alfalfa.

Organic is more sustainable

Many people believe that organic means that no pesticides were used, but in many cases due to an organic crop’s reduced immunity to pests, more pesticides are used than in conventional farming. The main difference is that organic farmers use natural pesticides, while conventional farmers use synthetic pesticides. Problem is, studies have found that in some cases not only were the synthetic pesticides more effective means of control, the organic pesticides were more ecologically damaging, including causing higher mortality in other, non-target species.

Now, this doesn’t mean every organic pesticide is worse than every synthetic pesticide, but it does prove the point that natural does not beat synthetic as a rule. That’s why so many farm organizations call for scientific evaluations that are proven with empirical evidence.

As an example of an environmental benefit in conventional farming, think about factors like using less water and reducing GHG emissions. Herbicide-tolerant crops can be sprayed with herbicides to deal with weeds so that farmers don’t have to till their fields. This reduces fuel use by tractors as well as soil degradation and water runoff — and it sequesters (stores) more carbon in the soil.

GMOs are unnatural and therefore worse for you

While we’ve already addressed the “natural is inherently better” myth above, we have yet to talk about GMO crop development. A lot of people believe that because the process of genetic modification is done in a laboratory, there may be harmful consequences. In reality, plants have been modified genetically through traditional breeding practices for hundreds to thousands of years. And this can happen in or out of a laboratory. Working in laboratory simply speeds the process up while making the genetic changes more accurate.

Don’t believe that? Take a look at this infographic that compares the original watermelon versus the one we have today:

Infographic by James Kennedy

Through thousands of years of breeding and evolution, the watermelon has changed from a small, bitter fruit that required a hammer to open to the juicy party snacks that we enjoy today. They can be grown in a wide variety of climates, taste sweeter, contain more vitamins and come in over 100 different varieties. With today’s technologies, these same effects could have been accomplished in decades instead of millennia.

It is important to note that biodiversity is an extremely important aspect of having a healthy farm. If all farmers were to grow one variety of crop and then a dangerous pest began destroying them, we would face disastrous food shortages. This is what happened during the Great Potato Famine in Ireland. Developing new strains of food is essential to combating disease and pests.

The subject of conventional versus organic farming should be changed to a discussion of conventional farming AND organic. The existence of one does not mean the death of the other. As long as consumers continue to seek out organic food, farmers will be happy to produce what meets their needs. Both approaches to farming are necessary to meet the values and needs of a growing population.

Profiling Farmers' Markets across Canada (Part 2)

It's the start of summer, and there's no better time to enjoy the sunshine and check out your local farmers' market! In part 2 of our series profiling markets all across Canada, Farm to Table has set its sights on Quebec, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to explore some of the best markets that they have to offer.

Photo courtesy of St. Norbert Farmers' Market

St. Norbert Farmers’ Market (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

With over 100 vendors selling everything from produce to baked goods to handmade soap, Le Marché St. Norbert Farmers’ Market is a great place to check out on the weekend to pick up everything you need. And everything is produced in Manitoba! As Manitoba’s largest farmers’ market, it has become an important community gathering place over the years and has amazing weekly events and live music. St. Norbert's has an online market, which allows customers to pre-purchase products online and pick them up later, ensuring you get exactly what you want every visit. 

Phillip Veldhuis, a beekeeper who operates Phil’s Honey, says he has built a steady stream of regular customers over generations through working at the market.

"I sell honey to the grandchildren of customers from my youth. We have done this since I was a poor student. I am neither now, but we can't stop," says Veldhuis.

Jim Lintott from Lintott Farm sells grass-fed beef, and St. Norbert's has allowed him to create a market for his product that is new and normally in short supply. His relationship with his regulars is what motivates him and also helps him improve his product.

"The customers we have are very appreciative of what we do environmentally and the compliments on the product are important in keeping us moving forward. The feedback is very important and we keep that in mind as we select cattle genetics and manage our farm," says Lintott.

Be sure to check out the market's harvest schedule on their website so you know what’s in season when you go.

Photos by Brett Bunston

Charlottetown Farmers’ Market (Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island)

Over forty local farmers, craft & food artisans and producers gather at Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, Prince Edward Island’s original and biggest farmers’ market. While all the food is local, the flavors are international. You can get authentic international cuisines such as African, Mexican, Polish and many more.

