Our farm factors sustainability issues into our decisions every single day. Today, as third generation farmers working the same land since 1946, this stewardship is as relevant as ever.
Our inspiration is simply the pleasure of food. It’s watching our kids devouring sun-warmed strawberries – juice dripping off of their chins. It’s preparing vegetables picked only hours ago and then gathering together at our table to eat. And, as farmers, being a part of the larger re-discovering of those pleasures is a tremendous honour and responsibility.
Our reward is growing amazingly fresh and delicious fruit and vegetables knowing that, on our farm, the same opportunity will be available for an indefinite number of generations
Belluz Farms is committed to practicing environmentally-sustainable agriculture, creating a resilient food system, and fostering a community around food and farming that supports, learns from, and enjoys each other. Read on to learn about some of the efforts we’ve made on our farm our suggestions for other home chefs and gardeners to be sustainable.
What we do
- We maintain many natural habitats around the farm including over 70 acres of woodland, shelter belts and grassland, over 2 acres of wetland and marsh area, and 4 ponds
- We use organic practices like crop rotation and cover crops to limit pests and improve soil structure and nutrients, companion crops to encourage biological controls and bees, hours and hours of hand weeding, 100% biodegradable mulches and straw to limit weed germination, natural fertilizers like gypsum, lime, and potassium sulphate to help feed our crops, natural pest controls (spinosad, soaps and kaolin clay), and crop scouting to identify pests early and treat them only when necessary for minimal impacts
- We have installed drip irrigation into our strawberries to minimize water use when possible
- We employ only local labour (over 50 students each summer) and provide a great working environment with paid breaks, good health and safety programs, WSIB coverage, and complete insurance coverage for our staff, facilities, and products
- When we don’t use an organic product we make that decision based on the long term impact to our land, our health, and the safety of our produce – not just on today’s economics
- We collect rainwater off the roof and recycle our water through a floor drain system
- We use only organically certified growing media with compost
- We use 99% efficient boilers to heat the floors and an energy retention curtain that closes at night to trap heat
- We use biological controls – good bugs to eat the bad bugs – to prevent insect problems
- We’re using organic fertilizers and composts to feed our plants
- We reuse plastic pots. Bring back any pots larger than 4” (they must be thoroughly washed) and we’ll re-use them next year
- We’re a plastic bag free zone. Bring your own bag and we’ll fill it or we have an oxo-biodegradable option available
- We use a hydrogen peroxide/peracetic acid solution to disinfect all food handling surfaces, leaving no harmful residues like chlorine bleach would.
- We’ve converted our disposable food ware in our Harvest Cafe to 100% compostable options
- No high-fructose corn syrup beverages or bottled water is sold in our Harvest Café
- Our washrooms are equipped with composting toilets. Paper towels and toilet paper are made of recycled paper with the highest amount of post-consumer recycled material that we can find.
- We minimize waste by management through our waste through recycling, re-using and composting.
Agriculture, like any job, must be treated as a profession if you are going to be successful in the long term – especially if you believe in providing safe, good quality food to thousands of people each year. It requires respect for time-honoured traditions and constant learning about how to make those fundamentals better and safer. There’s no tenure or guaranteed income on the farm, although there is always work to do! We receive 5 different professional publications and attend numerous learning opportunities each year. While these cost us money, it is really an investment in our business and your food. We also belong to numerous professional organizations:
- Ontario Federation of Agriculture
- National Farmers Union
- Canadian Agricultural Safety Association
- Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association
- Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Association
- North American Strawberry Grower’s Association
- ONTRACE – Food Traceability
- Ontario Berry Grower’s Association
- Seeds of Diversity
- Slow Food Superior
- Thunder Bay Country Market (Founding Member)
In addition to efforts we make on our farm, we recognize the importance of looking at the food system on a larger scale and looking at ways to build the relationships, attitudes, and knowledge that makes good, healthy food accessible and enjoyable by everyone in our community. We typically do a few things listed below, and are always open to your ideas on how we can collaborate with you or your organization to have positive impact in the local food system.
- We help run school gardens
- The Gleaning Project, put on by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, Food Action Network and Food Banks Ontario, visits Belluz Farms 4-5 times per season to harvest produce, preventing waste and making fresh, local produce accessible to many families
- We work with the Regional Food Distribution agency get as much fresh, good food as possible into the Food Bank System
- We host Fall outings at our farm for the members of local youth groups . The kids have a fantastic time exploring the Farm on a Wagon Ride, running around our Mystical StrawHenge, getting lost in The Amazing Maze and more. Community groups are hosted at a half price discount.
