We're often asked about our farming methods at Bee Loved Gardens, so here is a brief outline of what we do. The most common question is: "Are you certified organic?" At this time, no. Not that we don't like organic food - it's great! There are a lot of really great things about organic farming methods. Without a doubt, they are a huge step in the right direction to producing good food. However, we believe that regenerative agriculture is the ultimate farming method for us, which is beyond organic.
Some of the great things about organic farming practices (and we do all of the following at Bee Loved Gardens)...
- use compost, mulches, cover crops, crop rotations, etc to improve soil (such as improve tilth, drainage, water holding capacity, general fertility, conserve moisture)
- grow a diversity of plants (not just one crop in a huge area at one time). We also grow some crops just for pollinators and beneficial insects, which means they are the only ones who get to harvest them.
- encourage biodiversity in the gardens / fields, such as encouraging soil microbes and beneficial insect populations for pollination and to help control "trouble-maker" insects. Also, diversity of livestock, which are an important part of the network on the farm
- use non-chemical means of protecting crops from insects, such as floating row cover or insect netting over the crops
- use things like compost, lime, soft rock phosphate, other rock dusts, and a bunch of other non-toxic soil fertility inputs.
- do not use chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics (in livestock), hormones (in livestock)
And, there are other factors too. Basically, we feel that organic foods are "safer" (ie cleaner) than their non-organic counterparts, because there are no toxic substances used in their production. But just being "cleaner" does not equal "nutrient-dense".
The reason we love regenerative agriculture is because it goes beyond organic, and produces foods with more nutrition instead of just being "clean".
The goal of regenerative agriculture is to produce healthier plants that contain higher levels of nutrients. Just because a plant (or animal or bird) is grown "organically" does not mean it is achieving optimal health.
For example, organically-grown plants are often still prone to severe insect and disease attacks, which is an indication of their less-than-ideal nutritional status and immunity. We experienced this too, until we started applying the principles of regenerative agriculture.
We aim to grow plants with functional immune systems, which means they are resistant to pests and diseases. In other words, no pesticides are needed! Not even organic-approved ones!
In addition, as the soils become more balanced, weeds become less and less of an issue. Therefore, no herbicides are needed, and much less hand-weeding and cultivating are required. (This is one of the last effects of restoring soil health... we're still dealing with some too-healthy weeds here!)
With regenerative agriculture, the focus is on balancing plant nutrition, which goes beyond applying things like compost and lime and soft rock phosphate. Those are all good, but more is required for optimal plant health. There are key trace mineral nutrients and co-factors that absolutely must be balanced in order to have truly healthy and productive crops.
Foliar (leaf) sprays are used to provide accessible and rapidly-used nutrients at critical growing points in the plants' life cycles. By balancing the plants' nutrition, important nutrients are released through the plants' roots to feed the biology in the soil.
This is the biggest contributing factor to restoring soil health, which does a lot more good that just growing cover crops and applying compost and adding "organic" fertilizers. These things are all very good, but restoring soil health through feeding healthy plants is even better.
Our ultimate goal in regenerative agriculture is to grow food with higher levels of nutrients. High-nutrient food is also high-flavour food. We want to eat high brix, nutrient-dense foods ourselves, and it is our privilege to provide this quality of food for others.
At a time when nutrient levels in food have been dropping steadily for decades, and farmland in general is declining in fertility, it is our goal to regenerate this piece of ground we're stewarding to its maximum potential.
We use the organic principles, but make special efforts to go beyond, to produce crops with greater flavour and nutrition. Yes, it is more costly in terms of our time spent growing the crop and cost of nutrient inputs. But so worth it. We will be working with Advancing Eco Agriculture this year to fine-tune our production practices to meet these goals.
To finish off...
Here's a quote from Steve Solomon in "The Intelligent Gardener - Growing Nutrient Dense Food" (pg 17). He describes how his general health declined and he lost teeth (among other issues) after eating homegrown "organic" foods for a few years. He met others who had experienced similar things. He finally learned about the differences in soils affecting the nutritional integrity of food. He got to the true core of the issue and says these things were
"not the consequence of our food having been grown organically. They were the consequence of the food having been raised in soil that was not minerally balanced".
And so, he wrote a book on how to produce nutrient-dense food. (His book covers some key concepts on balancing soil minerals, but the principles of regenerative agriculture go beyond this too.)
To us, it is important to go beyond the usual organic principles in order to produce the highest-quality produce.
Also, we should mention... we are planning to be 'certified organic' at some point in the future. A few of the other reasons it is not a priority right now: it is a 3-year process, involves a lot of paperwork (we seem to have all the paperwork we can handle at the moment), and it is a financial investment (we are still investing in equipment and other production necessities).
We have no secret farming practices, so we welcome all questions or discussion on this topic!