You can also get products from local artisans such as handmade jewelry, wood carvings, crafts, natural soap and body care products and much more. Check them out every Saturday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Photos courtesy of St. John's Farmers' Market

St. John’s Farmers’ Market (St. John's, Newfoundland)

St. John’s Farmers’ Market is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and has a pretty interesting history. Starting as just a single farmer selling excess produce, the first market was a huge success, attracting over 500 customers! A regular farmers’ market was created in response to the huge turnout. It has grown over the last decade to have over 30 vendors, selling fresh produce, baked goods, prepared meals, specialty foods and art and antiques.

Photos courtesy of the Halifax Seaport Farmers' Market

Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market – Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market is almost as old as Halifax itself! It was originally established in 1750, making it the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in North America.

In 2010 the market relocated to the Halifax Seaport where it hosts over 250 vendors on the pier.

The market itself is nestled in the arts and culture district, making it a great meeting point for a wide variety of culture and communities.

David Greenberg from Abundant Acres Farm has been operating at the market for four years. As an organically certified producer, he says one of his favorite aspects of the market is the direct feedback he gets from his customers.

"I've had people come up to me and tell me that after consistently eating my food they feel healthier," says Greenberg.

Photos courtesy of Lachute Farmer's Market

Lachute Farmers' Market (Lachute, Quebec)

Lachute Farmer’s Market has been around since the 1950’s, and also houses a flea market as well as a horse auction! Tuesday is the big day to visit this market as all the vendors are open for business, while a smaller portion of the market opens on Sundays. The Market consists of two restaurants, a large indoor antique mall with 20 vendors year-round, one inside-bar and one bar outside for summer entertainment with live music.

Profiling Farmers' Markets across Canada (Part 1)

By the Canadian Federation of Agriculture

It's that time of year once again! With the arrival of warm spring weather, many farmers look forward to connecting with their customers at local farmers’ markets. Known for bringing together a vibrant mix of food, culture and community spirit, farmers' markets are a community cornerstone in many parts of Canada. And, of course, they're among the best places to get fresh, local produce to suit even the most discerning of shoppers. Markets are also a great way to meet the people that grow your food and learn a little bit about the process that goes into their work day-by-day.

In celebrating the 2017 market season, Farm-to-Table is profiling some of the most interesting farmers’ markets in our diverse country. We're publishing a three-part series of articles, starting with our first 5 profiles showcasing markets in Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Fredericton, and Saskatoon. Stay tuned for more profiles next month.  

Get inspired and check out the markets in your hometown!

Photos from @vanmarkets on Facebook

Vancouver Farmers Market (Vancouver, British Columbia)

Founded in 1995 Vancouver Farmers Market is the youngest market on our list. But in those 21 years, they have expanded considerably and now feature eight weekly markets, with annual vendor sales reaching up to $8.17 million.

With that amazing success, they haven’t stopped supporting their local producers. They are quick to note the importance of local agriculture in the economy, citing that buying from the market helps contribute to the $15 million of direct and indirect benefits to the local economy that the market provides.

Photo by Matthew Houston

Parkdale Farmers Market (Ottawa, Ontario)

Established in 1942, the Parkdale Farmers’ Market may not be the largest market in the Ottawa, but it compensates by being open seven days a week, 12 hours a day and focusing entirely on locally grown produce and flowers. Every stall is lined with rows of corns, tomatoes, potatoes and berries.

“We don’t just bring vegetables, we bring community,” says Viki Rochon, who has been set up at the Parkdale market for five years. Her farm has been selling at other markets since 1957.

She says the main reason to work at the farmers’ market is money (of course), but what she really loves is developing relationships with the people that come to her stall.

“Lots of our regular customers like our produce, and our attitude.”

Photos by @worth_y on Instagram

Crossroads Market (Calgary, Alberta)

Calgary’s largest year-round indoor/outdoor market has a lot to offer. With over 150 antique and craft vendors, it’s just as likely that you pick up a new armoire as it is you grab a fresh carrot.

For Neetu Chahal, a farmer who has been selling at the Crossroads Market since 1995, the best thing about the market is that he gets to put his personal touch into the food.

“You can tell the customer how it’s grown, from where it was planted to what kind of chemicals we’re used and why,” says Chahal.

“It’s really cool that people get to see that.”

Photos from @FrederictonFarmersMarket on Facebook

Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market (Fredericton, New Brunswick)

Boyce Market’s proximity to the ocean allows for it to feature ultra-fresh seafood as well as local produce. Open every Saturday from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., it is THE spot to pick up what you need for the weekend, or even the rest of the week.

