Longtime Richmond farmer precedes Seedy Saturday in Comox Valley

Big, bright, red, juicy tomatoes can make your mouth water but in this day and age it’s hard to know the plant's origins.

Big, bright, red, juicy tomatoes can make your mouth water but in this day and age it’s hard to know the plant’s origins.

Biochemistry has taken the farming industry by storm and most farmers don’t know how to plant without it anymore, life-long Richmond farmer Harold Steves said Friday in Courtenay.

“Monocultures rely on a lot more sprays to spray the weeds because your not killing your weeds as part of your rotation, and most farmers today don’t know how to farm without the chemicals,”

Steves stated during a lecture.

He discussed why GMOs (genetically modified organisms) aren’t needed and why we need to start growing our own food the ‘old fashioned way.’

“In World World II, we grew 42 per cent of our food in our victory gardens and what the UN officials are saying is that’s what we’re probably going to have to do again. It’s about time we started learning how to grow small-crop farming and highly intensified gardening because those of us who are gardeners know that you don’t plow rows and rows and plant seed.

“When you’re into raised beds you’re into bio-dynamic agriculture. You’re into improving the soil in major ways where you can get two or three crops a year even in this climate.”

Steves was invited by agrologist Arzeena Hamir because of Steves’ knowledge of natural agriculture and a bit of family history.

“Harold and my mother were actually teachers together but I didn’t meet Harold until the late ’90s when I was working for a company called West Coast Seeds,” said Hamir.

Seeds are something quite familiar to Steves. His grandparents were the first people to bring seeds to the western part of Canada.

Being ‘the first’ seems to be goal in their family because his grandfather also bred the first Holstein cattle in Western Canada.

“They didn’t have GMOs in those days, in fact we didn’t have A.I. (artificial intelligence) so you couldn’t bring the semen. You went right over to Holland and you shipped the cows right from there. “We had the No. 1 herd in British Columbia for about 20, 30 or 40 years. In fact one of the cows set a world record around 1912 and it was still a Canadian record till 1958. We had one cow that produced 10 gallons of milk a day.

Farmland is getting taken up more and more each day and it’s important to treat the land we have left over properly, said Steves.

“Most farms have gone by the wayside since the late ’50s,” he noted. “By 1973, 28 per cent of farms were gone. Our farmland was disappearing at about 10,000 to 15,000 acres per year.

“We were producing 86 per cent of our small fruit and vegetables. Today, we produce 43 per cent, exactly half.”

Steves fears if we don’t start growing our own food again we may not be able to feed ourselves in the future. Companies like Monsanto own 86 per cent of the seeds in the world and he said that fact alone is something to worry about.

“Three thousand varieties of seeds have been lost and the most of the ones we have left are under corporate control.”

Steves said we need younger people to learn about farming without biochemistry. He remembers when biochemistry was coming into existence.

“When I was a student, one of my professors — Dr. Rolls — was teaching us soil science and Dr. Rolls told us as students that the farms that don’t adapt to chemical agriculture wont survive. That’s the kind of message we got in the ’50s.

“The green revolution was just starting at that time. Most of the farms were pretty much organic. We used rock phosphate, we used seaweed, we used all kinds of different fertilizers but mostly we just rotated our crops.”

Steves tried to get across there are other ways to produce consistent crops without using biochemistry.

“We don’t need GMOs. We know how to grow crops without genetically modifying them; it’s just a matter of doing it.”