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Back to September 2017 Newsletter

Soiled Reputation Wins the 2017 Pollinator Conservation Award

Kim Fellows 

The recipients of the this  year’s annual Canadian Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award are Antony John and Tina VandenHeuvel, who manage a 40-acre organic farm called Soiled Reputation in Sebringville, Ontario, near Stratford. This award is bestowed by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association.

I first met Antony at the Guelph Organic Conference in 2012. He was amongst a group of Canadian farmers who became early adopters of a fledgling program that we expanded from the United States, called Bee Friendly Farming. I became intrigued with Antony’s farm practices after hearing him say that “his main crop is biodiversity.”

In addition to carrots and leeks, Soiled Reputation’s fields and greenhouses yield at least 50 different organic vegetables used primarily for gourmet salad mixes. They grow dozens of lettuces and radishes, celeriac, basil and other herbs, beets, eggplants, fennel and heirloom tomatoes, which they supply to restaurants, markets and homes, both locally and in the Greater Toronto Area.

Along with salad, Antony and Tina also grow a number of pollinator-friendly species on their farm. Violets and redbud blossoms provide spring nectar and pollen. Early in the spring, Antony also planted a greenhouse radish and allowed it to go to flower. That was an important early food source for various bee species that were just emerging. Flowering species such as Monarda and buckwheat, as well as red, white, and sweet clover flourish in buffer strips and beds between rows of black plastic mulch. Large patches of flowers such as purpletop vervain (Verbena bonarensis), Calendula and Tithonia are planted throughout the salad beds. Antony delays mowing various cover crops to allow them to flower, and has also established an extensive perennial bed that attracts pollinators.

 Successive plantings of borage provide continuous flowers into the fall. Jerusalem artichokes and Verbena also help nourish pollinators in the autumn. Large patches of meadow with native flowering plants such as New England aster and goldenrod provide an important nectar source in late fall.

Antony and Tina understand that crop yields are increased by the presence of native pollinators such as the squash bee, which lives in the soil just under the plants it pollinates, like squash and zucchini. Antony encourages squash bees to nest near the black plastic mulch beds in the squash fields, and allows bumblebees to nest in straw bales in the barn.

 Thirty foot buffer strips of grasses provide refuge for all kinds of insects, including pollinators. Fallow fields are planted with cover crops such as alfalfa and clover, which sustain pollinators. Additionally, field edges and windbreaks increase the area that Soiled Reputation devotes to providing clean water, nesting sites and natural forage for pollinators.

Perhaps one of the best things that Soiled Reputation does to encourage the presence of pollinators is avoid chemical use.

Antony and Tina have faced some challenges on the path to implementing pollinator friendly practices. These have included time management (prioritizing during a sometimes frenetic seeding program), and reducing the proliferation of weed seed species while allowing certain pollinator plants to flower. Despite this, they have continued their biodiverse planting, and the pollinators thank them!

Congratulations, Soiled Reputation!

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Kim Fellows is the coordinator of Pollination Canada

 

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