A Word from The Farmer

January 20th, 2022

January 20th, 2022

So, as part of reacclimatizing myself to Canadian life, I’m still pondering as to whether what we have here is actually any better than what the average Mexican has.  As I’ve mentioned before, people in less developed countries seem, on the whole, to be more satisfied with life than we are. 

Why are people in less developed countries seemingly happier and more satisfied than in developed countries?  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

  1. less junk
  2. More day to day freedom
  3. Bronze/ silver/ gold

The first two are quite straight forward.  The third, I think, is an interesting concept.
The theory is that a bronze medal winner is happier than a silver medal winner even though, rationally, bronze is not as good as silver.  To get a bronze medal you are happy not to have come in 4th and gotten nothing at all but to get a silver medal you are tantalizingly close to gold and are unhappy that you aren’t at the very top.

This can apply to socioeconomic status.  As an average citizen of a not-so-wealthy country you are likely happy to have good food to eat, basic medical care, and a place to call home You appreciate it because you know that one step below that is misery.  The gold medal lifestyle is so far out of reach that it’s not something very many people waste their time aspiring to.  But as an average citizen of our society most of us see the gold medal just out of reach but don’t appreciate our silver medal status because we feel entitled to at least a social assistance bronze level existence (and I do think everyone deserves at least bronze; but social assistance is a mess).  Those in the bronze medal position don’t appreciate it either because they are confident that 4th place (destitute) is not a possibility.  It’s an ingrained entitlement that results from growing up in an affluent society.

I’ve often mused that the reason my Jamaican and Mexican crew are happy to show up for work every day, and work hard to better their place in this world, is because they’ve seen what can happen.  It has never been lost on me that seeing abject poverty first hand on a regular basis is very healthy for ones appreciation of what one has.  But I’ve never been able to break it down beyond that.

I have, however, thought on many occasions that it would do us all good to see how poor so many of our fellow humans are and then appreciate what we have.  My belief is that this disconnect is the cause of a lot of things, including the ridiculous levels of regulation that are being rammed down everyones throats in the name of improving our lifestyle.  Many of us travel to these less wealthy countries because our dollar goes much farther.  And I don’t think we are hurting these countries by doing so.  But you absolutely have to leave the resort to see reality; and even then, tour guides almost always manage to shelter us from the worst.  At least we get a bit of a sense of how the average person lives.  How badly the neighbourhood smells of sewage is usually a good indicator. 

For our Jamaican and Mexican employees, life experience has taught them that a fourth place finish is a very real and possible scenario.  So they come to work happy to know that, if they do their part, they are insulating themselves and their family from the possibility of being destitute and; there is now a very real possibility that they might actually attain some level of the silver existence most of us have.  They generally aren’t tainted with the notion that somehow they might, or should, someday attain a gold medal existence.

Let me better define how happy they are to come to work every day and how much they appreciate their job and opportunity.  With a crew of 24 guys for an average of 6-7 months each we probably lose the equivalent of a couple hours each for appointments, illness, etc.  A total of a few days of lost time between 24 employees!  My Canadian employees average more than a day a week!  And, on top of that, they are always ‘looking over the fence for greener grass’.  I wish I would have kept count of how many times I’ve heard some version of ‘This is the best place I have ever worked but….’  In 2017 we heard that statement five times in less than four weeks.  We lost our mechanic, long time machinery operator, packing shed manager, preserves development and production person, and crew manager all inside of four weeks in late may and early June; just as we were getting properly busy.  On top of that, Suzanne was scheduled for surgery to remove cancer on what is our busiest day of the year, the third Thursday in June.  All of these employees knew about the surgery and left anyway.  I’m sure that any of you who run a business are shivering at the thought.  If they were all Jamaican or Mexican (ie. not feeling like silver medal losers) we would not have been in that predicament.

So is this the phenomenon that has led to the absolute lack of anyone to hire anywhere, or for any occupation, in this country of late.  I think it is a very big part of it.  Generally, as Canadians, we lack proper perspective.


On the way back from Mexico we met with baggage pandemonium, and then missed and the late flights to go with it.  As it turns out the baggage handlers were purposely screwing things up as a protest against having to work too hard.  Where to start…… I’ve watched planes being loaded on many occasions and I can categorically state that what they do cannot be classified as ‘working too hard’.  As we waited an extra hour for four ‘overworked’ (that’s what the pilot called them in his announcement that we would depart late) baggage handlers to load the plane it was all I could do to sit still.  I would have loved to show them what is humanly possible…and I agree, I’m not classified as normal.  One of my Mexicans could easily have replaced all four of the guys loading the plane….and maybe even with one arm tied behind his back!  From what I can surmise, the handlers feel overworked because they now have to do more than they used to.  The reason for that is that too many Canadians are fully confident they will be given a bronze existence whether they make an effort or not.  Those choosing not to work need to see the truly poor in other countries and realize that we all have to work together as a country or that will eventually be our reality as well.  And yes, the people still on the job should step back and realize it’s not perfect but ‘it ain’t that bad’.

Another example.  Our housecleaner (yep, definitely a silver lifestyle here) went to visit her mother in a local old folks home and found chaos.  A resident had been diagnosed with Covid and the majority of the staff that worked that wing refused to come in to work!  There were two employees working where there should have been eight.  Seniors were sitting in their own filth for lack of enough people responsible enough to realize that we all have to do our part to maintain our ‘first world’ status.  It isn’t owed to us!

I saw the results of a poll of nurses in the emergency and ICU departments of hospitals.  Fully one third say they will likely quit nursing because of their experience with covid the last two years. Do nurses work hard?  Most of them probably do.  Can it be stressful?  I’m sure it certainly can; especially when nurses start quitting because it’s stressful.  That only compounds the problem for those who want to stick with it.  Let me say, though, that the state health care must certainly take the shine off of what is unquestionable one of the most noble professions there is; caring for others.

Apparently professors at Acadia University are talking strike for want of more pay.  Really?  In the middle of this?  I realize that a lot of profs are also my customers so I hesitated to mention it at all but I’m going to use it as an example.  I would have to call this a major lack of perspective.  Do they make a salary proportional to their effort compared to other occupations?  I’ve heard that they make less than you might think.  The missing perspective is that of the world picture.

So one last comment after having ‘stirred the pot’ a bit.  It seems that a lack of perspective with relation to what a fourth place finish is really like, and a presumption that we will always magically be awarded at least a bronze, even as more and more people don’t contribute, seems to lead to the selfish ‘me’ culture that can slowly and surely undo our standard of living.  I think we are all learning very quickly that, even with all the money in the world, we can easily see our standard of living go down for lack of those willing to work.  All the stuff in the world won’t do us a bit of good if we don’t appreciate what we have and do our part even if sometimes it feels like our neighbour has greener grass.

Ok….just one more thought…..Over the last 30 years I have watched many, many employees come and go and have, on a dozen occasions or so, witnessed a real lightbulb moment in some of the teenagers.  Quite often we hire teenagers that come from households where work is always considered as just a necessary evil, a drudgery.  The boss and the ‘man’ are to be despised.  Naturally these kids show up with no work ethic and a bad attitude to boot.  But they are young enough to be open minded, listen to old people like me and form new, radial to them, views.  After working for a few days or weeks they start to see the physical fruits of their labour and get the natural shot of dopamine that goes with it.  So they work a bit harder and more conscientiously and start to take some pride in what they are doing.  They instinctively know they are starting to pull their weight in this world and feel good about themselves.  When they get to that point they become much better employees which naturally opens up more opportunities and better tasks on the farm.  More fuel for the fire.  These young people, assuming their parents don’t hammer it back out of them, tend to stick around for at least a few years and, I think, go on to lead much more productive and happier lives than they would have had they not had the ‘lightbulb’ moment.  There’s more to remuneration than just dollars.  How do we teach that to more young people; those who are older, or those higher up the socioeconomic ladder?

Food for thought….and hopefully maybe some ideas from you that lead to action.

Pot stirred.  Remember, I’m not claiming to be above any of this either.

Keep eating your veggies.


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January 6th, 2022

January 6th, 2022

So 2021 has come and gone; thankfully; I guess….Covid has played havoc with every aspect of our lives and, yet again, we at Elmridge Farm have not gotten rich.  That’s going to happen in 2022, no question about it!  We’ve been plagued by issues here at Elmridge that have made a mess of our customer service and inevitably cost us sales.  The silver lining is that it shouldn’t be too hard to do better this year.  I’m an optimistic fool so I honestly believe 2022 will be much better than 2021.

As many of you know; our daughter Gillian, became engaged to and married Esteban Garcia, the son of one of our long time Mexican employees, Adrian Garcia.  Adrian is likely the best human being I have ever met, bar nothing.  It is precisely that goodness that led us to go through the red tape of bringing his oldest son to Canada to work along side his father.  When Esteban arrived we were in the middle of the first Covid lockdown and had several, late teen, ladies staying with us at the farm house to help get the farm work done.  Let’s just say that the young ladies took notice when they first met him and a few months later Gillian and Esteban began dating.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Suzanne and I are due to become grandparents in June.  Those Mexican guys don’t mess around! ;-)

Gillian and Teban have gone to Mexico to be with his family for the winter months and so, Suzanne and I did the unthinkable during Covid; traveled to Mexico on December 20th to spend Christmas with his family and returned to Canada Tuesday evening…..and, Oh boy!, I think I want to go back to Mexico!

Why is it that in Mexico it takes only six hours to get results from the top grade Covid test and in Canada it takes 3 full days?  I’m locked down in my house for no good reason.  I mean, except for fever, chills, body aches, trouble breathing and a horrible cough; I’m absolutely fine!!!  If that joke offended you in any way you need to take a couple steps back and pull your head out of our first world safety epidemic.  And I am dead serious about that.  I’m not going to talk about that now but we need to ask ourselves some very hard questions about where our society is going and whether we are going to just let it happen.

