One of the many vendors selling their wares at the Trail market every second Friday is staffed by lifelong Trail resident, John Abenante and his partner Janine Powell, the owners and operators of Earthy Organics Farm in Fruitvale, which is possibly the only farm in the Greater Trail area producing food for sale on a semi-commercial basis.
The 10-acre property is situated on a gentle southern facing slope on the Columbia Gardens road with a large greenhouse, cultivated fields, pastures for the horses boarding on the property and growing hay, an ancient goose who patrols vigilantly, and a small army of large, woofing dogs who greet you at the gate.
Earthy Organics produces a wide variety of organic vegetables and farm fresh eggs that they sell at markets in Rossland and Nelson in addition to their bi-weekly stall in Trail, as well as selling baskets from their gate and through the small business model referred to as community-supported or community-shared agriculture (CSA.)
Through the CSA program a set number of families in the area can sign up for a fee and have baskets ready for pick up or delivered for a small fee.
Abenante and Powell purchased the property in 2002 and the following year began growing heritage breed chickens and vegetables.
“We started to get more serious in 2004 and applied for organic certification,” said Abenante. “You have to go through a waiting period before you can get certified but we managed to get it cut back by a year because we knew the previous owner of the property and knew how he had treated the land.”
Maintaining “BC Certified Organic” status means having to meet a variety of stringent regulations and regular inspections.
“We have an inspector come through every year and he goes through all the seeds, fertilizer, any inputs that go into the soil,” said Abenante. “We have to document everything.”
The couple admit that growing organic may not be the easiest method of food production but they believe it’s worth the extra effort to be able to offer eggs and produce free of any chemical additives.
“It is more labour intensive planting and weeding by hand and it’s more expensive for seed,” said Abenante. “Our philosophy is that you might as well take care of what you have, the land, soil, animals. And don’t grow what the land and the climate won’t support.”
Abenante says he grew up watching his father grow his garden in Trail full of vegetables, many of which he brought the seed for from Italy, when he immigrated to Canada.
Powell who holds a bachelor of science and was originally trained as a radiation therapist, said she became interested in the idea of growing her own food seeing her grandmother “playing” in her garden.
“What stuck out for me when I was working in the health care field was how much wellness and well being was tied to people and their gardens,” Powell said. “It seemed to do them a lot of good.”
She went on to study horticulture and in the course of her studies toured a number of organic producers, although it wasn’t as popular then as it is now. Since starting the farm she has also taken additional courses on permaculture and greenhouse management and now sits on the board of the Kootenay Organic Growers Society.
“We can eat our own food for a good part of the year, the food is fresh,” said Powell. “We want to help people live healthy lives. This isn’t a 100-mile diet, it’s more like a 25-kilometre diet.”