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Beets are prime for bunching
Ontario leafy greens are flourishing from moisture levels
Leafy greens are just about ready to harvest in New Hamburg, Ontario. The season was behind because of flooding – at the same time when the Holland Marsh area in Ontario experienced major crop losses from flooding. “It put us two weeks behind for a lot of produce,” says Jenn Pfenning. Their 800 acres happen to be within the flood zone around Nith River, putting crops at risk if there’s too much rainfall. “We had abnormally high water levels this spring,” she recalls. “There were parts of one field that didn’t’ dry out for three weeks.” The crop most affected was corn. One half of Pfenning’s cornfields never dried out. “We had to replant that, and peas. The pea field drowned; it was submerged by two inches for three weeks.”
Greens are extremely lush
Currently there’s just the right amount of moisture to keep things growing properly. “Fingers crossed it’s not too crazy hot. We’ve been good for a few weeks,” she says. The greens are extremely lush right now, she says, because of the moisture and the heat from early June, then temperatures cooled off. “Our leafy greens are loving it. We also have spectacular green onions right now.” Pfenning’s has been farming organically since before there was certification. Her father in-law and uncle were part of the founding group for certification in Ontario.
Pfenning's produce goes to independent retailers around the Greater Toronto Area, including Big Carrot, Whole Foods, and variety of smaller co-ops and retailers, plus a home delivery program operated by an outside company. Some produce is used for fermented food products like Green Table Foods, who use the organic produce for processing into kimchi and other goods.
Yields are fairly average, even in spite of the earlier delay. “There aren’t any bumper crops of anything yet,” says Pfenning. It’s still early. “If it doesn’t get too hot then we’ll have really good carrots. They’re about two weeks away.” With the heat she says you can make up time with longer temperature crops like carrots. “We’ll be a month behind on corn because of the replant.”
Beets are prime for bunching – Pfenning will continue to bunch them until well into late fall. Then they’ll move to bagged beets once the leaves aren’t as ornamental looking. “We grow a lot of beets. They’ve become much more popular over the last few years, both bunched and bagged,” says Pfenning. They’re stored through the winter and supplies usually last until April or May.
Beets for food coloring
Beets may be a good alternative to customers who don’t care for kale. “They offer some of the same nutrient values as kale so I think that’s playing a part. I think t’s also people are recognizing that beets are good for food coloring.” They’re a nutrient dense food. When I was a kid people ate them pickled or boiled and that was pretty much it. Now there are lots of chefs serving roasted beet salads, raw salads. There’s a renewed interest in a small proportion of population in pickling and beets are easy to do.
Farm labor is complex
Pfenning stands strong on migrant worker’s rights. “Farm labor is a really complex issue. There are few other industries or sectors where you have such a complex situation,” she says. Since there are such extreme fluctuations with farms it’s driven many of them to utilize migrant solutions. Because of migrant work, that has impacted the overall labor situation on farms. “It’s a very large percentage of our seasonal workforce.” She says some of the workers, who are permanent residents from India, like being able to not work during winter because it allows them to travel overseas for a month or two. “A regular job would make that difficult. That being said it’s not (easy) in the sense that their job opportunities are somewhat limited because of their language skills.”
Limitations with language can be difficult at times, unless there’s a translator or someone who can be a mediator. “The limitations are not an issue for us because we have some employees who can translate and with a lot of smiles and nodding and good will, you can accomplish the rest. They understand the work that needs to be done and are willing to do it.”
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