In late September  several Co-op’ers piled into cars and set off for Pfennings’s Farm in Baden, Ontario, to visit a local food supplier.
Pfenning’s is a 400 acre farm where organic practices are applied to their very large operation. It is inspiring. The family, including several adorable kittens, greeted us warmly. But we quickly got down to the business at hand when Wolfgang Pfenning, a third generation organic farmer from Germany, piled us into his over-sized van for a tour. “I came here with my father when I was 17 and we have been farming this land all of that time,” he said with well-earned pride.
It was getting towards dusk when we stopped at the edge of an onion field to view mechanical harvesting of the most beautiful onions I could ever want to eat. Stopping alongside the field (fields are divided into 40 acres per crop, with multiple fields devoted to greens, herbs and broccoli) we checked out the compost windrows lining each field. Pfenning trucks partially-made compost alongside of each field “where [they] need it” and “finishes” it in place so it is convenient to spread between harvesting and replanting.
At the edge of the parsley end of an herb field, Wolfgang talked about growing broccoli, a favorite of so many of us. He described using red clover as a green manure to feed fields between plantings. He talked about crop rotation. He described succession plantings to make the most of both the land and the season.
He also spoke at length about food politics. He explained some of the difficulties caused by differences between Canadian Organic Certification and USDA Organic Certification. He talked about the tyranny of the market, a shameful tale of trucking fragile crops for which the farmer may or may not ultimately get paid. Looking out over those tidy fields, being able to guess what was growing in each section by the many healthy varieties of the colour green, we felt well cared for.
As dusk turned to dark, Wolfgang took us to the processing plant. Pfenning’s is not “just” a huge organic farm; it is also a centre where many local farmers bring their crops to be processed for market. Huge refrigerator rooms ring a central open space: 1 for onions; another for carrots; another for potatoes…and on and on. The refrigerated rooms surround huge conveyor set-ups for grading and packaging carrots and another for grading and processing potatoes.
The visit to Pfenning’s Farm was inspirational. It was exciting to see organic practices translated to a large scale. It was reassuring to learn that local farmers join together, supporting each other and marketing their crops. And it was inspirational to begin finding out one answer to that huge question on everyone’s mind these days: WHERE DOES OUR FOOD COME FROM?
Our gratitude goes to Loretta and Barb for setting up this field trip and to Wolfgang Pfenning for his time and passion. The Provisions Committee intends to continue farm visits. You are invited to join us and we will continue to keep you up to date about where our food comes from.
- Bonnie Wodin