Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog

  • OSCIII Blog: Food security in a time of uncertainty

    A word cloud depicting the important concepts surrounding food security, April 2020 (Photo: shutterstock.com).


    Farming is an essential service. It is also an industry with a great deal of volatility; farmers must continually rethink how they manage their crops in order to respond to changing weather patterns, depletion of resources, pests, diseases and markets . The current COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated how vulnerable agricultural systems can be when the number of workers who can be on site at a time is reduced or the farm has to be shut down entirely. A good first step to achieving total sustainability starts with the consumer. By better understanding where their food and materials come from, they can be more aware of the efforts that are needed to maintain food security.

    Food security is the ability for all individuals to have safe access to food that is nutritious and healthy — no matter their economic or social status. When thinking about our current situation, and the need for social distancing as well as economic shut down, we need to consider what it means to Canadian food security.

    So, where does our food come from? Many might think that we get a lot of our produce locally, especially those living in the Niagara region where fruit farms are plentiful and farmer’s markets are extremely popular. It might come as a surprise to learn that Canada actually imports most of its fruit and vegetable supplies from other countries. Outsourcing our produce means that the food has to travel long distances before ending up on our plates. The further that produce travels, the less secure it is and the more environmentally costly it becomes. One reason Canada relies on imports is that we have a relatively short growing season that limits the amount and variety of produce we can grow. Other factors, such as trade agreements, market demands, and the impossibility to grow some of the tropical produce that many people like in Canada, are also part of the equation.

    It’s important however, to not take our local farmers for granted. Many of our local farmers are developing innovative new greenhouse systems and working with new indoor growing technologies to maintain production during our Canadian winters and attempting to farm as sustainably as possible through organic farming practices. Ideally, more people would also attempt to garden at home, and choose produce that is considered to be more environmentally friendly (which usually translates to buying locally). While our urbanized way of life and potential lack of skills and knowledge might be used as excuses to not try growing our own food, it is indeed worth the effort and satisfaction.

    If growing your own food is not an option, changing your consumption habits to support local growers and suppliers is an impactful way to move toward food security. With borders being closed and food production factories shut down for weeks at a time, relying on Canadian farmers makes good sense. Choosing an Ontario tomato rather than one that has been shipped from as far away as the equator not only helps our farmers—who in turn help us—it also reduces the amount of carbon emissions that result from shipping produce over long distances. Bringing our food supply chain closer to home is one way in which we can help to implement sustainable agriculture and reduce the impacts of climate change. As consumers, we have the power to drive this change.

    This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • OSCIII Blog: Farming—an essential service

    Spring soil amendment application in a Niagara vineyard, May 2018 (Photo: Heather VanVolkenburg).


    The term “essential service” is one that most of us have become acutely aware of in the past few months. An essential service refers to an occupation that a government or governing body deems to be necessary for preserving life, health and basic societal functioning. These services are determined to be needed during an emergency as well as when job action is taken in a labour dispute (such as during strikes). Such services must maintain operations during a crisis in order to ensure that society can still function during and after that crisis. Services deemed essential usually include hospitals and healthcare, law enforcement, firefighting, garbage collection, utilities (i.e. water and electricity), and food services connected to the food supply chain.

    Determining what qualifies as an essential food service can be complicated. From a consumer’s perspective, we are often only concerned with the availability of food in the grocery store. Some may also think of food services as the prepared salad on the shelf at your local grocery store or a meal purchased from a fast food joint. While these businesses are indeed essential, there is one essential food service that is perhaps the most important: farming. Farming forms the foundation of all food services, providing us with the food and ingredients necessary to survive from day to day. Without farmers, the grocery store where you bought your salad or the fast food joint that served you a hamburger would not exist.

    So, before you finish unpacking those groceries or sitting down with that take-out container, take a moment to thank the farmers and those directly connected to agriculture. Also remember that thinking of terms like “farm” or “grocery store” is far too simplistic to truly understand the nature of being essential. Think not only of the farms, but also the workers, fuel providers, truckers, packaging suppliers, grocery clerks, and countless other people that have been involved in the food supply chain along the way. Without these essential food services, and the many intricate pieces involved, we would be a pretty hungry lot!

    This blog section will be ongoing throughout the duration of the project with bi-weekly updates provided by Liette Vasseur, Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato (see research team). We will be providing research activity updates as well as informative pieces that delve into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change. Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog, Updates of the Chair

  • OSCIII Blog: What is the Organic Cluster project?

    Early spring in a Niagara, Ontario vineyard partnered with the Organic Cluster project, May 2019 (Photo: Heather VanVolkenburg).


    In 2019, Brock University initiated the new project: “Unique Cover Crops, Rootstocks, and Irrigation Techniques for Canadian Vineyards”. The project is funded through the Organic Science Cluster 3 (OSC3): Connecting Environmental Sustainability and the Science of Organic Production, managed by the Organic Federation of Canada (OFC) in collaboration with the Organic Agricultural Centre of Canada (OACC) at Dalhousie University. The OSC3 is also supported by the AgriScience Program under Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Canadian Agricultural Partnership (an investment by federal, provincial, and territorial governments). More than 70 partners from the agricultural community are also involved in these projects.

    Brock’s Dr. Liette Vasseur and Dr. Medhi Sharifi, research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Summerland, BC, are the two principal investigators on this OSC3 grant. Heather VanVolkenburg, a recent graduate student of Dr. Vasseur, is supporting and contributes to the research as a Scientific Project Manager. Together, they are leading the project with several undergraduate and graduate students, with the long-term goal of developing and testing combined cover crop, rootstock, and irrigation strategies that support vineyard soil health. The research is being conducted at vineyards located in two major wine growing regions of Canada.

    Bi-weekly research activity updates will be provided in on-going blog posts. These will be written by Vasseur and the research team, including Heather VanVolkenburg, Kasia Zgurzynski, Habib Ben Kalifa, and Diana Tosato. The team will also write informative pieces delving into agricultural concepts and important global issues as they relate to agricultural sustainability and climate change.

    Stay tuned for regular updates!

    Categories: Organic Science Cluster 3 Blog, Updates of the Chair