A variety of plants that has been kept alive for a minimum of 50 years according to “Slow Food International” standards. Growers of food have always collected and maintained certain selections of seeds that met desirable standards such as plant health and/or flavour. These plants are open pollinated and seeds are saved for the following years to come.
Plant breeding is something that growers have also participated in for generations. The process involves two different varieties being the parent of a new variety. This process happens in nature, when two plants cross pollinate and create a new variety. Humans often do this manually to bring together desired traits of plants that they want to have. Creating Hybrid plants is mimicking a natural process.
Genetically Modified Organism:
GMO’s are created by crossing two unrelated species, and is a process that can not happen in nature. The goal is to create traits that are desirable for certain farming practices or conditions that the plant may not necessarily be able to adapt to on it’s own. There are only 4 largely commercially available GMO crops in Canada. Corn, Canola, Soy and Sugar Beets. GMO potatoes are being grown in Canada for research purposes only at this point. There is also a small amount of GMO Alfalfa seed available in Eastern Canada.
Health Canada has also approved apples, but currently there are now GMO orchards in Canada.
Sources: Slow Food International. Crop Life Canada. Canadian Biotechnology Action Network.
Organic Farming has a history in a holistic approach to farming that aims to prioritize the health of the land the food is grown on and the people who are consuming it. As interest in eating organic has grown, there are many farms producing certified organic food with varying degrees of commitment to the well being of the land they grow on. If a farm has received an Organic Certification standard in Canada they are held to a set of standards that insure the following.
- persistent pesticides;
- synthetic macronutrient fertilizers;
- the routine use of drugs, antibiotics or synthetic hormones;
- animal cloning;
- genetic engineering (“GMOs”);
- sewage sludge (“biosolids”);
- irradiation; and
- artificial food colours, flavours, sweeteners, preservatives and many other processing aids and ingredients in processed foods.
These standards do not necessarily enforce a long term sustainability commitment, but are a way to guarantee to the customer that these base requirements are met.
While Organic Certification standards look to reduce harm caused to the land, the words regenerative farming refer to the idea that the farmer will leave the land better than it is found. The key components of this are building soil and habitat for nature. This involves a variety of practices such as reduced tillage, grazing of animals, building up hedgerows and thinking about water usage on the land.
There is currently no certification process for Regenerative Farming in Canada, although many farmers are practicing it’s principles. Reduced tillage is one of the principles and can be found in use by non-organic growers in tandem with conventional herbicide and pesticide based farming.
With principles of organic certification standards and regenerative farming practices, Biodynamic farming is another style of farming that prioritizes soil health and holistic land management. There is an element to Biodynamic farming that incorporates and understanding of the moon, gravity and other elemental influences on phases of growing, planting and harvesting. Biodynamic principles were founded by Rudolf Steiner.
Sources: Canadian Organic Growers. Standards Council of Canada. Regeneration International. Biodynamic Association.
Community Shared Agriculture (CSA)
How it works!
- Purchase a “Share” at the beginning of the season
- Shares are doled out throughout the season to CSA members based on availability and seasonality of food produced by the farm
- They can be weekly, monthly, bi-weekly or however the farmer chooses to set it up
- Your initial payment helps pay for early season costs on the farm that are required to grow the seasons food
- The food you receive will be based on how the growing season is going. Early strawberry season? You get early strawberries. Late strawberry season, you get late strawberries. The food you receive is a direct reflection of how the growing season on the farm you’ve chosen to be a part of is going.
- Historically a place that was set up for farmers to come and sell their products.
- There are now many vendors at farmers markets that do not produce the products they are selling.
- Ask your local market manager what their policy on reselling products is. If a manager does not have an answer, it is likely that there are vendors re-selling products. There are many markets that have a strict policy against reselling and will do on farm inspections themselves to ensure that the customers can trust the market and it’s vendors.
- In Ontario, look for the Farmers Market Ontario “My Pick” signage. Some farmers have gone through this certification process to show that they produce what they grow. If there is no signage, chat with the vendors. Perhaps they have a website, farm tours, or social media where you can get a better sense of what they do.
Grocery Stores/Small Food Stores
- Grocery Stores, small health food stores, country markets, butcher shops and so many other models are retailers of locally produced food.
- Labelling laws require produce signage to indicate where the food was grown.
- Local Brands will often advertise where they are from.
- Some stores designate specific “local food shelves”
- Marketing can be misleading. Pictures of farmers, farm fields, animals, people cooking and more can be used to indicate the quality and values of a product or producer without actually using any words. If you are concerned about where your food comes from, make sure to read the label past the design and photo representation of ideas.
