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. This picture shows our typical summer selection harvested 24
hours earlier. No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides were put on any of these delicious
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. For example we
use strictly organic insect control on our potatoes and sweet corn (as well as all other vegetables of
course). This is something we are very proud of as very few farms (including those at Farmer's Markets) can
make the same claim. Almost all the sweet corn and potatoes available to consumers
in Manitoba have been sprayed (multiple times) with nasty fungicides, herbicides and insecticides
such as organophosphates and organochlorines which can all affect our nervous systems and are
potentially very toxic.
Not spraying our vegetables with synthetic chemicals can be very challenging considering we grow over
20 different vegetables and over 50 different varieties, each with its own needs and requirements. The key to
meeting this challenge is good planning and keeping the farm relatively small. We use around 5
acres and two greenhouses to grow everything. When doing things like weeding, this can seem like a
large area to us, but compared to conventional vegetable farms that use hundreds or even
thousands of acres, we are extremely small.
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
3000 acres of potatoes would probably be very difficult if not impossible.
Local versus Sustainably Grown
We have been asked many times if buying local is better than buying
sustainably grown? We would say yes, because sustainably grown or organic foods being produced in
far off countries are not regulated like here in Canada. As well, shipping an "organic" or "sustainably
grown" food 3000 miles to be eaten hardly follows the basic philosophy of sustainable production.
The good news is that you can get the best of both worlds right here in
Manitoba. Local and sustainably grown. The key to getting the freshest, safest
food, is to buy from a small local producer like John Boy Farms who use a variety
of organic growing practices.
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 harmfull 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, biodegradable mulches, row covers, using strong vegetable varieties, daily field
inspections and many other strategies. We do not spray any of our vegetables 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 healthy.
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 use around 5 acres to grow all our vegetables and 25 acres to raise our
cattle. 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: This year we plan on having 2 or 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 or call to make an appointment to have your apples custom pressed into your
very own apple juice!