So, Mexico.  A much needed breath of fresh air.  Over the years I have had the privilege of traveling to a number of ‘poor’ countries and I always have the same irksome feeling upon returning home.  We, in Canada, have it all….but we don’t….we throw it all away.  It first really struck me upon returning from three weeks in Peru.  We had seen plenty of poverty, we even saw kids with leprosy (heart breaking, tourists aren’t meant to see that but we have a habit of getting to places not made for tourists), we were even lucky enough to spend a few hours with a family, completely off the tourist trail, who would be classified as extremely poor by Canadian standards.  On the way home from the airport the news came on.  The top story; a battle over whether people should be allowed to keep a chicken or two in their back yard.  Obviously we are running out of important things to argue about.

Having also visited many ‘wealthy’ countries there is something that stands out.  It seems that overall, people in the poorer countries are happier than those in wealthy countries.  And so my brain, that never stops spinning, searches for the reason why.  Two things strike me.   First; they don’t have all the stuff to worry about that we have.  Second, they have much more day to day freedom than we have (that’s not to say that maybe a few more, well thought out, regulations would be a bad idea; I’ve seen a lot of plastic and garbage being burned; and the smog that goes with it).

Esteban and his family live in a small ‘ranch’ (they call a very small town a ranch; their ranch has maybe 300 inhabitants) about 50km outside of Durango city; Narco territory.  The wild west?  A bit.  There are a lot of corrupt police in Mexico so in Narco territory the Narcos mostly maintain order.  They drive through town regularly and we witnessed them fire their guns into the air repeatedly at an outdoor party and at midnight new years eve to flex their muscles and let everyone know who is in charge.  But if you don’t mess with them they don’t mess with you.  All good.  

Now here’s something interesting; a few minutes after ringing in the new year I was headed outside to light off a few more fireworks but I was quickly ushered back in.  Apparently what goes up must come down.  Everyone stays inside for about 20 minutes or at least until a few minutes after they hear the last gunshot.  It’s not uncommon to hear the bullets hitting the roof on the way back down and if you get hit by one it could be fatal.  This unwitting Gringo tourist never thought of that.

Family is central to everything for rural Mexicans.  Gillian and Teban are staying with his parents, Adrian and Paloma Garcia, and his brothers, Pablo (19), Samuel (pronounced ‘Samway’, 11) and Josue (pronounced ‘hosway’, 7).   I was introduced to numerous uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins who treated us like family. 

Adrian and Pablo are scheduled to land in Halifax in the middle of the snowstorm this weekend and will be working at Elmridge until the end of June and returning to Mexico.  We need a crew of Mexicans all winter now because no Canadians are willing to lower themselves to do the work.  Paloma, Samuel and Josue are coming in June when the baby is due so the whole family will be here.  I think that’s really awesome!  It has always bothered me that these men from Mexico and Jamaicas have to be away from their families for up to 8 months at a time and I’ve dreamed of being able to bring families in for a couple weeks half way through and give each guy a paid holiday in Canada to be with his family.  Unfortunately finances don’t allow and I would be very surprised if our bureaucrats would let it happen anyway for fear of them staying in Canada.  Believe me when I say they would be a very valuable addition to our society.   Although, I don’t know why they would want to stay here anyway.  They certainly aren’t as monetarily wealthy as us but they are living proof that money isn’t everything.

The Garcia family own about 80 acres of fields which they are presently renting out so they can spend time making money in Canada.  As an agrologist I immediately see many things that could be improved in their community and with their farming to make the whole community more prosperous.  Most of the fields are planted to edible beans (think baked beans) every year.  That’s the only crop grown.  No crop rotation.  No fertilizer.  Full conventional tillage.  And all of then bean ‘straw’ is removed as cattle and horse feed every year.  That’s an absolutely punishing regime for the soils.  They only farm from May to October because that is when the rains come.  From December to April the temperature is actually more conducive to growing many crops and it’s wall to wall sunshine every day.   But without irrigation nothing can be grown.  Some farmers used to drill wells for irrigation but the water table has been depleted and wells sit abandoned.  And it’s no wonder; every acre of land that isn’t tilled is grazed, so when the rain does come the majority of the water runs off in rivers taking some soil with it and nothing sinks into the aquifer.  I have yet to get my hands on the climate data but my feeling is that there is enough rain, it just isn’t going into the ground like it used to.  

So, my unstoppable brain starts spinning again; this time in conjunction with Esteban.  His two years in Canada has him thinking too.  Together we are scheming about what we can do to benefit his immediate and extended family and his community as well.  I’m a sucker for getting myself into more work and complication so; here we go again!  Stay tuned.

Here’s to 2022.  Surely it has got to be better than 2021.  Farmers have always been known to assume that ‘next year will be better’ and it amuses me that the rest of society now knows a little bit of where we are coming from.

To ensure that this is indeed the year that we, at Elmridge, get rich;

Keep eating your veggies!!


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October 7th, 2021

October 7th, 2021

So it’s Thanksgiving again.  A good time to look at the season to date and think about where we are headed.


As a farmer I hesitate to say this for fear of retribution from that wicked lady, Mother Nature…(and it’s a little bit against the farmers code of ethics); but this has been an exceptionally good growing season here in the Annapolis Valley.  It’s been far from perfect but, especially after several years of brutal weather events, we have not had the feeling of having to fight the elements so hard on top of all of the other challenges.


I/we have been growing veggies since 1991 and I think this summer has seen the least amount of irrigation in those 30 years.  Timing was good, quantities were sufficient and only a couple of times too much.  I speak for only our tiny little corner of the universe that is Elmridge Farm.  Only five to ten kilometres away there was much too much rain on several occasions.  It always amazes me how localized rainfall can be, and almost always is.


Whether or not a good growing season translates into a good financial bottom line remains to be seen.  The ironic truth is that it’s not uncommon that a big crop can lead to smaller profits in the end from lower prices and a much bigger volume to handle; which, of course, translates into higher operating costs.  As an example, we’ve had to go looking for more bins to store crop.  With the current lumber prices, we can’t justify building new bins, but we were successful in finding 175 used bins.  Now we just have to find a home for some of the surplus between now and spring.  How well we do with that will determine how successful the year is financially.  The situation has been exacerbated by the fact that fresh produce sales have been decidedly sluggish so far this season.  I’ve heard this from multiple sources…..not sure exactly what that says about support for local food production to go from an all time high interest in local a year ago to a big drop in demand, lower than 2019.

On that subject; the longer I farm the more I’m convinced that ‘buy local’ is a help but is not the answer for Nova Scotia agriculture.  We need to be competitive in the world food market.  This would require that fair trade be brought to Nova Scotia.  You say “What?  Fair trade only applies to poor countries where the farmers are being taken advantage of by corporations owned by the rich.”  Not so.  Trade is very unfair to the Nova Scotia horticulture industry.  And it’s an unfairness that has been legislated by our own government and supported by under-informed or careless consumers and by corporations who are well aware of the situation but stand to gain from it (read ‘big box food stores’).  As long as we, in horticulture, (I won’t comment on other parts of agriculture because I don’t consider myself well enough informed) are expected to meet requirements in the name of food safety, environmental safety and human decency/ safety (Safety is our new national religion, I know that’s cynical but it’s also eerily true) and continue to compete with outside food prices based on completely different, lower standards we do not have fair trade for Nova Scotia farmers.  In its essence it is absolutely no better than what is happening to the folks who grow the coffee that keeps our society conscious and alert, or the cacao that keeps us all just an extra few pounds too heavy but happy .  We are not starving or lacking for medical attention (although you could argue that point) but we are caught in a cycle that sees us dealing with rapidly increasing stress loads, lack of down time, and just a general lessening of quality of life in order to keep our multigenerational farms alive.


I don’t see ‘buy local’ paying my bills in the long run so we are now branching into manufacture in the hope of producing shelf stable products that can compete on the world stage.  We will continue to supply the local market but feel that we need to branch out yet again to maintain stability and keep the ball that my grandparents started rolling in 1954, rolling into the future.


Most years I have a general feel of how well we are doing by mentally comparing the crop, sales, and general screw-ups from one year to the next.  And, believe me, there are always screw-ups.   For me, one of the hardest things about growing crops is that we start out each year with a 100% potential and, as the season wears on, one thing or another keeps chipping away until we are left with some fraction of what could potentially be.  You’d think that I’d wise up and just accept that things will not ever be perfect (and I guess I do to some degree).  But I am an eternal optimist (whether that serves me well or not) and keep coming back for more.  It’s part of the farmers unwritten creed, “next year will be better”.


This year there are so many changes in input costs, retail markets, wholesale demand and even workforce (we are actually down about 12% on labour which is good for us, but sales are also down) that I can’t get any kind of a feel.  We’ve seen more change in our business in the last two years than my parents would have seen in their entire farming career!  All I have to go on this year are the financial numbers being generated.  They’re OK but not nearly as good as the growing season (but, of course, you can’t please a farmer ;-)).


A short report on the “Feed NS Donations” page in our virtual store.  There has certainly been some action.  Keep it up!  If you haven’t checked it out please do.  It’s a way to make your donated dollars go farther and support more people in need by sharing the cost with Elmridge Farm and putting surplus product in the hands of those who need it.  LINK ABOVE. Take a look.


So, rolling into Thanksgiving, we are thankful to be healthy, still in business, we have mostly ‘first world problems’ and a (potentially) bright future (…that eternal optimist thing again!).  So “thank you!” to all of you who have continued to support your fellow citizens instead of saving as much income as possible for Walmart!


Keep eating your veggies!


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August 26th,2021

August 26th,2021

Got lemons?  Make lemonade.

My job description: I put out fires, solve the unsolvable, pull horseshoes out of my ###, reinvent the wheel again and again and again, do the undoable, you get the idea…and also take lemons and make lemonade (lucky for us farmers there’s always plenty of lemons).

I have to complain; my job description.  But honestly, the season itself has been pretty darn good.  I really feel for the western farmers dealing with a catastrophic drought.  The toll on their humanity will be high.  This is the best year moisture wise for probably 20 years.

