David Cohlmeyer Sustainable Good Foods Consultant

Efficient Winter Greenhouse Growing

In late August Eliot Coleman, the most prominent researcher for developing energy and labour efficient winter greenhouse systems, called together leading winter growing practitioners and advisors. In a beautiful Vermont lakefront resort gathered 25 growers with operations from chilly Minnesota and Northern Michigan to balmy Maryland and giant New York to tiny Rhode Island. Several of the most involved university extension agents from Michigan to Vermont came. And tool and seed specialists from Johnny’s and High Mowing were there mostly to hear what resources the growers needed. I feel honoured to have been invited to join this august group. For this symposium I wore two hats:

  1. Represent one of my most innovative Ontario clients (Greenbelt Greenhouse)
  2. Describe the role consultants can provide in keeping keeping farmers financially and passionately sustainable.

Most of the growers prepared PowerPoint presentations of their operations with pictures of their most innovative solutions and pointed out their most persistent problems. Everyone in the room willingly shared their impressions of each other’s ingenuity – both during the presentations and the breaks. The extension agents shared their broad-based experiences and scientific understandings. It was also exciting to learn about new tools, materials and seeds that will soon become available. You can view these simple yet perceptive PowerPoints on the University of Vermont Extension website.

We also formally discussed several specific topics:

  1. Greenhouses/tunnels – size, style, covering, orientation, ventilation
  2. Inner covers – height, material, layers, supports, day and/or night
  3. Crops – options, sowing dates, seeders, transplanting, weed control
  4. Temperature – heating?, fuel, min. soil/air temperature, ventilation
  5. Fertilization – amendments, quantity, foliar or soil, nitrates, irrigation
  6. New developments – plastics, tools, breeding, and heat storage
Eliot Coleman's Frozen Ground Conference for efficient winter greenhouse growing.
Eliot Coleman's Frozen Ground Conference for efficient winter greenhouse growing.

Eliot’s prime hope was to reach a consensus on the most effective practices. This did not happen. As with most farmers, everyone felt they have achieved their best practice. In order to help everyone at least consider alternatives, I volunteered to develop a Benchmarking process that will allow growers to compare aspects of their operation with others.

I want to thank Sandy Arnold and Clara Coleman (Eliot’s daughter) for so diligently organizing this event. And thank you for the USDA Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) grant that paid for our transportation. And thank you to Lake Morey Resort for providing deep discounts during their busy summer season.

September Harvest Festivals

The granddaddy Feast of Fields is 25 years old on Sunday, September 7. Events modeled on this successful formula also continue to take place near Vancouver, Ottawa, Victoria, Okanogan and Calgary. Jamie Kennedy and Michael Stadtlander continue to receive credit for conceiving this event. Actually, I too was involved from the very beginning with the responsibility of convincing farmers to participate in the event. I like to think that connecting with farmers is what this event is all about.

On Sunday, September 14th, is an event specifically oriented toward farmers. FarmStart’s McVean Farm Picnic is run by and for new farmers. Visit this patchwork-quilt of small training farms just north of Pearson Airport. With farmers from all over the world, you will see an incredible variety of growing crops. Many of these will be cooked and presented with beers and wines. Funds from this year’s event will be used to purchase a greenhouse for the farmers to produce their own bedding plants.

The huge celebration of established farmers will be taking place September 16 – 20th. The 101st annual International Plowing Match (IPM) is taking place just an hour north of Toronto. Over 100,000 are expected to visit the “Tented City” where there is so much more than plowing straight lines. Though you may not be in favour of conventional agriculture, it is important for us to be aware of what these farmers do. We no longer have enough farmers, so we need to support every one we have.

Since I live only 5 minutes away from this year’s IPM, you are welcome to stop by to see the Organic Science Cluster’s Flavour Project carrot plots growing in our home garden. Give me a call (705-458-1710) for directions and to set a time.

On Sunday, September 21st at the downtown Evergreen Brick Works is the forth edition of the very popular Toronto Garlic Festival. There will be a couple dozen local farmers from whom you may purchase garlic; plus a couple dozen local chefs preparing surprising garlic specialties. Imbibe in some fresh-pressed raw garlic shots then head over to the garlic breath contest. Wash it all down with some garlic soda, garlic fudge and garlic ice cream!

For a more family oriented event on the 21st, head over to the Everdale Farm Carrot Fest. Make friends with some of the animals. Visit a straw bale home building demonstration. Spend time with one of the Everdale student farmers. Pick your own carrots. Play some old-fashioned games. And enjoy some farm-cooked food.

Wow, Farmland adjacent to Toronto

As you have surely noticed, I am passionate about urban eaters becoming more informed about their food producers (and farmers getting to understand their customers). A more general appreciation of how agriculture contributes to our wellbeing will benefit everyone who eats. The growing interest in Local Food helps this become more feasible. Aside from the September Harvest Festival Season, it is still not easy.

This scene is so much more enlivening than more suburban development.
This scene is so much more enlivening than more suburban development.

Three years ago, the Government of Canada’s Speech from the Throne announced the creation of a huge new National Park right along the Eastern edge of Toronto. There would of course be lots of beautiful “parkland”, but most of the land would be reserved for agriculture. Many people involved with our food system saw this as a terrific opportunity for Torontonians and their many guests to conveniently observe and participate in various forms of agriculture right next door.

Progress has been painfully slow. But this summer the Rouge National Urban Park Initiative released a Draft Management Plan. They have invited public response by opening a Survey. My appraisal of the Plan is that it is entirely too vague to represent a dependable plan. And my impression of the Survey is that it is too subjective for a busy public to provide meaningful answers. But the opportunity is too important to become cynical.

Please try to attend one of the Public Meetings being held this September 9, 10, 16, and 18th.

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Contact David Cohlmeyer

David Cohlmeyer smiling with his farm in the background
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6556 Line 9, RR #3
Thornton, On, LOL 2N0