While many consumers know that “organic” fruits and vegetables means the food has been grown without the use of pesticides and chemicals, the word has deeper significance for the six members of Glorious Organics.
For starters, the farmers at this Aldergrove co-operative at 1374 256 St. have been using organic techniques since the early 1980s — about a decade before the provincial government created regulations — and helped to write the organic certification program that is now used across all of B.C.
They also became a founding member of B.C. Eco Seed, a co-operative that distributes ecological and organic seeds grown in B.C., and are working on new initiatives to help small-scale farmers cope with climate change.
“We believe what we’re doing matters,” said Susan Davidson, a member of the co-op since 1979.
“At it’s heart, it’s a very reciprocal relationship with the land. There’s a generosity that needs to go both ways, and then it provides such soulful food. And that matters to me in a really deep way.
“We’ve had chefs say, ‘Well maybe your product wouldn’t be so expensive if you weren’t certified organic.’ And we say, ‘Actually, it matters to us that we support, and we have allegiances and collaborations with other farmers of like mind.’ So it’s a very supportive community to be part of.”
The concept of Glorious Organics came out of the 1976 Habitat forum in Vancouver. There, some of the attendees were inspired to launch a “community alternative society” that served as an umbrella for a “rural-urban intentional community,” Davidson explained.
The group purchased 10 acres of land in Aldergrove for $75,000 and formed the Fraser Common Farm Co-operative as a space for urban people to farm. A second housing co-op, called the Community Alternatives Co-operative, was also developed at the same time in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver.
But, as Davidson recalled, it became difficult to carry out the agricultural work with people based in the city, as their connection to the changing seasons, and nuances of the crops, were difficult to navigate from afar.
The farming members decided to branch out and research new ways to supplement their income from the small operation, leading them to discover an unusual market that was quickly gaining popularity in Seattle — pre-cut salads.
And so, the Glorious Garnish and Seasonal Salad Company Limited was formed, and the farmers, who operated the company on the Fraser Common Farm, negotiated a contract with the Northwest Territories pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver to create their house salads.
“Our salads, at that time, were very alternative because they had no lettuce and no cucumbers and no tomatoes, they were all local,” Davidson said. “Some of them were wild greens like chickweed and lamb’s quarter and volunteer’s purslane, and others were various greens we learned how to grow. In the early, early days we used to get beets and cut the tops off and eat the beets and put the leaves in the salad. It was pretty wild.
“And then we were able, in the following years, to get a bit of funding to help us build a cooler — which is really essential when you’re doing those types of field crops — and start to connect with some of the restaurants that were willing to take a chance on a pretty alternative way of doing their greens, and built the business from there.”
In 2006, the farmers decided to dissolve the salad company and redesign the legal structure to better reflect their values as a workers’ co-op. The Glorious Organics Co-operative emerged.
“The purpose of a co-operative is to provide services to its members, and largely what we do as a farming enterprise is create local employment opportunities,” Davidson said.
“And our products are deliberately labour intensive, because we’re attempting to make employment opportunities. And also, now that pre-cut salads are so well established, it means that what we ship to the city is what gets eaten, and what doesn’t get eaten stays on the farm and goes into the compost and goes back to the soil. Because it’s very, very intensive cropping and really is a subtle form of mining if you don’t keep replenishing the soil. We give back the biomass that is not going to be eaten, and keep it out of the waste stream in the city. We also grow cover crops to replenish the soil. We also bring in from certified organic farms composted manures and top-dress with that. So we’re doing a lot to build our soil and also to keep it healthy and strong, given the degree to which we harvest.”
Today, Glorious Organics grows more than 200 crops on 20 acres of land at Fraser Common Farm. There are a dozen people who live in co-op housing on the property, and many seasonal workers who help out each year.
While pre-cut salads are still their specialty, the farm is also known for its variety of tomatoes, peppers, beets, carrots, fennel, celeriac, and cut flowers for bouquets.
Having this diversity in products helps the farmers combat new challenges that have risen in recent years with climate change.
Warmer weather has brought up new pests from south of the border, and caused their wells to go dry in the summer, both which have led to crop failures. Intense smoke from forest fires in the interior has impacted the amount of work the farmers can do outside, particularly for Davidson, who is very sensitive to the air particulates.
The number of deer in the area has substantially increased as well, resulting in several crops being mowed down in just minutes. The farmers have been working hard to install acres of deer-proof fencing around their fields.
“It helps to mitigate from extreme climate conditions, because usually you’re always going to have something that you can harvest,” Davidson said. “And that’s one of the reasons why we stick with salad as our signature crop, because, if the heat lover doesn’t make it and the rain is on, there’s usually cool weather crops that you can blend into a very palatable salad.”
While Glorious Organics does not offer farm gate sales, members of the public can purchase goods at the White Rock, Kitsilano (Vancouver) or Trout Lake (Vancouver) farmers markets, or sign up to be part of a weekly CSA program.
There are many opportunities to visit the farm as well. Langley Environmental Partners Society and Laurica Farm operate kids camps at the property, and there are long table dinner events and various classes held throughout the year, including a recent mushroom workshop and wild crafting workshop with an Indigenous herbalist.
Hosting these events allows the farmers to educate consumers on their sustainable farming methods and the farm’s history, particularly as it relates to First Nations culture.
“Now, when I do farm tours and things, I acknowledge that this farm is on the unceded territory of the Kwantlen and Matsqui First Nations, whose spiritual laws and cultural practices have never been extinguished,” Davidson said.
“And that, for me, is a really critical shift that formalizes my more intuitive sense of how land is sacred.”