So the lemonade I’m mixing up is hopefully going to be a part solution for our farm and at the same time provide additional food to Feed NS.  I hope I get enough sugar in it to make it popular with consumers.

At Elmridge Farm we started out as mainly a market garden that supplied the farmers markets we attended with any surplus going to small wholesale customers.  When we had larger surpluses we were almost always able to sell it through one of several neighbouring farms that were shipping to the big box grocers.  The problem is that the “food safety” protocols of the large retailers began to demand more and more that their suppliers follow an accreditation system, mostly comprised of a paper trail, that everyone agrees is a lot more smoke and mirrors than real improvements to food safety.  Every year the demands are more stringent and require more expense by the grower to maintain.  Each product has its own complex handling, tracking and recording system.  If you have one or two crops you will be able to handle the load with moderate expense and moderate indignities of stupid rules made by some pretty dim bureaucrats.  For example, it is an offence to chew gum in an orchard. I agree, chewing gum is some pretty dangerous stuff.

Before I start this next bit I need to explain that the NS Department of Agriculture has been preaching diversity of crops as a way to stabilize income from year to year.  Not all crops will fail in a single season so one crop failure out of ten crops is manageable. It works beautifully.  Elmridge farm has been proof of that.  The problem is that new regulations being rolled out at an exponential rate all work against it by driving administrative costs per  crop higher.  With no market protection from imported crops not meeting these standards we have no way to recoup the cost and an already low profit margin is whittled down a little more.  Here’s a happy fact; primary agriculture is, on average, the least profitable industry worldwide.  (Primary agriculture is the actual growing of the food. As I have said before, at Elmridge Farm we have never made money growing food, we make our profits through the value add of direct marketing.  That’s a second, complete business on top of farming.)

The design of the system gives the advantage to those that grow a large volume of only one crop.  The economics go downhill from there.  If you have five crops it’ll be very cumbersome.  If you have ten crops you’ll be seriously thinking about dropping a bunch of them.  At Elmridge we peaked at nearly 100 crops and varieties in order to sell our own product at the various farmers markets.  The paperwork for that is simply impossible.  The result is that, knowing that very soon we need accreditation or sell nothing, we have cut the number of crops by 40% but still have been unable to get certification both because it is still cost prohibitive and too complex to handle because we can’t find enough Canadians to help us manage the farm.

So here we are growing crops that arguably meet a higher standard than conventionally grown crops and that any honest farmer will agree are every bit as food safe as any other but if we have surplus we can barely get rid of it, let alone recover costs.  We have even ended up dumping crop because we can’t access the conventional market with our naturally grown product that is at least as good as conventional, minus the pesticides.

That’s one hell of a big lemon!!

A number of farmers in this province donate a large amount of product to food banks.  The irony of that is that those least able to afford to do so, donate a very disproportionately large amount to feed those who can’t afford it.  The food bank needs food and the farmers need the money more than just about any other industry out there so I have a devious plan (‘devious’ just makes it sound cool)  At Elmridge, in recent years, we have donated well over $100k of produce to Feed NS annually.  We get a 25% tax credit but that comes nowhere near covering cost.  At least it isn’t wasted.

The lemonade:

We have set up a separate page on our on online store where would-be food bank donators can select and purchase surplus or less than perfect product and we, at Elmridge, will add it to the donations that Feed NS picks up weekly from our farm. 

We will offer those products that we have in surplus at the moment so the product offering will change week to week.  The bonus is that donators to the food bank get more than double the bang for their buck because we will be offering wholesale pricing (or less in the case of cosmetically challenged product).

I had originally thought about issuing a tax deductible receipt for each donation but I was informed by Feed NS that the vast majority of people aren’t interested in the tax deduction anyway.  That’s actually rather heart warming to hear.  Good for us!  I guess maybe the lemonade doesn’t need quite as much sugar as I thought.  So, no tax receipt unless you are thinking of a fairly large donation, in which case, we will figure it out with Feed NS and get you one.

It’s a win-win-win situation.  More food ends up in the hands of those who need it, less food gets wasted, and us farming folks get more, much needed, cash.

So have a look, pass on this blog or the link to the page and, whatever you do…..

Keep eating your veggies!


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August 5th, 2021

August 5th, 2021

So last week’s blog was a bit on the apocalyptic side. This week I will focus on the positive. I took a chance last week and put it all out there because I think the word needs to get out. I have received a number of encouraging, supportive, understanding and commiserating replies from fellow farmers. Thank you. If anyone, farmers or non-farmers, has ideas or energy to try to stem the tide please let me know. We need to do something for the sake of the next generation.
I don’t have the numbers to prove it but I’d say this has been the best growing season in at least five years and maybe ten. We have had ample rain this year for the most part. That’s a lot easier to manage than the Californian weather we’ve had the last several years. I was on the verge of complaining about the rain on Monday (remember; complaining is part of a farmers job description) but I bit my tongue. Summertime rain is scarce most years and therefore, in some way, hallowed.
So, the up side; potentially better crop growth and less cost in time, money and environmental impact from pumping water. The down side; lower quality of some crops and an increased risk of various fungal diseases that, in some cases (but not very often; thankfully) can reduce yields by 100% if not dealt with. Generally, uncontrolled disease increases the cull rate significantly so there is a lot of value in keeping diseases at bay. To do so we, at Elmridge, use mostly biological agents, good soil fertility, and micro nutrients to help combat disease.
When using biological agents to suppress disease it’s quite important to do so before disease levels become high. Natural products generally don’t pack as much punch as ‘conventional’ synthetic products so there is still an increased risk of disease related losses compared to completely ‘conventional’ production practices. (I use the word ‘conventional’, it’s not really a very good word to use as what is considered conventional continuously morphs over time; it just generally means synthetic chemicals that have been deemed safe by health Canada can be used). Our new dehydration facility is meant to take our cull product and turn it into storable product and reduce food waste to near zero.
There are differing modes of action of these biological fungicides. With ‘site competition’ various microbes, bacteria or fungi are sprayed on the crop or soil. They then begin to reproduce rapidly and take up space and food that the pathogenic fungi would otherwise use. Here’s a so-so analogy: It would be like sending thousands of sheep into a meadow to eat all the grass and drink all the water so that deer would stop frequenting the area. There will be some negative short term effects on the meadow but the grass will regrow and the spring will refill the watering hole. And the Deere will eventually return and there’s no long term damage. It’s better than killing all of the grass because the recovery time would be much longer.
Some biologicals are protectants and need to be applied just before weather elements increase the risk of disease. So you fence the Deere out of the meadow for a period of time. If you stop mending the fences, the Deere will quite quickly regain access.
Yet another mode of action would be to keep the fungi from reproducing. We use one such product. It uses the same compound that mushrooms produce to protect themselves from attack from other fungi. It would be cost prohibitive and carry a very large environmental footprint to extract this compound from mushrooms so it is produced synthetically. For this reason it cannot be certified organic which is a shame because it verges on being outright edible; whether it’s something you might enjoy is another whole conversation. But who knows....people do consume some pretty pointless and disgusting things....I’m not going to give a sheep/ deer analogy for this because, well, it might get a little awkward;-)

Very few biologicals can kill a fungus outright but the few biologicals that actually kill the pathogen, generally use a process called ‘antibiosis’ where the biofungicide produces a natural compound that is toxic to the targeted fungus.
We use a copper based product that can kill some fungal spores and also keep invading bacteria at bay. Not many years ago it was considered very poor soil stewardship to use any copper-containing products but new technology has produced effective products with only a tiny fraction of the copper that would previously be needed. The older copper compounds were very damaging to soil microbes because of the sheer levels of copper they contained. But copper is naturally present in soils in low levels and is essential for healthy plant growth. Over time soil copper levels have gone back down to the point where now we are actually adding copper as a nutrient.
There are even some natural products that will trigger the plants to activate their own immune systems before the onset of attack from some pathogen. It’s pretty much like getting your covid shot.....not sure if they feel like they’ve been hit by a Mack truck like I did...... communicating with plants is a little out of our reach just yet.
The other way to control disease is what’s known as cultural practices to prevent disease from happening in the first place. Crop rotation is key. We wait at least three years before repeating any crop in a certain field. We are also careful to space the plants and rows out in such a way that allows air flow and quicker drying in the morning and after a rainfall.
In the same way that we feed our kids healthy food, we feed our plants well with healthy soil and make sure they take their vitamins. That means a manure, green manure (plowed down crops for the purpose of building soil) and compost based fertility programme with top ups of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium as needed.
The manures and compost create a very live soil. There are billions of microbes of thousands of species in every shovel full of soil. Soil science is still very much an art from the point of view that we have so much more to learn to fully understand it. That understanding will likely be very key in figuring out how to feed nine or ten billion people in the medium future. In college most of us moaned about soil science class because there was so much to know and understand and yet so many unanswered questions. Luckily there are some among us that thrive on studying soil. So, bottom line, healthy soil is to plants what fresh fruit and vegetables are to our children.
Many of the living soil organisms can literally starve to death if they go a month or two in the growing season with no living plant tissue. For that reason, we are very religious about getting a cover crop planted as soon as the crop comes off to keep the soil live and healthy.
The ‘vitamins’ we feed our plants are mostly in the form foliar micronutrients. That means that we spray very small amounts of things like copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium, potassium, silica, calcium.......and many more, onto the leaves of the plants. The leaves can then very rapidly absorb these nutrients and put them to work to make themselves healthy so they can better ward off attacks from fungi, bacteria, and even, in some cases, insects. Soils in Nova Scotia are classed as “naturally infertile’ so adding minute amounts of certain deficient nutrients can greatly increase yield and quality with a very very small environmental footprint.
In defence of those farmers who use the dreaded ‘conventional’ pesticides; they are often able to produce more food with less environmental foot print (aside from the pesticides) than many organic farming situations. I am not convinced that we are at a point yet where we could

 completely pull the plug on ‘conventional’ pesticides. We are moving in that direction for sure but there is a ways to go yet.
As an example, Bayer Crop Science, one of the leading producers of agricultural pesticides has spent literally billions on developing environmentally sound ways of controlling insects and disease. Granted they are also involved in developing genetically modified plants but they are doing a lot of work to produce biologically sound crop protectants. There are are rarely black and white answers and Bayer is kind of in the grey for many people because they are involved in production of conventional pesticides, GMO’s but also develop natural alternatives to conventional pesticides. And many conventional farmers are adopting biological pesticides in conjunction with their conventional spray programs and reducing the overall use of conventional pesticides.
At Elmridge we do not use anything GMO and are careful to kind of ‘walk the fence’ on the issue of organic versus conventional. Again, the right thing to do is kind of grey. If we have put all of the resources and associated environmental footprint into growing a crop we have sometimes had to resort to a single crop saving pesticide (and we are very careful to make sure our customers know the product is no longer ‘pesticide free’ or ‘naturally grown’). My theory on that is that it is better to use the one product to save the crop than to have to expend all of the resources a second time to produce the food. Remember, there are crop failures continuously happening all over the globe so if we reduce them overall we reduce the total sum of resources required to feed the planet.
The needle is moving toward much more environmentally sound ways of growing food and at Elmridge we are dedicated to leading the charge!
Today it’s raining...again...I’m on the verge of complaining... but I’ll bite my tongue. No irrigation!!