The selection here is impeccable; bread, cheese, meats, vegetables, giant lobsters and their famous samosas are all available and you won’t find better quality anywhere else.

Photos by Kenton Doupe

Saskatoon Farmers’ Market (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

“Make it, Bake it, or Grow it and Sell it” is the motto of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market, and highlights their commitment to giving their consumers close, personal contact with the people who make their food.

Situated in a renovated electrical garage that links to the Market Square, the space allows for both interior and outdoor market spaces where you can find buskers, face painters and tons of other entertainment. 

Food safety is in your hands

By Matt Houston

Every year, a total of about 4 million (or 1 in 8) Canadians are affected by food-borne illnesses. It’s a pretty high number, and reflects the fact that most of us have had a run-in with food poisoning at some point in our lives. It’s never a good time. A night spent moaning in the bathroom is never pleasant, and it can ruin your interest in the offending food for you for a long time. I know personally that if I ever got food poisoning from pizza, I'd wonder about how to go on in a cruel world where the sight of a sweet pizza pie makes me nauseous.

Luckily for us all, there is plenty of information around for how to avoid food borne illnesses. Most of tips are simple, involving proper temperature regulation and knowledge of shelf-life for certain foods.

With help from Health Canada’s food safety guidelines, I’ve compiled some excellent tips to keep you and your family safe when handling food in the kitchen:

Defrosting Meat

Usually, the best way to defrost meat is to put it in the fridge and let it thaw over a day or two. But we’ve all had those days when we come home and realize we forgot to take our frozen meat out, and we need it thawed ASAP. There are two safe methods of thawing things quickly: Cold water and the microwave.

Cold water method- Putting your frozen meat in a tub or sink full of cold water will thaw the meat quickly, without heating it to the point where the harmful bacteria inside activate.

Microwave method- Thawing in the microwave is the quickest option available. The usual rule is to use the defrost setting and to allow for seven to eight minutes per pound, and to cook it immediately once thawed. The cooking process will eliminate any harmful bacteria that may have activated. The only downside is that depending on the thickness of the meat, you may end up with the edges being cooked while the inside is still frozen, which can give you some odd textures when you eat.

Tools of the trade

Always be sure to use separate tools for vegetables and meats. This is especially important for things like cutting boards, tongs and knives. Anything that touches raw food should be properly sanitized before being used again.

Cooking temperatures

The best way to know if your food is cooked properly and to the rareness you enjoy is by using a digital food thermometer. Health Canada has a handy guide for internal cooking temperatures here. A thermometer lets you check the doneness without cutting into the meat, allowing you to keep it as juicy as possible.

Once it’s cooked, make sure to keep your food hot until you are ready to eat it, so nasty bacteria can’t start to grow.

Storing leftovers


Whenever you have leftovers, be sure to package them properly in an airtight container and refrigerate them as soon as possible. As a rule, you want your food to be in the fridge within two hours of cooking, and you want to be eating them within three to four days. If you won’t be eating them within that time frame, make sure you freeze it.

Scrub and wash your melons

While melons don’t naturally contain harmful bacteria, it is possible that their outer skin can become contaminated during the growing, storing and transportation processes. Cantaloupe is at the greatest risk because its rind is “netted” and can trap bacteria. Therefore, it’s important to wash and scrub the outside of the melon before cutting into it.

Handling Egg safely

Hey movie buffs: Remember in Rocky when he drank all those raw eggs? Well he’s pretty lucky that the next scene in didn’t show him being violently ill. Raw eggs can contain harmful bacteria, and it’s important that they reach an internal temperature of 74 degrees to ensure they are safe to eat. That’s why it’s also important to wash your hands and anything the raw eggs come into contact with thoroughly.

When using eggs for food that isn’t going to be heated, be sure to use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs themselves.

Be sure to share these tips with family and friends. And remember, food safety is in your hands!


Matt Houston is a Communications Officer at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. 

Harvesting Data from Space

What satellites are telling us about our land

The Crop Inventory Map captures changes in agricultural land expansion and contraction (often due to urban expansion), as well as production trends. This map shows the significant spread of soybeans across Manitoba and the Prairies.

The Crop Inventory Map captures changes in agricultural land expansion and contraction (often due to urban expansion), as well as production trends. This map shows the significant spread of soybeans across Manitoba and the Prairies.

