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Sustainable farming about relationships

The term “sustainable farming” can mean many different things to different people. For these farmers, it means changing the way they look at food

For organic trainer and inspector Jenine Gibson, sustainable farming means acknowledging that all of life is about relationships.

When it comes to sustainable farming, “we need to be looking at our food differently,” says Gibson. “We need to focus on identifying and creating our food sources and to be working within our environments to create win-win situations — recognizing all the different interrelations and resources that come into play.”

Gibson, 58, was born in Winnipeg and has been living at Northern Sun Farm Co-operative for 21 years. She works with the International Organic Inspectors Association and has been training organic inspectors since 1995.

“We need to re-examine how we treat each other, ourselves, the environment, and animals,” said Gibson.

According to Gibson, sustainable agriculture needs to take all these factors and how they impact one another into account.

“Healthy soil translates into healthy feed and healthy livestock and healthy people who consume the food. Soil isn’t just an inert medium that just holds up crops. It’s a dynamic environment working together for all life above the soil.

“Chemical agriculture — though all food production requires a great deal of skill — tends to rely on chemical quick fixes but doesn’t address the underlying issues. The guys call it ‘label farming,’ where you read the label and pour, solving your solutions that way.

“That’s where you get resistant weeds and persistent problems that become worse, because you’re using Band-Aid solutions and not looking systemically at the whole underlying structure or of where the weaknesses are.

“In sustainable farming, you have to learn system thinking, analyzing systemically and looking at what you’re doing in terms of examining many interrelated systems, trying to maximize how they work together.”

“When some farmers discover that by intercropping they actually get better yields, they’ve been able to move away from the mono-crop, uniformity concept.”

Passion for farming

Larry Bugera (61) and Murielle Bugera (56) have been married for 34 years, with four children and two grandchildren. They farm about 1,600 acres (1,000 of which they own) just east of St-Pierre-Jolys, growing wheat, oats, canola, soybeans, alfalfa, organic alfalfa and organic flax.

“I never expected to become so passionate about farming, but I guess it was fuelled by my strong roots, as my great grandfather was Minister of Agriculture in the 1930s,” said Murielle.

The way Murielle sees it, “Sustainable farming is a way of balancing the economical, social, and environmental aspects of farming.

“It’s about taking care of the environment in a proactive manner — to take care of the soil, and to keep our families, friends, and neighbours safe and healthy. It’s about farming in a way that your risks are such that you don’t worry that any year can be your last.”

Although Murielle said it can sometimes be costly to change or try new things, she sees the benefits of doing so outweighing the risks. “You also need the capacity or incentive to change,” she said. “We’re always looking at surrounding ourselves with the resources we need to make change easier. Our children, especially our son and his family, are our incentive to change.

“We’ve been taking courses in organic farming and grain marketing. In our area, there is a composting initiative where a large piece of equipment has been purchased to compost manure and municipal compost. Buying local is also a growing trend. People are eating less processed foods and are looking for safe foods and less chemical use.”

Looking ahead, Murielle envisions their farm as having “a good mix of conventional and organic fields, livestock, and tourism.

“We all need to be flexible, be aware of what the consumer wants.” †

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