Keep eating your veggies. Greg

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July 29th, 2021

July 29th, 2021

I start today’s blog with a disclaimer.  Most of you are avid supporters of farmers and do your part to support us.  Thank you very much for your  support; it’s necessary and it is a definite step in the right direction.  The unfortunate reality is, that is likely not likely enough to save us in the long term.  Political and social forces and what I’ve labeled ‘irresponsible bureaucracy’ are steadily pushing the industry closer to the edge of existence.  Our farm consultant and personal friend, out of sincere concern for our well being, has advised me to moth ball this and write something positive.  (I vow to do just that; next week) It would definitely be better for business, he is correct in that and quite possibly better for us overall, in the end.  But I feel compelled to put this out there for the benefit of all farmers and the next generation of farmers, of whom I hope my kids will be a part.

I’ve had a tough day, a tough summer and in a lot of ways a tough life.  As farmers we sometimes get labeled as whiners.  I dare any one of you to try to make a living the way we do.  I’m struggling with a lot of things today.  Unfortunately it’s not the first time and I’m not the only one feeling this way.  So here it is.  This is what it too often feels like to be a modern farmer. 

I almost deleted this several times….I don’t want to abuse your attention, but no; the message needs to get out there.  Please share this as much as you can.

This message comes from the heart.  As I write, all I really want to do is be rid of this farm and the battle against insurmountable odds that I have been locked in for nearly 30 years. (And keep in mind that Elmridge is often held up as a shining example of prosperity in Nova Scotia agriculture)  Those of you who buy from us online or through wholesale will have received an email last week apologizing for poor customer service resulting from some tough family matters we are trying to somehow deal with without skipping a beat on the farm.  And I promise you, the farm is partly what put us there.  We don’t have the luxury of taking time for ourselves.  We have just been through three incredibly tough years that have seen us work harder than ever before for next to nothing.  We are struggling our way through yet another season of impossible odds.  Too few employees on the farm.  Trying to become “compliant” with the latest government demands (and catch up on those that we haven’t been able to meet yet).  Dealing with increasingly volatile weather conditions…..  We have embarked on a project that would see us take cull vegetables and dehydrate them to create value added products…..they call it value adding; really, it’s just code for “running a second business to cover the economic shortfall of the farm”.  With a half million tied up already the project stands unfinished for lack of skilled labour, building materials and processing equipment (that we paid for in February) sitting in a warehouse oversees for lack of a shipping container.  More than a half million dollars tied up and no returns on the investment in sight.  Should we have embarked on this project during COVID?  Well, it’s do or die.  We don’t have the luxury of waiting for better times.

As if that’s not enough.  Thursday evening, Adrian, a long time Mexican employee who also has two sons working at Elmridge (one of whom is engaged to my daughter) got the news that his father in law in Mexico passed away suddenly.  Adrian and his two sons along with Gillian flew to Mexico on Saturday.  They’ll be gone for 10 days, assuming government doesn’t hinder them from getting back…..I’m a bit worried on that.  The real kicker is that Adrian is never coming back to the farm.  He has to stay in Mexico to keep running his family farm and be with his wife and two smaller children now that her father is gone.  After 12 years with us we are going to sorely miss him for both the relationship and the leading role he played on our farm.


We fully respect, understand and support the needs of Adrian and his family.  The real problem is that we were just barely holding it together, for lack of help on the farm, as it was.  (And, before we lost four more key crew members, I was , maybe naively, optimistic that we would pull it off without too much calamity; although we were slowly slipping behind )  The lack of help is a direct result of government policy and the affluent, entitled society we live in.  (Cyncal…but very true)   Agriculture is the very basis of every modern society, without it we have only anarchy and famine.  Yet it is taken for granted by most and given extremely little respect……let me rephrase that…..too many people know they need a stable food supply but they don’t respect the pawns (more commonly known as farmers) who make it happen.  We regularly pay our respects to military and police personnel for their service.  Fair enough.  As a farmer I am 10-20 times more likely to die on the job than someone in the military or RCMP.  Doesn’t seem to matter.  Instead we are told to buckle down and stop being so dangerous….and oh…..do it with less money.

The long awaited robot arrived an hour ago and I just came back from a field that I’d been purposely avoiding because I knew trouble was brewing.  Weeds are out of control to the point that even the robot is going to be challenged.  It’s interesting that over the years I’ve developed a sort of phobia of checking fields because it is extremely stressful to know that a lot of work has to be done but have no way of getting it done.  ‘Soul crushing’ is how I described it in another post.

Yet, over the years, we have stayed fairly optimistic about the future.  We have two children, 19 and 21 years old, who are interested in farming which is something very rare indeed; a testament to the hard work, dedication and successes we have seen over the years.  Our kids are inspired to continue what we have started.  I would argue that the life I have lived is more rewarding and has more meaning than most could even imagine.  To continue a legacy started by my grandfather and set the next generation up to continue is a life well lived.  I am the farm.  The farm is me.  I am very happy with what we have achieved but the price we paid to get this far was too high and, as much as I try, I can’t see past the noose that irresponsible bureaucracy and societal apathy is tightening to the point of strangling even the most resilient of farmers. (and, believe me, most Canadians have no Idea of the meaning of the word “resilient”)  I have been told time and time again that I remain unbelievably optimistic in the midst of terrible situations and impossible odds.  My answer “when you’ve been to hell and back enough times the road no longer scares you”.  That may sound over the top, but believe me; I’ve come out of it a very strong person, but; I wouldn’t wish my life on anyone.  I was optimistic that our kids could take over what we started and be Ok; not having to go through as much hardship as we went through but it is becoming more apparent every year that society is just going to demand more and more at an ever accelerating rate.

I know I am not alone in what I am feeling now.  There are many more farmers on the verge of throwing up their hands in despair and giving up.  The same reasons; way too many demands, too little reward and, most importantly, no time left for the things that matter in life.  There is always concern about fair traded coffee and chocolate.  The disparity that many farmers face in Canada is not as financially extreme as in third world countries but there is nothing fair about the burden we are being asked to bear without compensation in the name of toeing the line our society has chosen.  To do so means giving up almost all personal time and freedom that most take for granted.

Tomorrow I will get up, put one foot in front of the other, and start to figure out how to get out of this mess, resilient I guess.  But to logically look back at my life and then forward to what likely faces me would label this “insanity”.  In a society seemingly so intent on the wellbeing of its members there must be a better way.

Just in case I am crazy enough to keep going….. which I probably am…next week there should be some nice shots of the robot that is hopefully part of a solution.  

Keep eating your veggies.


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July 22nd, 2021

July 22nd, 2021

So let’s talk about the future.

I am very conscious of shifts in the food business climate. Historically it’s always been, lowest price is the law. That worked OK because the food system, aside from some imported fruit and speciality products, was nowhere near global. Local production was always the mainstay of one's diet. Every year we reach a new level of globalization with the love of our dollars further cementing the lowest price necessitating cost reduction as the main driver of change. The only real factor outside of that is government intervention in the form of socially driven regulations. Because it’s still an open, free market, the value based government regulations have completely warped the playing field so there is really no such thing as level anymore. The social values that are translated into regulations are very often 100% virtuous and I, for one, agree with much of what they represent.

As you’ve heard me say many times; that’s a cost that should be borne by the entire society but instead regulators only do half their job. They make the regulation, but they completely walk away from the responsibility of paying the price. In this case, it backloads the vast bulk of the cost and responsibility on the farmers. (and it, by no means, stops at agriculture) We are forced to rationalize a way through it to survive. The result is that many crops will have to be given up on and imported from where they can be produced most cheaply. We, at Elmridge, have had to drop a dozen or so crops in the last couple of years for that very reason. For example; at Elmridge we’ve stopped growing bulb onions because we can’t get yields consistently high enough to cover costs. Onions, in my opinion, are the wimps of the veggie world. They require a lot of chemical intervention to stay healthy. We are surrounded by hundreds of acres of conventionally grown onions so it’s like a holiday Mecca when the hoards of insects and diseases discover our poorly protected, naturally grown onions.
The other very good example of the implications of irresponsible regulation (in this case the rapid increase in minimum wage that makes weeding prohibitively expensive) is the fact that we have had to resort to using herbicide on our wholesale carrots (only wholesale! Markets and online carrots are still spray-free.) to reduce cost until we can have a proper robot replacing the herbicide (coming next week!). I am still cautiously optimistic that we will be able to drop the herbicide again next year and have the robot fill the gap. So in defence of farmers who use pesticides; think about the economic repercussions of a single 10 litre jug of herbicide. It will likely replace about $50,000 worth of labour for a price tag of just a few hundred dollars. If the bank is nipping at your heels what do you think you’d do?