By Jessica Goodfellow

Through combining satellite imagery and field data, a wealth of information and possibilities emerge. Satellites orbiting the Earth can help assess plant health, soil moisture levels, and even help predict crop yields. 

Leander Campbell, a Remote Sensing Analyst with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, is part of a five-person team of geomatics specialists that produces a yearly Crop Inventory Map, among other products. The map, which shows what crops are grown in virtually every field across Canada, has consistently been a top download on the Government of Canada Open Data website and has been used by governments, NGOs, and conservation groups alike.  

“To make policies and programs more effective, you need to have good quality information to base those on,” Campbell explains. “When you do these maps year after year, you can start to look at agriculture temporally so you can see how it’s changing or evolving. You begin to see trends, and can analyze the where and whys.” 

We sat down with Campbell to ask him more about his work and this exciting, innovative branch of agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Leander Campbell  Leander Campbell is part of a team of geomatics specialists that produce a yearly Crop Inventory Map, as well as other products.

Photo courtesy of Leander Campbell

Leander Campbell is part of a team of geomatics specialists that produce a yearly Crop Inventory Map, as well as other products.

Q: What does the work of a ‘satellite image tracker’ involve? Can you take us through the process?

A: I do a lot of imagery work, so I plan the satellite acquisitions. The satellite observations are confirmed using provincial crop insurance data, but in some provinces where crop insurance information isn’t available, we have to travel ourselves to get the information. We have a GPS enabled tablet and so we drive by and we mark down what’s growing in each field. It’s an interesting and long process! We integrate the data and are constantly doing quality control checks of the various stages in the process. For me, it’s the perfect blend – doing what I love, in an area I’m interested in.

Q: How have you seen the technology evolve?

A: With the rise of big data, there has been a confluence of better technology. There are more satellites going up. The more satellites that go up, the more competition there is which reduces the price of satellite imagery, making it more accessible. Computer speed and processing times are much quicker now, versus 5 or 10 years ago. With more satellites, we now have even more data to use. Hopefully, more powerful computers will come along that will make it easier to process all this data. It’s constantly evolving. It’s been fascinating so far, and the next few years will be really interesting.

Q: You mention that your team also produces a weekly map that assesses plant health across Canada. How exactly does satellite imagery read plant health?

A: The satellite we use for this is an optical satellite, which is what you’d mostly be familiar with if you’ve ever looked at Google Earth. They collect visible light - red, blue, greens – but they also have a sensor that collects infrared information. That’s important to agriculture because crops reflect infrared information. A plant reflects even more infrared light when the chlorophyll is flowing strong. When the plant is affected by drought, disease or pests, it’s not producing as much chlorophyll, therefore it’s not reflecting as much of the infrared.

Q: There are also maps produced that display soil moisture. How does that work?

A: Another group that works with us is the National Agro-Climate Information Service, and they create a weekly map of the moisture content of the soil. They use microwave based imagery, so they’re looking beyond infrared. You can calculate what the moisture content is of the soil by assessing how much microwave energy passes through it.

Provided by Earth Observation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.   An example of the changes in soil moisture levels over time across Canada.

Provided by Earth Observation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

An example of the changes in soil moisture levels over time across Canada.

Q: What role does or could this data play in analyzing the effects evolving weather patterns?

A: One of the things that we map every year is a class called ‘Too Wet to Seed’. For example, in 2011 when they had the Red River Flooding out in Manitoba, we were able to tell which fields were too wet to produce crop that year due to the moisture content of the soil. It gives you a picture of how many acres were affected. When you can actually see it, it starts to hit home. Our maps, coupled with other data streams, can start to show which areas that will be affected by severe weather events more often. And even now, we’re considering mapping in the Yukon because we’d like to get on board with that sooner than later. Warmer weather and better plant genomics are expanding production. If the climate continues to evolve and change, then you might see farmers step away from certain crops and into other crops, so that will show in our maps as well.

Q: You spend much of your summers driving across Canada, collecting data. What did you find most interesting about Canadian agriculture?

A: Overall, just the diversity of it. It wasn’t something I realized growing up in Ontario where corn, soy, wheat were the three big commodities. It’s just amazing how in you can see so much diversity in just a little area. North shore Lake Erie, for example, is just wild with various fruits and vegetables, and you have tobacco and ginseng growing there as well.

Photos courtesy of Leander Campbell

Q: What about this technology sets Canada apart?

