Co-op Staff visit Hummingbird Farm!

It’s Farm Tour Season!

Farm tours are one of the most enjoyable aspects of the True Local program. Not only are these visits just plain fun, they achieve a number of positive outcomes:

  • First, Kootenay Co-op staff have the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about our True Local suppliers and their products.
  • Second, the more visitors a farm has, the more accountability there is. We can see their farming practices in action and ask questions about the production issues we care about.
  • Third, these tours allow our staff to see how strict production standards can be easily accomplished with a little planning and creativity.
  • And last, relationships with suppliers are built, strengthened, and enhanced.

It’s this emphasis on cooperative connections, exemplified by farm tours, that drew me to join the Co-op. In my view, sustainable communities start with sustainable relationships. Seeing firsthand how much stock the Co-op puts into nurturing these relationships makes me proud to be a member-owner and proud to be on staff.

~ Alyssa Nebel, True Local Coodinator

Arriving at Hummingbird Farm

On July 9th, a lucky few of our team visited Hummingbird Farm in Passmore. It was our second tour of the day (you can expect a blog about Stone Meadow Gardens soon) and it was HOT! We arrived midday in the blazing sun, decked out in wide brimmed hats and sunglasses, and smelling of multiple sunscreen applications.

From bottom left clockwise: Quillan, Leticia, Antoine, Austin, Alyssa, Sarah, Sam, Sadie

We parked at the gate and were greeted by Lana and Brad, along with their giant friendly pup, Finnegan, who bounded happily toward us.

The tour begins

The tour began on a winding path through shady trees, tall grasses and green shrubbery while Lana told us about the property and the crops they’re focusing on this year. We reached a beautiful yurt and met up with their farm helper, Jo. It was endearing to see the playful relationship that Jo had already formed with Lana and Brad (and Finn!). We could all tell that they worked hard in the fields, but they had fun doing it. It reminded me a bit of our very own produce department — you can tell they’re having fun while they’re getting their work done!

And on we go!

From the yurt, we looped around to the well-maintained flower rows and learned the names of some of Lana’s favourites. Meandering back and forth through the rows, we learned that their “electric” fence isn’t electrified – they used it to train Finn to stay out and haven’t turned it on since! We learned that the wide berth of space around the outside of beds is to keep the quackgrass (Lana calls it “crack grass”) from overtaking the crops. And we learned about a few things they would have done differently in setting up the beds, like putting them closer together. The space between beds, however, allows for more ecosystem biodiversity, which we can count as an unintended benefit.

Let’s take a break from the heat

From the sunny garden beds, we took it down a few degrees and entered their new flower cooler. Brad told us how the “CoolBot” overrides the limit settings on a regular air conditioner unit to allow for any insulated space to become a walk-in cooler. This hack not only saves them the expense of building and powering a walk-in cooler, it’s also a lot easier to fix if something goes wrong. The region appears to be lacking in refrigeration repair experts, but air conditioning repair people are easy to find. That makes these CoolBots really popular with small scale farmers in the Kootenays!

It’s more than raw produce

In addition to flower and herb farming, Lana launched Fantastic Foods this year, an organic gourmet foods line made with ingredients picked just metres away from the brand new commercial kitchen! My favourite is her chipotle salsa, but the flavour of her pickled beets (available on our olive/tapas bar) conjure up images of my grandmother’s picnic table – a welcome memory jog.

“Why organic?”

Sadie asked why Hummingbird decided to go organic, and the response was similar to that of many of the other farmers in the region: they told us that it was never really a choice. Organic standards are just so aligned with Brad and Lana’s personal values that they never even considered conventional farming methods. If there was any question as to Lana’s dedication to organic agriculture, I should mention here that Lana is the chair of the Kootenay Organic Growers Society (KOGS), the main organic certifying body in the region.

Time for refreshments and a swim

Now for a taste of Lana’s homemade raspberry shrub. Trying this drink was a first for many of our team, but all were pleasantly surprised. When you hear the words, “shrub” and “drinking vinegar” to describe a beverage, you can’t necessarily control where your mind goes! After a social sit on the yurt deck, a few brave souls slipped down the embankment into the strong current of the Slocan River.

Farewell, for now

Most of the Kootenay Co-op team was having so much fun, they didn’t want to say goodbye. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Just as all good clichés must be allowed sometimes…

Thank you to the Produce department for organizing summer farm tours, and thank you to Hummingbird Farm for hosting us all! We learned a lot about the Hummingbird operation and their crops; farming practices were made transparent; and we strengthened our co-operative relationship with yet another True Local farm.

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