So how is this the future?
While I will work tirelessly to try to sway politics to favour more local food production I am painfully aware that the social and political needle is extremely hard to move. So I must keep my head up and eyes and ears open to what is happening all over the world and try to be ready for what might happen next. Europe is a good indication of what might be coming our way in Canada as they seem to always be a number of years ahead of us with change. I’m happy to have them as a warning system of what might come to be. There have been multiple pesticides banned in Europe in the last decade at the demand of the voting public. The result is that the past, present and future of too many farm families have been completely lost. Not a fair system!!

 So knowing that labour costs to pull weeds are rising much more quickly than the price of food I began to think of ways to deal with it already more than five years ago. I scoured the internet and the globe as we travelled (I am so happy that not being able to take time off in the summer has opened the door to winter travel in the southern hemisphere). There were many high tech weed control gadgets and robots out there but none of them could come near what human hand-eye coordination can do without the use of herbicide. I somehow didn’t trip over Nexus Robotics early on in my search (they were a very new company). Not until the fall of 2018.
They had just won the top prize in a high tech competition in the States and I immediately sent an email off to their front man, Teric Greenan. The wheels were in motion.
He got back to me quite quickly and in December I paid them a visit in Bayers Lake. The take home for me was that we had an amazing start up in its early stages and they had already come to the conclusion that they would have to relocate to Ontario for lack of support here in Nova Scotia. Let me tell you, that did not sit well with me and I took every opportunity to bring it to the attention of everyone I could think of who might have the political drag or business network to help change that. Somehow, through the work of the Nexus team and various people in the agricultural industry we managed to turn the tide and the decision was made to stay in Nova Scotia for the summer of 2019. Even better, they wanted to set up on our farm!
We closed in and lightly renovated an open shed on the farm. It wasn’t fancy but there were no complaints. The team, consisting of 5-6 Guys and one young lady, moved in and went to work. We have a pretty able farm shop so they had full access to that and any tools we have. It’ll likely be the only time I’ll have a team of leading edge techno wizards operating out of our garage. Made for an interesting summer for sure.
I was particularly impressed by Jad. He is the lead programmer. We’ve all seen the fictional super programmers on the big and small screen. Multiple keyboards, multiple screens, an endless procession of numbers spinning by too fast to read. I thought it was purely fictional. It’s not! Jad had at least four screens going all day each day as he and his team solved unsolvable problems.
Almost every day there would be hardware and software alterations and the robot (R2 WEED2 at this point.....I think they have changed the name....they should have kept it) would be put through yet another battery of tests to gather more data. The data would be sent to China in the evening, get worked on while we slept and returned in a much more useable form in the morning.....pretty cool.
I’m an inventor so I know how product development goes. You come up with the perfect solution to the problem. In your mind there’s no way it wouldn’t work. You try it out and it either doesn’t work at all, not the way you expected, or causes another problem of it’s own. Take two; alter it a bit. There! That’s gotta do it!.......or not......Take three,.....take four.....you know where I’m going. Inventing is certainly not for quitters or the faint of heart. To add to it, the Nexus team is trying to do something that no one has ever done. When you are that close to the leading edge you can’t even be sure the problem will ever get sorted. It takes a lot of faith and willpower.
Well the wizards persevered and persevered. Horticulture NS had set a crop field day at Elmridge for early September. The robot was to be the star attraction. Months to go turned to weeks and then days. They were very close to having the software ready to take its first look at a real crop situation, identify a weed and pull it out of a crop row without damaging the crop. On the morning of the field day they were out early scrambling to be completely ready. Of course everything that could give trouble did but they did it. Pulled a few weeds for everyone to see.

 We take for granted how amazing it is that we can just reach down and instantly decide which plant is a weed or crop plant and pull the weed. To programme that into a computer is monumental. And it’s the future.
Soon robots will be a real part of our crew. It’ll hopefully allow us to continue to be profitable growing in a way that is better for both us and the environment.
Welcome to the future!
Keep eating your veggies! Greg

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July 15th, 2021

July 15th, 2021

The series of events leading up to this season have set us up to do an inadvertent whole farm, on farm, demonstration. We are desperate for any cost cutting measures that will keep us afloat until some of our investments start to pay for themselves. It’s a painful reality after almost exactly 30 years of toil had produced a winning formula that was true to our values and made us a living only to have the rules changed by nearsighted social construct.

Those of you who have read a number of my “blurbs” know that a series of extreme weather events coupled with rapidly increasing, government generated costs (mainly in the form of a $2.50 minimum wage hike that’ll cost us an additional $175k to do the same amount of work as we did in 2018) and then Covid tossed in for good measure have made the economics very dubious at best.

Before I reveal what has been driven home for us; a disclaimer. We have grown our carrots with no pesticides for many years and continue to do so for the carrots we sell retail and online as well as some select wholesale customers. But, out of necessity, we made the decision to use herbicide on carrots destined for wholesale and hand weed only those headed for our retail and online customers. Carrots to those customers have never been and never will be anything but 100% naturally grown. So the result is we have reduced our hand weeded carrot acreage by about 75%.

WELL!! The ramifications for the farm have been huge. This year we are two men short of a full crew of foreign professionals. On top of that, we have about 6-8 fewer Canadians working on the farm this summer compared to last. But despite the significantly lower labour availability, we are in better shape at the middle of July than ever before! Weeding is all caught up on all non-carrot crops and we aren’t in a vicious circle of trying to keep up, working too many hours, becoming exhausted, slowing down from exhaustion, and then getting even farther behind. It’s a cruel, punishing whirlpool that can swallow a year's profits in short order.
Last year we definitely faced that scenario. The whirlpool grew exponentially. ....struggling to get the carrots weeded.... can’t do a great job because of time constraints... the weeded areas still have a number of weeds which greatly slows the harvesting/ bunching process.... more precious time gets eaten up.... less time to weed.... the weeds get even farther out of control. Some of the crop is completely lost to weeds.... less crop to harvest to try to pay for the stupendous numbers of hours the guys are logging.

Incidentally, they are very good sports about it. They are very happy to have the extra hours and income but work diligently because they value their employer and their job and know that we must prosper for them to prosper. I can’t say enough about what a pleasure it is to work with people like them.

If my depiction above only took a toll on the carrot crop, that would be bad enough. But the chaos and losses spill over into our other crops and customer service. We struggle to fill orders on time, messing up their schedules. They lose sales and the entire local food movement takes another little scratch.
I remember back when I was in my mid-twenties a local, semi-retired farmer, Vernon Mills, told me. “I’m terrified of weeds”. I’ve never forgotten those words. Incidentally he was, and still is, quite a guy; always looking to poke fun or stir the pot. Another famous Vernon quote concerning dutch farmers...."They should have brought twice as many, half as far”. What a guy!

So, I guess if there is a point to be made it is that I’ve spent my farming career trying to make a living while doing what I think is right. I’ve always known that it would be more profitable to just use herbicides; but, I must admit I didn’t know exactly to what extent It was affecting our operation. In a lot of ways that’s a moot point anyway. Our philosophy on natural farming is what has made us successful. But it comes at a high price. Our retail and (until this year with carrots) wholesale customers have been getting more value for their dollar than I even realized.

My sincere hope is that this will be the only year we have to do this. It has done very well to alleviate a severe lack of help but it is not how we want to farm. There is a very bright light coming to our farm in about ten days that will hopefully be the holy grail we have been looking for, to naturally control weeds without breaking the bank. It is a fully autonomous, self learning, prototype (third or fourth reincarnation I think) robot from Nexus Robotics, a new-ish company established in Halifax a few years back by a group of twenty-something visionaries.

I’ll definitely be writing about and sending pictures and videos on the robot as we get it settled on our farm and take a bold step into the future.
So next time you shop for veggies from any “naturally grown” or organic grower please be aware of the sacrifice required to produce food in a more natural way. The food economics of this country do not allow very many of them to get a fair return on their effort. This is why so many of us retail in one way or another. The process of retailing is equal to a full second business to run but it is necessary to pay the cost of growing.

I hope you all enjoy the weekend and our rapidly increasing freedoms. This little “backwater” of a province might just be the best place in the world to live after all.
But whatever you do....

Keep eating your veggies!!

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July 8th, 2021

July 8th, 2021

So it’s been quite a hiatus…..my last post was mid-May.  

Well, I’ve been busy farming of course! That’s the accepted cliche, farmers are outside putting in ridiculously long hours of back breaking work. But that’s a far cry from what I actually do.  Too much time is spent churning paper, navigating government and trying to reinvent ourselves to stay in business. So I cherish the chance to do anything “real” which is what I’ve mostly been up to the last month or so. But it’s not how you might imagine it. I no longer plant vegetables, weed vegetables, harvest vegetables (except bulk carrots, it’s the hardest machine  I have ever operated, and so far I’m the only one who has mastered it) pack vegetables or even sell very many vegetables. What I do, is coordinate everyone and almost everything while I  work continuously in the farm shop to keep everything working properly. I also spend a lot of time modifying, fabricating and just plain inventing anything I can to reduce our labour load and keep the cash flow in the black. We have our work cut out for us for sure. Labour supply is tighter than ever and I can see no reason why that trend would change. 

We have about 6-8 fewer Canadians working this year than last (it was cool to work on a farm last summer during COVID lockdown so we had an unusual bump in the number of students working for us) but so far we have been able to keep up as well as or better than we could last year. So that’s a good thing. (we are “only” short two foreign professionals this year, no fault  this side of the border; Mexico wasn’t able to come through in time because of COVID related  document processing issues) 

The crops, so far, this year have done very well and started nearly two weeks earlier than last year. More good news. Now, if we can keep sales volumes up (wink wink, nudge nudge) we pray that we will have a good year. It’s too early to tell of course but at least we have a good start, and hope. 

So first a glimpse of what makes me want to farm until my body no longer allows and then a  glimpse of the often rude reality of our existence. 