A: There’s a joint project between Statistics Canada and AAFC.  The idea is that you can use the satellite information, meteorological data, and historical data of crop yields and weather patterns to estimate crop yields for that particular year. We’re the first nation to operationalize the data in this way.

Q: What advances are in store for the team/ what areas are you looking to develop?

A: Everything! We’re constantly trying to evolve – to make it a better product, a more accurate product, to get our maps out quicker because it’s a lot of data that we’re processing. Another thing we’re trying to do is to create a better end product for people. If you’re not familiar with the system, it is a little cumbersome to use. Always listening to the public seeing where we’re doing things right, and where we can improve.

Jessica has worked in communications with international and domestic agricultural organizations over the past 11 years, including the Canadian Federation Agriculture and the International Federation of Agricultural Producers. Currently, Jessica is completing her studies in nutrition and has launched LEAP PROJECTS to help bring creative communication services to non-profit organizations. 

Farmers create new habitats for bees, butterflies and other pollinators

By the Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Next time you pass an apple orchard, or a strawberry patch, look closely and you may see some of the hardest workers in field — of course you’d have to look VERY closely, since pollinating insects like bees and butterflies are hard to spot from a distance. But you can bet that farmers keep a close on these critters, since they understand the vital role they play in growing a bountiful crop. 

Take for example Ontario farmers Marc and Chantal Bercier — winners of the 2016 Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award. They recently revitalized a wetland on their farm to conserve water quality and, as part of this work, they created a new pollinator habitat.  

“For me, it’s very important to farm with a vision of how future generations will benefit from agriculture. I am always thinking about how to improve our operation so that I can pass my knowledge and experience on to younger people that are interested in starting a business in farming,” said Marc Bercier.

The Berciers wanted to support the biodiversity on their farm so they planted a variety of trees, shrubs and native flowers. These species provide food for a variety of wild species, including pollinators such as flies, bats, moths, birds and more. The Berciers have created many pollinator sites around their farm and quality pollen sources throughout the spring, summer and fall. The sites are populated with over 30 different species of plants and flowers.  The project received funding from Alternative Land-Use Canada (ALUS Canada).

Conservation award winner Marc Bercier stands near the reinvigourated area of his farm, which supports pollinating insects and the overall environmental objectives of his business.

Conservation award winner Marc Bercier stands near the reinvigourated area of his farm, which supports pollinating insects and the overall environmental objectives of his business.

What’s happening with the bee population and climate change?

The Earth’s climate is a series of complicated systems, all intertwined and dependent on one another. A change in one system can lead to a multitude of changes in others that are almost impossible to predict or plan for. A prime example of this is the relationship between climate, honeybees and the plants they pollinate.

The bee population has been very volatile recently, seeing sharp drops in the last few years and rebounding in Canada more recently. No one can give a definite reason for either the losses or the new recovery. Some level the blame at neonicotinoids, a pesticide that is sprayed on crops, while others look to habitat loss or changing weather patterns. While no definitive answer can be found, experts say that a combination of factors that have led to the changes in bee populations.

Recent studies have found that bees are affected greatly by climate change, due to the symbiotic relationship they have with their food sources. The plants that provide nectar and food for bees use these insects to spread their pollen, which allows the plants to breed.

But some researchers are worried that climate change is creating an environment where these organisms are no longer in sync with one another, hurting both bees and the plants they pollinate.

Bee and flower2.jpg

“Some species of pollinators have co-evolved with one species of plant,” said Wayne Esaias in an interview with NASA’s Earth Observatory. He is a biological oceanographer who has been raising bees since 1990.

“The two species time their cycles to coincide, for example, insects maturing from larva to adult precisely when nectar flows begin,”

But if the cues that signal the insects or plants to mature are disrupted, it can lead to dangerous consequences. As an example, Esaias points to how a single cold night at the wrong time can set a bee colony back weeks.

“What limits the growth of my honeybees in the spring are those coldest of the cold nights, because what is happening in their colony is that they are in a cluster, and they have to keep the queen and the larvae at 34 degrees. They do that by eating lots of honey, and tensing their muscles, and generating heat.” Once it becomes warm enough outside to maintain a temperature of 34 degrees, the bees begin to lay eggs around the cluster, and the cluster expands. Without any interruptions, larva will grow into full grown bees in about 3 weeks. However, if there is a night where it become too cold to maintain the temperature, the eggs on the outside of the cluster will die and the colony must start the process over again. If the plants that these bees are synchronized with are not similarly delayed, the growth of this new generation of bees will no longer coincide the beginning of nectar production.