- We provide school tours for elementary schools to build agriculture and food systems knowledge and give kids a first hand experience with farming
- We donate funding and produce for 5-10 community groups each year, such as pumpkins for the pumpkin carving parties and over $10000 towards the United Way
- We run fundraisers with community groups such as Sounds of Superior Chorus and Agnew H Johnson school, providing a healthy and locally-sourced alternative to chocolate bars
- We do as many speaking engagements as possible for community groups and organizations to facilitate discussions about agriculture and food systems
- We are also active in our community on various boards and committees including being founding members of the Thunder Bay Country Market
- We hire all local labour, comprising 50 seasonal staff and full time staff each summer. We’ve been a first job to nearly 1000 students over the years.
What you can do
Ask your grocer
If you’re looking for ways to help verify the sources of your food, Click this Link to Sustainable Table’s Questions to ask a Farmer. It is just as important to ask these of your “organic” farmers as anyone else! After all, the rules are only as good as the person using them.
Plan to eat local all year
Get to know your farmers. Find out where you can purchase local food (see resource list). Some farms offer pick-your-own or ready-picked produce on site, others sell only at a farmer’s market. Talk to your farmers and find out their growing philosophies and techniques. Don’t be afraid to talk to us – there’s nothing we love more than to get a chance to chat about what we do! The second step is to purchase enough fresh veggies and fruits so that you can enjoy them in season and prepare some of it for the off season. Products like cheese and meat will most likely be available year round so that part is easy!
General rule of thumb: If it’s a vegetable, you’ll need to blanch it first. (Blanch: immerse in boiling water for 30-60 seconds then quickly immerse in ice-water to stop the cooking process). If you don’t blanch your veggies, they’ll most likely have a not so lovely “musty” taste to them. If it’s a fruit (remember tomatoes are fruit!), there’s no need to blanch. After that, the “style” of freezing is up to you. You can freeze your produce on cookie sheets and then place in containers (keeps them from sticking together) or you can place them in your freezing containers adding salt, butter or sugar for fruit. It’s really all up to your personal taste and what you’ll do with the produce once you need it.
Canning and preserving involves a process where your produce is sealed in jars. We’re talking about yummy winter delights like tomato sauce, jams & jellies, pickles, spiced fruit, chutneys, juices & spreads. The real concern here is food safety. Canning meat is probably no longer necessary due to the convenience of freezers. Canning fruits & pickles are relatively safe and so yummy! It’s all about the acid. What we’re really concerned with is that nasty, nasty, organism called Botulism (grows in sealed air-tight conditions). When you have enough acid in your recipe, the chances of Botulism are very, very slim. That’s why most jams and pickles tend to be safe. If you want to can vegetables and fruits as is (no vinegar or sugar added) you need to find a current, trusted resource and follow your recipe exactly (see back for resources). Don’t dismiss canning/preserving because you don’t have a lot of room for large batches – there are books on small batch preserving and recipes available on-line.
Onions and garlic (once they’ve reached maturity) dry very well hanging in a dry, well-ventilated area. Herbs can be dried in the same manner. Store these types of produce in a dry cool, area. An electric food dehydrator is great for mushrooms or tomatoes – think sun-dried, without the sun! Fruits also work well in a dehydrator – simply store all your dehydrated food in air-tight bags or containers.
What we call “winter veggies” like potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots etc… store very well under the correct conditions. However, that’s really true for a lot of veggies you wouldn’t expect to store like Chinese cabbage and brussel sprouts. A general rule of thumb for root cellaring is: dark, cool and moist, but not wet. The best resource I found for each veggie’s root cellaring requirement is a book called Root Cellaring (see resource list below). It’s not difficult to cellar, and you don’t necessarily need a fancy, climate controlled cellar. Dark, cool isolated corners of basements can work and so can cool cupboards and closets in apartments!
So now that you understand the terrain and are (hopefully!) inspired, it’s time to get planning! Here are some resources to get you started:
Simply In Season, Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, Herald Press, 2005
Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving, Edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine, Robert Rose Inc., 2006
The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest, Carol W. Costenbader, Storey Publishing
The Busy Person’s Guide to Preserving Food, Janet Chadwick, Storey Publishing
Serving Up the Harvest, Andrea Chesman, Storey Publishing
Root Cellaring, Mike and Nancy Bubel, Storey Publishing