AN INTERVIEW with Audrey – Organic Farmer and grower at McVean Farm in Brampton, Ontario, Canada. Audrey a former social worker started her organic farming experience 6 years ago when she decided not to renew her contract as social worker and instead take on a journey to organic farming.
Danuta: Were you consuming any organic vegetables before?
Audrey: I cold not really afford to consume a lot of organic, but if I could afford it I would buy organic.
Danuta: What made you start growing organic?
Audrey: I thought, if I’m gonna grow I’m going to do it the right way. I come from a farming family. My mother was an organic farmer and she grew healthy organic veggies. Where I come from (Jamaica) there is no other way of growing; only organic. Back in the days they did not even know what spraying was.
Danuta: What triggered/what happened that 6 years ago you decided to take on this new path growing organic?
Audrey: Prior to farming I was always running a community garden center, always involved in my community and even won a Green Award. I had a job contract working for the city and when the contract expired, I decided I would do something for myself and I started growing organic, I followed my passion.
Danuta: So the right moment came and you decided that now is my time to follow my passion?
Audrey: Yeah, and that is after 3 different careers.
Danuta: Which organic fruits/vegetables/herbs do you like to eat?
Audrey: My favorite vegetable, I must say, is a cabbage. Certain kind of cabbage, old fashion. But I like to grow world crops, divers crops so people can get local world crops like Okra.
Danuta: What do you grow this year?
Audrey: I grow all market vegetables because I go to the market. I grow staples. Staples are the staff that everybody has in their fridge and cupboards all the time such as onions, garlic, potatoes, salads, kale etc.
Danuta: What challenges as an organic grower do you face?
Audrey: One that everybody faces: the animals, the insects, the weather, and the weeds.
Danuta: How do you deal with your challenges?
Audrey: If you grow organic you have to go with biodefense. For example, I noticed that Colorado beetle was eating my potatoes so I did not weed around my potatoes. Sometimes weeds are good thing because Colorado beetles don’t like the thistle; they do not like jumping down on it.
Also, with corn, I found out if I don’t weed around the corn, If I leave the thistle alone the raccoons don’t like to get prickled up so sometimes the weeds can be your friend.
Danuta: Oh wow, that’s great because everyone complains about raccoons eating their corn.
Audrey: You see the Native Indians planted their corn in what they call three sisters. The three sisters are squash, beans, and corn. You plant corn in a middle, you plant squash and zucchini on the outside; zucchini leaves are bit prickly. The raccoons are sensitive, they don’t like to being prickled up.
So you put the corn in the middle so raccoon has to go through zucchini to get to the corn and it is very uncomfortable for them so most times they give up. This is part of biodefense.
And this diversity helps with pests and sometimes if you plant a garlic around peas early in the spring the bunnies are not really crazy about the smell of the garlic.
Danuta: Anything else you would like to add?
Audrey: Another challenge is like the fishermen at the sea; the weather is a challenge year to year and you never know what you gonna get. Last year we had drought and this year we have too much rain . It is hard to find that balance and then at the end of the day comes down to consumer absorbing the lose because you have to make it somehow and that is what big guys do.
Danuta: How would you overcome this challenge?
Audrey: You cannot! It is Mother Nature; you have to find balance.
Danuta: Instead of going against nature, going with nature…
Audrey: For sure, and you have to be a risk taker to run a farm.
Danuta: What advise would you give to a new starting organic farmer?
Audrey: Don’t do it for the money! Do it for the love, do it for the passion because if you gonna do it for the money, consult first, unless you gonna grow a cash crop. You gonna fail if you do it just for the money.
Don’t do what everybody else is doing, find your niche. If you find your niche you are going to be so much successful and success is not always about the money because people come to you, they trust you and they support you.
If you go to the market, it is a short season in Canada, you will find everybody has the same thing. You have to make yourself stand out, you have to make the customer wanna come to you. It is a short season and there are not so many things that we can grow and all comes into play in the same time unless you have a little greenhouse like I do. I have that advantage at the beginning and at the end of the season.
So again, you have to find your niche. You either have to do it little bit differently or find the variety that nobody else has, or just make yourself stand out more, or just get more diverse. On the other side of that diverse coin just specialize in one thing; do one thing really really well.
Danuta: In other words would you suggest not to jump on a lot of things to grow just specialize in growing a couple of vegetables?
Audrey: The niche and the staples because everybody needs them. My specialty are flowers. It is because I love them and they love me…