This evening (Wednesday) I had the rare opportunity to do a job that really took me back to my youth. Early tomorrow I need to bale two smallish fields of hay for a neighbour of our north mountain land (an annex to our farm) that overlooks the Bay of Fundy allowing me to see all the way to New Brunswick in good weather and, most of the time, I get the most spectacular view of Cape Split. I was using an old, small, open station tractor (42 Hp.,1967 Ford 3000) to rake up the hay that is to be baled with plenty of dew on in the morning and wrapped to make a  very sweet version of grass silage (or haylage). It was a rare treat. Sitting in the open air, ear muffs on, mobile phone completely ignored. The tractor sounds and smells almost identical to the 35 Hp. David Brown 770 my father bought new as his first tractor in 1969, at the age of 23;  that really took me back. (Incidentally, he still has that tractor, restored to all of its factory fresh glory). I have been working this land since well before the age of 10. We had 3 tractors when I  was a kid. The David Brown 770, a Case 995. And a case Agri King 970. My father, my brother  and myself spent many days in these rocky mountain fields getting dirty and dusty. I was hooked already then. It’s where I quickly learned the satisfaction and self worth a job well done can give. To this day it is that feeling, much more than money, that helps propel me forward. If there was any possibility of making a decent living in that way now I would certainly still be doing it. 

Will power and resilience. Two factors that will determine success or failure in this industry.  And then there’s straight up insanity…..I’m pretty sure I have a good measure of that too…..more than the average Joe. We often joke about adding something to our Elmridge  branded clothing, “Elmridge Farm, You don’t have to be crazy to work here; but it sure helps!”  And maybe an even stronger statement for the guy who dreamed up and then created most of what is Elmridge Farm (Suzanne is essential but she will happily agree that it is me that keeps inventing more trouble).

The reason will power and resilience are on my mind is that we are already staring down the  barrel of the second tropical storm of the season and it’s only July 8th. 

I have taken interest in what I guess you might call ‘practical psychology’ in the last couple of years. I find it has helped me greatly to navigate the treacheries of an industry that is way too much of an uphill battle and (thanks mainly to blind, unthinking bureaucracy coupled with what appears to be some pretty rapid climate change) is going to continue to become a steeper slope for those of us crazy enough to keep trying to climb. 

One book I’ve read (called Grit) clearly defines will power as a finite resource in anyone. Some of us have more and some of us have less but it is absolutely not endless. I can easily see it dwindle within myself as each day progresses and also as a seasonal ebb as we get busy and try to navigate yet another season. What we know as burnout, is the result of more or less the longer term version of running out of will power. How quickly we can pull ourselves back together after our will power runs out is the resilience part of it. I can say with complete certainty, watching what makes many others collapse under pressure, that the vast majority of farmers have honed their grit or will power and resiliency to a level much higher than the average population. If I was dropped into the role I now play in Elmridge Farm and the industry when I was 25 it would easily have crushed me. I can’t say I enjoy the weight on my shoulders but somehow it hasn’t killed me and (because I must truly be crazy) I seem to find the energy to create more trouble for myself and Suzanne in the name of staying economically viable. 

Interestingly (but not really surprisingly) various government and service entities have latched onto the idea of resilience as a way to keep the farm community going. And, very annoyingly,  they seem to think that by bombarding us with “how to’s” and seminars on building resiliency they can somehow get the farmers to accomplish more for less and keep the illusion of cheap food alive. There seems to be no end to the number of organizations with all kinds of advice and “support” but no one seems interested in offering material help or real solutions that will reduce the amount of crazy required to farm. And they’re not crazy, we know that because they aren’t farming; they’re just cheering from the sidelines. 

So as my well honed grit and resilience is getting worn down already with the bulk of the season yet to come I would like to underline the fact that climate is changing and bureaucracy continues to erode any possibility of agriculture thriving in this province (and even in Canada,  of all things; Canadian food security has been eroded directly as a result of food processing moving out of the country because government regulation generally makes all but the very largest scale food processing unprofitable). In most cases, people seem blind or complicit of the facts. I see some token efforts to improve the situation but at this rate, it will be way too little, too late! 

So there’s a snapshot of some of what is going on in my head. I wrote most of this Wednesday evening. It’s now 6:00 Thursday morning and a quick check of the National Hurricane Centre website tells me the storm is still headed our way.  

The crops I worry about most are beans, peppers and tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and of course, sweet corn. We just started picking beans yesterday. The first planting of beans is always the most profitable. We will only have picked about 10% of it by the time this storm is to move through Friday overnight and, with this crop, in particular, we stand a very good chance of severe damage if wind and rain reach even 80 kph. And moderate damage with wind at  50kph.

It’s not likely to do catastrophic damage to most crops but, right now, it seems like it could very easily be another proverbial straw on the camel’s back and this camel is getting tired. We will likely win this latest battle but I worry that we might not win the war. 

Keep eating your veggies! 


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April 29th, 2021

April 29th, 2021

At this point the majority of our potatoes have been planted and we have a good start on our other crops.  The first plantings of peas, carrots, beets, onions, spinach and sweet corn are in the ground and we are starting to work through our second plantings of several crops.  In order to have a continuous supply of fresh product all season and then, for storable crops, have good quality storable produce to harvest late in the season we plant most crops anywhere from two or three times up to as many as 20 plus times each season.  It’s something we have figured out by trial and error over the last 30 years and there’s a fair bit to it; but I’ll talk about that another time….if I haven’t already talked about it in the past….


I want to explain one of the biological “plant protectant” products that we use to control disease in potatoes, carrots and beets as an “in furrow” application at planting.  The product is called “Serenade Soil”.  Bit of a strange name but actually better than most.  Plant protectants and pesticides in general have names that are bizarre enough in some cases as to compete with names in the horse racing world……but at least they are useful……as opposed to horses :-) (that’s a dig aimed at Suzanne and her horse friends; I pride myself in being anti-horse, mostly because it amuses me).

Before we go too far here I think I should touch on some terminology that is, understandably, confusing to many consumers.

  1. pesticide:  it is not only a product that will kill an insect, it is anything that kills a pest (although I’m not sure a fly swatter qualifies as a pesticide).  Those pests can be in the form of insects (insecticide), fungi (fungicide), weeds (herbicide), rodents (rodenticide) etc.  There are plenty of biological, organically accepted pesticides out there that are as safe as natural soil itself but they are still classed as pesticides and have the same type of highly regulated testing and labeling as even the most dangerous of pesticides.  So don’t be scared off by the terminology.  Employ doctor google and check out the product if you are in doubt.
  2. Plant protectant: is a more benign name (compared to pesticide) in the eyes of the public that many in the industry have been using and rightfully too in many cases.  It seems wrong to call something as benign as Serenade Soil a pesticide
  3. Label:  the official, PRMA certified users manual, so to speak
  4. PMRA: Pest Management Regulatory Agency.  The government agency that strictly regulates the use of pesticides (see definition above) in Canada.  These people mean business, they have no sense of humour and allow absolutely no deviation from what is spelled out in the label.  It’s a good thing and part of what makes Canadian food the safest and healthiest in the world.

So here is the link for the Serenade Soil label. Do not be alarmed by all of the precautions.  They always err on the safe side by a wide margin.  If there were a PMRA label for orange juice it would contain many of the same warnings (and if you know anything about how juice concentrates are made maybe it should have a PRMA label.…)  It is manufactured by Bayer CropScience which is a company familiar to many of you, and likely for the wrong reasons.,  The fact is that the same companies that have been behind the development and manufacture of many notorious pesticides are now working very hard to come up with much safer synthetic pesticides and biological crop protectants.  It is because of customers who ask for responsibly grown food and farms like Elmridge that are eager to adopt new sustainable products that this revolution is happening.  As someone in the industry for the last 30 years I can attest to the fact that crop protectants are much less dangerous to us and our environment than they were 30 years ago as older chemicals are banned and replaced with much safer products and/or biologicals.  There’s still a long way to go but the entire industry is definitely headed in the right direction.


In our case we use Serenade Soil to control rhizoctonia in potatoes.  Rhizoctonia causes potatoes to have black spots that are kind of like a crust and can be scraped off with your fingernail.  A professor of mine in college called it “the dirt that won’t wash off”.  Rhizoctonia is unsightly but can also cause potatoes in storage to break down prematurely.  It has absolutely no effect on eating quality or safety to consumers but of course, this being Canada, if there is any amount of it on our potatoes our sales will drop by more than 50%; mostly because very few people know what it is and it’s impossible to get the message across to everyone that it is utterly harmless to us.

We also use it to control rhizoctonia in our beet crop.  Again, the disease itself is of no concern to consumers but it is even more unsightly than in potatoes and sales would likely drop by 99% if we tried to sell the beets; so we don’t even try.  In the past they have become animal feed or compost but now we hope to peel them and use them to produce dehydrated products.

In carrots we use it to help control”pythium root dieback” which, for the gardeners amongst us, is the same fungus that causes damping off.  Pythium root dieback causes there carrots to become incredibly ugly and misshapen and reduces yield of affe cited carrots by up to 90% so the problem in carrots is very much more than just cosmetic.  Before we started to use Serenade Soil we experienced as much as an 85% crop loss to pythium root dieback.  The worst part about it is that usually the carrot tops look fine but when you go to harvest you find an extremely stunted, gnarly nub where there should have been a nice carrot.  It’s a very discouraging surprise.  It can also vary from 100% infection in one row to no infection in a row as little as five feet away.

The active ingredient of Serenade Soil is Bacillus subtilis which is a bacterium that triggers plants to mobilize their own defence mechanisms before harmful fungi, like pythium, can attack and damage them.  Bacillus subtilis is found in the digestive system of just about every mammal including humans.  It has been around for a long time and is an active ingredient in many human health supplements which is why it can be used right up to the day of harvest and even be applied to produce as it goes into storage.

