Where does my food come from and how is it grown? This is a very important question that more and
more people are asking these days. When you go to the grocery store and look at the endless food choices that
are all beautifully packaged and look perfect, do you know where they came from? Do you know what chemicals
have been sprayed on them? Are they Genetically Modified? When were they harvested? These are
all questions that are almost impossible to answer, yet many consumers do not feel they have
any other choice but to buy these mass produced foods.
The wonderful thing is that people are starting to have more and more
responsible choices when buying food. You don't need a massive garden or a cattle pasture in
the country to feed your family responsibly anymore. Fresh, local vegetables and meats sustainably
produced in Manitoba are now available pretty much year round. Buying what is in season, from a local
sustainable farm like John Boy Farms, ensures you are getting a safe, top quality product that
is healthy and nutritious.
On our farm we use a number of strategies to grow healthy crops without spraying them with
conventional pesticides or fertilizers. We follow many organic production principles and strongly
believe in their value.
Legume cover crops, crop rotations, row covers, composted manure, strong vegetable
varieties, healthy seed and organic controls are all methods we use.
Not spraying our vegetables with synthetic chemicals can be very challenging especially as our
farm has grown and the number of acres has increased. The key to meeting this challenge is good planning
and keeping the farm a manageable size.
Many people ask the question, if synthetic pesticides are so bad why don't all farms use organic
control methods? It simply comes down to time, convenience, costs and ultimately profit margins. If
it costs more, you don't make as much money and bottom lines are what corporate agriculture is concerned with.
As well, large farms are sometimes not able to only use organic methods because of the size of
their operation. Organically controlling insects, weeds and diseases on 100 acres
of garlic would be very difficult and probably not feasible from an economic stand
Know Your Farmer
We encourage you to get to know the person or people that grow your food (hopefully John Boy Farms of
course). Here are some very important questions you should ask your farmer:
(1) What pesticides do you use?
Others: This is a simple question that gives you a good overall image of a farm. Do they
spray their crops with pesticides regularly, sometimes or never? If they do, ask which ones, what
they are used for, how they use them, when they spray them. Almost all farms use some form of pesticide
control even if it is rare. We have to remember that even organic pesticides are still pesticides and need to
be used in moderation. It is important to realize that most organic farms do use as least
some organic pesticides which can be as harmful as some synthetic pesticides.
John Boy Farms: We use a system of integrated pest management (IPM) to
control insects, weeds and diseases. This is a big picture approach to farming that uses a number of
tools including solid crop rotations, good fertility through composted manures, using
strong varieties and daily field inspections. We do not spray any of our crops
directly with synthetic chemicals and only use organic based pesticides that are 100% safe to
humans and the environment as a last resort. The majority of our crops are never sprayed with anything at
all and would be considered 100% naturally grown.
(2) How do you fertilize your soil?
Others: Synthetic fertilizers can make crops look nice, but they often
weaken the plants making them more susceptible to disease and insects. These chemical fertilizers
can kill earthworms and leach into our water systems. Using compost and manure is very important as they
add organic matter and give crops the proper balance of nutrients they need to grow strong and
John Boy Farms: Feeding our soil is very important to us and we use a number of
techniques to maintain a healthy soil. We incorporate composted manure into our fields every year to
help add stable nutrients to the soil. Also, we grow and till-under green manures (cover crops
such as sweet clover, peas, alfalfa) into the soil to help recycle nutrients from lower depths
of the soil, increase nutrients like nitrogen and prevent the nutrients we already have from being lost to the
environment. In addition we use proper crop rotations to make sure no single crop takes too much of
any certain nutrient from the soil. By using rotations, we allow the soil to replenish and "rest"
itself before a certain crop is planted a second time.
(3) How many acres do you grow?
Others: The number of acres a farm uses to produce food is a really good determining factor as to whether
or not they are a well managed, small scale farm or a large corporate operation that uses widespread chemical
pesticides and fertilizers. In our experience, it is very difficult to produce more than 5 acres of vegetables
without the extensive use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Although organic vegetable production on more
than five acres is certainly possible, it is very important to ask a lot of question in order to
determine if they are growing food naturally and in sustainable manner.
John Boy Farms: We have a 163 acre farm, but use around 20 acres to grow our
fruits and vegetables. This is a sufficient enough area to grow a large variety of food, yet small enough
to remain manageable while using sustainable growing practices.
(4) How many employees do you have?
Others: This is a really good question that no one ever seems to think of asking. The vast
majority of small scale sustainable farms never have more than a few full-time employees (other than family help).
If a farm has 30 workers that migrate to the farm every spring/summer, then the farm is not really considered small
scale. The more employees a farm has, the harder it becomes to follow small scale sustainable
John Boy Farms: Generally, we have between 1 and 3 students to help with the
work. It's a great way for them to get some practical, hands on experience over the summer.
Come Visit Us
We love growing food and would love to be your farmer! Come visit us at the local St.
Norbert Farmers' Market in Winnipeg.