Amara Farm, owned by Arzeena Hamir and Neil Turner is a 26-acre fruit and vegetable farm in Comox Valley, BC. Starting in 2011 with garlic as the first crop planted, the farm now consists of 47 different vegetable crops and woody perennials. At Amara Farm, they utilize several practices to keep their farm “climate-smart”. This includes: feeding their soil and ensuring the organic matter in the soil is as high as possible, cover cropping to conserve soil moisture and soil organic matter, using passive solar greenhouses, human-powered work, electric golf carts for moving produce, utilizing power from a 10-kilowatt solar panel on their house, ensuring there is diversity on the farm for beneficial insects, moving towards planting more perennials and woody perennials for capturing carbon more permanently, and protecting their 8-acre forest that acts as a carbon sink and habitat for overwintering beneficial insects.
Small farms in BC can make a difference. “Currently, agriculture accounts for somewhere between 15-20% of the CO2 that’s going up into the air, and that can’t continue,” says Hamir. She stresses, “We have to change our systems for the survival of us as a human species and of the planet. We are altering our planet in ways that we don’t even understand. So it’s imperative that agriculture change.” BC is home to over 15,000 small farms, a number that is continuing to grow. When asked whether small farms can make a change in mitigation efforts, here is what Hamir has to say, “BC’s very well suited, we are generally a lot of small farms, and I find small farms to be incredibly innovative and pivot really quickly versus the larger farms. There’s something to be said about being flexible and diverse and you have the option to experiment and try, versus a single cropping system which is like having all of your eggs in one basket. I think here in BC we have the capacity and the potential to come up with cropping systems and other farming systems for animals as well that the rest of Canada could even scale up. We are really well suited to having small scale production here and move it on up the food chain”.
Amara Farm captures carbon in their soil by incorporating woody perennials and trees into their cropping system. These permanent plants are beneficial for several reasons. Hamir jokes, “Vegetables are really tough on the body. It’s a young person’s cropping system for sure; we wanted crops that were hip height or taller.” She laughs and continues, “All joking aside, having those woody perennials really help to diversify what’s available on the farm, different flowering times for the apples and nuts. It’s another economic benefit having late cropping fruits versus the early berries we have. So, financially it helps to spread out some of the money coming in and out and also ties up carbon in a more permanent form. Having something that’s permanent versus the annual cropping system. We do have a lot of vegetable matter and it is composted but it’s not really bound up in the composting process; we can still lose a lot of that carbon burning off as CO2. So having it bound up in a woody form is a much bigger benefit, I think.” Planting trees and woody perennial plants are their most recent initiative for capturing carbon, but Hamir and Turner have always been passionate about keeping their farm climate-friendly. Hamir says, “To me, regenerative agriculture means that we are going to leave this farm in a much better place than we found it, whether that be the infrastructure, but I think most importantly, the conditions of the soil, how it’s able to absorb the climate shocks. Now that we all know climate change is happening, our weather patterns are unpredictable, to say the least, and I think having regenerative agriculture practices means that the farm is really very buffered for all of those unexpected things that are coming our way.”