Serinade soil is just one of many products now available or in the process of being tested and accepted by PRMA that are available to farmers willing to dig deeper and go the extra mile to grow food more naturally.  There are, of course, trade offs and risks associated with many of the newer crop protectants than with the older “kill everything’ type of pesticides.  The old school pesticides are very simple to use and extremely lethal to their targets (and many non-targets that get in the way).  The newer crop protectants often require more understanding of natural soil and plant systems (and that is an area of study that is very much in it’s infancy), and often only suppress instead of eliminate the pest, require better application timing or placement (underground for example) and are very often more expensive to use.


The economics of cost and efficacy of the product again throw the decision to use newer biologicals back to society and consumers because of the extremely tight financial situation agriculture is in.  Elmridge Farm has evolved over three decades to grow crops with about 95% less conventional pesticide use than most surrounding farms.  We don’t get enough of a wholesale price increase to cover the extra costs so we have value added (read operate a second business to cover the shortfall in what we would otherwise get for our product) by retailing a portion of our crop.  It is not that we charge more than the grocery stores for comparable product, it is that we run a retail business and roll that money back into the farm to be able to grow produce in a more sustainable way.  So I think it is wrong to malign farmers about using pesticides because it is the thoughtless shopping habits of so many consumers that fails to see anything but the dollar cost and leaves the majority of farmers with no choice but to grow in the very cheapest way possible inside of the letter of the law or go out of business.  Sometimes capitalism just plain sucks.

As a matter of fact, we have compared our prices a number of times to the pricing at the big box stores and our prices are, on average, always lower.  Strangely enough, the common misconception is that farmers markets are more expensive.  They are not, and we have a number of very astute customers who are very well aware of that.  So the bottom line is that when comparing like products farmers markets are a better bang for the consumer buck.

We have worked with our local farm chemical suppliers over the last thirty years to identify and implement the use of as many natural plant protectants as we can find and continue to search for and add more biologically sound weapons to our arsenal against crop pests of every kind.  So as much as these chemical retailers are seen as a problem to so many people they are very much a part of the solution.  As time goes on, the entire industry will definitely continue to shift more and more to environmentally sound practices……if society will support us.


If maybe the future doesn’t look to bright this week at least the long term looks more sustainable and healthy in the world of veggies.


And; keep eating your veggies!


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April 22, 2021

April 22, 2021

Several weeks ago I had a question about our foreign professional help.  I have included both the question and my reply here followed by an explanation/ description of how we hire and employ our international professionals.


"The understanding by the general public is that the international workers on farms are paid less than minimum wage. Is this true for Nova Scotian farms? And that the Canadian workers would be getting minimum wage (or would they be getting less than min. wage?)”


My response:

"The international workers get minimum wage, a free place to stay, transportation, we pay for a minimum of half of their travel costs and, on our farm, their food is about half paid because we grow so many types of vegetables that they are free to take as they need.(and that is the case on many farms, the guys get whatever bonuses the farmers can throw their way).  We also make the occasional deal with other farms or businesses when we can.  For example; a neighbouring farm produces eggs but a certain percentage are cosmetically challenged so we get them for the guys by trading for some veggies and now the guys have limitless amounts of free eggs; and the eggs are no longer wasted.

The entire programme (called SAWP, Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme) is very strictly regulated by the federal government.  There are rules for everything right down to bedroom size, how many and what size of refrigerator is needed, break times, minimum number of hours work we have to guarantee them, the bunkhouses are inspected every year for safety and decency, etc etc.  Every imaginable thing is monitored.  The overall cost to hire international workers is minimum wage plus about $5 per hour.  It’s not cheap but it’s dependable and, so far, a workable solution to a labour shortage that would otherwise decimate the industry.

Canadian workers would also get minimum wage plus, so at face value they are more economical to hire.  But we can’t get even 10% of the number of people we would need and they are completely new to farming in almost every case (and therefore very inefficient) so the majority are a direct loss because they can’t accomplish enough to cover their wages.  Our international workers come year after year and are nothing less than professionals at what they do.  The other problem is that many Canadian employees come and go on a whim so you never know from one day to the next if you have a labour force.  That doesn’t work from a business perspective and it is extremely stressful for us.

I hope this gives you a better perspective on the reality of the situation.  Google SAWP and start digging; there is a pile of information and reams of red tape:-(


So……we hire our guys mostly through a federally administered programme called SAWP but the last couple of years we have three guys here under a different programme called AgStream.

To say that these programmes are extremely tightly regulated is no exaggeration I would say that Suzanne works for the equivalent of a full month of each year just to administer all of the demands the programmes require of us.

SAWP. Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme.   Officially this programme is to source “unskilled labour” (which, as most of you know, really burns me because the people calling it unskilled don’t have a clue and we would starve if they had to fill these positions)  Each work term is an eight month maximum.  There are to be no SAWP workers in Canada between December 15 and January 15 each year, no exceptions.  The good thing is that the guys are all home with their families over the holidays but it does kind of wreck the holidays for some farmers because we are trying to keep everything rolling with way too few employees.  We sent our Jamaican guys home an extra week earlier last year so they could be out of quarantine before Christmas.  I would consider quarantine over Christmas as cruel and unusual punishment.  Luckily there was no quarantine in Mexico (not sure how wise that was) so we still had ample crew up until December 15th.

AgStream:  This programme works on a two year work VISA.  The guys can come and go as they please during the two years and then renew the VISA if they want to continue.  In 2020 we had two guys on AgStream; namely Teban and Leon.  We were very lucky that they stayed until just a couple of days before Christmas.  Teban was back just a couple of weeks later and Leon came back the first of February and was able to resume work around mid-February.  Teban’s younger brother is also now here under the AgStream programme.  The reason both brothers aren’t here under the SAWP programme is that the Mexican government will allow only married men to work in Canada under the SAWP programme.  There is no such stipulation under the AgStream programme.

Before we can apply for or hire anyone under either programme we need to complete an LMIA .     Labour Market Impact Assessment.  We also have to register yearly with the government of Nova Scotia for a permit to allow us to bring in help.

Basically we have to prove yearly that we are only bringing in workers to fill positions that would otherwise not be filled by a willing Canadian.

This requires that we post a minimum of two job ads for two weeks, six months in advance of when we need the help.  One ad has to be posted on the Service (oxymoron) Canada website and another on another approved site.  The job ads have to state the number of positions available, the wages being offered, the specific type of work, hours per week, etc, etc.  We are then held to those specifications while employing anyone we bring from outside of Canada.  We are then required to seriously consider and hire any Canadian that appears to have the ability and motivation to do the job.  Whatever the shortfall in employee numbers is we can hire from one of several countries that we have agreements with including Jamaica and Mexico.  There are  big fines and/or we can be banned from programme if we deviate from the described work or wages in the job ad.  A couple of years ago a coal mine operating under a programme very similar to SAWP was fined (about $250K) for giving their foreign help a raise/ bonus for a job well done.  The problem was that they were required to repost the job with higher wages to see if Canadians wanted it first.  Never mind the fact that the Canadians likely would never have earned the raise or bonus in the first place.  I don’t know any more details from that case but I would imagine that mine was banned from the programme for a number of years if not permanently.   If, as a farm, we were to be fined, or banned from the SAWP programme for even a year, we are done, period.  We would have to sell the farm or wait for creditors to take it.  Believe me when I say we don’t screw with it and would gladly hire Canadians instead if they could do the job just to get out from under the weight of that type of oversight and punitive threat.  The ruthless nature of the government regulators is a constant source of additional stress; not nice to live with.


In Nova Scotia each bunkhouse has to be inspected yearly by the county. This is mainly for the purpose of fire safety and other safety related issues.  It also includes making sure there are enough stoves, microwaves, refrigerators, bathrooms, toilets, washing machines, etc. and making sure every bedroom has a certain square footage per person.  We like to have as few people per bedroom as possible and a lot of our guys have their own bedroom.  That’s not only a point of decency for our workers, it’s good management, because after working together all day they will rest better if they can get a bit of privacy.  Internet is now a necessity so we now have extra internet accounts to keep everyone connected to the outside world.  It used to be cable TV but that is now just a memory; I swear that Jamaicans are the most knowledgeable people on social media in the world.

We also do yearly water tests in each of the bunkhouses to be sure the weather source is clean. 

We are frequently audited on various things.  It seems to be the governments way of creating new “good” jobs.  I hate when money is taken from me and then used to hire more people to harass me.  Two years ago we were audited by HRDC.  It involved interviewing selected employees and an inspection of working and housing conditions.  Audits always seem to include what I would call leading questions.  I don’t know very much about what is asked of our employees because we aren’t allowed to be there when they are interviewed, fair enough.  But some of my guys have told me about their experience. For example;  "how do you get to Town?"  Answer: "We drive one of the Elmridge vans." Counter question;" Is that OK with you?" Huh?….  (In my guy’s head) "How could it be a problem to drive to town?”  Well; apparently the rules state that we, the employer, have to give them at least one ride to town each week (our guys are free to take a vehicle any time they want, within reason, and they are pretty good about it) but if one of them is driving said van we need to pay that guy for the time he is in town.  Ridiculous! And our guys agree it makes no sense.  They prefer to drive themselves on their own schedule, of course.

So on the same “visit” while inspecting New Mexico (that’s what we call one of our properties because it is 100% populated by Mexicans) the inspector decided there weren’t enough bureaus in one room for their liking but we could avoid getting written up and possibly fined if we were to immediately put another bureau in the room.  Suzanne called me to say that all of my clothes got dumped on the floor in our room (and stayed there for months) because the bureau went down the road to New Mexico.  Welcome to being a farmer in Canada.  

