Cover crops and GLSAs help this organic farm thrive
At Cropthorne Farm on Westham Island, Lydia Ryall and her family farm 24 acres of certified organic vegetables and cover crops. The Ladner, BC farm sells its produce at Vancouver farmers’ markets, to restaurants, via CSAs, and at the farm stand.
The farm is a year-round operation. Four hoophouses allow Lydia and her crew to grow produce such as salad greens, radishes, and Asian greens throughout the fall and winter, as well as crops such as leeks, parsnips, chard and kale in the fields.
Lydia inherited her passion for farming from her parents. The senior Ryalls operated a greenhouse in Ladner for years, which is where Lydia learned the business (and work ethic) of farming. She put her knowledge to good use, winning BC’s Outstanding Young Farmer Award in 2014, just five short years after starting Cropthorne.
The vision for Cropthorne has always been to achieve diversity in all aspects of its operation: in its farm crew, marketing methods and crops, and by supporting biodiverse ecosystems. The sustainable farming practices that DFWT promotes are a perfect fit for the farm. “DFWT programs help with both the cost of cover cropping and our Grassland Set Asides (GLSAs)”, says Lydia. “Over the years, we’ve also participated in their Soil Amendment Program, applying lime and gypsum to the soil to neutralize its acidity and improve our fields’ productivity.”
Lydia says that testing shows organic matter in the soil is rising year-after-year. “Vegetable farming is intensive in terms of its demands on the soil. GLSAs give the soil a chance to rest for a few years, and interrupt any disease cycles. Plus, we see an increase in raptors such as hawks and owls, who hunt voles in the fields. Cover cropping helps with the heavy clay soil in Delta and increases its workability – it also helps us mitigate soil erosion from rainfall in the winter.”
“As an organic farm, we don’t have many pesticides available to us,” Lydia continues, “so adding a pollinator mix to the GLSAs has given us a host of beneficial insects and pollinators – as well as some beautiful views.”
Lydia says that for farmers like her, it’s always a balancing act between nurturing and appreciating the biodiversity that allows the land and its systems to thrive, and the economics of farming. “I’m in awe when I see the first flock of Snow Geese arrive after their long journey from Russia, but at the same time I know that they – like Widgeon and other ducks – can cost me thousands of dollars in lost crops. But I recognize that they have value too – without biodiversity, the systems that support the land break down. DFWT programs help me and other farmers maintain some of that balance.”