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Mike Shook is Program Manager with FarmStart. He has a background in both tropical and northern agriculture and extensive experience in learning to adapt to new growing conditions. Mike’s presentation focused both on practical tips for growing, as well as the lessons New Canadian producers could share with their Canadian counterparts.
This past summer, Mike grew a demonstration garden of world crops at the Ignatius Farm, the site of FarmStart’s first incubator project. His crops included yard-long beans, hot peppers, okra, and sorrel. Through this experiment, Mike came to a number of realizations. First, Mike believes that a number of ‘world’ crops will be grown in the future as a gardening crop rather than a field crop. Many crops are too labour intensive for large scale growers to produce economically. As well, new crops may be grouped into two categories: those needing season extension, and those that can do without.
As an example of season extension, Mike notes that yard-long beans, bitter melon, and a wide range of squashes need long seasons and react poorly to being transplanted. So Mike suggests a couple of options. The first is to start these plants in the greenhouse under heat lamps, planted in peat pots which are later transplanted to the field. Another option is a combination of black plastic mulch (to warm soil) and row covers. These are practical lessons for any farmer interested in growing tropical crops.
Although many new crops would be thrive growing in a greenhouse throughout the season it is important to determine how much capital/labour investment can be made for a crop of a particular value. These are economic concerns that all farmers should consider. Mike recommends a visit to Spinfarming.com, a website that promotes a Small Plot Intensive method based on 2′ beds, which is similar to Jeavon’s bio-intensive method. The SPIN farming approach lends itself to many ‘world’ crops.
Mike finished his presentation by noting that many Canadian gardeners and farmers may take years to experiment with new crops, but we can learn from New Canadian farmers, for they will bring some exciting new dimensions to agriculture in Ontario. These farmers from the global South are accustomed to growing and marketing in a different way. They will perhaps be more patient than Canadian farmers – willing to start small, market to friends and neighbours, and expand markets over time.
New Canadians also know how to market within their ethno-cultural community and can reach out from there to other ethno-cultural groups and to mainstream consumers. Mike views it as important to put new recipes and products out there, sharing with Canadians several different culinary customs and reaching new markets.