As a side note, I am no longer allowed to deal with HRDC, Oxymoron Canada, and especially not Nova Scotia motor vehicles because I have a habit of telling them what I think…..last time I was at the DMV I was “asked" to leave.  I was was there with Jose, one of the most ambitious, hardest working people I have ever met, to try to have him write the test for his beginners licence.  He has had a valid licence in Mexico for twenty years but we were told by DMV that wasn’t good enough and the only way he (or any of our other guys) would be allowed to drive in Nova Scotia would be to have a valid NS drivers licence.  Ok.  Fine.  We can do that.  This was his third attempt to write, having been turned away twice already because they said his ID wasn’t good enough.  So this time we were prepared. We had a Mexican passport, a Mexican drivers licence and a general Mexican ID; all with photos.  We had also gone to our lawyer to have  all of the ID’s notarized.  On top of that I had a Spanish speaking friend along in case we required any translation, although I have always been able to communicate  well enough with Jose; and my Spanish is pretty primitive.  The examiner hadn’t even fully flipped though the various types of ID and proclaimed “not good enough”.   For those of you who know me well you can well imagine what followed.  There were no threats as such, physical or otherwise.  But there was a very quick summary of what we were really trying to accomplish by  getting this very dangerous looking Mexican a licence to kill (it had to be on the level of 007 the way they were acting) in the form of a beginners licence.  I was in the midst of thanking him from protecting our country from prosperity and food security at which time I was asked to leave or “he would take measures”.  I was more than ready to leave!  That was three years ago and I haven’t been back since.  Thankfully suzanne does the DMV dirty work for us.  That wasn’t an isolated incident and, strangely enough, the guy suddenly decided on early retirement about a year later.

To really top all of that off; we were told repeatedly by Access NS that an international licence was only good for three months and there were no exceptions which is the reason we spent countless hours and dollars to try to get NS licences for our guys.  Just by chance, I was talking to some other farmers during a “zoom "meeting and the subject of licensing came up.  I enquired as to how they were dealing with it because it was leaving us woefully short on drivers.  The answer: “that’s easy, just get them international permits”.  My response “that’s not sufficient, DMV has told us so on multiple occasions”.  After the meeting I mentioned it to Suzanne and she started digging.  And if it’s somewhere in or on the web she can find it.  An hour later she uncovered an old government act dated 1989 stating that an international licence is OK for SAWP employees…..Thanks DMV, glad you know your stuff.

When the guys are paid weekly they get all of the same deductions that a Canadian employee would get.  They are paid vacation pay.  They pay into CPP and have the option of applying to get it all back or to leave it and start receiving cheques from the Canadian government when they turn 65.  They pay income tax just like you or I.  They pay into EI but are not eligible to collect because they are seasonal and are out of the country when not working but the Canadian government came up with what I consider a really good compromise.  They are eligible to claim paternity leave for the months they are home if their wife has had baby within the last twelve months.  We also pay into WCB (Workers Compensation Board) on their behalf.  So we gain no financial remuneration advantages compared to Canadian employees.

Another safety for the guys is that there is a hotline for them to call if they are having issues with their employers.  We received an email from the federal government recently saying that the hotline has been beefed up this year to give workers every opportunity to report and wrong doings by their employers.  That is, no doubt, a reaction to the negative scrutiny that the SAWP programme has received in the last year with the onset of our new COVID world.  I have watched several documentary type reports that may have a bit of truth behind them but, as someone inside of the industry, I can tell you were more about sensationalizing and improving ratings than telling the truth.  The fact is that with so many farms involved from coast to coast and more than 60,000 foreign professionals arriving each year there are bound to be bad employers, dishonest or opportunistic employees and conflicts.  That’s just the way life is.  All I can say is that we, at Elmridge, very much appreciate our guys and do the best we can for them, as do the very vast majority of farmers in this province and across Canada.  Unfortunately it has become a bit of a political topic and it’s rare to see anything positive come from political optics.

As always keep eating your veggies!

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April 14th,2021

April 14th,2021

I was invited as a panelist/speaker for a Climate Change Adaptation session. The intent of the organizers was to talk about the physical adaptations of climate change in agriculture but this is what they got because if we don't deal with the big picture we won't be able to deal with the details of climate change anyway.

Here it is:

I was all ready to give an analysis of the changes in weather patterns, which may turn out to be a permanent climate change, how they have affected our farm and how we have dealt with them. But another approach has been building in my head since I was asked in January to participate in this session.

So I am throwing caution to the wind and I’m going to tell the story of how climate has and continues to change our farm and how we are just one small entity trying to operate within the bigger picture. Disclaimer: I am certainly not trying to single anyone out and fully acknowledge that there are many proponents of agriculture both in government and in society as a whole. But something is not adding up.  Dealing with climate change is a much more complex problem than just the weather changes and challenges we will undoubtedly face.  In the end, it’s not the details of how we deal with climate change that will determine our success or failure as an industry it is the man-made forces that are now more of a factor than the natural forces that are going to determine our fate.

The weather will likely continue to change.  We are told to expect more extremes in temperature, moisture, and wind.  Basically a loss of stability that our industry so dearly needs for farms and farming families to survive into the future.  Agriculture requires continuous commitment, dedication, and investment for decades and generations in order to prosper.  It is very much the long game and for that reason often doesn’t fare well in the modern political spectrum  The farming community has proven that it is resourceful many times over in the last decades just to continue to exist and for that reason, I am very sure we will meet the challenges of climate change itself and prosper despite the challenges.  The fact that we have survived against seemingly impossible odds for so long has only contributed to the belief that we will survive the next wave of whatever is thrown at us. What is absolutely not clear is whether the man-made political and social climates will give us the priority and opportunity we need to be strong enough to adapt to climate change.

It is almost impossible as an industry in a small corner of the earth to noticeably alter climate change; although we have and will continue to do our part.  Our best hope lies in altering the societal and political climate to work with us to solve the big "elephant in the room" problem that has made every hiccup into a crisis, and that is the lack of profitability in the sector because we tow the line on social values but are rarely compensated for it.  An obvious potential problem with our California-like summers is a seasonal water deficit and the conflict with various non-farming neighbours over what is acceptable and if money has to be spent to find ways to conserve aquatic wildlife for the sake of all of society; who should pay that bill?  With the current open borders to foreign produce, I strongly disagree with those that say the farmer should pay.

So. A bit about Elmridge Farm and how the climate and winds of change have shaped us into what we are and continue to throw seemingly insurmountable challenges our way.  I hope an analysis of how climate change has interacted with other factors in our business is a catalyst for thought.

We started off very small in the early 1990’s retailing vegetables at the Halifax city Farmers Market and at the same time tried to develop some wholesale business that was headed to the big box stores.  It wasn’t long before we dropped the big box wholesale and concentrated on supplying our farmers market clientele and selling to small independent grocers.  We certainly weren’t profitable at first but our profitability relies heavily on taking advantage of the increasingly early springs and long warm falls to lengthen what I would consider our high season.  The time when we have an abundance of produce and sales are high.

The way our business profitability works is that at the first of the season we start with the first early products and keep adding new veggies as they become ready in the field until we have pretty much everything we grow available for sale.  The high season either comes to an abrupt end with an early killing frost or slowly through attrition, so to speak.  Generally the more weeks we can be at full production the better we do financially. If the season gets shortened at the front end by a cold spring or by a killing frost it is the high season weeks we lose and along with it much of our profitability.

That’s where the volatility of the weather over the last three years has really hurt us.  The entire industry worldwide has had to take bigger risks to stay in business and that includes pushing the envelope on what we grow and how far out of season we dare to grow it.   The globalization of the food industry has also made storing product for winter sale much less profitable than it once was because worldwide supply keeps the price of storable products from rising in the off season like they once did.

We will continue to plant as early as possible and push as late into the fall as we can for now.  Three shortened season in a row is not enough to say that it is a permanent change.

Anyone who knows us is aware that we grow a dizzying array of vegetables as a result of trying to grow as much as we could for the farmers markets we attend.  We also have thousands of retail customers and over a hundred wholesale customers.  The unfortunate reality is that the wide diversity of crops will do us no good as we are in the process of becoming less diversified as a result of social/ political forces.  The complexities of new food safety regulations have left us struggling to comply and have rendered a number of the smaller volume crops no longer feasible.  On top of that, there has been a rapid increase in labour costs.  Every $1 increase in minimum wage costs our farm $70,000 dollars.  Since 2018 the minimum wage has increased by $2.50 which means that compared to 2018 we will have to make $175,000 more in profit to be at the same level as we were in 2018.  The obvious answer is that we need to reduce labour costs by eliminating as much labour as possible. The problem with automation is that it doesn’t lend itself well to diversity because machines are nowhere near as multitalented as humans and generally, horribly expensive so to mechanize you need to pick the crops you can do volumes of.  Crop diversity is touted as the answer to stability but the social and political climate has rendered it useless.

It’s certainly not all doom and gloom.  It’s not in my DNA to give up or even back down, for that matter.  Stability is something that we really lack on a farm that specializes in fresh vegetables.  They are easily damaged by any number of things, weather events being a big factor.  They are also extremely perishable so we have no wiggle room on the window of opportunity to market them.  When they are ready they have to go.  Heat waves, prolonged wet spells or hurricanes can easily change consumers focus away from fresh produce for a time and product can end up left in the field on account of that.

So, how to gain some stability?  Basically, take the lemons and see if you can come up with lemonade.  We are building a new facility with the aim of taking surplus, damaged or cosmetically challenged vegetables and turning them into value-added dehydrated products like pet treats, pet food ingredients, soup mixes, dehydrated powders and ingredients≥. Hopefully, this takes care of the obvious problem of crops lost to weather events in one way or another.  But it also creates a new revenue stream out of a product that previously had very little or no value to us.  It also adds some stability back into our business in the form of shelf-stable product to help offset some of the stability we are losing to more volatile weather.

Our society has become ever more removed from nature and complacent about its grip on us but agriculture is where humanity still meets reality and every farmer can attest to how precarious our food supply really is.  I am often more amazed that we can keep it all together and put food on tables than I am shocked by the devastation we sometimes face.  Food supply is taken for granted by most of our society and in a country seemingly on a safety crusade, there is nothing safe about a struggling agricultural industry.

Agriculture is the third-largest industry in Nova Scotia and any support and consideration given to agriculture will come back to benefit the entire province in the form of a vibrant, profitable industry that can withstand change and will strengthen our society.

As always.....
Keep eating your veggies.

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