Jeremy Kerr, a professor at the University of Ottawa and author of the study Climate change impacts on bumblebees converge across continents, posits that climate change is disrupting the areas that are habitable for bees in terms of temperature, and the pollinators can’t keep up.

“They just aren’t colonizing new areas and establishing new populations fast enough to track rapid human-caused climate change,” he said on a call with journalists.

While other pollinators have simply migrated further north, Kerr found that bees at the north end of their habitable zones have failed to move, while many populations in the more southern areas have simply died. In total, bees have lost a range of up to nearly 200 miles in North America and Europe. While the study evaluated land use changes and pesticide application in addition to weather conditions, it attributed the drop in population to climate change.

While they can’t control the weather, one way in which farmers are helping the bee population is by creating more pollinator habitats at their farms, giving bees more food sources and allowing them to propagate and sustain their hives.

One thing is for certain, our climate is changing and beekeeping and agriculture are evolving with it.

Canadian farm families grow crops to send to families in need

By Amanda Thorsteinsson, Canadian Foodgrains Bank

As part of a growing project in Killarney, Manitoba 17 farmers brought out combines to help harvest 140 acres of canola for distribution to those in need worldwide.

As part of a growing project in Killarney, Manitoba 17 farmers brought out combines to help harvest 140 acres of canola for distribution to those in need worldwide.

The crops grown on Canadian farms already help feed the world, but some Canadian farmers go the extra mile, giving their time, equipment and resources toward making a difference in the fight against global hunger. 

From British Columbia to the Maritimes, about 250 groups of farmers come together to grow a crop each year. After the crop is harvested, it’s sold on the Canadian market, and the proceeds are donated to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, where it is used to help in the fight against global hunger.

The Foodgrains Bank is a partnership of 15 Canadian church and church agencies working together to end hunger by responding to emergency food needs in times of war, drought, or other emergency; helping people increase their access to food in the longer term by helping them grow more food; and by supporting nutrition programs focused on mothers and young children. 

In January, the Foodgrains Bank committed three projects totaling $900,000. 

One project, through Foodgrains Bank member Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is working with families in South Kivu Province, an area that has suffered from civil war and widespread hunger. 

Most families in this area rely on what they can grow on very small pieces of land to support themselves and their families through the year. However, this is often challenging, and many families go through a hunger season each year while they wait for their crops to mature.

The terrain of the project area is both mountainous and swampy, and a recent landslide degraded much of the soil, making it even more difficult for families to grow enough food.

Unable to survive off their land, men have been forced to leave their families behind in search of work in the city and in mines, leaving the bulk of the work of growing food to women.

In response, CBM, through their local Congolese partner Communauté Baptiste au Centre de l’Afrique, is providing agricultural training to 400 farm families (about 2,800 people), particularly female or child-headed families, families affected by HIV/AIDS, and families returning home after being displaced by conflict. 

The project, worth $99,000, is introducing conservation agriculture, distributing quality seed, and helping farmers improve the quality of their soil. 

Camels are herded across the dry and dusty landscape of Ethiopia’s remote northern Afar region. Many people in this region raise camels as part of their livelihoods.

Camels are herded across the dry and dusty landscape of Ethiopia’s remote northern Afar region. Many people in this region raise camels as part of their livelihoods.

Another project, through Foodgrains Bank member Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), is responding to the needs of people in the Afar region of Ethiopia continually affected by a prolonged failure of seasonal rains.

The lack of rain is degrading the land and making it difficult for people to earn a livelihood. 

In response, Foodgrains Bank member CLWR, through Support for Sustainable Development, is supporting community members in building a permanent, sustainable irrigation system to divert water from a local river for use in growing crops.

One member of each participating household is receiving food in return for their labour on the project, and households are also receiving sustainable agriculture training. The project total is $513,000.

Pictured here is the Muhammed family, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Through CFB member Canadian Lutheran World Relief and programmed locally by Ethiopian organization Support for Sustainable Development, they are learning to diversify their traditional pastoral livelihood of livestock raising to include growing cereal crops, fruits, and vegetables through irrigation. The Afar is a remote and arid northern part of Ethiopia.