There is currently no Canadian federal mandate for certification when using the term “Grass-Fed” on products in Canada. There are third party certification programs that farmers can choose to get certified with, however there are many products that claim to be grass-fed without any certification. Just because a farm has not received a certification, does not mean they are not truly grass-fed, however it does lead to confusion on the consumer’s end of things and can require more research for the consumer.
Grass-fed can mean a couple of things.
- Animals have access to pasture while still being supplemented with grain feed
- Animals have only consumed pasture (“grass”) for the entirety of its life. Within this process there are varying methods including:
- Animals that have free choice to a large area of pasture, requiring large amounts of land but less input on the farmer’s end of things
- Animals are rotated to new sections of pasture on a regular basis, to encourage soil health, new pasture growth and efficient use of land
- The care of pasture can use both organic and non-organic practices.
In cooler climates, the animals may live off of harvested dried hay for the winter, while still having access to the outdoors. This means they may not necessarily be in the past 12 months of the year, but they are still only consuming “grass.”
Grass is being put in quotation marks because the word pasture can mean a variety of fresh forage that may include any number of plants that are green and living. Grass fed is a term that encompasses all forms of pasture.
Growth Hormones to promote rapid weight gain for increased production in meat farming are only permitted in Beef in Canada. There are many Pork and Chicken products claiming to be hormone free as a value added concept, however all pork and chicken, regardless of the farmer’s growing practices, is hormone free in Canada.
For Dairy cows, growth hormones are also not allowed in Canada, however it is permitted in the United States. Some dairy products use American Dairy and therefore may contain dairy from cows that have been administered hormones.
Ractopamine is a feed additive that encourages rapid growth in animals. It is not a hormone so it is legal to be used in not only beef farming but pork and poultry production in Canada as well. There are federal certification programs that farmers can go through to prove that they do not use this feed additive in their farming.
Conventionally farmed livestock are primarily fed grain mixes that include corn. Similar to the “hormone free” labelling, “Corn Fed” marketing labels can be misleading as something that is unique to that meat’s production when it is actually the standard for most meat production in Canada.
Feeding cows and pigs grain allows for faster weight gain, marbling and tenderness and has been a part of the general farming practice for some time.
Animals can be certified organic and still fed grain, including corn, however that grain must have been produced with organic farming practices.
Poultry will always have some grain be a part of it’s diet due to the physical nature of the animals and their health requirements. This feed can also include corn.
Raised without the use of Antibiotics
There are federal rules and regulations surrounding the use of antibiotics and farmers’ ability to make claims regarding the use of antibiotics in their practices.
Even when a farmer does administer antibiotics to their animals there is a “withdrawal” period required between the time the drugs were administered and the time the animal was processed.
While most consumers are concerned about the human health implications of consuming meat with antibiotics, other concerns surrounding the heavy use of antibiotics in farming is the risk of both animals and humans developing disease that is resistance to antibiotics and reducing their effectiveness in serious health situations overall.
Organic meat may be administered veterinary approved drugs if there are not alternative options. As mentioned before, all Canadian meat must go through a withdrawal process before the meat is processed to ensure that the medication is either completely passed through the animal’s system or is low enough to be approved for human consumption.
Free Range/Cage Free
According to the Chicken Farmers of Ontario, all chicken raised for meat can be considered free run. This means raised without being put into individual cages.
Free Range means that they must have some access to the outdoors, however there is no certifying body and the amount of outdoor access can range from farm to farm.
These terms can be used with any livestock, but again do not provide much clarity on the type of farming as there is not certifying body or federal regulations that pertain to these terms.
The process of which food is treated with a mild heat to reduce the risk of food going bad. This process is most commonly used with milk and eggs. It is illegal to sell unpasteurized cow’s milk. Most eggs found in stores will also be pasteurized and all chicken eggs sold in stores must go through an inspection process known as “grading.”
Milk that is not from a goat or cow is not regulated in Ontario, but Sheep’ milk is regulated in Quebec. Eggs from poultry other than chicken are not regulated in Ontario either. For this reason, you can often find Duck and Quail eggs available at farmers markets, because small scale farmers can produce them without having to go through a process geared towards large scale farmers.
Chicken eggs sold from a “farm gate” store do not have to go through a grading system and are likely unpasteurized.
Sources: Organic Council of Ontario. Ontario Pork. Chicken Farmers of Canada. Beef Farmers of Ontario. Ontario Sheep. Government of Canada.
Product Certifications and what they mean: coming soon.
Farmers’ Market Manual for Management and Vendors: coming soon.