“WE NEED TO REPLACE MASS AGRICULTURE BY AGRICULTURE BY THE MASSES”

— JM FORTIER

David Wicklund, owner/operator of Growing Island Growers

My ‘big dream’ for The Activist, is that through posts like Ebobing to a Happier Healthier World, Courtenay Resident Champions DIY Steps to Reducing Carbon Footprint… and the following post on David Wicklund’s Growing Island Growers, we can accumulate enough stories about Comox Valley residents involved in living very real attainable steps to a more sustainable Comox Valley that we can publish a what, where, who, how to guide to living and creating a Sustainable Comox Valley.

David Wicklund, owner/operator of Growing Island Growers (GIG), has a really big dream about how growing healthy food on healthy soils at a healthy/affordable scale could become the anchor for supporting healthy people in a healthy local economy—a healthy/sustainable Comox Valley economy. AND, to that dream — he has attached some very concrete/doable/being done how to steps to what would make that happen.

From the first sip of the first pint in our extended conversation about the methods and motivations behind Growing Island Growers, it was clear that David is as passionate about sharing his knowledge and experience as he is about developing techniques for growing healthy, small scale, profitable crops in the Comox Valley.

Pattison Organic Farm Black Creek

Speaking passionately about the organic farming techniques that he is helping to develop and implement on the three acre, certified organic Pattison Farm in Black Creek, comes from David’s  in depth understanding of both conventional and certified organic growing practices including having operated a 1600 acre family farm in Saskatchewan then gone on to a Diploma in Agriculture from University of Saskatchewan and a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies (Regenerative Agriculture) from York University.

Regenerative Agriculture is the concept/practice that expands organic farming to its full exegesis for society and the natural world meaning its role in helping define and implement an encompassing sense of community, personal, economic and planetary well-being.

Ironically, David sees his 20 year break from farming to pursue his family–supporting career in software development as a crucial step in developing the focus and strategic planning skills so indispensable in developing a successful market gardening business. Five years ago David decided to return to his passion for profitably growing organic vegetables and found a place as field manager on the three acre certified organic Pattison Farms in Black Creek. Over the past five years, working with Gerry Pattison, they have refined soil building, water retention, rotation, pest management, intensive production techniques and marketing to expand production by 10-15% each year while growing a wide variety of farm produce including: tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, broccoli and cauliflower, sweet and hot Peppers, lettuces, carrots, garlic, onions, summer and winter squash, chard and more.

“And…”David lifts his beer with the look that might come from mixing the impish grin of a child with the sagacious gaze of a very wise elder and repeats the emphasis setting “And…we are now ready to start sharing our accumulated knowledge on successful small scale market gardening–commercial gardening on ½ to 5 acres of tillable land grown for markets within 100 kms of the farm.” The scale is all important, David explains, because small scale allows growers to intensively manage smaller tracts of land with human scaled equipment and rely on personal labour for a major portion of their production needs. The small scale market garden is ideal for a diversified mixture of vegetables, eggs, meat, fruit and honey as well as a more personal connection to farm customers. This year Pattison Farms will engage all of its full time staff (4-5 people) in a training program that will teach them how to make a living from a small acreage intensive small scale operation, this information and training is hard to find.

It’s not an institute and it’s not huge program, but it is–in keeping with the incremental methods of organic gardening—a small step with big implications for how a family can prosper growing healthy local crops, that are good for the health and well being of our community.

You know, this makes me feel like one of those gadget hawkers… BUT WAIT, there is more yet to this story!

two wheel tractor with power harrow

In addition to the work in developing profitable, small scale, intensive organic farming techniques and initiating a comprehensive on farm training program, David is—this year–also launching an online based Comox Valley implement rental service, Growing Island Growers, tailored to the needs of small scale, intensive, organic farming. According to David, this information laden site will be a great assistance to small scale organic growers who simply do not have the capital to invest in purchasing the innovative new tools that can make small scale organic vegetable production profitable in the early years of developing a farm. Having once managed my own one acre organic garden and thus knowing something of the work it takes to prepare, plant, manage and harvest, I was deeply impressed with what the new equipment can do to make the job of farming so much easier and more effective. I was particularly impressed by the walk behind tractor with Power Harrow allowing one person, in one pass, to both till and shape the soil into ready to plant garden beds—the hours I spent tilling, shaping and preparing beds! According to David this tool “stirs” the soil to 5” without “mixing” all soil layers together. The typical rototiller brings all the weed seeds from the lower soil to the top to germinate and creates a hard pan layer that is not healthy for the soil structure.

Another technique advocated on the GIG site  that I wish I had known about years ago is called stale bedding where final bed preparation tillage is done 3 to 4 weeks prior to seeding or planting into the bed. This allows enough time for weeds to germinate and grow 1 to 2 inches tall. Then just before direct seeding or transplanting seedlings into the bed, you flame weed. This kills the weeds without disturbing the soil which brings more weed seeds to the surface. According to David this planting/weed management technique provides 4 weeks of plant growth advantage before the next round of weeds germinate. The crop growth provides shade for the emerging weeds slowing their growth thus reducing the number of in-bed weedings–often down to a single operation! Unfortunately GIG isn’t currently renting a stale bed flamer but the technique could be roughly mimicked with a tiger torch provided that precautions around flammable materials are taken.

The Growing Island Growers website also points to the best sources for things like plastic mulch and drip irrigation as well as generously offering advice and literature sources on the most effective organic farming techniques.

I spent a most enjoyable afternoon sipping one of the delicious beers from the Gladstone’s brews and listening to David’s enthusiasm for the potential of organic farming/Regenerative Agriculture in the Comox Valley. I am very interested in posting other accounts of sustainable practices in the Comox Valley either submitted posts or suggestions for researching a post. I am also very interested in talking with others who would like to be part of publishing a guide to sustainable practices, products and services in the Comox Valley.  Contact me at ngreynoldsng(at)gmail.com