ALM Organic Farm has been in production since 1986, growing produce, flowers, and seeds on 15 acres in Sooke. The farm is a space to feed the community and teach young farmers about growing food and sustaining the land. They sell at the local farmer’s markets, to chefs and restaurants, through their on-site store, and a CSA box program. The farm was started by Mary Alice and her late husband, metal artist Jan Johnson.
As an organic farm, Johnson is dedicated and passionate about creating a sustainable farming model to feed the community. They employ a multitude of practices to ensure that the food they grow is low-impact and ecologically sustainable. Johnson says, “I’m really concerned about what’s happening to our climate. I want to do everything I can to play an important part. I want to get food to people that take the least from our environment and actually puts back into the environment with a diversity of crops and selling locally.”
This sort of approach has not hurt me financially. I’ve become known in my community for being an asset.
Applying an agroecological method to their farm, there are several practices they adopt to increase biological diversity on their land. Johnson says, “One-third of cultivatable land is in cover crops, one-third is in perennial crops, and one-third in annuals. Most of our land is forested with a major creek going through it. We try to protect as much of our forest as we can.” Protecting already existing biologically diverse spaces is a crucial component of agroecology. They also mulch, apply carefully controlled drip irrigation and apply green manuring on the farm.
With a diverse selection of crops and species, there is a lot of biological activity at ALM Organic Farm. Adopting an agroecological approach on their farm has been hugely beneficial for Johnson. She says, “This sort of approach has not hurt me financially. I’ve become known in my community for being an asset.”
Johnson’s greatest challenge since she started farming has been with water. She says, “We grow a multitude of crops and some are much more thirsty than others.” She has to be careful with the timing of plantings and conserving water. Applying agroecological methods to their farming system has been hugely beneficial in helping them conserve water. Introducing mulch around plants gives the soil a protective layer and retains moisture in the ground for longer. Building up the organic matter with green manure gives the soil a sponge-like consistency to hold moisture for longer periods of drought.
Johnson has been farming for decades and continues to be a leader in the organic movement. Her hope is that young farmers are taught to farm with diversity and respect for the land. Her advice to young farmers is to observe. She says, “It is important that not only do you write down what you did but then you evaluate what you did and whether it worked or not. You’re recording, observing and evaluating – it helps with the diversity you can have on your farm.”