A few years ago, I was writing an article on why some farmers were farming organically but weren’t certified. I interviewed a blueberry farmer from the Fraser Valley. When he decided to move from conventional to organic, he signed on with a certification body, paid the fees, around $1,700 dollars plus a cut of all crop sales then, and suffered some crop losses as he made the transition over the next couple years. Although some of the other farmers I interviewed said that paperwork and fees kept them from certifying, that wasn’t why this farmer discontinued his certification. He said it was because there was no educational support, no practical help to deal with the problems that came up.
Deb Foote was the president of the Certified Organic Association of British Columbia (COABC) at the time. She told me that educational support is critical to the success of organic farmers and that they’d approached the provincial government to fund an educational outreach position; that person’s primary job would be to help farmers make the transition from conventional to organic.
Not long afterwards, I heard that the funding was granted and Rochelle Eisen was hired. I am not a farmer, but I can tell you that what I’ve seen Rochelle send out over the COABC listserv in the last couple of years seems to be very beneficial for organic farmers. Workshops, practical information on growing organically, managing pests and diseases, changes in allowable products, national certification developments and the list goes on and on. She has a depth of knowledge on the organics industry and if she doesn’t know the answer to something, she comes back soon with a well researched response. I have enjoyed her informative column in BC Organic Grower Magazine too.
As a writer myself, I have been very grateful to Rochelle for answering my questions, her quick and measured replies have helped me promote BC agriculture. I have also admired her deft management of the listserv – which occasionally needs a referee. I’m sure these are just very small parts of the big job Rochelle does and I suspect she earns a modest wage. In my mind, she’s worth her weight in gold.
On Monday, I was shocked to hear that Rochelle’s outreach position had been cut. After two years, the province says there is no more money. It is said that you can tell what a government is about by how it allocates its budget. The present government talks a good line about supporting local, but puts very little money where its mouth is. Our province comes in last in the country when it comes to budget dollars allotted to food production and farming. Organic farming receives the least attention of all.
As the black sheep in the agricultural family, I am beginning to wonder if the sector would be better served under the Ministry of Environment or Health. After all, organic farmers don’t use harmful pesticides, which are killing birds and fish. Mounting scientific evidence also links pesticides with serious human diseases, like Parkinson’s and cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society is pushing hard for a province wide ban on the sale of pesticides used for cosmetic purposes – meaning the ones home owners liberally douse their yards with to get a perfect lawn or rose bush. Other provinces, like Quebec and Ontario have already banned them.
In its last throne speech, the BC government said it would consider a ban; that sounds darn near like an acknowledgement that pesticides are not good for the environment or our health. If they go ahead with the ban, perhaps they will need an extension officer to help the gardeners make the transition to organic. Hey maybe that person could also help farmers make the switch. If the government is serious about helping the environment and reducing exorbitant health care costs, then supporting organic farming, even a little bit, would be a step in the right direction.
I am not an organic farmer, if I were, I would be hopping mad that my support person and educational lifeline had been cut. No, I am not a farmer, but I am a writer who supports farmers, local and organic agriculture as a means of strengthening our BC food system. And because I am a writer, I will be writing Steve Thomson, the Minister of Agriculture (firstname.lastname@example.org) and will copy my Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), who just happens to be Premier Gordon Campbell (Premier@gov.bc.ca). If you live in BC, I invite you to do the same. You can find your MLA’s email here. Let’s educate them on the value of Rochelle.