Pictured here is the Muhammed family, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Through CFB member Canadian Lutheran World Relief and programmed locally by Ethiopian organization Support for Sustainable Development, they are learning to diversify their traditional pastoral livelihood of livestock raising to include growing cereal crops, fruits, and vegetables through irrigation. The Afar is a remote and arid northern part of Ethiopia.

In Laos, Mennonite Central Committee Canada is helping communities in Tha Thom district improve their food security through training in natural resource management, promoting increased and diversified household food production, and improving the capacity of communities to plan and manage their own development.  5,000 people are benefitting and the project is worth $327,000.

Projects supported by Canadian Foodgrains Bank are undertaken with support from the Government of Canada.

To learn more about the Canadian Foodgrains Bank and its projects or to find out how you can get involved, visit


The story behind your grocery bill

By the Canadian Federation of Agriculture

The annual Food Price Report from the Food Institute at the University of Guelph is forecasting that food prices across the country will increase by 2.0% to 4.0% in 2016. What does this mean for the Canadian consumer?

Every year, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture calculates the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay for his/her grocery bill for the year, known as “Food Freedom Day”. Because of rising food costs, this year’s Food Freedom Day falls on February 9, three days after last year’s date. In 2015, Canadians are expected to have spent 11% of their disposable income on food, compared to 10.4% the previous year. While the increase is certainly felt, it’s important to realize that relative to populations around the world, we are quite lucky here in Canada. Canadians enjoy one of the lowest food costs in the world, consistently ranking in the top five for cheapest food costs world-wide.

Still, the rise in food costs has the potential to affect your day-to-day life and budget. Some questions may come to mind. What are the reasons behind these rising food costs? What are some tips to reducing my food bill?

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Factors contributing to higher
food costs

The Food Institute at the University of Guelph conducted a comprehensive study on Canadian food prices, culminating in the Food Price Report 2016. The data indicated that in 2015, food prices rose by 4.1%. The prime reason was the low Canadian dollar. This had profound effects on food products, particularly imported products like fruits, vegetables and nuts as these products are much more susceptible to market fluctuations. The higher cost maintained throughout the year was partly due, the report notes, to the drought in California, adding to the difficulty in sourcing these products. Because of the Canadian climate and limitations around available growing seasons, we are dependent on imports for certain products. 

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Source: Food Price Report, The Food Institute of the University of Guelph

Looking at in 2016, The Food Price Report outlined its forecast and noted that food prices would be most affected by “El Nino’s impact on climate, the lowering Canadian dollar, and important consumer trends.”  As any farmer knows, climate and weather patterns could make or break a years’ harvest or production.  The report maintained that “[c]limate change will remain one of the most significant, unpredictable influences on food prices.” Moreover, the Canadian dollar is expected to further devalue. The report points out that“[for] every cent drop in the dollar over a short period of time, currency exposed food categories like vegetable, fruits and nuts are likely to increase by more than 1%.” 

And of course, consumer trends affect food prices. The report astutely points out that, “Since food is in the public eye, the curiosity of consumers has now moved up the food chain of the industry, probing into the practices of processing plants and farms” andthat “[t]his collective awakening of the foodie within us is compelling industry to address consumers’ concerns.”

President of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Ron Bonnett, explains his experience with this reality. “As a farmer myself, I am definitely aware of the affect consumer choices and preferences have on my farm and, of course, the broader food sector. Your grocery store purchases are market data for retailers who will then determine what they will stock their shelves with. The ripple effect is felt right down to the farm level.”

“Make your grocery store ‘vote’ count. There are plenty of reasons why we encourage consumers to buy Canadian. We are lucky to have the variety of food products year round and because of our climate, we require imported food products. However, when you have the choice, choose Canadian. Domestically produced food does not face the same exchange rate increase we have been seeing. There are Canadian products available year round. By understanding what’s available in Canada in every season, you can contribute to Canadian food security and also keep your food bill down.”

Rene Van Acker, Associate Dean at the University of Guelph, echoed this statement. “Farmers have always responded to the market and adjusted their operations accordingly. The primary impact of consumer choices will be through the market,” he said.

“We also know there is a difference in the Canadian brand when it comes to animal welfare standards and the quality and safety of our products, and it’s one to be proud of. We ask that consumers place their ‘grocery store vote’ for Canadian farmers and invest in a stable domestic food supply.”

Understandably, costs play a huge part in the choices we make as consumers. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips to help you eat healthy and affordably.

