It is safe to say that last year I did not picture myself volunteering at the Guelph Center for Urban Organic Farming alongside Martha Scroggins the Farm Coordinator. Assisting with the farms daily routines has been an enriching experience and I would not have it any other way. After harvesting butternut squash during the first venture to the farm, I was fairly enthusiastic to begin what would be a strenuous but gratifying ten hours.
On arrival to my first shift, I greeted Martha in one of the greenhouses. Both Nicole and I were sent off to work, watering various plants and collecting bundles of tomatoes underneath the vines. Because the Center for Urban Organic Farming uses limited technology (only one tractor which is not utilized for harvesting or maintenance of the plants), Nicole and I scooped up water from rain barrels in order to water the garden. The majority of tomatoes that we discovered were already rotting but some remained slightly soft and had an even red colour, indicating that they were still ripe.
One of my favourite tasks during my time on the farm was harvesting potatoes. I know for a fact, that one volunteer who I was working with had a very different perspective. When I had reached the garden to begin, the vines of the plant had already disintegrated and the mulch and bedding had been removed from the site. Martha explained to me that potatoes can be harvested in the early spring and summer however this sacrifices the parent plant.
To ensure that the potatoes were ready for harvesting, one or two potatoes from a plant had to be dug up. If the skin on the potatoes was not easily rubbed off, then they could be collected.
It was essential within the activity to begin by placing the fork into the soil on the periphery of the mound. This was done in order to minimize skinning, cutting or bruising of the tubers. On reflection, a six instead of four-pronged pitch fork would have been more efficient as then the entire root system could be lifted in one fell swoop. I found it entertaining once I spotted the potatoes, to plunge my hands into the soil and dig for them. This was partially due to the fact that I had a tendency to stab the vegetables. Please note that this was not on purpose, as I was aware that by doing so, I was reducing the storage quality and damaging their appearance! After a few attempts, I was able to grasp the depth of the mound and the location of the plant and therefore caused fewer casualties. The damage tubers were consequently set aside from the market basket as they would rot quickly.
Closed toed shoes were a must, as you ran the risk of accidentally spearing your foot in the process. I did not photograph the activity as it was only two of us working on the patch and I was too consumed with finding the treasures.
My final days at the Organic Farm were occupied by weeding, the most popular deed. Although it was a labour-intensive task, the job seemed effortless with the collaboration of numerous people. The heavily dense areas were stripped using our hands and the use of a tonged pitch fork (for the tap roots that extended deep below the surface). Unlike digging for potatoes, this job required the use of leather gloves as thistles could provide you with some discomfort.
Two years, I had the opportunity to visit an Organic Farm near Ottawa called Mariposa Farms. It was fascinating to reflect on the experience and juxtapose the techniques used at both sites. For starters both farms have a focus on sustainable agriculture. Furthermore, the owner of Mariposa, Ian Walker, follows Martha’s methods in utilizing crop rotation with no pesticides.
One of the main difference is that unlike Martha, Ian Walker utilizes animals such as pigs to churn up the soil. I pondered as to why this might be the case. Nonetheless, as one walks around the Urban Organic Farming center, it is evident that there are woodchips to form paths and since one must remain on it at all times, the soil never packs down. As a result, there is a permanent bed that allows for aeration in the soil and consequently animals are not required. Overall, the experience at both sites allowed me to strengthen my knowledge surrounding organic farming methods.
I’m certainly looking forward to volunteering and purchasing items at the Organic Farm in the future (specifically the aloe vera plants or the magic onions). Martha was a delight to assist and therefore my experience at the farm was extremely positive. Even with our lack of knowledge surrounding Organic Farming, she remained patient and it was clear that she really did appreciate our help.