Dealing with higher food costs

The take-away message

Food costs are expected to remain high throughout 2016. It is important to note that Canadians still enjoy some of the cheapest food costs world-wide, and this price increase does not trickle down to the farmer level – or even the Canadian food chain. 


While higher food costs can put stress on the budgets of families, following some of the tips will help in eating nutritiously and affordably. The importance of building a strong domestic food system and ensuring Canada’s food security is evident now more than ever. Choosing Canadian products at the grocery store is an incredibly important role Canadian consumers have in supporting farmers and our food system here at home. In season and domestically produced food is also often more cost-effective as it does not face the same exchange rate increase and volatility. Canadian standards on animal welfare and food safety are held in high regard worldwide – there is a difference in the Canadian brand. The Canadian agricultural community has been responsive on many fronts. The commitment from farmers across Canada is to listen to Canadians and maintain transparency.

  • Reduce at-home food waste. Did you know that over 50% of food waste occurs at home? Reducing food waste can go a long way in lowering your food costs. Here are some tips:

›  Freeze, preserve, or can surplus fruits and vegetables - especially abundant seasonal produce
›  Many fruits give off natural gases as they ripen, making other nearby produce spoil        
   faster. Separate ripening produce when you store them
› Prepare and cook perishable items, then freeze them for use throughout the month.
› Shop in your refrigerator first!  Casseroles, stir-fries, omelettes, soups, and smoothies are great ways to use leftovers or food products that are beginning to wilt.

  • Buy local, Canadian. Consider buying at the farm gate, find out where farm markets are, and check the local supermarket for Canadian products.  
  • Seek out in-season foods. Get to know what local produce is available each season in your area. Then stock up on seasonal produce and freeze portions to use during other times of the year.
  • Plan! Before heading out to the grocery store, prepare a weekly meal plan to help avoid too many impulse purchases, which will also help cut down on your amount of food waste.
  • Consider frozen options. During the winter months, when food costs tend to spike because of imports, check out the options your grocery store has for frozen fruits and vegetables.

Gift Ideas for the Agriculture & Food lover in your life!

As the holidays approach and you work to  find unique gifts for those on your list, here are some ideas to help you along the way!   

*The items mentioned in this article are not paid endorsements or advertisements. They are simply ideas, from us to you!

The Ag More Than Ever Online Shop

Know family or friends that are proud to farm or proud to support Canadian agriculture? They would probably be thrilled to show their pride on their sweater, hat, or coffee mug! The AMTE shop offers a variety of attractive options that the farm and food supporters are sure to love!,,

Local Pride

More and more, regions are coming out with creative ways to encourage buying local and Canadian. Check around your area - there's sure to be merchandise or events that are supporting the buy local, buy Canadian movement. Perhaps a gift certificate to a restaurant that sources local products? Maybe Canadian farmers and chefs is your area have released a cookbook? Or maybe a food show is coming to town? In Nova Scotia, you can even purchase a license plate encouraging support for the province's agriculture and seafood industry. All proceeds go towards supporting local farmers! A potential gift idea for your partner?

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum Shop  

For kids or adults alike, visit the museum's online store for some under the tree inspiration!

Subscription to Ag Magazines

Everyone loves getting mail! With a variety of quality agriculture and food related magazines, there's an option for every interest. Take your pick from Glacier Farm Media selection or many others!    

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum Shop  

For kids or adults alike, visit the museum's online store for some under the tree inspiration! 

Local Pride

More and more, regions are coming out with creative ways to encourage buying local and Canadian. Check around your area - there's sure to be merchandise or events that are supporting the buy local, buy Canadian movement. Perhaps a gift certificate to a restaurant that sources local products? Maybe Canadian farmers and chefs is your area have released a cookbook? Or maybe a food show is coming to town? In Nova Scotia, you can even purchase a license plate encouraging support for the province's agriculture and seafood industry. All proceeds go towards supporting local farmers! A potential gift idea for your partner?

Community Share Agriculture

Gift the food lovers in your life a gift certificate to your favourite local farm. There are many farms that offer online ordering and delivery services or sell at your local farmers' markets. In the Ottawa area, there's the well-loved Bearbrook Farm for example. Pair the gift certificate with a tested, tried and true recipe! 

DIY Food Gifts

These are fun and much appreciated by the receiver during the holidays when time is short and visitors many! Some ideas here and here and here

Photos from:,,

Photos from:,,